An essential kind of pedi-cure

“Whatever you decide, do not consider the option of foot surgery!” This was the cautioning advice I most often received when the possibility of drastic corrective measures would arise. Reasons were mostly supplied; however I gradually came to realize that my right foot was in deep trouble that was not going to go away without radical intervention.

I have meanwhile crossed that bridge and am for now left with a heavily bandaged and partially braced foot and lower leg that according to reputable reports and a gruesome visual bear several sewn-up wounds and incisions – besides some precariously delicate internal structural adjustments! All for a good cause… to hopefully walk normally again! To simply go for a walk again. And ultimately – to join my daughter for a second Camino experience. Would setting this goal not play a role in promoting and encouraging a maximally successful healing process, she wondered? I think it will.

We have our sights tentatively set on October 2019 – that’s next year! Well, let’s say – as my mamma always did when she deemed it safer not to commit – “we’ll see!”


Back to the rather more static and definitely somewhat sobering present. Only a single week has passed since the kind and seemingly empathic porter called André at the Vergelegen Mediclinic wheeled me all the way to theatre to be the first on that morning’s surgery list. While I was rolling along the clinical passages, every now and then passing a group of staff members going off duty, I tried my luck with Andre, based on a tip from special friend Sophie: “could I please ask to be covered with an extra bunny blanket after the procedure? Apparently you normally get only one…?” “No problem!” he replied. “And besides, it’ll come straight from the oven.” Yea right. But sure as nuts: no sooner had he parked me in the middle of a rather dauntingly vacant space, than he whisked two thick, white cotton blankets out of an oven of sorts and cheerfully slapped them down on my belly. They were warm… so comfortingly warm.


Of course I had until then felt like the proverbial lamb being led to the slaughterhouse. Firstly, the thought of sinking away into a dark hole of total oblivion called anaesthetic just scares me. And of course the very thought of emerging from theatre all groggy, cut and sewn up, sort of at the mercy of appropriately clad (and hopefully qualified) individuals in the medical profession, is per se an uncomfortable one. You’re definitely just not exactly in the same state and condition as before you went in: things have been moved and disturbed, affecting blood pressure, heart rate, mobility levels, who knows what all!

Fortunately the anaesthetist (who had by then taken note of my reservations regarding his field of expertise) instilled some form of trust and resignation and, besides, I knew all too well that I was with my back against the wall. Considering the scenario and my options, the experienced surgeon was offering me a straw of hope. It impressed and reassured me that he had been an accomplished sportsman himself and in addition had to his credit many years of experience with a scalpel. He definitely understood the indispensability of a limb that worked as it should; and he would certainly fully comprehend the frustration, the alarm, the despair that was caused by one that had got messed up.

Mine was. Messed up. He admitted that himself when he visited me in the ward later that day. He had not seen something quite so… messy, in about ten years. Oh dear.

Well, that just made me all the more determined to bear with the ominous verdict of allowing at least a year for full recovery, come hell or high water!

So there I was – and here I am: with a heavily bandaged, partially braced foot and lower leg, the essential extreme limb having been palpably engineered, readjusted and manoeuvred to hopefully pave the way for a better outcome. A great deal of the onus naturally rests on my shoulders now. The ball is in my court and the bills are rolling in! Patience, perseverance, determination, insight, obedience, optimism, positive thinking, endurance, ingenuity, HOPE and FAITH – preferably larger than a mustard seed – must now be the order of the day.


Well, spring is in the air, albeit not in my step; I have a pair of crutches to get by on, friends and family are encouraging and supportive and I have a deep sense of relief that the dreaded ordeal is over.

May I be fit and ready to lace up my hiking boots for the next pilgrimage that beckons…



Searching for the spirit of the great heart

The story of South Africa could be a heroic one. One that could turn out well and defy the odds and the law of averages. Instead, it is on very unsteady legs right now, with skin color prejudice being one of the main crippling issues. Heartbreaking stuff.

As former American president Barack Obama said in Johannesburg yesterday, “we’re living in strange and uncertain times”. He made the remark while delivering the annual Nelson Mandela lecture which this year commemorates what would have been the icon’s 100th birthday.

