As the sun rose over the Hawekwaberge in Wellington on Monday, a group of six pilgrims set off to walk 300 km over two weeks following the little known back routes to finish in Aurora. The first day was 23 km to Hermon and the next was only 11km to Riebeeck Kasteel.
This is the second step of an ambitious project to connect the current peninsula section to the West Coast town of Elands Bay and then the Oliphants River.
The previous evening, pilgrims, hosts, media and other guests arrived at the historic Oude Wellington wine estate to celebrate and bless the first Cape Camino 1000.
Rewind many years ago when Gabrielle Andrew and her daughter Peggy Andrew-Coetzee did the Spanish Camino de Santiago and decided to create a path in the Cape, for the world to follow. The Cape Peninsula routes were launched in 2015 and have become a popular destination for visitors and locals.
At the launch, Gabrielle says she has found that tourism has changed with visitors wanting a slow experience and not just white linen. “The Cape Camino is hard to beat with amazing scenery, West Coast hospitality and diverse accommodation and food that are geared for it. And the benefits go to the community. The goal is to have 100 000 people on the Cape Camino 1000 bringing R6.5 billion to the area each year,” she says.
On Gabrielle’s Camino she learnt the truth of finding her own pace… and following her own path. “Any pilgrimage is personal. This is no different. What I learned when I did my own was the importance of setting and keeping to your own pace. This is time for you, time to stop pleasing others, it’s time for reflection, prayer, gratitude or learning – or all of them. Even if the route you follow is the same as others, your experiences and outcomes will differ. What is certain is that the walking, and the time and the thinking, will allow space for processing your life in a very unique and changing way,” Gabrielle says.
One of the pilgrims, Jolene Nell, came from Windhoek to do this Camino. She has also done the one in Spain and says for her it’s a solo walk. “For me, it’s an inner journey. If I want to sit under a tree with my feet in the water I will. On this Camino, I feel very spoilt as I know there will be a bed and a shower or bath at the end of the day, unlike the Spanish Camino. I feel very privileged and also to see this area on foot,” she says.
For Gabrielle, it’s also about her passionate commitment to this country’s people, stories, history and future. Each stretch is from 15 to 20 km per day, sometimes in guest houses, other times in homes of community members. Pilgrims can choose from staying with elderly people, for peace and quiet, or families.
For Gabrielle, an important ingredient to a successful Camino is getting buy-in from community members and she encourages them to claim the route, walk it, add to it, make it their own. “There’s an open invitation here to small, local businesses to add their names to our website. If they register on our site, which is free, they can become part of filling out the experience for visitors. All they need to do is offer a value-add to our pilgrims such as a discount, a free cup of coffee or breakfast. Anything that enriches the pilgrims’ experience. We want pilgrims and small businesses to benefit. As much as this is a walking route, it’s also a movement towards peace, unity and sustainability,” Gabrielle says.
Another pilgrim is videographer Sandra Korse of Gardens who says her challenge is to capture the personal journeys of her fellow pilgrims and the areas they walkthrough.
Barnard Zoeller, who celebrated his birthday on the first day, says he was drawn to the spiritual side of the walk. He and fiancée Chantal Lee heard about the Camino de Santiago but preferred to do a long-distance walk in Africa. Chantal says she has no expectations but is looking forward to meeting people and see places she would not ordinarily get to experience. Her personal journey is not to rush. To stop and see the small things, meet people in the communities and to push through the wind and blisters and arrive strong.
For the next Cape Camino 1000 visit capecamino.co.za, or call 084 844 7996.
Karen Watkins started out as a travel writer and photographer supplying articles for numerous newspapers and magazines including Indiwe, Country Life, Go, Good Taste and others. Joined Independent Newspapers Limited in 2007 to work one year with Special Projects writing marketing copy before joining the Constantiaberg Bulletin as a multi-media journalist writing news and taking pictures until May 2019. And now she is writing for West Coast Way