By Stevenson W O’Connor
Key Themes: travel writing, manic depression, bi-polar disorder, horse-riding, self-knowledge
‘Dare to Dream’ is based on the true events of Stevenson’s four-month trek of self-discovery, and rehabilitation with his newly acquired equine companion Colina (Murphy). Stevenson’s trek took him through remote parts of Western Andalusia, over the Portuguese mountains, along the Camino de Santiago trail, over the Pyrenees into France, Brittany and finally Cornwall. The driving force behind this trek was Stevenson’s wish to live a dream he had held all his life, to travel with a horse. For Stevenson, a manic depressive, this was a voyage of discovery and catharsis, a means to come to terms with his condition. This is an excellently written and often emotional book which takes the reader through the ups and downs (both literally and metaphorically) of Stevenson’s adventure!
About the Author
When I first broached the subject of the trek that this book is based on, the mental health team that were working with me were very doubtful that I would be able to cope with the stress and strain involved in such an arduous adventure. Over the period of a few months I persuaded them that I could cope, even though I had many doubts of my own.
I am lucky to be here to tell you this story; in October 2000, I was admitted to a mental hospital during a serious bout of manic depression in which I almost ended my life. Whilst in hospital I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. For the first time in my life I had a diagnosis, I got the help that I needed at that time.
When I started to write this book back in 2003, I never thought that it would turn into a memorial for my trusty steed Murphy! He suddenly passed away on the 27th of December 2005, diagnosis Colic! I expected us to go on together for many years, we had unfinished business in Ireland to do with our trek in 2003.
Now this book is to serve as a memorial to a unique equestrian companion, to a bond that can only be forged by living day by day with a horse as you meet the challenges thrown up during a long trek together, over unfamiliar terrain.
May fourteenth 2002, standing beside Colina my newly acquired equine companion on the bank of the Cajo del Rio River near Seville, watching the ferry carrying the gaily-painted wagons, and their colourful human cargo to the meeting point for the start of the historic Rocio pilgrimage. Their goal to go on the pilgrimage to the village of El Rocio, “ver a la Virgen” (to see the Virgin) and pray before her. Legend says it all started in the fifteenth century, when a hunter from Villamanrique found a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk, in the marshes of the Guadalquivir. At first devotion was limited to local villages, Villlamanrique and Almonte, which soon made the Virgin its patron saint. In the nineteenth and even more so in the twentieth century, it extended itself to the Triana quarter in Sevilla then to the whole of Andalusia, to Madrid, Barcelona, and the Canaries. We had come here to join in their celebrations; also a friend had recommended that it would be a good place to start our trek.
I could not help wondering what lay ahead of us in our attempt to trek 3000 kilometres via Santiago de Compostalla back to my home in Cornwall. I don‘t think I have ever felt so alone, afraid, and excited at the same time. There was no going back now it serves me right for dreaming; you never know they might come through. My thoughts were cast back over the past few years to all the events; many painful, that had brought me to this place.
I have been asked many times how I came up with the idea of going to Spain to buy a horse, then to trek back to Penzance via Seville, Santiago and the Camino trail. To answer that question, I have to go back to 1998, where does a journey begin is life one long one, or a serious of short journeys! Does it begin with the first thought, dream of where or what you want to do or go! The more I think about it, it is becoming clearer I have to start with my first sojourn to Spain. It was also my first foreign holiday, previous holidays having been spent visiting family and friends in Ireland and Cornwall, and how lovely they were.
It was 1998 I was forty-five years old, the time had come to spread my wings, and I was single again my marriage having broken down, my two girls were grown. I was able to look at what I would like from a holiday, it did not take me long to decide. From a young age I have been an avid follower of Western movies and book; I knew if I could afford it I would love to go on a riding holiday in America’s Wild West. I got some brochures and scanned through them, but quickly realised that my dream of riding in the Wild West was a bit beyond my monetary recourses at that time. Well I might win the lottery, if I remembered to do it.
I sat one wet December night watching a Spaghetti Western, I noticed it had been filmed in Spain, an idea came to me. The following day I went and got some brochures about riding holidays in Spain. After looking through them, I worked out I could afford a weeks riding holiday in southern Spain, in February, or March 1999. I needed to talk to someone about it, so I rang my brother Jimmy in Ireland to ask his advice. I explained what I was proposing to do, “Jesus” says he; perhaps I will come with you. He told me he had friends living in Spain; he would speak to them about us possibly going over to stay with them. So it happened my planned package holiday turned into something completely different, and so helped to determine the path I was to take some three years later.
