The Not-so-Narrow Way to Enlightenment (and a certificate)


The Not-so-Narrow Way to Enlightenment (and a certificate)

The ‘spiritual trails' popping up everywhere have become intolerable, says LOUIS DE VILLIERS.


ONLY the finest of lines remains between the remains of the apostle James and champagne at The Burgundy restaurant in Hermanus.

Bizarre, isn't it? But with so much quasi-mysticism and so much do-it-yourself bullshit being commodified in a hideous money-grabbing stew these days, it was inevitable.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

James and John

Let's start with James, brother of John, “the disciple who loved Jesus". That's what John said in his own gospel; it's possible that Jesus loved poor old James just as much.

Anyway, according to tradition, James was killed by order of Herod, after which his followers apparently took his decapitated body all the way from Palestine to Galicia, in the far northwest of Spain.

Or maybe they were angels; history is a little unclear on the details. If they weren't angels, then there would have had to be proto-fridges on board their ship. Point is, you can make people believe anything, and around the 10th century many people were made to believe James's remains were in the northwest of Spain, and if you could just manage the walk all the way there, most of your sins would be forgiven.

So, people began to walk to Santiago de Compostela, because most people sin a lot, from the early Middle Ages up to this day.

In the 15th century, Pope Alexander officially designated it as the third most important pilgrimage for Christians, after Jerusalem and Rome. In 1987, all the trails leading there were officially renamed the first Cultural Route of the Council of Europe; the bureaucracy got involved. Mao Zedong would have applauded that official designation, even if he was not of the faithful. Of course, the hike was immediately much more convenient and much, much more expensive.

As a history enthusiast, I have long been vaguely aware of these trails; after all, they sound wonderful. If only I weren't so lazy.

About 15 years ago, one of my godchildren travelled all the way from Switzerland to Finisterre on this camino. He was not yet 10. When he came home, he was this wise young boy full of jaw-dropping insights. At least, that was the case for about two or three years; our education system still wants to restrain young individualists. Consequently, he was just a schoolboy again for about five years, and for the past four or five years yet again an impressive young gentleman.

His British uncle also completed the camino last week. The week before last he was one of the 10 most boring people I've met in my life, but I'll bet he's the most boring now.

Disillusioned with fellow pilgrims

It's just one of those things. Not everyone is up to walking such distances, and even fewer of them know how to relate the experience. Henry David Thoreau, Bill Bryson and the unfortunately forgotten Laurie Lee make such travels sound wonderful. There was a time when a long journey on my feet with my life in a backpack was a heavenly thought, and their stories keep things that way.

A few years ago, a long-lost friend braved the road to Santiago de Compostela from the east of France. Children out of the house, that type of thing. Blogger kind of vibe.

Although she has grown older in much more wholesome fashion than myself (healthy marriage, children and so on), it was wonderful for me to follow her thoughts in such a convenient way; I shouted a daily inner “Hooray!" whenever she had made light work of 30km or struck up satisfying conversations with a Czech or a Chinese along the way. She was clearly still the same sweetheart from years ago.

Alas, after a few weeks and 700km on foot, with only 100km to go, the auntie flipped out, and quite understandably so. With her feet full of blisters but a clear mind, she suddenly understood too much of what the other pilgrims were saying to each other:

“Wot sa julle fon dôi nuwe jiffrau bai die lôwerskwil?”
(“What do you say about that new teacher at the primary school?")

“Elandrelette sa sai is bôie bekwôm.”
(“Elandrelette says she is very capable.")

“Hônsie oowhik.”
(“So does Hansie.”)

“Sais bôie mwhui.”
(“She's very pretty.")

“O, lakker!”
(“Oh, nice!")

“Kommôs nwhui hôr oowhir, TOE-HOE?”
(“Let's invite her over, shall we?")


Got my certificate

The punch disappeared from my friend's daily blog posts after that. The Real Housewives had harshed her mellow.

I couldn't blame her. You only need to complete 100km (on foot; 200km by bike, which sounds like a relative bargain) of this medieval pilgrimage to get your certificate, and certificates these days are a bit like selfies — if you don't have one, it apparently didn't happen.

So now, a lucrative business has sprung up that drops off slightly disillusioned or bored women about 100km east of Santiago de Compostela, from where they can zap down to the finish line without a moment's break in the conversation and still get their certificates.

But why are Afrikaans women so nervous about doing these things by themselves? As always, I blame the men. Maybe they prefer sticking to the herd because their husbands' self-esteem is not completely resistant to morbid fantasies about Pedro, the barista in Gijón with the ample package.

Tour of the Cape?

Our deeply rooted inferiority complex means blocks of flats have to be called Capri or Santorini. Years ago, there was a Western Cape cycling race that billed itself as the Tour du Cap, and later as the Giro del Capo. Toer van die Kaap or Tour of the Cape or Ukhenketho Iwekapa was never discussed.

Consequently, South Africans are no longer capable of just going for a walk or a stap or a hamba. There is a whole cottage industry out there to tell you how you should go about your hike, and the real word is “camino".

There's been a Baviaans Camino, a Cape Camino, a Namaqua Camino and a Tankwa Camino for a while now. And I'm willing to bet there haven't been many Spaniards in the Tankwa apart from a few Afrika Burn backpackers.

The marketing people will explain to us what “camino" means. (Pretend I'm not making faces at you from behind their backs): “This is now a ‘hot' marketing word in the travel industry and often refers to multi-day, slackpacking walks, but a camino should be much more than that. By definition, it's a long-distance route, more a journey than a hike, anchored in sacred principles, easily accessible to all, often community owned and usually with a sacred destination and spiritual or personal growth dimension."

Camino is just Spanish for “path". Tankwa Path sounds a hundred times better than Tankwa Camino, except if you're the type of person who insists on naming your beach house “Sorrento".

Excuse my Afrikaans, but how much more of this pretentious kak do we have to gulp down? Life is hard enough. In other words: Cuanto mierda pretenciosa tenemos que comer? La vida es bastante dura.

Hermanus Camino

I apologise for the rant, but the week before last I heard that there is yet another “camino": the Hermanus Camino.

Seventy kilometres, five nights, two wine-tastings along the way, and meals; beer, wine and gin-and-tonic included; scones and champagne at The Burgundy when you finish.

And of course! A certificate to confirm that you walked 70km around Walker Bay and thereby underwent the appropriate spiritual enrichment. All yours for R12,000. Congratulations!

According to the stories, James was a moody fellow; that's probably why his head had to roll. He's probably going nuts when he looks down on us now and sees all those smug camino participants.

♦ VWB ♦

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