Nelson Mandela’s greatness of spirit in opting for reconciliation and progress – taking on a ‘Live and Let Live’ attitude and rising above bitterness, vengefulness and pettiness – is increasingly being criticized and his stature as a statesmen with vision beyond the immediate being minimized. And surprisingly, the harsh criticism emanates mostly from youthful ranks within South Africa! This is infinitely sad, as my mother would have said.

A weekend newspaper article by Stellenbosch academic Dr Leslie van Rooi, the university’s Senior Director of Social Impact and Transformation, posed the question of whether the icon’s legacy was open to criticism. An opening blurb quoted him suggesting that although South Africans were free to be critical of the former president, who would today, on 18 July, have celebrated his centenary, they should first ask themselves a few incisive questions.


“How would I have decided differently about the political and economic dispensation that was made possible by 1994? And what would the consequences have been?” (1994 was when South Africa’s democracy was born.)

What would my thoughts about nation-building in the 90’s have been and what alternatives would I have put on the table?

These are two of the questions Van Rooi suggests we pose ourselves.

What I would urge those to do who are reluctant to see South Africa now rising to true greatness like a phoenix from the ashes of shame, is to track the history of the former president. Step by step. Putting themselves in his shoes. Going through the entire agonizing story of a man who sacrificed everything for the ideal of liberation.

He was not a wannabe politician aiming wildly for heroism and greatness. He was a young and vibrant, successful professional on whose shoulders the cloak of crucial political leadership fell at a time in his personal and career life that could have been seen to be unbearably inopportune. Yet he rose to the challenge. As the song ‘The Impossible Dream’ from ‘Man of La Mancha’ suggests – “without question or pause”.

It would appear that a large portion of the crowd of cynics and critics who would have preferred things to have turned out differently after Mandela took over power, are privileged young black people who either find themselves on university campuses or are carving for themselves successful careers in the market place.


Whatever their reasons might be, perhaps they should be reminded by the older generation that, as Mama Leah Tutu, wife of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said in her address at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, Mandela’s greatness was primarily in his humaneness.

He chose a road of forgiveness and greatness. He fixed his gaze on a better tomorrow for ALL South Africans… and he lived this conviction admirably until the very end.

I can safely assume that emulating him as a statesman, given the circumstances that he had been faced with, would be an almost impossible act to follow.

I am grateful for, and remain amazed about the rainbow he saw and invited us all – regardless of color or creed – to see and reach for too. And as his widow, Graca Machel said: people should be inspired by the anniversary events to become part of a tapestry of good against evil.

Rainbows do fade. Disappear. But they always return when you least expect them and they have the potential to be breathtakingly brilliant…









Oh, the tiresome color issue…

What exactly EFF leader Julius Malema hopes or foresees the final outcome will be of the fierce and unabated racially charged attacks he launches from each and every possible soapbox and platform, is not clear. But it (the onslaught) pretty much looks and sounds at very least like a multi-pronged effort to dispirit, disperse, discourage, dishevel, dishearten and ultimately dispense of, any pale (enough) colored human who calls South Africa home. Come on! After all the drills and dramas and deep waters and crunches we’ve been through as a country: how can the color of a skin still be an issue?

Just how unwise and short-sighted this reckless endeavor is in the bigger scheme of things, he obviously does not realize. He is definitely not counting the cost of driving farmers, investors, employers and professionals to eventually abandon what may soon become a sinking ship. I suspect he is plain and simply poorly informed. Oh! And shamefully outdated, whilst most likely confident in his ignorance that he is actually an ahead-of-his-time trendsetter: hurtling ahead of the pack who are still doggedly flogging the long-dead horse of being previously disadvantaged after almost a quarter of a century of freedom and democracy.

Has he even thought of the dire consequences of racial intolerance that plays out daily to the tune he calls, with vitally productive South African farmers simply calling it a day, their farms often going to rack and ruin because they are no longer able to bear the brunt? Or because in many, many cases they are not even alive anymore after being mowed down in cold blood or butchered apart out of what mostly appears to be undiluted scorn and contempt – for as little as a cell phone?

Ironic victims

Does it not cross his mind that the very people whose rescue he claims to be coming to, are the ones who suffer most when white employers who are constantly at the receiving end of incessant hate speech come to realize they can no longer afford to risk their own safety amidst the daily threats that gain momentum and reverberate across the country, explicitly directed at all who are cursed with white skins?