Over Xmas, Jimmy and I kept in contact. He was organising with his friends Elke and Tony as to when would be the best time for us to go over there. It was decided that the end of February 1999 would be the best time for them.
Jimmy was flying from Ireland, I then lived in North Devon, so I had to fly out of Gatwick, and we would meet in Spain. I would have preferred to have travelled with him, as I was a bit nervous about going on my own. Anyway plans were laid, flights were booked and I had to put my best foot forward. Another little problem was I was flying out in the morning; Jimmy his friend Ann, and Tony who was in Ireland visiting family were not flying until late afternoon. I would either have to wait all day in Malaga, or Elke, would have to make two trips to the airport. She insisted on meeting us off the planes, so two trips to the airport it was to be.
I was booked to fly out at 7.30 am, which meant I had to go up to Gatwick the night before. Luckily I have a cousin Pam and her husband Christopher they live in Coulsdon, its only twenty minutes drive from Gatwick. I made a phone call to Pam to ask her if they could put me up for the night, and not only they offered me a bed , but Christopher said that he would drive me to the airport in the morning, I felt a lot easier knowing I would not have to make my own way there.
When I arrived at Pam and Christopher’s, they told me they were going to a play in the village hall and would I like to go with them. I had not been to a village hall play in many years; I said I would love to. As we got ready to go, Pam got out a basket and she started to fill it with food and a bottle of wine; she saw the puzzled look on my face. We usually take a little picnic to the hall on these occasions, so does everyone else, what a lovely idea I said. When we got there, Pam introduced me to some of her friends; there was a great atmosphere in the hall. After a few drinks and some food, the play got underway, it was explained to me that after this performance it was going to the West End. It was a fun filled evening and a great start to my holiday; it sets the tone for what was to come.
I was up early in the morning Christopher was dropping me at the airport on his way to a business meeting. After a light breakfast we set off, for the short drive down the M25 to terminal one. Everything went smoothly booking in, which put me at ease. I was quietly excited about flying; I had flown to Ireland on a handful of occasions and really enjoyed it. The weather was cold but dry as we took off in the early dawn, I was delighted as I was given a window seat, I thought to myself we will be flying over Devon and Cornwall; I might be able to make out some landmarks.
Some three and half hours later after a very smooth flight, we descended towards Malaga airport in bright sunshine. It struck me how brown the countryside looked, even in winter N. Devon is fairly green.
I was feeling a bit apprehensive; I had not met Elke or Tony, before I was wondering if Elke would recognise me. I was also surprised how many people were at the airport; I thought to myself it would be easy to miss someone in this crowd. I retrieved my bag and went towards the exit, and waited for Elke to make contact. I was there about fifteen minutes, and I was getting a bit anxious, when a broad faced woman with black hair and a grin on her face approached me. “Steven is it?” “Yes” say’s I, she apologised for being late, “I’m glad to see you” I said. She had her two youngest sons with here; she said the older one had stayed at home.
Greetings over we went to her car, the first thing I noticed was the Irish number plate. Elke and her partner had moved to Spain from Ireland, and then I went to get in to the passenger seat and noticed the steering wheel was in the wrong place, I felt a bit of a fool, it was a left hand drive. As we drove out of Malaga towards Granada, I asked Elke how come an Irish re-registered car had left hand drive. She said that she had bought it in Germany, and then imported it into Ireland, then Spain. I am German she told me, and then I remembered Jimmy had told me that one time. I asked her what time she was picking up the others, 8pm she replied, I will have to leave about five. She asked if I minded staying behind to look after the boys, no problem! I asked her how far they lived from Malaga she said it was about a two and a half hour drive, I had no idea it was that far. I felt guilty having been the cause of her having to make two trips that day; she said it was no problem. It felt odd sitting as a passenger in a left hand drive car, driving on the wrong side of the road, I don’t mind telling you it made me feel a bit nervous. Elke told me that they lived on the outskirts of a village called Negualas, about forty kilometres east of Granada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It all sounded very exotic to me.