Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 453 - The road to Santiago...

The distance from my hometown to Santiago de Compostella in Spain is roughly 8968.49 km. That is - 5572.76 miles or to be even more precise, 4839.39 nautical miles. Actually, my personal journey consists of many more miles - in fact - as many as I can cover in the eight months until my plane finally takes of from Cape Town International!

My road to Santiago truly started the day I heard of the existence of the Camino de Santiago. This little blog was born soon after and I have trouble containing the huge smile that I feel coming on every time I think about the amazing people who have crossed my path since I first spoke to a recently returned-from-Spain pilgrim friend.

There is something about this pilgrimage that brings people together and the excitement, the expectation and the joy that the experience clearly brings to people who are in any way connected to the Camino, is undeniably contagious!

If you've been reading the blog for a while you'll know of some of my interactions with very special people, if this is your first visit, feel free to browse - there are some people who have already become a part of my life and I know I will be connected to them for many, many years. I have written here about most of them.

One person who stands out is my friend Ermanno from Somerset West here in the Cape. An extraordinary man who walked the Camino a few years ago and is still as excited about his experience as when he was actually walking in Spain! Ermanno is one of those unique people who is blessed with the gift of attracting people to himself and then in turn he ensures that he introduces those people to each other and in doing so he passes on the gift of friendship - a gift that you can't buy in any of the shops that I know of!

One of the most recent introductions that came to me via my friend Ermanno is probably to one of the most remarkable women that I have had the honour to meet. And as we have only ever communicated to each other via email and our respective blogs, you can imagine how big an impression she has made on me.

Her name is Sonja. Exactly one year ago, she was diagnosed with an illness that, until very recently, I knew absolutely nothing about. Three little letters. Three life changing letters. MSA.

 Multiple System Atrophy. A journey of a different kind. And the more I am learning about these three letters and what they mean when put together, the more I realise that you have to be a pretty special person to learn to accept this new travelling companion, if life decides to throw you together as a pair.

Hence my admiration for a woman that I have not ever met face to face. I feel so privileged to be able to direct you to two of Sonja's blogs - I feel that you should hear her story the way she chooses to tell it, she is being truly gracious in sharing this journey so that others can become aware of the illness and how it affects people.

Sonja's personal blog is written in Afrikaans but together with her (equally amazing) childhood friend, Karin, they have created a blog specifically to put a spotlight on MSA in South Africa and this one has entries in English for those of you who don't speak the language. (Google translate can certainly also help if you choose to use that for the Afrikaans entries...)

To read their blog - click here and you will find the link to Sonja's personal blog there as well.

Next Monday, the 3rd of October, is MSA Awareness Day. The idea is that people all over the world should light as many candles as possible at 20h00 (8pm), their local time. The organisers are hoping to make people aware of what MSA is all about. Even if MSA never features in your life, and that is my wish for you today, you never know when you are going to have to deal with it, perhaps via a friend or a loved one.

So. I've decided to educate myself and get involved. On Monday (3rd October) I am going to join Sonja, Karin and Ermanno - all new people in my life - on a walk on the beach in the Strand, a suburb here in the Cape. People all over the world are going to be walking the MSA walk on this day and you can join, wherever you are. Log your miles here, and you have helped to start making a difference!

In conclusion - Ermanno, you are truly making a difference! You are connecting people, creating awareness and the Camino and all that it stands for, is affecting people everywhere through pilgrims like yourself.

Sonja and Karin - I can't wait to meet you both on Monday! Your friendship is something that is special beyond words and your example is something that I truly value!

Here's to forgetting about our our own very insignificant complaints and joining hands in support of those who have been handed true challenges in life! We salute and support you - thank you for educating us and allowing us to make a difference in a very small but hopefully significant way!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 443 - Special words for a special country.

A couple of Sundays ago I visited one of our local churches and found myself so touched by the heartfelt prayer delivered by a young man named Ron Kamwendo - I simply had to share it here with you.

Ron was kind enough to pass it on to me and I have asked him to write a short piece introducing himself as well as an introduction to his well written and incredibly sincere prayer.