The whites whom you claim you have no time for, Mr Malema, are the ones who are here because they are willing and determined to see things through, shoulder to shoulder with other South Africans of whatever color or creed. They are the ones who heartily and devotedly sing ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ along with you and who stand united with fellow South Africans under the colorful flag that we all call our own. They are proud to vote in democratic elections. They are eager to pull their weight in a dispensation that is fair and just for all.

Some lucky ones (whites) are land or home owners. Sometimes they find themselves on land that has been tilled and built up over centuries by predecessors, willing to rise to the challenge of toeing the line. Mostly (white) property owners are ‘lucky’ because they have spent many years slowly and laboriously climbing the ladder of hard work and saving until they are able to afford making an offer on a place of their own. Most often this purchase is a small apartment; sometimes a humble and run-down cottage badly in need of repairs; and yes – sometimes it is something slightly more luxurious like an upmarket dwelling set in a lush garden.

Only some of us own property

I bet you don’t know, Mr Malema, that many, many whites have never before tasted the privilege of being property owners? Hundreds are even homeless. My guess is that you prefer to ignore these hard realities, because they would tend to level the playing field, would they not? And it would not suit you, because you would have to admit that your accusations and assumptions are skewed, to say the very least. You would have to face the fact that land ownership is a status that is hankered after and longed for by South Africans of all colors and from all walks of life.

Do you even know how many young white adults who were born in the 80’s and 90’s are unemployed and anxious today or working abroad, and how many who were born in the 70’s have for years been living overseas because there was simply no hope for them to ever find jobs when they set out to do so in the 90’s? By the scores, parents and their young adult children became separated from one another when the latter were forced to spread their wings and find a livelihood further afield, whilst the former stayed put in the country of their birth and are now – as I write – ageing, ailing and dying often without the closeness and assistance of their loved ones?

The white faces you see in parliament, in public, in schools and universities, on farms and in your neighborhood – alongside you on the road to a better South Africa for all, often belong to 10th, 11th or 12th generation descendants of hopeful forefathers who came to Africa with little more than hope and basic skills.

This is our land of origin and birth, Mr Malema, as it is yours. You could even say the respective colors of our skins are coincidental. But they have never been a crime. Not yours, not ours.



Late Summer Impressions of Norfolk (1): Centuries in Stone…

The overriding and strongest impression that remains with me, is the warmth and hospitality of friends John and Stella, who not only hosted me, but also introduced me to the richly fascinating county of Norfolk during the early days of September 2017. I will have to return: the mind pictures, somewhat supported by some actual ones, are so overwhelming that I struggle to organize and file them successfully…


My nerves had been rather shattered by the time I met up with them at King’s Lynn station on an early Friday evening, after a harrowing passport invalidity experience back in South Africa that had had to be turned into a positive outcome within 24 hours, and the loss of my personal, wooden walking stick (for the Camino) that never emerged at Gatwick. (The good news is that the walking stick, leather thong hand sling and all, eventually found its way back home on its own while I was completing the Portuguese Camino without it! Thanks to the dedicated customer service of Emirates Airlines, I assume…)


London skyline from the train after leaving King’s Cross Station for King’s Lynn


King’s Lynn station is the one the Queen and her entourage arrive at from King’s Cross when they travel to Sandringham Estate by train for Christmas, I was told.

It was interesting to learn that Norfolk, a county in East Anglia in England, has as its northern and eastern boundaries the North Sea and, to the north-west, The Wash. The county town, Norwich, is a beautiful city with a variety of architectural styles spanning centuries.

I will among other things remember it for some very long minutes of anxiety when I accidentally found myself in the extremely dimly lit bowels of one of the glamorous shopping malls after stumbling into the labyrinth-like passages in search of the public toilets. When steel doors closed silently and automatically behind me and I was enveloped by sterility and solitude, I could not help fearing that I had been swallowed up for good! After hurrying around randomly, trying to find my way out, I finally heard voices, found those using them and was kindly released with great relief into the bustling and well-lit spaces of the mall!

Churches and Cathedrals

I was not a bit surprised to learn that Norfolk has the largest concentration of medieval churches in the world. It literally made me gasp, to try and wrap my head around the significance for posterity, of having so many amazingly well preserved churches and cathedrals almost everywhere. Three of them stand out: Norwich Cathedral, the St Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham, where the royal family traditionally attend Christmas services, and the picturesque St Mary’s church, Houghton-on-the-Hill.

