A Walk that Changed My Life

A pilgrimage for mind and soul

Having lived a fairly hectic life well into her late 50s, Flintoff had become both physically and emotionally jaded. She and her husband, Bruce, decided to take extended leave and travel to Europe to walk the pilgrimage route The Way of Saint James to Compostela: in Spanish this is the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. They chose to begin their 800-kilometre walk in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees.

From here they crossed the Pyrenees and tramped across northern Spain to Compostela, before continuing on for another 100 or so kilometres to the Spanish coast, to Finisterre and Cape Finisterre, where Saint James’s martyred body was brought ashore and then carried to Compostela.

For Flintoff and her husband this was not only to be a quiet, reflective time away from the pressures of jobs and everyday modern city life. It was to be a real spiritual pilgrimage in the sense that they are practicing Christians. However, in writing Kiwi on the Camino – A Walk that Changed My Life Flintoff has wisely refrained from preaching to her readers. Lastly, and inevitably, it was to be something of a physical challenge and an adventure.

Flintoff has written a thoughtful account of their 47-day walk (and only 5 of these were rest days). With no set date for finishing the walk, Vivianne and Bruce are free to walk at their own pace – and they frequently give thanks for this – so that some days are a leisurely 6-8-10 kilometres while other days they manage 25-30, even 33 kilometres. Although presented in a day-by-day diary-like style, Kiwi on the Camino – A Walk that Changed My Life is far from tedious as each day is different: the weather ranges from snow storms to warm and sunny; the terrain from pretty challenging to easy walking.

Flintoff did not intend to write a guidebook as such, but she has included interesting snippets of history and descriptions of the villages along the Way. She delights in the vegetation as spring unfolds and varying architectural styles. There are moments of fun and laughter and more sobering times too, such as when one of their new-found friends has to comfort a German pilgrim who has been called a Nazi by a Dutch pilgrim. The German woman is so upset that she abandons her pilgrimage. Pilgrims stay in hostels that are set aside specifically for them, most of which Flintoff found to be are warm, clean, comfortable and inviting – I found myself wanting to do at least part of the walk, in order to immerse myself in the villages and enjoy the convivial atmosphere in the hostels, sharing the day’s walking experiences with fellow pilgrims. This time with other pilgrims was a highlight of the Way for Vivianne and Bruce and Flintoff involves her readers in the fun times they shared as well as the sad moments when a pilgrim has to give up the walk because of ill health or fatigue. At one point, Flintoff fears that she may have to give up her pilgrimage but readers will find themselves willing her on. In these ways, Kiwi on the Camino – A Walk that Changed My Life is in fact a guide book for the mind of a modern pilgrim or long-distance walker.

Both she and Bruce are seasoned trampers with experience in New Zealand and in the Himalayas. Even so, they experience sprains, blisters and falls and fellow trampers will understand their discomfort and frustration. Kiwi on the Camino – A Walk that Changed My Life is written in an uncomplicated, easy to read style that will appeal to would-be pilgrims and armchair travellers alike. There are as many reasons for doing a pilgrimage as there are people doing it. The Flintoffs’ motivation being spiritual is highlighted by the fact that although they are on the road for practically 7 weeks and need to keep their rucksacks as light as possible, they have none-the-less each carried a stone from home to add to the pile at the base of a cross that they pass shortly before reaching Santiago de Compostela.

Kiwi on the Camino – A Walk that Changed My Life is complete with comprehensive bibliography and a glossary of French, Maori and Spanish terms. A couple of times when walking far from a village Flintoff wishes she had a ‘pee wee’. My search of Feminine Urinary Devices (FUDs) has only turned up a ‘She-wee’ and no stockists. Perhaps the author can enlighten us as to where they are sold.

Review written by Carolyn McKenzie

Proofreader and Editor Translations (Italian to English) English lessons – all ages, all levels Books and ebooks Exploration and accommodation in Ventimiglia Alta (Liguria, NW Italy) – Carolyn’s website

Review arranged and first published by FlaxFlower book reviews – More FlaxFlower reviews