Hi Cesare, before starting, would you like to explain to us what the Camino de Santiago is?
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the long route that pilgrims have taken since the Middle Ages, through France and Spain, to reach the sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela, where there is the tomb with the relics of St. James the Apostle. The word Santiago, in fact, in Italian translates as San Giacomo. Once the pilgrimage was linked to the dissolution of vows or to penance for sins. Nowadays, the religious value is no longer decisive, or in any case it is not exclusive. I have spoken to many pilgrims to find out the reasons that had prompted them to undertake the Way, and the most frequent answers indicate the need to be alone with themselves, to be able to reflect, to get away from daily stress, to challenge themselves physically and mentally challenging. Other motivations concern the fascination deriving from the history of the Way, the love of travel, even the passion for trekking. To reach the city of Santiago there are various paths with different distances in kilometers and starting points, I have traveled the longest one, called the French path, which starts from the small French village of Saint Jean Pied de Port covering a distance of over 800 kilometers.
You have traveled more than 900 km on foot, alone and for more than 36 days. How was all this possible and why did you do it?
How that was possible, I don’t know. I don’t practice frequent physical activity, I don’t train, and I also have foot and back problems that force me to go to the care of a physiotherapist every month. Suffice it to say that in normal life, after walking for more than thirty minutes, I’m forced to stop because of the pain. There he covered an average of 30 km a day, with a backpack weighing more than 10 kg, for more than 10 hours a day. How was this possible? I don’t have a logical and rational explanation to give you. It must have been God, the universe or great willpower that lived and made my big dream come true. As for why I did this, the answer is simple. The two years of Covid have amplified all the feelings of discomfort that I had been carrying for years: living a life in constant stress, being connected to social networks 24 hours a day, frequenting environments where the only importance is what you have and not why .what is it, then add materiality, superficiality, consumerism, ostentation. My life needed answers that only a journey in complete solitude could give me.
Why exactly the Camino de Santiago?
7 years ago I almost by chance saw the film “El Camino de Santiago (The Way)” with Martin Sheen, and since then it has been love at first sight, a constant thought. I’ve read books, guides, seen reports, and the idea of walking for so many days completely immersed in nature made my heart vibrate. Suffice it to say that every year about 300,000 people from all over the world decide to take the most famous route in the world.
You are a journalist and radio speaker, you run a newspaper, how did you manage to stay without a phone and not be connected for so many days?
Actually, I think that was the easiest thing to do. Our life is now based on the virtual and instead of living the moments we prefer to post them and share them on the net. I remember when I was on the plane that took me to France, all the passengers were with their heads down on a phone or tablet while I was the only one looking at the sky and the clouds. At the beginning of my book, I ask all readers how many times in the past week, month, or year have they looked up at the evening sky to admire the moon and stars. One evening, returning from one of the many VIP parties I attended, on my way home I stopped and looked up. Then I saw one of the most beautiful things in the world: the firmament full of stars, accompanied by a bright and wonderful moon. Immovable, I wondered about that scenario that was available to me, every evening, while I ignored it completely. I spent my days staring at displays and immersing myself in the virtual sea of ”technological” relationships. There was absolutely something wrong with all of this! Not having any display at my disposal, my eyes and my mind had the possibility to wander 360 degrees and see the world in its authenticity and immense beauty. On the Way you are always immersed in nature, and along that wonderful journey I came to the idea that there is no chaos or discomfort in nature, because everything is as it should be and that, far from human interference, everything is in perfect balance with Mother Earth.
What was the hardest thing you had to deal with?
First of all the physical effort. The difficulty is not so much walking over 20 km but doing it for so many continuous days and moreover with a 10 kg backpack. Most people are no longer used to walking and use the car even for short trips. The path is not a flat and regular path but there are numerous gradients, and it is one thing to walk on a flat surface, quite different to do it uphill or downhill. I had to face and climb over the Pyrenees to go from France to Spain, reaching over 1270 meters of altitude. Don’t worry though, the landscape you will find will repay you for all the hard work! Secondly, sleeping with other people and sharing spaces and toilets with others, I who left home at 18 and have always lived alone, I who have never stayed in a hotel before this experience for less than 4 stars. Accustomed to absolute silence and privacy, sometimes sleeping with people snoring and with so many people was not exactly easy.
