Afterlife, beginning, inbetween, now

Writing is traveling backwards and forwards at the same time, revisiting memories and thoughts and creating new connections and insights. In my case, in this case, it is to revive the being in the moment of a walk, a moving through the world slowly, as attentive as possible. The moments are gone, the memories are fleeting as well, the photos I took are always from the next moment, the moment after I thought “I have to capture this”. They never have the same colours my eyes saw, they don’t carry the scent of the salty sea or the dusty paths or the fields covered in morning dew, they can’t convey the intense joy or sadness I felt, they touch upon something but you can’t touch the trees, stones, doors, people, in them. I did though, and the traces of that touching, that listening, that seeing and being seen, that being touched, are still somewhere in my body and in the places I moved through, both visible and invisible.

The difference from other long solo walks was that this time I planned a walk - the timeframe and  the performative aspect of it - but I didn’t have a destination when I planned it, whereas other times there was a destination first which made me walk there. The walking itself is the most important goal though and some day I will go on a long walk without knowing where I am headed (or maybe I am doing that already and it is simply called life). Until now the walks have always been projects with a beginning and an end, a leaving from home and an arrival at a place I had in mind when I started out. The Nomadic Village, the Climate Conference, the Eighth Continent, this time a conference: Territory beyond State and Property.

There are similarities between walking and writing. You can live in your steps the way you live in your words. When I walk, I think about writing and when I write, I think about walking. I write when I am on a walk, but this is never really writing, it is reporting, just like I walk when I am writing, but this is a different kind of walking, it is strolling. The pleasure isn’t so much in the written words or the taken steps, it is in the moments in-between, in the being somewhere, even when - especially when - you don’t know where you are exactly.

In the summer of 2023 I walked and travelled slowly from my home in Barcelona to The Foundry in Galicia: a non-profit space for artists, writers, artisans and other creators who seek to work outside of the institutional confines of market and university. Against the abstraction and commodification of creative and intellectual labor, the site stresses that critical thinking is a way of living rooted in engagements with one another and with the environment. The Foundry is a collective and self-organized project, where everybody is welcome, and all are using and taking care of a shared space in a non-hierarchical way. I was supported by Rewilding Cultures, a project  that wants to reposition the wild after COVID and focus on inclusivity and ecology within the art, science and technology area: “We cannot go back to business as usual, especially in terms of polluting and important inclusion issues unaddressed. We need to rewild on terms fit for the present and future.” I walked in a business suit, carrying everything I needed in a walking cart strapped to my body. The suit was embroidered with questions people had asked me in the year I had been wearing the suit daily, walking the questions around, collecting new ones, engaging in conversations with people I encountered commuting by train, walking in nature, wandering through cities, visiting the social media. Although there was one question central to the walk: “How do you inhabit a territory?” it wasn’t the most important question. All questions were equally important and every question was connected to the other ones somehow.

What is your neighbours name? How do you listen to none-human voices? What is success? How many trees can you name? How much is enough? How do you grow things? What matters most? Which border would you never cross? I had some answers but finding answers is never more important than living the questions. “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet).

This blog is a report of (some of) the things that happened during the walk and the year I was wearing the suit daily. I am currently working on a series of articles addressing the themes that were important during this process. (To be added here later).

Image: found on the sidewalk in Lugo, from where I took a bus back to Barcelona, words by Lois Pereiro, a Galician writer and poet, a traveler and explorer who was looking for new spaces, new languages, new truths, but always with his feet firmly planted in Galicia.

terra lingua cultura
dereito á diferencia
mente aberta o mundo …
e nada mais

land language culture
right to difference
open mind to the world ...
and nothing else


