On The Road Again ~ My Home

There is something powerful that draws people “home”. The familiar surroundings of the neighbourhood you grew up in. A city filled with memories of good times and bad. The smells of your local pie shop. The weather, the trees, the layout of the streets and ofcourse the people that signal you belong.  

I’m back on the trail again after 8 months at home in Australia.  I’ve had an incredible time back in the real world and it felt nice to be in the groove of “regular” life.  I’ve landed a cracking job in an awesome organisation who prides itself in making people from far and wide “ feel at home” in Australia. 

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I’ve met some inspiring people, experienced cultures from all four corners of the world right here at home.  I’ve made connections that have had a permanent and lasting impact on my life and touched my heart.  I’ve even found love for the cold (the secret is sipping red wine by a fire). 

I’ve gypsied my way around home like I do the world by house sitting and snuggling up with strangers fur babies. In doing so I’ve gained an insight into other people’s lives.  What makes them happy, what they live for and what home looks like to them. 

As I sit in transit in Dubai airport, I too feel at home.  I love the familiar sounds of a final boarding call. I enjoy wondering where my fellow travelers are coming from and going to. I perch myself in another random bar and try the local ale and it tastes like I belong.  (Its midday somewhere after all ) 

 

For some home is where the heart is. For me, it’s immersing myself in as many versions of life as I can possibly squeeze in. 

 “For not everyone who wanders is lost.” 

I am content with my choices, I have no regrets and my globetrotting existence has taught me some valuable lessons. 

I’ve learnt that food tastes best in the country of origin and Delhi belly won’t kill you, even when you think it might.  I’ve learnt not to take water for granted and that you can get a corona anywhere! I’ve learnt people are just people and everyone you meet really does cross your path for a reason, and sometimes you won’t know why. I now know that God comes in many forms and that faith is universal. I’ve learnt sunshine feeds the soul and torrential rain is a miracle that feeds the earth.

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Through this chaotic and beautiful journey, I have also learnt you can be scared yet still live fearlessly. You can make a plan for tomorrow and then throw it out the window.  I’ve found that whilst you should work for your money, you should spend it on whatever serves your happiness. In life its ok to be mad but you must always forgive and most importantly we must love unconditionally and if we get hurt…. Get up, dust yourself off and do it again because that is what life is all about. 

I’m en route to my second Camino and I know the love of my fellow peregino’s will flow abundantly.  My next home comes in the form of a series of pilgrim hostels and that is exactly where it should be.. for me. 

Yours in Faith 

Therese 

Camino Series #3 – In God We Trust

Churches! Churches! Churches! The Spanish love the Lord! Every town has a church or two or 10! Even the tiny wee villages that have but a few houses and a lot of farm land, there in the centre of town is the house of God. Outside, a very similar style yet inside even the quaintest of churches has that energy that only God provides. You can feel the love of the caretakers or congregations, especially when they are up at dawn to stamp the passport of the passing pilgrims.

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At the beginning of the Camino you get a pilgrim’s passport so you can stamp your way through the villages, cities and towns to prove in Santiago that you have indeed walked and earned your Compostella. I thought 50 stamps would be sufficient but I must have passed over 500 churches in 21 days. The Leon Cathedral was a sight to behold! It was HUGE! Upon entry the vastness was filled with beautiful paintings, sacristy and the power of God and stunning architectural design. Empty pews during the day and packed out pilgrim masses at night. This was a common theme, empty pews.

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In a small town called Trabadelo the church was packed to the rafters when I arrived. Surprised, I enquired…funeral it seemed. Apparently, the village priest struggles with attendance on Sundays, although a handful of devout women attend week in, week out. Alas for a wedding, christening or funeral in this case, the townspeople gather in their hundreds.

I marvelled at the Gaudi masterpiece of the Episcopal Palace in Astorga and the cathedral which was equally impressive. Of course, the pièce de résistance of the Camino is the Cathedral Santiago. Set upon an infinite square where the last seashell lies, signalling the end of your pilgrimage. Unfortunately, the restoration works had it covered in scaffolding as I arrived, but it was festival time. So, as I lined up on the feast day for two hours just to enter at mass time, I’m thankful I had the patience to wait. Inside decadently grand and alluring you wonder why the Catholic Church doesn’t rapidly expand its congregations on sheer elegance alone.

img_9144A beautiful  creation and the sense of God still there; and with the grandeur of the ceremony it witnesses and the swinging of the Botafumeiro, which technically should only occur on a holy year. But it’s St James Day and they’re feeling festive.

