Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Post walk reflections

I have now been back home for just over a month and I'm slowly but surely settling back into my daily routine. Not a day that goes by that I don't think of the amazing experience I had in Spain and I plan to share some of my memories here with you as the weeks go by.
I would have liked to blog more whilst in Spain but as the days and distances were long, I decided to continue the journey once back home when I have more time to share photographs and stories.
Presenting a talk and slide show of the journey is first on the agenda though and if you are in my neck of the woods, you are very welcome to come and hear a little more about the walk this coming Thursday evening. (14th August 2014) All the details are included above and below. Hope to see you there!
Where? Community Church, 58 Braselton Rd, Sunningdale, Cape Town
South Africa
When? 14th August 2014 at 19:00
Cost? Entry is for free, we just ask that you bring non-perishable food items for the kitchen at the Ark City of Refuge

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

26 Days of walking - Seville to El Cubo del Vino

As day 26 on the Camino winds down slowly, I have time to reflect on the last couple of days. I have 546km behind me and a lifetime of memories to ponder upon in years to come.

I now know what it feels like to be epically lost, I have been asked by the mayor of a town if he could pose for a photograph with me, I have been rescued by a priest, I have been handed food from a vehicle passing me by, I have discovered a wedding dress hanging in a tree in the middle of nowhere, I have practised my flamenco clapping skills with a real live Spanish guitarist, I have fed a horse, a few dogs and a dozen birds and I've had to run from more than one snake on the paths that I have walked

I have also seen some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever experienced and I've learnt to appreciate the crispness of an early morning before the sun starts it's merciless vigil over a new day.

My Spanish language skills are improving and as always when I'm walking a Camino, I tell myself that once I get back home I am going to sign up for lessons before it all disappears in a fog of foreign words and phrases that I once understood. If someone ever invents an app that allows one to download a new language into your brain, I'll be the first to sign up! Not having the words to have fluent conversations is truly frustrating and I find it really tiring sometimes. One is constantly searching for the words that you have mastered and trying to figure out how to put them all together so that you can actually be understood, is hard work!

All in all, everything is going well here. I am on schedule with the distance covered so far. As I have 50 days in total, I need to cover at least 20km a day. Right now I have a few of those in the bank, which means that I can actually take a day off somewhere if I need to.

Tomorrow is a long day of over 30km, so I'd better call it a day. I have my own little room in the local albergue and as I am the only female peregrina here tonight, the bathroom for 'senhoras' is all mine! Last night it was exactly the same and I am truly greatful to have the privacy of my own bathroom! When walking like this one is forced to reflect upon and appreciate those basic luxuries that we take for granted at home!

In future posts I will share more of the adventures I referred to above and to prove I didn't dream them up, I'll back it up with photos!

Distance to Santiago de Compostela: 454km
Number of cafe's con letche consumed: Too many to remember!
Number of current blisters: Zero!
Pilgrims seen on the route today: 2

Inspiration: 'May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Via de la Plata memories!

I have been on the road for 19 days now. I have covered 375km and the halfway mark is getting closer by the day. A few days ago, after having walked for 14 days, I decided to take a rest day in the ancient city of Cacares. The town has been awarded Unesco World Heritage status and the Old Town is a delight to visit!

As I go along, I am learning not to head straight towards the first Inn I encounter as I walk into a town at the end of a very long day! I found the perfect small hotel on the square in Cacares and after a full day of walking in the sun and aching muscles whispering in my ears, I decided to check in there for one night. It is amazing how one appreciates a tiny square with a bed and your own private bathroom when walking the Camino! I discovered later though that a few blocks away there was a pension where I could have had a little room with a shared bathroom for less than half the price. Well. They say the Camino is a metaphor for life, so there is a lesson in everything!

Cacares turned out to be the best possible choice to spend a rest day. I was lost in the beauty of the Old Town for most of the day that I spent there and if you ever visit this part of the world, I highly recommend that you spend at least a day there. You can discover more about the fascinating history of this beautiful city at: http://turismo.cacares.es/

Back to the walk. Tonight I am in a town called Carcaboso. I am staying at the local Albergue with a number of pilgrims, some who have already become firm friends! On this solitary route, it is nice to know that there are a few others heading in the same direction as you and sharing stories, confirming route directions and having a meal together on the odd occassion is a blessing indeed.

The set up today has been very unique and is the stuff books are written about and movie scripts are born of. So let me set the scene. I arrive in town, backpack on my back, walking stick in hand, with a Spanish accent that makes the local hounds howl. Coming down the hill, aiming straight for me, is a man on a red bicycle. His helmet sits at an angle which causes him to turn his head to the one side to maintain some form of balance. In true Spanish style, he immediately assumes I speak and understand Spanish. He welcomes me and asks if I need a place to stay. At least that's what I in turn assume he is saying. I start wondering if this is the son of the famous Senhora Elena that I read about. She runs one of the local Albergues (pilgrims hostels) and her son owns the bar next door.

I tell him that I probably will continue walking but I end up following him anyway. It turns out that he is indeed, as he later introduces himself to me, Pappa Francesco, the son of the famous Elena. I plonk my weary self on a chair at one of the tables on the sidewalk in front of the bar and decide to evaluate my options whilst enjoying the cold drink and boiled egg (not sure how that became part of my order...) that was placed in front of me. To cut a long story short, I ended up staying at Elena's Albergue in a sardine can of a little room with a shared bathroom. In turn I was rewarded with an afternoon of laughs and pure enjoyment as I somehow became the resident interpreter for a number of my fellow pilgrims. It was a bit like the blind leading the blind but I somehow managed to book rooms for us in a hostal for the next day, I managed to have the local church opened for a private visit and I was almost successful in arranging a bag transport to the next town for a French couple!

It's now 22: 20 and I have just returned from dinner. I had the standard 'pilgrim's menu', in this case home cooked by the mother of the two boys who run the restaurant I ended up at. I loved the mousse that they served at the end if the meal so much that I asked them to call madre and ask her for the recipe. They managed to get it for me and it's going to be fun trying to figure out the ingredients and measurements when I get home. I guess you'll have to watch this space!

I attended the local church service before dinner and the wonderful, kind hearted Father Jose-Antonio took time to explain the meaning of all the stained glass windows to me in a mixture of German, Spanish and English. I asked if they could give me the words of the 'Our Father' prayer in Spanish, as I really would like to memorize it. I promised a very special friend I would do that and I plan to practise it whilst walking - our Lord's prayer - such beautiful, simple but powerful words!

As for Senhora Elena and her son. They are true icons of the Via de la Plata. He leads the pilgrims into town towards their hostal while the bar he runs somehow continues to operate whilst he heads up and down the hill on his bicycle. The patrons clearly know how it works and they happily continue chatting away and they seem to keep a watchful eye on his cash register while he is away. His mother is there to show pilgrims to their rooms and you have to be prepared to sit a while with her so that she can catch her breath after negotiating the steps to the first floor of the albergue. During this time, in my case, I told her about my mom who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years now. She told me I should tell my mom to draw a bath, the water temperature should be no more than 36 degrees and to that she should add 3kg of sea salt, 1 litre of vinegar and a spoonful of olive oil. After lying in this water for a while, she should wrap herself warmly and rest. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I will be passing on the message, who knows, these words of wisdom might be worth gold - she seemed pretty convinced that this is a remedy not to be taken lightly!

Once again I am astounded by how we all manage to communicate with each other, even without a common language between some of us. Senhora Elena only speaks Spanish and yet she managed to settle a group into her hostal who collectively speak Afrikaans, English, Dutch and French. Most of us have a very basic knowledge of Spanish but yet again, everyone somehow figured things out. She even had us all gathered around a table earlier whilst explaining tomorrow's route and supplying a hand drawn map for us!

That's the Camino for you. You are always taken care of. Somehow things always work out and tomorrow is always another day. Somehow tired legs and feet recover overnight and every morning brings new enthusiasm and expectations. I know that I will never really walk alone. God sends angels along the way and when I do feel afraid at times, as we all do in life, for whatever reason, I choose to believe that my God is faithful and that He walks this walk of life with me, every step of the way.

If you are following this journey, may I once again appeal to you to somehow get involved with helping to make a difference in the lives of those living at the Ark City of Refuge? All the details are to be found on the links above on the righthand side of this page. Your involvement means the world to us and we thank you for joining us on this very special journey!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

13 Days in Spain - 270km done and dusted!

Thirteen days into my walk and I am happy to say that I am still in one piece! I have covered 270km of the 1000km to Santiago, blisters are under control and my spirits are high. Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of this trail. I have spent hours walking in pristine countryside with not another human in sight. I've locked eyes with a wild fox, walked wide rings around deserted bullrings, attended mass with little old ladies and their rosaries and have experienced the kindness of strangers in abundance.
The first week of a walk like this is always filled with a combination of feelings and emotions. There is exhilaration of sorts and a huge amount of expectation. I was hugely blessed to have my husband and a good friend of ours start the journey with me in Seville on the 23rd of May. The three of us walked together for the first two days. Those were days filled with laughter and I could not have asked for a better introduction to the Camino for my husband, for whom this was a first. I have a suspicion he will be back to walk his own Camino somewhere in the future!
Saying goodbye to him was not easy for me and the first couple of hours of walking alone with my friend a couple of kilometers ahead of me made me realize once again how precious our relationships with our loved ones are. Treasure those relationships, they truly are gifts from above!
My friend and I caught up with each other for two more evenings before he carried on at his own pace, which is much faster than mine. He is now a couple of stages ahead of me and it is nice to have someone send you feedback of what lies ahead! I do feel that God has sent me a number of guardian angels on this journey and for that I am eternally grateful!
During the second week of a walk of this magnitude, one is usually forced to focus on the practical. In my case, this is normally when the first blisters appear, muscles start aching and I figure out exactly how my backpack should be adjusted, how far my body will allow me to walk each day, etc. This is also the time when one can start feeling a little sorry for oneself, especially if you are walking alone! How I deal with this is to mentally put myself in the shoes of those I have dedicated my walk to. I reflect on their reality and transfer my focus away from myself. I am always humbled when God reminds me of the daily challenges faced by others when my own discomfort here is merely temporary!
So here I am. Day 13 is coming to an end. I have fallen into the Camino rhythm. I have adjusted to Spanish time, which means that everything comes to a standstill during the warmest time of the day. Between 13:00 and 16:00 in these little towns where I find myself now, blinds are drawn, shops are closed and the word siesta is your password to escaping the heat of the day. Until now I have walked through most of this but my feet have paid the price. My days are starting earlier to avoid the heat and where possible, afternoons will be spent resting for at least an hour where possible.
The Spaniards come back after siesta time with renewed energy and they continue chatting until way into the night. These people really embrace life and what to me would classify as shouting, is just living life to them! They display a passion for life that I envy and the passion with which they communicate with each other is a delight to observe!
This evening I had to wait until 20:30 for dinner to be served and it's now 21:36. Dessert has just arrived at my table and I could not be more content! At home I would be winding down by now as well, but dinner would have been done a few hours ago! I wasn't exactly sure what I was ordering as I placed the order tonight, as my host speaks a dialect of sorts that is hard for me to understand but the food that was placed in front of me was delicious! I am learning that sometimes one should just surrender to the moment and who knows, you'll be surprised by the results!
If I have to summarise my first 13 days on the Via de la Plata, the following words come to mind. Spectacular, blessed, humbled, truly special - a gift beyond words. I could add to that but I think you get the general idea!
I could not have chosen a more special group of people to dedicate this walk to. The people of the Ark City of Refuge have been on my mind every step of the way. I feel their presence and pray that people who follow this journey will join me in my attempt to extend a helping hand to those who have found this place of hope. My heart is fixed on creating awareness of the needs of this special place of safety. Right now, the most pressing need is to supply a constant supply of food to their kitchen.
This particular need has touched me deeply and as I continue my walk here in Spain, I will continue praying that if you are reading these words, you will be moved to get involved in some way. Perhaps you know someone who could initiate a constant supply of bread, fruit, vegetables, milk or any other item that can be used in a kitchen that caters for approximately 800 people every single day of the year. What an enormous task! I am constantly reminded that every little bit helps, no matter what your contribution, if you just simply talk about this kind of need to someone, you never know who they might know who might be in a position to help! Trust me, I have experienced this first hand - you don't always have to ask for something for a need to be met, if you have given the matter over to God, he will direct as he pleases!
I am figuring out how to blog on my little notepad, so please bear with me, I don't know how to do a spell check here and photos might appear in a random fashion but here we go anyway!
Tomorrow I plan to walk about 22km to my next destination and as I have read that this is quite a beautiful town filled with history, I might spend my first rest day there. I hope to post more photos and more regular updates in the days to come!
Total distance covered - 270km
Starting point: Seville, Spain
Destination: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Distance remaining: 730km (gulp...)
Spanish words most often used so far: pueblo, gracias, por favor,  donde esta?, puede..., tienda.
Your task: Find out what those words mean - I had to!
Inspirational verse: ' ...thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.' 2 Corinthians 2:14

Thursday, 29 May 2014

A week in Spain already - how time flies!

It is hard to believe that I have been walking the Via de la Plata for exactly one week now! I am currently in a town called Zafra and I have covered 154km of the 1000km route to Santiago de Compostela. This is a spectacular walk and for more than one day now it has just been me, a few pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and a few more creatures that one would expect on a farm!

There are less pilgrims on this section of the Camino than on some others and I hope it stays that way! It is so special to be able to walk for hours with just your own thoughts occupying your mind! There are few distractions and the sounds of birds and crickets make for a perfect background symphony, allowing one to let your mind wander in conversation with your Maker!

As it is after 11pm already and as I have a full day ahead of me, I am going to suffice to say that I will attempt to bring you up to date with my journey from Seville in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, here are some photos that I have taken so far. Thank you so much for joining me on this very special journey, I hope and pray that together we can make a difference in the lives of those who call the Ark home!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

It seems like a million years ago since I made the decision to pack my bag once again and head off to Spain, this time to walk the Via de la Plata route to Santiago de Compostela. Now, departure date from home is just a day away. I'll have until the 23rd of May until I actually start walking but my feet are truly itching to get going now!

I feel that the blessings that one experiences when undertaking a pilgrimage has already started arriving for me! Last Friday evening I was privileged to spend the night with a very special group of people at the Ark City of Refuge, home to almost 800 people and  the place I am hoping to create awareness for. As I arrived they were heading towards the community hall for their Friday evening praise and worship service.

I joined the congregation of men, women and children for an evening of worship that was filled with passion, singing from the heart, hands held up to God and tears running down many a cheek. They performed with angel voices and had us in stitches with  a short play that they had put together especially for the occasion.

I was asked to talk a little about the walk of a thousand kilometers that I am planning to undertake later this month and I shared some photographs of my previous walks. As I looked at the sea of faces in front of me I wished I could take each and every one of them with me to Santiago!

After a very special send-off we congregated for photos and I'd like to share some of those with you...

After the service I was invited to spend time with the young girls who are all on a road to recovery from drug and substance abuse. They were gracious enough to share their stories with me and I was given a glimpse of what it is like to be abused by a partner, live on the street, be separated from ones children and the horrors of being addicted to cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine.

Some of the girls have been at the Ark for a few months, some have relapsed a few times and some have literally been there for a couple of days. I will always remember their honesty and most of all, the light that filled many of their eyes when they shared how they have found new joy and hope through the introduction that they received at the Ark to our Lord Jesus Christ.

NJ Girls - you are amongst the strongest women that I have ever met and I will never forget the special evening I was privileged to spend with you all.

The girls getting ready for their early morning march at the Ark. They do this every morning at 05:30, singing praises with their angel voices - the alarm clock for the other inhabitants!

The room I shared with the girls - a sleepover to be remembered!

A circle of song and prayer to welcome in the new day - nobody faces life alone at this very special place.

I left the Ark with a heavy heart coupled with an enormous feeling of hope.Two extreme emotions, sadness because of the fact that there are so many people out there who have to deal with horrors that are hard for me to even imagine. Being infected with aids because of a promiscuous husband who forced you to sell your own body to support both your drug habits. Children who are born into these lives and never know anything different, for whom 'home' is an alley in our city.Young people who never knew the love of parents and in turn only know how to parent in the same way - it is impossible to not feel their pain.

Yet I have to say that my interaction with the girls showed me that they are indeed feeling the hope that is offered to them at this place of safety. I saw a sisterhood that is strengthened by the faith that is being nurtured in this new environment that they find themselves in. A few even stay on as monitors, and are giving back by becoming part of the program. Through their own experience they have an understanding of what the people who arrive at the Ark have endured as homeless, destitute members of our society.