The latter has a thousand year history, with a period during which it had not only become forlorn and forgotten, but also abused and desecrated by satanists before being rediscovered, re-consecrated and lovingly restored during the 1990’s. The most touching aspect of my visit there, was when I ran back to look for my sunglasses and encountered Sid. He was clearly emotional and was visiting his wife’s last resting place in a tranquil corner of the church garden, with a bucket and a bunch of flowers in his hands. She had passed away just recently and he missed her painfully… How beautiful, I thought, that he had felt the urge to lay her to rest here in the silent remoteness on the hill, where many, many stories lingered.

Fascinating, too, was Norwich Cathedral through the eyes of a lady living right next door to it within the ancient walls of the cathedral premises, who invited us into her home and took us through to her ‘secret garden’ from where she has this glorious view of the cathedral. Even more special is the fact that she is a relative or descendant of an organist of the cathedral from a much earlier era!

It was a rainy afternoon when we visited the St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate. But I was delighted to find the atmosphere inside warm, welcoming, reassuring and friendly, albeit overwhelmingly ornate and decorated. We lingered there for a while and I felt a sense of homeliness associated with royal family entities over five centuries.


In memory of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and King George, the father of the current Queen, two small but stately cameo reliefs of their profiles, with their dates of birth and death below them, adorn a prominent wall as you enter the church. George VI had actually been found dead in bed on the morning of 6 February, 1952 at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He had died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at the age of 56.

His daughter flew back to Britain from Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II….


Cameo relief images honoring Queen Elizabeth (the ‘Queen Mother’), 1900 – 2002, and King George VI, 1895 – 1952.



Camino Portugués take 4: Miguél’s Haven for Peregrinos in Porto

Between us, Nadia and I could have saved quite an impressive number of euros before even embarking on the Camino Portugués, if we had sooner had the brainwave to find an albergue in Porto for the two nights before we started walking. Instead, we rented a quaint airbnb apartment from Sofia, at the top of four flights of creaking stairs in an old building that is part of a Unesco World Heritage Site: a lot more pricey. However, in all fairness, it was an excellent location from where we could explore authentic Porto on foot.


But sitting on our beds in the tiny studio with its view across the rooftops and squawking seagulls all around, we had to make a plan for safely leaving some of our bags in the city until we would return roughly two weeks later. Of course! There must be designated camino albergues in Porto – because pilgrims either stop over on their way from Lisbon, or they start out from here. We duly googled (what better way to start the search?!) and found the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto.


One Miguél was the contact person. We would inquire by email and whatsapp about leaving the bags, and about possibly staying there for a few nights after completing the Camino and before the date of our return flights. He soon replied positively by whatsapp and our first leg of the adventure the following morning, was to make our way to his albergue on Rua Barão de Forrester, 954, by train.


It was not even too far from where we were. We lugged all the bags down to the Sao Bento station with its stunning blue and white tile art on the walls of the main hall, from where we took two trains and covered the last few hundred metres to the albergue on foot from the Carolina Michaelis station. The door of the albergue is on the street front – as are the entrances of most other albergues; and on the yellow arrow route: the Camino Santiago.

Miguél assured us in English, with his charming slow Portuguese accent, that our bags would be safe until we returned. And that our beds for two or three nights before flying out of Portugal were booked. There was an air of peace around the place and involuntarily I looked forward to spending some time here on our return from Santiago de Compostela…

After completing a Camino at a crossroads point in his life, and upon realising how much he had benefited from it spiritually, Miguél had decided to find suitable premises in Porto with a view to opening the doors of a new albergue: as he describes it, in an effort to add value in this way to his country’s hospitality network for camino pilgrims. It had not been easy, and it still remains a challenge to make ends meet.


Miguel Andrade at the entrance to the Albergue o Peregrino Porto

With our few excess belongings safely stored, we could strap on the backpacks (still quite a bit heavier than the ideal recommended ratio!) and catch the train to Matosinhos from where the coastal stretch of our Camino would start.