With 50 stamps in my pilgrim’s passport I’ve but touched the sides. The house of God always astounds me. If history, architecture, nature, hiking or God is your thing, get yourself on the Camino. You won’t regret it.
Yours in Faith

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Camino Series #2 – Awakened to the Beauty in the Ordinary.

Everywhere I turn, there is another miracle. Endless fields of sunflowers, rolling hills littered with plant life, butterflies that flitter and look like tigers. Waterfalls, rivers and streams flowing: the giver of life to this region.

Welcome to Spain!


Nature is all around us and I have experienced so many different landscapes from deserts to jungles and everything in between. The Camino is an eclectic mix of environments that mould and flow into one another in a way that perhaps you can only witness by walking through it. Often in life we pass through fast; we are in a car or a train or a plane, looking through a window and not stopping to smell the roses. Or perhaps our eyes are just not open to the beauty that surrounds us. On the Camino, my eyes were WIDE open.

When deciding to take on this walk I was daunted by the distance and feared that my body wouldn’t cope. I was encouraged by the people I was sure to meet, the churches and the sense of achievement I would gain. I knew it would be pretty, but I underestimated the glory that surrounded me every day on the trail.

One chilly morning as I was strolling out of Villa de Mazarife, and I was on a deserted dirt track surrounded by corn fields. On a normal day I would drive past farming land such as this and vacantly stare past the beauty of these pastures. On this day the sun was rising behind me, glistening orange across the sky and allowing heat to penetrate the back of my neck. Somehow I was awakened. Awakened to the beauty in the ordinary.

As I trudged on, days four and five were full of canopied forests, light shimmering through the foliage as the streams trickled quietly in the background like a lullaby for the racing mind. I often sat in wonder at the colour of the leaves, so many shades of green. I think of the colour wheel in my photo editing suite, convinced only a glimpse is available as to what nature can offer.

The wildlife or even domestic animals litter the trail. I found a love for cows. Yes cows. Have you ever looked at a cow, really looked? They’re beautiful. Built strong and muscular. Firm and solid yet their faces are kind, gentle, unassuming and non-threatening. I begin to really appreciate the personalities in their faces. Goofy almost, adorable. Then there are the dogs that are trained so well to defend farm boundaries, loyal and true to their masters. Unfazed by the constant stream of strangers passing by, yet fierce as hell I’m sure, should you step over the invisible precipice in between, common space and THEIR land.


I’m in awe of the butterflies, caterpillars and other insects around me. The colours, the erratic movement which I’m sure makes perfect sense to them. Bright blues, deep oranges and vibrant and electric green; going about existence in the only way they know how. Survival, freedom, life.  

I think about our creator, the God I believe in. What his palette must look like. Did he create the leopard and then think ooh I’ll make a butterfly in the same hues that would be cool? Or was the butterfly first? 

The waterway: an essential part of life for all creatures. What made him decide on small streams, rapid rivers, still lakes and raging oceans? Was it to show us the diversity and power of nature that has been given to us to enjoy living by? To remind us we are all different but also the same? The Spanish love their waterways. They don’t pollute them, they care for them and they embrace them in daily life. Building ladders into the river banks so the locals can frolic and enjoy the cool of the stream. Now that’s my idea of heaven.  

There are many reasons to journey the Camino and if you are a nature lover, this is certainly a trip for you.

 

Yours in Faith,

 

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

Camino #1 – Lost and Lonely on The Camino

The Camino taught me many things. Lessons that would be uncovered as I traipsed across Spain with my backpack on and trepidation on my sleeve hidden by the sense of adventure that has always consumed and motivated me. The first of life’s little lessons would be the difference between being solo and being alone, the magnificent difference between loneliness and solitude. By day 3 I was 50 kms into my trek, and the scenery, if I’m honest, was not that great. My blisters had developed and although I enjoyed the quiet still of the track (after battling with the snoring and rustling of people in the dorm), by sun up and an hour into my walk I was lonely, bored and feeling overwhelmed by my solitude.

 The fields on the way to Astorga seemed endless. The heat was sticky and relentless as it threatened rain, which never did come to cool us down. I’d left with some other pilgrims but was soon alone having either overtaken them or fallen behind.

 Lonely: Feeling sad because one has no friends or company

The Camino is a journey people take for different reasons, to find themselves, to find God, to recover from a personal situation or to switch off and some only for the physical challenge… the list is endless. I had taken it on purely for research, to interview pilgrims, to hear their stories, to enjoy the countryside and a spot of vino; that was it. Nothing deep, not soul searching, just a pleasant stroll through the north of Spain, I might even get fit. Well the Camino had other ideas.

Sadness is something I can cope with, I’m a good crier, and I often embrace my feelings and bounce back quickly from sorrow or grief. But loneliness is not one I have battled with in my life. I come from a big family and I love to be around people. I’m often in a couple and even travelling solo across the globe I have stayed with families, met new friends and seldom have been truly alone.

On the Camino, I felt lonely, I felt isolated and felt lost within my own journey of life. The sense of purpose of The Unlikely Pilgrim evaporated on this trail and I questioned what it was all about. Why see all these amazing sights on your own? Why try and discover the faiths of the many and lose yourself? Why, just why, was I on this hot dirt track on the outskirts of Leon when I could be in a hundred other places surrounded by people, friends or beaches?

Solitude: The state or situation of being alone

Midway through my walk I had gotten into the swing of the Camino routine. Up early and on the trail before it gets hot…really hot. Four to six hours of solitary ME time to think and ponder and dream of what next? I came to understand that being alone doesn’t necessarily have to translate into being lonely.

 Every day there were people to meet at the juice stops and Albergues, conversations to be had and stories to discover. These intermittent meetings fuelled my human desire to be part of a tribe and gave me the energy to keep going it alone. The diversity of pilgrims on the route from big organised tour groups to energetic nomads, young, old, fit and not so fit. I met a man in Hospital de Orbigo who was battling the Camino in his wheelchair! Having been crippled by the cruelness that is MS he had always wanted to complete the Camino and he was going to give it everything he had. I bet he wished he could be alone, I bet he missed the solitude that good health provides. Half way – I’ve got this!

 Solo: A thing you do unaccompanied

 Rather than feeling lonely I started to feel empowered. People often praised me for doing it alone and I didn’t really see why. I met lots of solo travellers walking it and I certainly wasn’t the only one. I came to understand that time on your own is nice. Nice to have the time to sift through your thoughts, dissect them and bin what is not serving you. I understood that quiet feeds the soul and what I thought I knew about “switching off” was merely just touching the surface on practicing solitude. The loneliness had dispersed and had been replaced by gratitude. Gratitude to have the opportunity to switch off and explore this great land of ours and see the spectacular scenes, the quaint churches and be with God.


 Buddha found enlightenment, alone, in a field underneath the Bodhi Tree. The same spot is now swarming with monks, pilgrims and tourists alike. No amount of meditation in that space today would reach the higher plain. Yet on the Camino, the sound of nature whistles around you and your thoughts swirl in and out of your head. I think calm can be achieved, focus can be found and loneliness is merely a stepping stone along the way that helps you get there in the end.

After all, we are born alone and we die alone.  

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

“Happy Blogiversary” To The Unlikely Pilgrim!

I cannot believe it has been a full year that I have been jetting about exploring religions, cultures and making friends in the strangest of places. I have hit 18 countries and been to tiny little villages in India and Indonesia, super cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and London. I’ve frolicked in the waves of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, among others. I’ve seen ancient sites and felt the history within them as if I was a time traveller. I’ve eaten anything and everything, dabbled in local dance, learnt languages, customs and got lost A LOT! So to mark this monumental occasion I’ve compiled my seven most remarkable memories from the last 12 months. Enjoy!


Spiritual Enlightenment

Given my love of God and the fact that this is The Unlikely Pilgrim, I’ve been privileged to experience some incredible festivals, monuments, places of worship and powerful moments. The one for me that stands out most has to be Jerusalem. Amongst the chattering of Japanese tourists and the chaos of Easter weekend crowds, I was in the Upper Room where it is written that Jesus hosted the Last Supper the day before he was crucified. I stood in awe of the location, a relatively bland room with hints from its Islamic, Jewish and Christian past. I listened to Hillsong tunes echo through my earpods. I was completely engulfed by the magnitude of the occasion and its importance in my faith and therefore my heart and soul. In that moment it was as if I was alone, reflective of what had gone down in this room. My commitment to Christ swelled inside me and reaffirmed my path: to celebrate God my way and love others, like Jesus had. Not with judgement, not with an agenda, but because we are all one. That was my Jerusalem moment.


 Underwater Paradise

The Caribbean is the clearest, bluest most incredible water I’ve witnessed to date. The turquoise shimmer of the sun is mesmerising and inviting. It was here on my 33rd birthday I went diving with one of my best friends Nea off the coast of Can Cun at Isla Mujeres. The MUSA underwater museum is home to thousands of colourful fish and massive turtles all swimming amongst hundreds of statues placed underwater, as an artificial reef. I’ve been diving all over the world and the ocean scenery is always captivating; but I think what made this special was the symbolism of unity that these statues represented. Combined with the stunning nature of the above water views as well, helped. It was a feast for the eyes and for the soul.


