Walked: 24.7 Km (242.4 Km total)
In my teens, while heading to school in public transport, I saw a blind man board the bus. We went together for quite some time, and I was wondering if he’d ask his location at some point, but he didn’t. He just announced en la esquina por favor (“at the corner, please”) at a moment which seemed arbitrary to me (there’s often no bus stops in Mexico, you can get off the bus at any point).
I was intrigued: how did he know where to get off? Was he counting the turns in the route? Was he estimating the time? The answer came years later, when I told another blind person the story. He smiled and paused a long time before telling me the answer, seemingly relishing in my curiosity.
“It’s the texture of the road, he knew where he was because our streets are full of potholes, speed bumps, and differing pavement quality”. Ah! It made so much sense!
After a few days of walking alone, you find yourself bored by your own thoughts. You invent games. One of them is walking with your eyes shut. We’ve all done it as kids (I guess) so we’re more or less familiar with the initial sensation: hesitant steps, hands in front to sense if we’ll bump into something, irrational feelings that you’ll trip or fall into a ditch.
After overcoming the anxiety you begin walking with confidence. As the blind person on a bus, you know if you’re on-track by feeling and hearing the surface. A dirt road along a field with a grassy mid-section is perfect for this game, because there’s very little chance of getting hurt. Plus, I wanted to answer the question: could a blind person walk the camino?
The results are mixed. Full blindness, contrary to popular belief, is rare. What is more common are degrees of visual impairment. To simulate partial blindness I put the sarong over my head, and I could see a very vague outline of the road. The part that I was walking was quite walkable. However, the yellow arrows are invisible, you’d need to have some sort of navigation assistance to put you on the right turns (perhaps like an Apple Watch).
Then I tried full blindness. This was much more difficult, but after a while I found myself surprisingly confident at feeling the texture of the road with my feet. I did have a couple of unintended run-ins with branches and walked off the road twice.
It made me think: it would be prohibitively costly to make paths accessible, there has to be a technological solution to the problem, we’re at the point where both image recognition and haptic feedback could gently pull you back on track. It turns out it already exists but it works with echolocation, it’s called sunnu band.
The experiments made the walk pass quickly, and I was soon staying again in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Here there’s no store or restaurant, so the lady in charge of the albergue offered me lunch with a menu I couldn’t refuse: salad and rice with rabbit and snails. The rabbit was home raised on bread and greens, and the snails collected in her backyard. It was delicious.