It was just more than a fortnight later when we reached the bus station in Porto after a scenic and enjoyable drive from Santiago de Compostela, brimming with thoughts and impressions, and quite impressed to see from another angle the beauty and charm of the mountains, valleys and rivers that we had traversed on foot in the past two weeks. The circle was almost completed when we again caught the train to Carolina Michaelis on that hot Saturday afternoon and made our way on well-travelled feet to the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto on Rua Barão de Forrester.

Miguél had gone out for a moment and we were warmly welcomed at the door by Mathilde, a French pilgrim with a deep tan, an equally charming accent and soulful brown eyes. (I would learn, whilst chatting to her in the garden during the days to follow, that she had embarked on the Camino at a time when she had felt beaten and depleted, and had realised that she needed to find a way to replenish her strength and regain her zest for life… By then she had spent a good number of weeks on walking – from France to Santiago and she was heading south to Fatima.)


Miguél and Mathilde relaxing in the enclosed garden

After parking our backpacks in the allocated lockers and our shoes on the shelves by the window (all for the sake of hygiene), we were shown by Miguél to our bunk bed upstairs – in a dormitory with four men: one from Canada, one from England, one from Germany and another from Bolivia! It felt familiar… And on the second and third nights we enjoyed sharing our space with Husein and Gina from California! Miguél takes the time and trouble to show each new pilgrim-guest around, explaining the spaces and amenities that are at their disposal during their stay, and even generously inviting them to harvest from the attractive outdoor food garden.

The albergue is a true haven. A home away from home. An ideal place to rest a tired body, organise an overloaded mind and just enjoy mingling with a handful of fellow pilgrims as they come and go.

Two of the dormitories, of which all three are on the first floor, delightfully open onto an outdoor landing from where you have direct access to the narrow but expansive garden with its trees, various informal seating and relaxation options (even two hammocks!), edibles to harvest like tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and a variety of herbs. Impossible to miss or ignore is the bright and colourful graffiti-like mural boldly spelling out what it is all essentially about: ‘Caminho Portugués’!


You are literally spoilt for choice of where to eat your meals, update your memoirs, read through your notes, chat with fellow guests or just be alone – both indoors and in the garden: a lounge with comfortable seating, flat-screen TV (lost on me!) and a table for chess or chatting, a dining room area with enough table and chair seating for all guests if needed, and then of course the various outdoor spaces which are the most popular on balmy days and evenings like the ones we enjoyed. Not forgetting the kitchen, which by evening was mostly buzzing with activity as everyone got busy preparing for themselves an evening meal. Well equipped – with even a kettle, which we had missed in most other albergues! – it is another homely space to be enjoyed and revelled in.

Miguél’s heart is in the right place; and it beats warmly for peregrinos, the Camino and its significance. His presence adds a gentle and welcoming touch to its atmosphere. If ever you should find yourself to be a pilgrim in Porto – that charming and amazing city on the banks of the River Douro with more to offer than you could imagine – be sure not to miss out on staying over at the Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto. It will embrace you.

You will find these words on the home page of the website: “Since the Camino Portugese is getting more and more popular we have welcomed a lot of pilgrims from over 60 countries and we can’t wait to meet you here! We opened our doors on the 29th of may 2016 and we are working really hard to create a magic and welcoming environment for pilgrims.” (Visit the website at

Contact details are the following:

Office: +351 220 140 515
Mobile: +351 912 591 321


The Camino Portugués 2017… Take 3: Why a Pilgrimage… & So What?

Why in the world would one embark on an ancient pilgrimage in the early autumn of 2017… in a faraway country… with very little indication of whether you will even find a bed at nightfall to lay your weary body down on? Because frankly – in hindsight even more than in advance: it is an amazing, awesome and unforgettable journey.

The Camino de Santiago had started beckoning to me many moons ago. Not urgently, nor forcefully. Rather gently, nudgingly, compellingly. My psyche had embraced the call with growing warmth until it knew the time had to come for me to fill the shoes of a pilgrim crossing through a crucial passage of life…

Wikipedia’s description is apt:” The Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, “Pilgrimage of Compostela”; Galician: O Camiño de Santiago), known in English as The Way of Saint James among other names, is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimages to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.”