The Foundry

It was never about arriving somewhere, but at some point I was almost at my destination. It is one of the strangest moments in a long walk, having crossed mountains and plains, having met dozens of people, having slept in the most comfortable and uncomfortable places and then one morning there are only 36 kilometers left, 25, 13, 7, 3, 5, 3 (how on earth did I take a wrong turn in the last couple of kilometres) and there it is, already in sight, although the road there hasn’t ended yet. I took a break with 500 metres left, to postpone something ending. I longed for a room of my own, a proper bed, a table to spread out the collection of treasures that had no value for anybody but me, but I would miss stretching out my arms in the morning and feel leaves and grass, waking up in a place I had no knowledge of until I arrived there in the evening.
Ten days later I would be asked by Victoriia, one of the Ukrainian artists staying at the Foundry, to reenact my arrival so she could take photos of me. I had forgotten some things she remembered, because she was there when I arrived, she saw me cross the bridge while the evening was falling, wondering where to enter the building, detaching the walking cart from my body, opening the door.
In a way it didn’t feel different from arriving at any of the other locations where I arrived after a day of walking, my feet hurt a bit more because I walked more than I usually would in the last 2 days and I guess I accomplished something by getting to a place after roughly 1400 kilometres of which approximately 700 were on foot. Still the distance is a side issue, it isn’t about achieving a walk, a slow journey, it is only a way to be. To be at, to be in, to be close to, to be under, to just be. Now I was here. There would be a different kind of journey tomorrow and the day after.

On my first full day I explored but throughout the week I would keep discovering new corners, buildings, paths, I would meet new people, hear new stories. The site was an ironworks in the 15th century, the castle that came afterwards didn’t survive Napoleon’s armies and the stones from the ruin were used to build a manor house. In the 1970s it was deserted and stayed like that for decades until new life was blown into it in 2018 and it became a non-profit space for creators of any kind “who seek outside of the institutional confines of market and university”: The Foundry, a site that “stresses that critical thinking is a way of living rooted in engagements with one another and with the environment”. Everybody is welcome and all are using and taking care of the shared space in a non-hierarchical way. Although the site was still privately owned, the goal was to create a legal model against real estate speculation and hand over 50% of the ownership to the to be founded Sindicato de la Tierra, which would make it impossible to sell it and safeguard its function of a free space, a model that could be used for other properties as well and would help collectives with similar goals as the Foundry to acquire a place to live and work..

In the week after my arrival we learned about different ways of commoning in Galicia (the commons are the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, commoning is a way to describe the commons as an actionable idea, not just a place. With commoning, rather than having everything decided for by markets or governments, it is possible to take matters in one’s own hands according to shared visions). The Sindicato de la Tierra and the Foundry itself are initiatives that attempt to construct a new type of commons to limit the hold of capitalism over our lives. Noortje Keurhof came to talk about the Brigadas Deseucaliptizadoras; a lot of Galicia’s common lands are covered in monoculture tree plantations, the eucalyptus trees are invasive, deplete the soil and form a risk in case of forest fires. The Brigadas work together with the local communities, removing the trees from common land.
Sabrina Rosina took us on a walk to reimagine and redefine territorial boundaries through the lens of botanical wisdom and gain insights into the symbiotic relationship between nature and human systems. Kilian Jörg talked about the car as a main driver and embodiment of the Homogenocene—the ecological era that is about the homogenization of biodiversity as a result of people—and discussed possibilities of undoing its auto-destructive homogenisation of landscapes, desires and economies. There was a debate about rural gentrification, two lawyers from Despacho came to explain the Sindicato de la Tierra, there was a communal work day and presentations by the Ukranian artists staying at the Foundry. On the last day, Dennis Schep presented his upcoming book “Bloom; Iron and the Theft of Space and Time”, written inspired by the Foundry’s history, Peyton Chipman and Siddiq Chan gave a workshop about fermenting and local products, Davoud Gerami showed us his movie “Age of Iron” and I gave a presentation about my walk. It was mainly improvised since I had prioritised spending time with everybody involved in the programme and the Foundry over sinking into all the material I collected and wrote during the walk. I used apples from the trees in the field outside to map my route, so that afterwards they could be transformed into community cider.

Day 40

Is there a difference between a person offering you shelter or nature offering you shelter? Most of us would think that if somebody invites you into their home to spend the night there, safe from cold and rain and anything that could cause harm to you or make you uncomfortable, they are offering you something whereas when you spend the night under an overhanging rock away from the beaten track, it is you who found the perfect place. But didn’t you also find the person who gave you shelter and didn’t nature offer you this opportunity to be comfortable at night?


