Slow Journey South by Paula Constant
Paula Constant with her story of walking from London to the threshold of Sahara Desert re-enforces that walking is the ultimate meditation. She and her husband Gary travel 5000 km on foot covering 5 countries and as many languages through myriad landscapes, meeting all kind of people – receiving their kindness and learning some important lessons for life. And guess what Slow Journey South is just the part I of Paula Constant’s three-part journey to cross the Sahara desert.
For about a third of the book, she talks about the dream of walking across the Sahara and preparation for the same. She shares her highs and lows through the process – when she felt upbeat and ready to go and when she felt that it was impossible to walk and was almost ready to let it go. There were times when she gets all the doubts and then there are bright spots that keep her going. Paula Constant and Gary move from Australia to London to make some money before they can start the walk – but it eventually happens when they fix a date to begin their walk irrespective of everything else. There is a description of a recce trip that Paula makes to learn about the camels that they would need to use to cross the desert.
Their initial walk in familiar England is easy and encouraging. In France we see them falling in love with the French countryside. And the very hospitable people they meet on the way. The walk brings the observations like even the tiniest village in France has a hairdresser. They do have frustrations like having to stay in Paris longer than they intended. Or one of them going back to take care of the family issues. In Portugal and Spain, they struggle with the language but discover the colorful Azulejo tiles in cornflower blue. And the cultural richness of its villages and the sense of community. In Morocco, they see poverty and dreams to get out of it, but at the same time acceptance of the country as their own. They meet both the beggars and the homes that offer them hospitality at no cost.
As a reader, you traverse the paths with them and feel what they are going through.
Most profound part of Paula Constant’s journey comes through her interactions with people who are unlike her. A teenager in France who impresses her with her maturity. Or watching a Flamenco dancer creating a perfect balance of energy and control. She learns the difference between genuine caring and sharing and fake smiling as a part of cultures. There are lots of things that the couple discovers about themselves and biggest being a Zen story like a realization. That you can never step into the same river twice so no need to follow anyone else’s footsteps. But enjoy your journey as it unfolds. I loved a self-conversation she has with her own self when she attends a friend’s wedding during the walk.
Paula Constant does not mention it explicitly, but I think they started finding camaraderie with other travelers. They enjoyed their company and stories more than the stories of settled people whose lives are kind of predictable.
Read the book Slow Journey South.