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Participant Profile

John O'Henly: Imagine Walking Above the Clouds!


When I returned in 1995 after walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela -- 1600 kms from Chartres cathedral in France, I had no idea my enthusiasm for the journey would be caught by five other members of the '8.15am class' at CCAA. Over the next ten years, George Plaxton, Helen Martin, Lynne Munro, Nick Jaco, and recently John Pretti, have walked on the Spanish section.

The Camino was the pilgrimage path across the north of Spain in the Middle Ages -- 800 kms --leading to the supposed burial site of the Apostle James, (Santiago, in Spanish). By the 11th century it was the most important pilgrimage route next to Rome and Jerusalem.

Each of us found exercise training essential before going to Spain. The walk is strenuous at times, and one carries a backpack over a variety of terrain, for 20-25 kms every day. Historically pilgrims sheltered at night in monasteries and convents. Now these, plus municipal refugios, offer basic inexpensive accomodation, sometimes for only a donation. One of our generous pilgrims, George Plaxton, has twice returned to Spain as a hospitalero, or Warden in charge of a refugio.

The route begins at the French border with a one day, arduous climb over the Pyranees. Onwards one passes countless small villages, provincial towns and cities, hilly vineyards, empty prairies, mountains where you can walk above the clouds, and numerous rivers to be crossed. Lynne Munro remembers that nothing at home prepared her for the physical reality of the Camino. Some walkers have experienced trouble with blisters, sore knees and hips, but attendance to health issues and hygiene can minimize many problems.

Pilgrims come from many countries around the world, and contact with these new friends provides an enjoyable part of the journey. Helen Martin walked alone, but later joined two other women -- she still corresponds as a result of days spent together on the trail. Socializing in the evenings and at communal meals is an experience to be valued.

Afraid of getting lost? John Pretti, who returned recently, has the answer, "Follow the path; it knows where it's going." Actually the way is well-marked by yellow arrows, and cairns showing distances.

About thirty days are required to walk across Spain. As the days pass, one often spends time walking alone. Then one's senses perk up -- strange birdsong, ancient architecture, fragrance of regional plants and trees, and the texture of the land, are almost overwhelming. In these solitary times, one sometimes focuses on the unfolding of one's life, a chance to consider fresh perspectives. There is a lot to be said for voluntarily taking oneself 'out of the loop' for a while.

People in northern Spain are warm and helpful. There are many opportunities to interact, while shopping for food, and in bars, cafes, and the refugios, (although little English is spoken). Top

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Clara Fitzgerald
Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging
Toll Free 1.866.661.1603
Fax 519.661.1612
Email: cfitzge4@uwo.ca

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