Day 37

The pilgrims were gone. The last I had seen of them was when I left Ribadeo and passed the Albergue Pelegrino, situated at a privileged location just outside the city, at the water next to the bridge connecting Asturias and Galicia. Many people were waiting outside already to claim a bed. I will never understand this focus on arriving, on treating the walking as a means to get somewhere, not as the goal itself. It was shortly after twelve, I had only just started walking, I was in no hurry. It was easy to navigate, I followed the Camino Natural de la Ruta del Cantábrico, named after the Cantabrian Sea, the coastal sea of the Atlantic Ocean that borders the northern coast of Spain, the sea was right next to me most of the time. The pilgrims were following another route, inland in the direction of Lugo and to Santiago de Compostela from there.
I had seen pictures of As Catedrais, The Cathedrals, and had seen it described somewhere as “a natural monument with a supernational dimension”. The cathedral of the sea, rocks that had been hollowed out century after century to form arches within arches, resembling human-built flying buttresses, accessible at low tide. Several people had told me I shouldn’t miss them. It made me cautious, because I know that if you have certain expectations about something that is a kind of world wonder, there is a big chance you will be disappointed, especially since these monuments and places attract many visitors and often have restricted access. I’ve never been more impressed by something I planned to visit and had knowledge about before seeing it than I’ve been by unexpected landscapes, buildings, weather circumstances, historical sites, objects or living presences.
It was a 12 kilometre walk to Rinlo, a fishing village with 300 inhabitants, once a whaling port, and from there another 4 kilometres to As Catedrais beach. I found the first part breathtaking, no doubt it helped that the weather was fine and I was alone in the landscape for most of the walk. Sometimes it diverted from the coastline and led through fields but most of the time only a narrow strip of overgrown soil and barren rocks seperated the sandy trail from the sea. The stones were scattered with yellow lichen and sea figs, carpobrotus chilensis, grew everywhere, showing off their bright magenta flowers. I nibbled on some leaves and put some in my bag, apart from being edible the leave juice can be applied to the skin and is a calming curative for anything ranging from insect stings and cracked lips to burns, bruises and more severe skin conditions. The flowers close at night and open again in the morning.
In every walk there is at least one moment when everything falls into place, when doubts disappear, questions have dissolved, when all there is is being in this moment and nothing else matters. It hadn’t happen on this walk yet and I hadn’t thought about it but there is was, when I was sitting on a rocky plateau looking out over the ocean. “If I would fall down this cliff now, I wouldn’t mind”, I thought, not meaning I was tempted to actually jump off, rather the opposite. I am not sure how to explain this, I know the beauty and tranquility of a location can be of help but isn’t a prerequisite. I suspect reaching a point in a process (in this case the walking) where you’ve partially relied on will power to get where you are has something to do with it. I sat there for a long time, at some point quite aware of the question embroidered on my left trouser leg: “What is success?”
My favourite places are always the places where the aura of what has been there for a long time isn’t disturbed by humans to the extend that it has overtaken the essence of a place. Rinlo was a good example of that. It wasn’t in any of the “most beautiful villages in Spain” lists but I liked it more than the villages I’ve been to that are. It was small, with narrow streets and brightly painted houses, a lot of them having little vegetable gardens. It was lunch time and it it smelled of seafood everywhere. If you would think away the cars, you could easily imagine yourself being in another era.
After Rinlo everything changed. Access to nature was restricted to the path that turned into a long wooden construction to protect the natural environment from the big amount of people visiting daily. When I reached As Catedrais I didn’t go down to the beach, but promised to come back one day in winter, on a windy weekday morning before sunrise.



