I wouldn’t dare compare my own walking adventure on the Camino last year to that which an Australian woman undertook nearly forty years ago. But while watching the movie titled Tracks last night – a film based on a travel memoir of the same name, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of kinship with the protagonist and author Robyn Davidson.
In the mid-70’s, Robyn set out on a solo walk with four camels and her beloved dog, with the intention of traversing nearly 2,000 miles – from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. When asked why she wanted to take on such an arduous, risky and isolated trek, there were as many reasons as there were none; “why not?” was one of her replies.
Over the course of the evening, while I watched the actress Mia Wasikowska walk in Robyn’s footsteps, tracing her route for a film that has been said to convey only a partial reading of the original trek, I found myself drawing parallels. Even when I had no intention of doing so.
I could identify with many of Robyn’s gnawing sentiments and fears, and through the voiceovers (even if dramatized for effect) I could empathize with her interior sadness, agitation and occasionally, joy. The tug between a desire for privacy and solitude – essential for reflection and introspection; and the inescapable need also for human contact, communication and touch – I could almost smell the urges. An almost unstoppable restlessness, coupled with an overwhelming thirst for comfort and grounding.
Could I have hoped to extricate myself from those still raw memories of traveling through days of blistering heat in Mongolia – not by camel, but by shaky van, on horse, and by foot? Is it any wonder that I felt a sense of envy towards Robyn, learning that four camels carried her gear for more than six months – whereas I was abandoned by two donkeys and a dog after the first week, with whom I communicated more easily than with their homo sapiens replacement?
These thoughts and others riddled my brain throughout the viewing of the film. I was sorry that I’d not seen the film nor read Robyn’s memoir before her appearance at the Ubud Writer’s Festival earlier this month. My mind was racing anew, with questions that I’m quite certain other attendees at her panel session would have found bizarre or irrelevant. Such as the ones that I badly wanted to ask every time the camera zoomed in on a pair flimsy sandals, fording brush and sand dunes: Did you really manage to walk the entire distance in the same pair? What about blisters? Tendonitis?
Having undertaken a two-month long, solo (sort of…) walk across Spain, sometimes with four-legged creatures at my side, I felt an almost inexplicable affinity with Robyn; as if I’ve been made privy to an unspoken dialect, one shared between those who’ve endured long periods of walking and solitary times in nature. If our paths should cross one day, I’ll pose the questions that still mystify me – and ponder aloud whether it just might also be a… (ahem) Virgo thing.
It’s time for me to back-track now. I’ll seek out Robyn’s memoir to examine the first-person account of her experience, which I hope will steer me towards a deeper appreciation and understanding of how the desert, her indomitable spirit and perseverance helped quench the last embers of her fears.