I thank him for sharing and for putting so much thought into this prayer, a prayer that is so appropriate and spot on for the times that we are living in. As a South African, I echo each and every word of his plea to God and trust that our leaders will surrender and follow the teachings of the Bible - clear, simple but definite and precise, the instructions are all there!

Here then is Ron's introduction and prayer for our country:

I am Ron Kamwendo, originally from Malawi, 34 years old and married to Asalele with two kids (Natalie and Shaun, 7 & 5yrs old). I work as Finance Director for an international non-profit organization called Grassroot Soccer Incorporated which uses the power and influence of soccer to stop the spread of HIV.  I joined Table View United Church with my family in 2009 and was admitted to membership in 2010. My family and I are of Presbyterian background.


There is a shift taking place in the world presently and it encompasses power, politics and economics. Arising out of this shift is the slowly but surely elevating status of Africa as a crucial continent, widely regarded in economics as the next best thing whose potential is yet to be unlocked. South Africa, being an emerging market and riddled with potential, is also widely seen as the key to unlocking this potential. A lot of attention is being paid to South Africa presently and it has gained a lot of prominence in international politics. Some of this attention is good but most of it could easily be driven by greed.

South Africa is becoming the voice of Africa and naturally, countries in Africa have started to look up to South Africa as the leader on the continent. This leadership position that South Africa has assumed is a massive role and without God guiding it, success cannot be attained. The prayer is thus to humbly ask our Mighty God to help South Africa as it embarks on this journey to tend to God’s flock across Africa.


Heavenly Father, just like you chose the mighty men we find in the Bible and whose success we so well know, you have chosen South Africa to lead the African continent into the next generation. A nation which is young in Democracy, but possessing great strength and will, and composed of a diverse people. A nation which is reeling from the after-effects of reconciliation and common purpose, a nation with its own internal problems.

But Lord we know not to concern ourselves with this, for in the Holy Bible you have shown us numerous examples of how you support and guide those whom you appoint as leaders over your flock. You guided Abraham, You guided Moses, You guided Joshua, You guided Jacob, You guided Joseph, You guided David, You guided Noah, You guided Jonah. You Guided Paul Lord, a man whose influence over our lives has an unending impact. Best of all, you guided your own Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us on the cross. What you gave to all these men was wisdom above all wisdom, and they did an amazing job of leading your people.

We call upon you Lord to do the same with South Africa in this crucial time when the African continent is beginning to look to South Africa for direction. We do not want the leadership of South Africa to result in the horrible results we have seen and keep seeing of other countries that have had the privilege of leading others. Such leadership that has led to the deaths of many innocent people, and the enrichment of the greedy at the expense your helpless sheep across the world. Leadership that has immersed countries in unimaginable debt, senseless wars, and diminished their influence over those they should be leading.

And Lord we realize that this is a huge role for South Africa. It is like a King who has to run his own family affairs, and yet deal with the affairs of all others in his Kingdom. Yes, the task is large but not when guided by you.

South Africa needs your Great Wisdom Heavenly Father, irrespective of who you choose to lead the country itself.

In particular Lord, may the intentions of South Africa on other countries be only those that you wish upon those countries. May it resist attempts of those wishing to bend its will according to theirs. May it not promote greed, either its own or others’. And may its leadership be to the benefit of all your children across Africa.

May the Holy Spirit guard our prayer, committed through your son Jesus Christ, our Saviour,


Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 439 - Full circle!

With Sandi Sher of the Children's Hospital Trust at the opening of the brand new burns unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

Sometimes something awful has to happen to you before you decide to get involved in helping others. In my case the awful thing came in the form of an accident which left my little grandson with hot water burns on his upper body and face. Accidents happen in a flash and when this one happened to us we had no idea how dependent we would become on a hospital that has been quietly serving our continent for many, many years.

The burns unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital has been the place of rescue for children who have suffered burns since the 1950's. The staff there, under the expert guidance of Prof. Heinz Rhode have performed sterling work on children for all these years and because of the immediate and word-class treatment our little one received there, he does not have one single scar on his little body today.

Spending time at the hospital brought home the fact that the unit was in dire need of an upgrade. So it was a privilege indeed to be able to get involved, albeit in a very small way, with the massive effort to raise funds to make this all happen. The people in my own life as well as others in our city and elsewhere opened their hearts and together with the efforts of all the team players such the dedicated Hospital Trust staff and local government, the brand new unit was designed, built and finally unveiled to the public yesterday!