Day 36

Luarca was a charming coastal village, the harbour in the centre of town opening up to the Bay of Biscay and home to a fleet of beautiful little boats, most of them used for fishing, the posh tourist vessels completely absent. “You are in luck” the waitress said, “because of yesterday’s festivities all the boats are decorated”. I had indeed noticed the garlands in-between the masts of most boats. A party victim was still seated at the bar, asleep, an open bottle of beer in front of him. He smelled horrible and when he opened his eyes for a moment he didn’t seem to register anything.
I was still in Asturias, it would have been nice to just walk along the coast but if I wanted to arrive on the 20th as planned, there were only 5 walking days left and I wanted to have some time in Galicia as well.
A few people were waiting at the station. There was no ticket office, no information and no train arrived at the time it was supposed to. A man with a big backpack noticed my confusion and showed me his phone, it said the train was arriving in 23 minutes. He pointed at a QR code on one of the windows, scanning it gave you the real-time location of the train and the remaining minutes to the station. “Modern technology keeps amazing me” I said, pronouncing the Spanish words clearly since he spoke like somebody who couldn’t hear his own words but was eager to talk. He confirmed when i asked if he could read my lips. We talked for a while about where we walked and where we were heading and I was curious what his experience was as a deaf person walking the Camino but I didn’t ask because it must be something a lot of people ask him and it is tiring to answer the usual questions in new encounters.
I hadn’t thought through where I was going to get out so I just followed his example and bought a ticket to Tapia de Casariego, “one of the most beautiful villages in Asturias”. From Tapia station it was a 2 hour walk to Ribadeo, my goal for the day, but when I checked my map and saw that the village was nowhere near the station and visiting it would add 2 hours to the route, I leaned back and enjoyed the train ride a bit longer. The Ribadeo estuary, a narrow inlet that measures 10 kilometres and forms the border between Asturias and Galicia, can be crossed by car but not by train so we rode all the way around it, going south through Castropol and Vegadeo, then north again.
Ribadeo was home to the “Indianos”, people who left the area in the 19th century in search of fortune in the Americas, in particular Cuba, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela, and who returned to Ribadeo after having been successful overseas, building majestic mansions - casas de indianos - and investing money in the community of Ribadeo by building schools, hospitals and cultural centers. Maybe because of the splendour and the variety of the city center, it felt much bigger to me than the current home of 10.000 people, or it could have been because everybody was gathered in the street I walked through: I landed in the middle of the Fiesta de San Roque, the co-patron of the town. The parade, where he was going to be carried around in his giant personification and people wear giant masks, was about to begin or had just finished.  
My sleeping place for the night was situated in the oldest and more quiet part, close to the harbour. The hostel itself breathed tranquility as well, decorated tastefully inside, while outside in the communal garden land and sea merged under a big fig tree: fossils and crystals were placed in-between the plants and from the branches of the tree, sea creatures made out of plastic waste were hanging, floating in the air. I felt immediately at home, even more when I explored the neighbourhood that had a timeless feel to it and where in a little park a small village was built that offered shelter to the stray neighbourhood cats. “There is no need to lock the door” Angel told me. “Everybody knows each other here, we’re like a big family. Nothing anybody does here goes unseen”. I know what that is like, having grown up in a village, but many times smaller than Ribadeo. Social cohesion and a mutual responsibility and care for the space you share has its benefits but it also has its downsides when you care about your privacy. I guess it is a price you have to be willing to pay and the trick is always not to be influenced too much by what your neighbours think of you.
One of the things that stood out were the signs with street-names and places of interest: white tiles with blue lettering and decoration, the names and text written in Galician or Galego, the co-official language with Spanish in Galicia and by law the first language of the local administrations and governments. During the Franco regime the written or public use of Galician was forbidden, these days the most common language for everyday use in the largest cities of Galicia is Spanish rather than Galician, however, Galician is still the main language in rural areas. The emblematic lettering on the tiles was designed by Sargadelos, the 19th century Galician porcelain maker that was revived in the mid-twentieth century with a mission to promote the motifs, forms and colours of Galician culture. My host had told me about the factory, urging me to make a little detour and visit the village where it was situated. For Sargadelos, a cultural icon, the commission came at the right moment: it wasn’t doing well financially and on top of that a new owner and company structure had led to questions about cultural legitimacy.
From the hostel it was a small walk to the harbour, through one of the narrow streets with houses painted in pale blue, light yellow, creamy white. In a red house with a white wooden door, Fernando Bellón Fernández once lived. “Aquí viviu Fernando Bellón Fernández nado 1905” a shiny metal plaque on the sidewalk said. He wasn’t a famous writer or politician or Indiano. He was just a man living in this house, a mariner who fought in the civil war. “Executado 29.12.1936 Lugo”.