Drunken Debauchery

Did someone say Carnivale in Rio? Five days of bloco parties, samba, Brazilian music, fancy dress and the world’s most gorgeous people half naked, offering me beer. YES please! Combined with stunning beaches and glorious churches to explore whilst in recovery mode, made this a very hazy yet very enjoyable stop along the way. A weeklong party that EVERYONE gets involved in from the little ones to the grey army. I highly recommend getting yourself to Carnivale in Rio. It won’t disappoint.


Forever Friendship

Tough category! I am going to omit the Bali crowd from this one as they are already on that list. This one goes out to Maria. Maria is my proofreader and originally a friend of a friend. I have only met her in person twice, yet she has been with me all the way. Ensuring my blogs make sense, offering impartial yet valuable advice and helping my book come to life. Her views are often not aligned with mine and this is why I love her. She is a kindred spirit yet our differences are what makes that so. It’s funny how connected you can feel to someone with oceans and mountains between you. I’ve learnt that this year. I’ve learnt that true friendships don’t fade with distance, they evolve and they change, but true friends will be there in the end. Even when you are worlds apart. (She totes has to proofread this, haha!)

 WTF Moment

Back to Brazil! This was not the only “exorcism” I have witnessed this year but inside the walls of the Temple of Solomon in Sao Paolo, shit got real! Surrounded by 6000 evangelist Christians, on their feet all shouting “get out” in Portuguese to the apparent demon within the dishevelled woman on the stage seemed to be quite extreme, even to me. I certainly said my own prayers amongst the fanfare and hype of the moment. Not for the lady, but for me to make it out without donning the stage or being discovered as completely bewildered at the practice.

I Wish I Lived There

Bali! Bali! Bali! I loved every moment of my time on the paradise island, with its thunderous wet season, scorching dry months, ceremony overload and endless rice fields. I loved the lifestyle of yoga by day and beers with mates by night. I met some incredible people that are firmly in the forever friendship groups. I found myself and I conquered so many fears and demons in that place. Not to mention the beaches are beautiful, the people are so kind and friendly and life is just simple there. I’ll be back. I know it.


Time Traveller

 Lebanon – The history that laps the shores there is incredible for me. Phoenician ruins dating back 6000 years in Byblos and temples for Venus and Bacchus at Baalbek in the mountains. Cedar trees that are centuries old. I enjoyed the unity of the Islamic and Christian worlds colliding over time yet emerging united in what Pope Benedict XVI said is an example for the rest of the world. Islamic burial grounds annexed Christian cemeteries in Tyre. Towering Minarets overlooking Church bell towers in Beirut. Glimpses of the war years linger and yet the general vibe of the place is one of party, friendship and harmony.


 Three hundred and sixty-five days on the road. I feel blessed to have enjoyed the journey thus far and look forward to sharing what the next year has to offer.

 Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Kuli Kuli – Life with a Moroccan Family

They say home is where the heart is and I am a family girl. But I’m beginning to think my family is increasing by the day. I have signed up with IVHQ  to volunteer both in Marrakech and Casablanca during Ramadan. I am hosted by families in both towns and almost immediately I feel like I am one of them, Moroccans are famous for their hospitality, but this is above and beyond. The family in Marrakech host myself and Kelly, the bubbly blond law student from California, and I adore them right off the bat.

We sit and chat with the help of Google Translate and the daughters who speak fluent English translate and giggle along with my very broken Arabic. Bushra and Abdeljalil facetime with my man and to hear them chatting in Darija (Moroccan dialect) makes me smile and it is like he is here. I am woken gently at 3:00am for Suhoor and I’m constantly in a fit of giggles with the amount of food Bushra puts before me at this ungodly hour. Kuli, kuli (eat, eat) she is always saying.

A sentence I have learned early on is “my husband is Moroccan”. Okay, so he is not my husband per se, but long distance boyfriend is just too hard to explain. Knowing this increases the love I get from the locals. This family includes me in everything! I mean everything. On day two my host sisters take me to the Hammam, it’s a local one, not the blue tile spa masterpiece you see on tele, this is something else. Women who are normally covered practically from head to toe are naked as the day they were born and completely not bothered. I’m not so shy but when Salma takes my loofah and starts exfoliating my back I do crack a smirk and think, well when in Rome I guess.

Omar and Yassir are absolute legends too. I speak at length until the wee hours about Islam and areas I’m not so sure on. Omar takes it all in his stride and the feminist and Christian in me shines, as does the male dominated societal upbringing and devotion to his faith arises in him. Abdeljalil just watches on ensuring we don’t get into an argument. Which we don’t and thoroughly enjoy the debate on both sides. He goes to bed with a list of things he needs to answer for me.