We now have a facility that is on par with other burns units internationally and being part of the blessing of this wonderful place yesterday was an honour indeed!

Of all the speeches made by doctors and dignitaries yesterday, this line, delivered by the minister of health, really stood out for me: 'Children are the messengers that we send into an unseen future...' Wow! How powerful is that!

It is therefore our duty as adults to ensure that our children are protected, cared for, educated and equipped for the future in a positive, uplifting and nurturing way. At present the burns unit treat on average 3500 children for burns of all degrees every year. The minister has vowed to start working on ensuring that the supply of electricity to people living in shacks in our townships is speeded up, as the majority of the fires that kids are caught up in are caused by paraffin lamps that are overturned in the tiny corrugated iron structures that people call home.

The video that was shown of how an overturned paraffin lamp causes an absolute inferno in a shack a mere 85 seconds after it has overturned, makes it hard to believe that some children are even able to come out there alive!

We have such a long way to go but thank goodness, there are people and companies who care and are making a difference. As much as I loved seeing the brand new, amazing ward, I couldn't help but wish that this will one day become one of the most underutilised facilities in the hospital! Imagine there being no more victims to have to treat because society has been educated, uplifted and made functional enough in order for these horrible incidents to be something of the past! 

The new recreation room / gym - something they never had before!

Parents who stay overnight (as most do) no longer have to sleep on thin little mattresses on the floor. Personally, I think these fold out beds is one of the most amazing additions they could have added! Many of the parents who stay at the hospital with their children have to get up and go to work in the morning, returning to the ward in the afternoon. These are going to make such a difference!

A calming little corner in the waiting room.

One of the bright murals on the way up to the ward.

The sign on this mural reads: ''Recovery - 2km.' Don't you just love it!

For me, the opening of this unit means the completion of a road that I had no idea I was ever going to follow. I thank God, from the bottom of my heart, that our little guy came out of this ordeal with no scars and hopefully no lasting negative memories of what happened to him. I also thank God that he opened my eyes to the plight of others that might not be as fortunate as I am. I know that I look at the world with different eyes now and hope to continue to somehow try and make a difference wherever else I can. This experience turned from being horrible beyond words, to me standing on the highest point in Africa. How can one possibly be the same again after such a journey?

Jeremiah 29:11 says:
 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

What a truly special promise, and one that is meant for each and every child out there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 436 - The Way

Martin Sheen and his three co-stars walking the Camino in 'The Way'.

From the minute I heard about the movie 'The Way,' starring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estaves, I could not wait for it to hit our theatres. It's not that I'm particularly crazy about the two actors, my real interest was in the actual theme and location of their production as it deals with the Camino de Santiago.

In the movie Sheen plays the roll of an ophthalmologists whose son dies in the Pyrenees on the first day of walking the Camino. He travels to France where he has his son's remains cremated and he then promptly decided to walk the Camino himself, leaving bits of the ashes scattered along the route.

What I couldn't wait to see was the actual route, as he walks the Camino Frances, starting in St Jean Pied de Port and then crossing over the Pyrenees - the exact route that I am planning to walk next year in June! So I went to the theatre not worrying too much about the storyline, just seeing the route and all the little towns I have been dreaming about would have been more than enough for me!

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. The movie certainly won't win any Oscars but the story was solid enough to keep the audience entertained and those who have walked the route seem to agree that it was a pretty good representation of the Camino. I was amazed at the interest that there seems to be in the Camino, the original show was fully booked and the organisers put on a second show earlier in the afternoon that was also fully booked!

As I looked around at those around me in the theatre I found myself wondering what it is about leaving life as we all know it and heading out on a pilgrimage in a strange country with a strange language that fascinates us so much? Judging by the dreamy looks and smiles on the faces, both young and old, as we left to return to real life, I knew that a number of new pilgrims were born!

I couldn't wait to hear what my husband had to say in the car on the way home. I thought I spotted a faraway look and a little smile during the show but knew that I'd hit the jackpot when he said: ' IF I decide to walk PART of the Camino...'

My best friend and my sister are both joining me for the last two weeks of the walk and at least four of my hiking buddies are seriously considering going the whole way. Having my husband join us for a part of the way at least, will be the cherry on the cake for me!

As for the sleeping arrangements, husband definitely won't be persuaded to stay in the albergues along the way but I for one will be tackling those. I would like to put it on record that if it gets too much I might be persuaded to spend a night here and there in slightly more private lodgings... I am not going to adapt the viewpoint that not sleeping in an albergue every single night means that you are less of a pilgrim - walking 780km with my immediate world on my back is more than enough for me to qualify!

Having two of my hiking buddies and their spouses as well as Ermanno Aiello, the writer of the book 'Forever a Pilgrim' and his family at the theatre made the whole afternoon so much more special for me. My Camino experience has already taken on a life of it's own, months before I even set foot on Spanish soil! It really has a way of bringing people together and I cannot wait to see how many more wonderful connections are going to be made during those four weeks on the road!

This week is an important one for the Red Cross Children's hospital here in Cape Town, as Thursday sees the official opening of their brand new burns unit! I am over the moon about the wonderful transformation of this very special place in our city and I would like to shout out the loudest 'THANK YOU!' to every individual and every company who made this possible. I plan on taking my camera along and hope to share some of the day with you here on Friday.

In conclusion, if you'd like to read a bit more about 'The Way', click here

Remember - you're NEVER too old to tackle an adventure like this one! Armed with your backpack, a pair of good walking shoes, your passport and enough funds to sustain yourself for a month - the sky really is the limit!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 433 - Great expectations!

I just love how this journey to Santiago is developing! It started out as a dream a couple of months ago that I thought I might just be able to turn into reality. I was pretty convinced that I was going to have to walk all 780km on my own with my old faithful backpack and walking stick being my only familiar travelling companions for more than a month.

Who would have thought that by September this year I would have been able to convince my husband to start joining me every now and then on one of my weekly hikes...This is a man who has cycled thousands of kilometers and until recently had less than zero interest in hiking or climbing mountains! Well, he now has his own pair of Merrells and a brand new backpack and we have even notched up an overnight hike together. I am ecstatic about this new found love of hiking that he is developing and I am hoping that just as we have explored wonderful parts of the world through his biking adventures, our boots will take us to many new destinations that we might not previously have considered exploring!

The photograph above was taken on our recent hike in the Southern Cederberg, my husband is the one on my left here - clearly not missing his beloved bike too much!

At one stage I was considering trying to make the Camino experience work for us with me walking and him cycling, but I'm not sure how one would bring the two together as we would never get to the same places at the same time. So I guess that plan that still needs some working on! Now that the hiking bug is starting to bite I have noticed that he is not totally disinterested in listening to my tales of people who have walked the Camino, so who knows, he might even end up walking part of the way with me.

Speaking of 'the way' - tomorrow afternoon a group of us will be making our way to the Labia theatre here in Cape Town for a special showing of the movie 'The Way', starring Martin Sheen. The movie was released last year and deals with a father whose son dies tragically in a freak accident whilst walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The father, (Sheen), then undertakes the journey himself, carrying his son's ashes with him.

He walks the Camino Frances, which is the exact route I will be walking. So as you can imagine, I am really looking forward to seeing this movie. Even if the story ends up not being that great, the scenery is definitely going to be of interest. A number of people who are considering walking with me at this stage are also going, so I can't wait!

For more information on the 'The Way', click here

Finally - in the photo below we are with my Thursday hiking group, enjoying the wonderful West Coast spring flowers now in bloom in our part of the world. At this stage at least four of them are thinking of joining me in Spain next year - what a ball that will be! This day was planned to see how we would cope on a long walk that was not too different from some of the terrain that we would encounter on the Camino. We covered 15 kilometers in total and everyone was still very sure that walking the daily maximum of 25 kilometers on certain days would be within our reach.

I guess tomorrow's movie is going to make it all seem a little more real for all of us - one thing we couldn't
reenact was what it would be like to stay in the the albergues. That might be a little more difficult for some of us to get our heads around so lets hope those with doubts about sleeping in dorms with a bunch of strangers will have a better picture of that particular challenge by tomorrow evening! (I'm not sure if Mr Sheen actually went all the way and became a true pilgrim, or if he stayed in five star rooms along the way...)

I can't resist sharing this little piece from Ermanno Aiello's book, 'Forever a Pilgrim', where he relates an evening at one of the albergues where he found himself embroiled in a war of sorts...

He describes how he enjoys a wonderful meal with some of his fellow pilgrims and then continues: 'The evening passed all too quickly and we went too bed very late. I made the mistake of not taking my regular sleeping pill although, in my defence, it hadn't been necessary the previous two nights and I had not thought of it. What a night!! In spite of the four of us each having a bed in a section of the albergue and were thus pretty far apart, the snoring that emanated from Giorgio's and Jacques' sections rivalled and surpassed that of my first night at Hornillos. I was convinced that those two were having their own private Third World War, with their vocal chords as weapons of mass destruction.'

A couple of years ago that paragraph would have been enough to make me pass on this adventure without reading any further. Nowadays however, it doesn't seem like enough to put me off. It only serves to remind me to google the best quality earplugs, oh, and a good supply of sleeping tablets might be worth investing in after all!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 428 - Traditions

I am a creature of habit. I like the tried and tested, I like the proven and I favour continuity. That doesn't mean that I'm not in favour of adaptation and growth, as long as the changes are for the better and growth takes place in a positive way.

Lets face it, nothing stays exactly as it is/was forever. Imagine still walking the Camino in Spain as pilgrims did a thousand years ago. Your basic gear would consist of a wide leather hat, a short leather cape, a leather bag and a very long walking stick. The walking stick would have to be chosen with care as you'd have to be able to balance a hollow pumpkin on the top of it whilst walking. If you were a particularly conservative pilgrim, your pumpkin would be filled with water but you could also choose to use it as a vessel for carrying your supply of wine on the route.

Most pilgrims of old seemed to have preferred the latter and hence the saying: 'With bread and wine the El Camino is walked.' This saying apparently rhymes when said in Spanish - I know in Portuguese 'vinho' rhymes with 'camino' and I'm sure there's a tune in there somewhere!

In all my research I am yet to see a picture of a modern day pilgrim walking with a pumpkin on a stick but the tradition of enjoying bread and 'vinho' on the Camino certainly has survived!

So where, you might wonder, does a picture of sushi fit into all of this. Even I know that the Spanish are not known for their sushi making skills! I find myself intrigued by the story behind such a wonderful tradition though and thought that in the spirit of writing about things traditional, I'd share a bit of dentotaki with you today!

In Japanese, the word dentotaki means traditional or traditionally. More specifically, in the art of sushi-making the word refers to the preservation of some things and the constant innovation in others. Continuity with tradition is extremely important in Japanese food and even though the modern day sushi that we are all familiar with is the most popular, the ancient art of Funa sushi, for example, still exists.

The art of sushi making as we know it dates back to the early 1800's. In the 1300's you might have turned up your nose to this delicacy as Funa sushi was prepared, and still is by a few masters today, in the following way. Fresh water Karp is packed in wooden barrels with cooked rice, weighed down with heavy stones and left to ferment for two years. After two years the fish is washed and repacked with a fresh batch of rice. After another two months of fermentation the fish is washed again and eaten. Can you imagine!

According to an American food anthropologist Dr Merry White: 'Japanese food is not just about the freshest ingredients or the perfect technique, it is the invention behind every act!'

I just love the fact that most of the great sushi masters train their sons in the traditions of preparing sushi. Hence the art, and it really is an art, remains alive and vibrant, a tradition that the Japanese can truly call their own today, even though the Chinese were the first to introduce it to the world.

Just as walking across Spain has become a tradition because of the establishment of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, sushi has created a similar tradition in Japan. The big difference is that in Japan you won't have to walk but you can hop on a train and literally eat your way through the country as you follow the tradition of discovering the magical contents of the famous 'Ekibento sushi boxes',  served at certain stations along the routes. The Ekibento station lunch boxes consist of a variety of sushi and each station is known for its particular delicacies.

So, if walking for 780 kilometres with a pumpkin on a stick doesn't sound appealing to you, get yourself a pair of chopsticks and hop on a train in Japan - sounds like just as much fun to me!