The only technological tool in your possession, the video camera. Because?
Tolstoy stated that “Happiness is real only when it is shared”. This was not only an inner journey, but also a kind of testament and testament to how much happiness and purity still exists in this world. I remember once, after posting some photos from a trip to Sweden, a guy wrote me thanking me, because thanks to me he could see wonderful places that he could never visit, being in a hospital bed. That boy, along with many others, were there with me, and even though I had to carry almost three extra kilos on my shoulders (including video camera, camera, batteries, chargers and tripods), I did it for the people who they don’t have the luck or the chance to experience what I experienced. On my YouTube channel, Cesare Deserto, there is a section called “Camino de Santiago“, where in addition to the trailer that summarizes all 36 days, you will find a video for each day. All videos are available with subtitles for major languages spoken around the world. I also wanted to film everything for my nephews – who in ten years time – will be able to see what that crazy uncle did!
Unlike many other travellers, you have not only slept in the various hostels but also in other places.
Exactly. Aware of the unique and unrepeatable experience I was living, I didn’t shy away from anything. In addition to the various hostels, I slept on the street, in a stable, in a tent, in an abandoned monastery, and I lived for two days in a hippie community. You should know that along the way, in the region of El Bierzo (León), there is the hippie community of Matavenero, a hippie town that lives in harmony with nature. The city had been abandoned for more than two decades until, in 1989, a group of hippies arrived, finding a lost land. They built their home, filled it with life, and practice organic farming. I was lucky enough to spend two days there with them and it was one of the most significant experiences of my life.
Your book is not only the story of an inner journey but also a valuable guide.
In addition to talking about my personal experience, you will also find valuable and practical advice: the right clothing and shoes, what type of backpack to buy and what to put inside, how to train before leaving. There are also chapters dedicated to the history of the journey (historical notes, symbols and legends); duration and distance of the walk, how many days it takes to complete it and where to start from based on the days available; how much it costs to walk it, where to eat and sleep; if walking the path alone can be dangerous for a woman and if there are chances of getting lost; finally the answer to many questions and concerns (which were also mine) posed by many aspiring pilgrims and my personal email address where you can contact me to dispel all your doubts/hesitations.
Why should people read your book?
This book is not only dedicated to those interested in the Camino de Santiago, but also to all those who, at least once in their life, have wanted to revolutionize their existence, drop everything, and travel. This is not just a travel diary or a handbook of advice, suggestions or historical notions. You can find those everywhere. In addition to telling you about the physical journey, I also tried to tell you about the more introspective and intimate one, sharing my thoughts, inner monologues and evolution. At the end of each stage, instead of resting, I spent hours writing down all the emotions I felt in my diary so as not to distort the sensations that would inevitably change over time. My journey is different from those told in many other books: I didn’t bring any technological tools with me, I didn’t leave because I wanted to take an alternative vacation, but I gave up my job and my life to find myself. I left alone and arrived at my destination alone, unlike most people who had my similar experience. I covered every single meter on foot, I never skipped a stop by bus or taxi, I never entrusted my backpack to the shuttles. In every kilometer there is all my sweat and my determination. A very useful thing is also that at the end of each chapter you will find a QR code which will direct you directly to the video of that section (available with subtitles of the major languages spoken in the world) and furthermore, there are 143 photos which will make it even more alive and special this wonderful experience.
What prompted you to write a book?
Toni Morrison said: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you have to write it”. I am aware that this represents a huge opportunity to convey what I care most about: being the straw that overflows your vase, make you aware of your life and inspire change. What will matter most in the end will not be the number of copies sold, but how many people, after reading my book, will walk the Camino de Santiago or decide to change their lives. There is nothing more precious and rewarding for me!
How to buy your book?
The book is available in all bookstores and on the Amazon platform where you will find both the paper and digital versions. Furthermore, for all foreign friends, there is a version in English and in Spanish. Follow me on social networks, Cesare Deserto, and contact me for any questions, I will be happy to answer them all.
Below is the link where you can learn about the author’s story and the trailer of his journey: