-- Article in the Sunday Times

27 September 2012
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27 September 2012

Article in the Sunday Times

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Sunday Times Article Sunday 25th December 2010

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What it feels like… to walk around Ibiza in 11 days, with only €1

Wanting to mark his 40th birthday and connect with the natural world, Toby Clarke set off to walk the island’s coastline with his dog for company

Fleur Britten

Published: 26 December 2010

Toby Clarke sitting on Ibizan cliff

Toby Clarke and Cosmo’s Ibiza trip took 11 days and covered 140 miles

A few months ago, I asked myself whether it would be possible to walk round Ibiza in 10 days, with only €1 and enough food and water for 24 hours. My hypothesis was that the people of the island would be generous enough for me to survive — even though my Spanish isn’t that good.

I’m 40, so I suppose the trip was driven by an element of midlife crisis. I wanted to do something memorable. I didn’t feel dissatisfied; I’m happy with the life I’ve made for myself — I left corporate life in Britain a couple of years ago to move to Ibiza and downshift (I now run a reiki practice) — but I also wanted to connect with the nature of the island and raise awareness for the Ibiza Preservation Fund.

I kissed my wife, Belinda, goodbye and set off with our mongrel, Cosmo. I made rules for myself: I couldn’t go more than one kilometre inland from the coast; I was allowed to organise three places to stay with friends around the island; and I could take a GPS and my iPhone, with Google Maps. The maps weren’t always precise, though, and I ran out of power a few times.

Each day, I aimed to walk about 13 miles, or about four or five hours. But I allowed myself to stop when I wanted — I didn’t want to rush past the beauty of the island. So one day I walked for 10 hours, or 22 miles, another, only five miles. For food and drink, I approached cafes and restaurants. I’d explain what I was doing, that I was relying on the generosity of Ibizan people, and would they be able to give me something. I often received strange looks, and even though I don’t think people always believed me, they would at least give me water. Some bars would also give a sandwich for later, but I never pushed it — there were plenty of places to ask.

Once I rang the bell of a superyacht, whose crew gave me a huge amount of food that I could pack into my rucksack for later. I really experienced the kindness of strangers. And what did I give back? Gratitude and a lot of love; I felt very honoured to receive from people. I was refused only once, when I’d asked a rambler who’d just finished their walk and had plenty of spare water bottles in their car — I don’t think they understood where I was coming from.

Sometimes it was embarrassing to have to ask for food or drink. I discovered what it felt like to be a beggar when bar owners inadvertently patronised me. They wouldn’t realise that I had money at home, or that I was doing it for a cause. There were a few occasions when I was hungry and couldn’t see where to ask. I would start wondering, “What if?” Luckily, the island always provided. I thought about taking a fishing line, but I knew catching my own dinner would be hard. Nothing was in season, so the only thing I foraged for was carob bean, which is sometimes used as a healthy chocolate substitute. It’s incredibly nutritious, though not that tasty. For Cosmo I took enough food for 24 hours and then also relied on people giving me/him food.

People were amazing and gave him things like bones, cat food and tinned sardines. There were a few meals I had no food for him, and then he even ate apple, cheese and whatever else I had. I did feel guilty, though, he just looked at me with his sad eyes. There is only one river in Ibiza, but when we were desperate for water, I showed Cosmo how to lick dew off the leaves. I was quite lucky with the weather — within 10 minutes of setting out on the first day there was a heavy downpour, but after that the sun didn’t stop shining.

You can feel as if you have it all with a picnic on a cliff top, an amazing sunset and good company I didn’t seek out any accommodation. It felt like it would be really rude to knock on someone’s door, so I took a tent with me that Cosmo and I would share. I also wanted to connect with the nature of Ibiza, which is such a big part of its identity, but increasingly damaged by urbanisation. I didn’t want to use roads at all — I’d lose that connection with Mother Nature, and Cosmo would get bored. When faced with no choice, Cosmo would refuse to walk. Sometimes he was bothered by the distances. He’d shoot me a lot of looks, as if to say, “What the hell are we doing?” When exhausted, he would refuse to go any further, so I’d stop to let him have a sleep. I did feel guilty and occasionally carried him, but he weighs about 24lb. He’s not a light dog.

I was walking further than I’d ever walked before in one day, plus I was carrying 35lb on my back. I had to push myself hard. On most days, my legs would start to feel numb and fatigued and my shoulders hurt, but I didn’t want to stop because the distance I had to cover would pile up in the end. I just had to keep marching on and on, and on. I made chants to keep myself going, but it was more than physical endurance. Navigation was also difficult. I’d often be on a small pathway that would suddenly run out. I’d have to beat my way through the undergrowth of virgin forest, which would cut up my legs and was very hard work, slowing me down horrendously. When the Google Maps failed, I would have to trust that a path would take me where I wanted to go. That was an epiphany, to discover trust, to listen to my intuition. I had to find what was already within.

I spent the majority of the time on my own, just walking. The coastline is mostly forest, cliffs and empty, stony beaches. In solitude, I found myself talking to myself a lot, or talking to the dog, or singing. I would only have company when asking for water and food, and that was over quite quickly — in maybe 20 minutes. I’m mostly happy with my own company, but physical hardship, fatigue and the cold would trigger loneliness. As kind as he is, Cosmo is not the same as a human companion. I particularly missed Belinda — we don’t spend much time apart. We would speak on the phone every two or three days, as I had to conserve the battery. She also came to see me twice on the walk. I found that actually made it harder, because she would have to leave me again.

One morning, I was feeling lonely and sorry for myself and I cried. The day before had been hard and long, and I’d camped on the beach and woken up freezing. I only had enough water for a few sips and I hadn’t had a shower for four days.

Cosmo was looking at me as if to say, “What are we doing here?”, and I began to ask the same question. I started walking up a hill, but the path was heading to an urban development and I couldn’t get to where I wanted. It saddened me that we are destroying for ever the beauty of nature.

One of the toughest parts was sleeping on hard ground (I had a self-inflating mattress, but it was punctured on the second day).

Then I’d open the zipper of my tent for sunrise and think: “Oh my God, that’s what it’s about.” Normally, though, I’d still be asleep. It was sometimes a struggle to get going in the morning, but then I’d be walking along the cliff tops and feel so lucky to be able to do it. I found it uplifting to be free of money worries: that it wouldn’t last, or that I was spending too much. Money brings so much complication. My wife and I already lead a pretty uncomplicated life, but the trip made me realise how important the simple things are — you can feel like you have it all with a picnic on the cliff top, an amazing sunset and good company; you don’t need to go to an expensive restaurant.

Slowing down and looking at things, thinking about those in front of me, while undistracted by material ideas, made everything around me seem more meaningful and rewarding. Being present to the world is not possible when you’re rushing by. It also made me feel more grateful — even just to have home comforts, simply to get into a bed, to have running water. We’ve made life much more complicated than it need be.

The trip took 11 days in the end, covering 140 miles. On returning, Cosmo and I didn’t leave the house for four days; we just slept and ate. I’d be piling food in and I’d still be hungry. Only then did I realise what the trip had taken out of me — it’s amazing how the body still goes on when asked. There were other things that I only really appreciated once back home. I was much more aware of what my wife does around the house. Because of that, I’ve been doing more of my fair share. And, inevitably, I’m more appreciative of the food on my plate, and how much food there is in the West.

The bad moments — for example, when I had no supplies — were actually really important. While, at the time, I would think, “Why the hell am I here?”, afterwards I would realise how lucky I am.


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