Author John Brierley spends every spring and autumn following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims making their way to the medieval cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in far western Spain. He has been walking the Camino de Santiago for 25 years.
When he is not walking, he is at home, writing and playing with his grandchildren. John has written dozens of guides for pilgrims from all walks of life, who plan to walk some of the than 80,000 kilometres of authenticated and waymarked routes that lead to , on which every nation on Earth has set foot.
But it’s not about counting your steps, monitoring your heart beat, he says.
“To experience the Camino directly, you have to listen to your heart,” says John. “Listen well; it might only come as a whisper. But beware! If you have truly heard the call, you have become infected by a disease which will become fatal to your limited ego identity.”
I interviewed John for my The Knowledge column in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning and The Age newspapers, and his passion is infectious. I do believe that was his aim: to get me on the route.
“Our troubled world is crying out for solutions to the war and injustices that are raging everywhere we look,” he told me in our interview while he was in Australia recently. “But we have been looking for answers in the wrong direction. We have been looking out, not in.”
“The Camino asks us to step out of our comfort zone and to take some risks.The solutions we seek can only be found in the stillness of our own hearts and minds. ”
“That is the incredible gift of the Camino – it provides time in the silence of nature to empty out our outworn belief systems and allows time new insights to arise in the spaciousness of higher Mind.”
Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.
The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.
It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.
Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?
The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life, says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.
“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.
You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…
The turn of each year always calls for contemplation, and looking back at last year’s travel, Palestine definitely wins as the most dramatic of the destinations I visited in 2017, which included Jaipur (India), Bali (Indonesia), Egypt, Greece, a brief fling in Qatar and plenty of lovely Australian destinations.
Upload FilesIt’s been a while since I entered a country with such trepidation and so many questions (Will they stamp my visa on a piece of paper? (Yes) Will I find beauty? (Yes) Will I starve (An emphatic no) Will I cross borders easily? (No bother until I departed Tel Aviv airport at the end) and, most importantly, Will I be safe? (A resounding yes to feeling safe in Palestine, especially compared with the state-sponsored gun-fest that was, for me, Jerusalem).
On my week-long hiking tour through Palestine’s West Bank, I walked with just one other hiker – another woman – and our guide, the fabulously patient, deeply knowledgeable and supremely courteous Anwar. Just the three of us, wandering remote valleys and sunbaked hilltops.
We slept in Bedouin camps, in people’s houses and in small, family-run hotels, drinking an inordinate amount of sweet, thyme-scented tea and eye-poppingly strong coffee, while eating our bodyweight in fresh dates that melt on the tongue like brown sugar.
Highlights include adding our own Banksy-designed graffiti onto the towering concrete walls that separate the West Bank from Israel, wandering ancient markets buying spices and baklava, and visiting remote monasteries hidden in the ravines and valleys that mark the countryside.
DISCLAIMER: In Palestine, I was a guest of Crooked Compass tours, and would recommend them thoroughly for their wildly adventurous destinations and experiences.
A magnet around which the city revolves, this is the view of the Acropolis from the top floor of my hotel, New Hotel in Athens.
It’s ironic that the more I travel, the less I post on my poor blog. I’m just back from nearly two months in the Middle East, working from my base in Cairo.
Cairo’s my second home: I’ve lived here, and return most years to watch it race toward change – some good, some absolutely dire. This year, I also took a walking tour through Palestine’s West Bank and a brief island hop in Athens and the beautiful island of Hydra, about 90 minutes by ferry from the main port of Piraeus.
I got a lot of love from the @Traveller instagram account, and just spotted this clip in the weekend papers of my shot of the Acropolis, which I took from the top floor of New Hotel, Athens, a chi-chi little design hotel.
Sure, you can book the penthouse to soak it up, but the breakfast room is also currently on the top level, so we can all enjoy one of the world’s great landmarks.