I saw hope and I saw laughter as a new day broke. Children were playing outside as I prepared to leave, their laughter filling the air - a sharp contrast to the sadness of the stories that filled my head. It is impossible to walk away from such an experience without getting involved somehow. I knew, as I drove away, that the decision to dedicate my walk to raising funds and awareness for this place of refuge, was the right one. There is hope and there is a possibility of recovery. As long as a place like the Ark is supported by those who have the means to help, this haven will continue to make a difference in the lives of those who often have no other way out.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Psalm 84:5 reads: 'Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage'. These words are soft to my ears for I know it to be true. And I mean this in a much broader sense than you might imagine.

In this modern day and age is it possible to pack your bags to embark on a pilgrimage that will take you to a land far away and afford you the gift of walking in meditation for hours on end, evaluating your existence and your relationship with your Creator?

Well, if your mind is really set on it and you are able to put some money aside and take time out of your everyday life, there are a number of pilgrimage routes that you can walk and I guarantee you your life will never be the same. I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain for the first time in 2012.

I had spent 35 days on the road and covered a distance of roughly 800 kilometers. I had my share of aches and pains, blisters and despondence, but as I entered the square in front of the beautiful old Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, my heart was ready to burst.

I had discovered the blessing of pilgrimage. I learnt how to open my heart and ears and I discovered that the Lord guides and speaks to us, loud and clear. All we need to do is to listen. Being away from my 'normal' life and having the gift of just walking, day after day, with only having to decide where I''ll stay and making sure I find a meal, afforded me the time to clear my mind and focus on my relationship with God.

It's also easier to become aware of the needs of your fellow travellers when you're all in the same boat. Compassion is almost inescapable, pain is shared and how incredible the feeling when you see the Lord at work when you are able to share a message or a thought that eases someones hurt. That is my experience of pilgrimage. It humbles me, it strengthens my compassion for others and it makes me evaluate the different elements of my life.

In researching the meaning of the word pilgrimage and what motivates people to become pilgrims, I came across thoughts that truly resonates with me. I'll share some of it with you.

Motivation: A religiously motivated pilgrimage is taken by an individual who has the desire to meet/experience God and somehow be changed by the experience.

Final destination: One has to be careful not to focus on a particular place to be the END of your pilgrimage. It is incorrect to confine God to one place and to make only such a place holy. Every time we leave our homes to go to church, we are actually on a pilgrimage! The Greek word 'paroikia' is the root of the English word 'parish', meaning a congregation of pilgrims.

Food for thought indeed!

So here I am, one week away from departing from my home to start another pilgrimage. This time I will be walking with a very special group of people. Almost eight hundred of them to be precise. They will travel with me in my heart and hopefully the hearts of others will be touched by our walk. I will be walking for the people who call The Ark City of Refuge home. I invite you to join me on this journey by visiting their website and learning more about this incredible place.

A place where people have ended up because life has battered them and their pilgrimage takes on a very different route than the ideal one described above. The Ark provides shelter, structure and food to anything up to 800 people, 365 days a year. These people have to be fed every single day and even though they have many wonderful donors who assist them, the need is huge and right now they are finding it very difficult to put food on all those plates.

My commitment is thus to help raise awareness that will lead to funds being generated so that their kitchen can continue to function. I will document my walk here as I have Internet access and should you wish to donate to them, you can do so by following the links at the top of this page. I will be attempting to walk a distance of 1000km (the route in Spain known as the Via de la Plata) and donations can be based on an amount per kilometer or it can just be as little or as much as can be afforded. Every little bit helps towards making a change!

This afternoon AT 15:25 I will be chatting about my walk and The Ark on Radio Tygerberg (104FM). Hopefully people who listen will be inspired to come on board, I know that God is at work here and I know that with his blessing, the help that they need will be provided!

This evening my sister-in-law and I will be staying with the people at the Ark and I am looking forward to worshipping with them and sharing photos and stories of my previous walks. What an adventure!

I will post pictures of our evening in the days to come and thank you so much for taking the time to read our story. We look forward to sharing the journey with you and I personally can't wait to meet more of the special people who call The Ark home.