I love this family and I think that maybe I should have just committed the whole time to Marrakech so I could be with them longer. Alas it’s time to move on…

Casablanca. This is a big city and I am in a very rough and tough neighbourhood. I’m introduced to Fatima my host and she links my arm and walks me home. I feel like she is marking her territory, perhaps telling the neighbourhood, “see this blondie, she’s with me so don’t mess with her!”

We arrive at the apartment which is colourful and bigger than that of the one in Marrakech and I soon find out why – five kids: my magic number. Four gorgeous girls are 24, 19, 17 and little Miriam, six who is to become my shadow. Ahmed is the man of the house and there is a son who is in Spain. It’s Ramadan and they are all very impressed that I am fasting and are proud to feed me up at Iftar time. Kuli, kuli there’s that familiar cry. I’m eating, I’m eating!

Over the three weeks I am with this family they open their home and heart to me, invite me to all events and I return the favour by cooking a feast once a week. Also, I’m giving them a laugh with my developing but still amateur Arabic. This family is immersed in the centre that I teach at and at all hours working on projects, sewing clothes, making food for Iftar and just generally getting involved.

I’m invited to a local ceremony, they insist I stay on for Eid celebrations and watch over me like I am one of their own. Now I know this sounds like just any friendly household, but it’s the little things that warm your heart. It’s the beaming smile on Ahmed’s face when he sees me bleary eyed at suhoor amused at my dedication to his faith, or the kisses that come from Miriam as soon as I walk in. Or the genuine love from Fatima as she brings me in for a cuddle as I sit and read just because that’s what mums do.

I’ll cherish my time in Morocco, not for the sights and not just for the journey through Islam, but the open hearts of the families who have hosted me and truly made me like I was one of them.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

 

 

Not Hangry – Ramadan the Fast.

Wow!  Sixteen hours without food or water of any kind, in 30 plus heat all whilst trying to explore, learn and teach. What was I thinking? Day one and it just so happens I’m in the Sahara (not joking). I feel like I’m in a movie where the damsel in distress is walking fatigued and dying of thirst across the endless sand dunes hallucinating about a mirage that evaporates before her eyes as she approaches. Okay not that extreme, but by the last hour when I am literally on the back of a camel crossing the sand dunes. I am secretly praying for an oasis and my head is pounding.
Day two is a little easier, with the long journey back to Marrakech ahead I am ushered off for a nap in the lounge with all the drivers in quite an elite little club of the Fasting Locals whilst the tourists I’m with have lunch. Said locals are always so pleasantly surprised of my fast and show their appreciation and encouragement fervently.

After this initial hurdle, it’s practically easy. Honestly. I am normally a very hangry bird when I’ve not eaten and my patience amazes even me. I don’t know if it’s because subconsciously I know it’s for God or if it is something the body just adjusts to quite quickly.

Most days I feel the fatigue from the broken sleep more than anything else and with the feast that occurs at Iftar. It’s worth the wait. Suhoor is a funny time of day. In Marrakech, my host family cook a massive meal, tagine, soups, yogurt, bread and there is always melon. It’s weird for me to eat such a stodgy meal at such an early hour. I go from being asleep at 2:55am to eating a full dinner at 3:05am. What the? In Casablanca, my hosts are more of a jam and bread kind of crew and I find this much easier to adjust to.

At day 19 I’m feeling like I’ve conquered it and then it hits… Fes has 43 degree heat, endless mazes of narrow lanes to explore and I feel like the extra seven minutes until Iftar is a lifetime. I am a grumpy bitch all weekend. Honestly. The endless, rip off approaches from the street vendors and impromptu and unsolicited guides, the haggle for a taxi that really is unnecessary combined with the heat – NOT COOL! I enjoy parts of the trip and learn a thing or two but I feel the fast in Fes and decide not to travel again until after Eid, for my sanity and that of those around me (sorry Emily). The silver lining of course is that the remaining days in Casablanca pass with ease because I am so thankful to be in the comfort of 28 degrees and for the ocean breeze.

Thirty days have been and gone and I survived! I didn’t falter, I didn’t cheat and even when I was technical excused from fasting (when you travel and when you are sick) I soldiered on and I’m glad I did. I’ve lost 3 kgs, I feel motivated to get back into the gym having not had the energy to do so for the last month and I have a new-found appreciation to this holy month and one part of what it stands for.

 

You don’t have to be religious to fast and you don’t have to be Muslim. If you fancy it try it next Ramadan and have a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Yours in Faith, 

The Unlikely Pilgrim