I felt instinctively attracted to the Portuguese Camino (‘path / road’, ‘journey’, ‘way’). It is somewhat apart from the rest; it heads straight north, slightly inland from the Atlantic Ocean, ending at Santiago de Compostela in Spain as do all the others. I would walk along this way… and I am so happy that I did, for the Camino Portugués is perhaps the ancient route that is most intimately linked with the passages of St James (San Tiago) as he faithfully and persistently carried his Message of Hope into Roman and other heathen territory.

What was it I was longing for, hoping to find on my pilgrimage? I wanted distance – from all that is familiar and customary and un-daunting and sometimes stifling. I wanted solitude and new horizons. I wanted silence. I needed space. And – most importantly – I wanted to escape from my comfort zone in every possible way that would ‘qualify’ me as a true pilgrim.

Primarily I was intent on the prospect of taking on this adventure in a world away from my own, where I could see and smell and taste and feel and hear the colours and sounds and customs of other worlds. Yes, it meant I would travel abroad… but it would be somewhat different: no frills, no luxuries, no freebies, no guarantees. The perks and rewards would be those of the heart and the soul!

I needed a silence to settle in my head and my heart, while I would head for a destination with other, presumably somewhat like-minded humans from across the globe. Yes! This is one of the beautiful mysteries and powerful traits of the Camino de Santiago – the Way of St James: it calls and attracts pilgrims-at-heart from all the corners of the earth. They do not congregate or group. They rub shoulders. They share whatever the mutual moments and memories have to offer. They share the communal spaces offered at pilgrim’s prices by rustic havens. And they are like friendly, passing ships in the night.

I would have gone alone, if it had so happened. But I had joyfully embraced my daughter’s resolve to join me. It was good. We now have a priceless shared memory of an experience much more mystical than the mundane, and of a road less traveled.

My daughter, Nadia – my fellow pilgrim – is by no means a mirror image of me. But occasionally during our journey she held up an ever so essential mirror for me! On the Camino I could drop my guard and face my demons (without a trace of make-up!).  And maybe I did the same for her?



What did I find?

Where do I begin? How do I define!

Perhaps bird song tops my list. It accompanied me throughout the pilgrimage and I was fascinated to think that Santiago and his companions, and those who came after them most likely heard those very same sounds so many centuries ago.

Church bells ringing! – a memory so vivid that it will surely remain indelible for years to come. In villages and valleys, on hilltops, in cities, towns, just everywhere we moved there was the comforting and compelling sound of chiming bells. And my pilgrimage was concluded with an ever so significant stay of two nights in an albergue in Santiago de Compostela in the proximity and within view of the destination Cathedral, whose quarter hourly chimes aroused in me a heightened awareness of the Camino’s significance: surely not only to me, but to each one who has joyfully found its co-ordinates!


I found trees and forests, streams, farms, hills and valleys, vineyards, orchards, maize fields, flower boxes, ancient Roman bridges and cobblestone pathways, steep uphills and even more challenging downhill slopes, chocolate box scenery, stealthy cats, lazy watchdogs, delightfully down-to-earth cafés, delicious coffee, affordable beer and Brie cheese, delectable baked delicacies…

There were cathedrals! So many… so beautiful… so preserved. And around the corner from our destination cathedral we found the most divine drinking chocolate imaginable.


Best drinking chocolate ever! Santiago de Compostela…


I discovered reserves of perseverance and endurance when feet and body ached so much that my mind found them to be almost unbearable. But I also found that I could cry without restraint and admit without hesitation how small and vulnerable I am in the comprehensive tapestry of the tenacity of saints.

I found brief companionship and kindred spirits.

I felt how good it was to be empty and still.

I rejoiced in simplicity.

And after reaching Santiago de Compostela with hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims who had, like me, patiently and persistently made their way there, I queued quietly and eagerly on aching feet for the certificate that would place the seal on my endeavour. That would declare me a pilgrim with mission accomplished.

We are all pilgrims in one way or another. To have been one in this Way of St James – the Camino de Santiago – was a privilege that I will long cherish.

Buen Camino….

(All photos by Nadia Krige)

The Camino Portugués 2017… Take 2: Yellow Arrows & the Scallop Shell

The ancient routes followed by St James (Sant Iago) and the pilgrims after him throughout the centuries, are waymarked for those of us who long to walk in those footsteps. The yellow arrow and the graphic yellow portrayal of a scallop shell become the sole and only signs and marks that guide us on the way leading to Santiago de Compostela.

One of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago, the scallop shell (‘vieira’ in Galician and Spanish) is not only used to help travellers find their way, but is also embraced by pilgrims as a token to carry with them and you can find yourself one to attach to your backpack at practically any little café or outlet – however small and obscure – along the camino.


It is well known that medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats. A practical use for the hand-sized shell was that it could serve as a bowl for food or a vessel for water when they paused along the way to have a meal or quench their thirst. File:Muszla Jakuba.svg


A crucial waymark – the yellow arrow



You will seldom, when walking through forests and farmlands, find the waymarks to be as distinct as these!

Sometimes the arrows are faded, few and far between. On a stone in a deep forest. On a concrete pylon. On the paved sidewalk. On a stone wall. But your eyes become trained to continuously look for the yellow arrow – to show the way of St James.

It is easy to get lost, whilst engrossed in a fleeting conversation with a fellow pilgrim; or whilst admiring the landscape: you miss a crucial fork in the way, or a turn-off. And it can be an agonizing exercise to retrace your steps and find the right way again, if your muscles are aching, sweat is pouring from your brow and your backpack is feeling like a bag of stones!

Many stories, legends and myths are told about the connection since ancient days between the scallop shell and the Way of St James (‘Camino Santiago’).

One of these narratives, which appears to make a lot of sense, claims that the lines of the scallop shell represent the various routes that pilgrims travel from across Europe on walking trails that all lead to the tomb of St James in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

‘…none more significant and soulful…’

Camino veteran and author of guide books John Brierly, who refers on its front page to ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portuigués’ as ‘A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim’ mentions the fact that there are many pilgrim paths to Santiago “but that there is none more significant and soulful than the camino portugués and none so intimately connected to the life and ministry of St James, as well as to his death and burial”.

As a symbol of the Camino, the scallop shell – together with the yellow arrow (for they are often found together) – has become inextricably embedded not only in the physical tradition of the pilgrimage, but also in the spiritual experience that is a mystical one, and unique for each pilgrim who embarks on it…

* “There are many legends trying to source this old association of Saint James with the scallop shell: one of those legends says the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallop shells, while a similar version of the same story explains that a knight’s horse fell into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells, while the remains of Saint James were being taken from Jerusalem to Galicia.

“The shape of the scallop shell also resembles the setting sun, which would have been an important daily event, full of symbolism in pre-Christian societies. It is probably not just a mere coincidence that the Saint James Way is a journey to the West, finishing at the ‘end of the world’ (the name given to FisterraFinis Terrae / Finisterre) and the setting sun”.



The Camino Portugués 2017… Take 1: ‘Passports & Certificates’


This image is in fact of a ‘last page’ – with a final stamp.

It tells of the closing chapter and the final stages of my Camino Portugués, which was concluded at the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela at midday on the 28th of September this year. The coveted ‘last stamp’ I however only collected on the following day (as the date indicates), after queuing for more than an hour on tired legs and aching feet with scores of other pilgrims from all across the world. You definitely do not turn away from your experience and head home without that piece of paper with your Latinised name handwritten on it – certifying that you completed your pilgrimage…

Certificate issued by the official pilgrimage office of the Camino Santiago, stating that you (by Latin equivalent of your name) have completed the pilgrimage


Actually the little pilgrim’s passport book that you carry with you all the way, keeping it handy at all times, tells the story in the end and threads together all the places where you put your backpack down to take a rest, enjoy a beer, savour a coffee, find a toilet, overnight and – ultimately – to collect a stamp! Of course it also verifies your status as a pilgrim… It makes you eligible for a bed for the night in one of the pilgrims’ albergue’s which, however rustic and basic they may be, are like oases and havens after a day’s travel on foot with a pack on your back.

Issued in my and Nadia’s cases to us by the #Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa (#CSJofSA) before our departure from South Africa, the so-called passport states on the cover page that it is a ‘Pilgrim Record’ (Credencial del Peregrino), and goes on to say the following inside:

“This Pilgrim Record is issued by the Confraternity of St James of South Africa on the understanding that it is to be used only by pilgrims making their way to Santiago de compostela on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, and that it is their desire to make the pilgrimage in the spirit of spiritual discovery and renewal. The purpose of the Pilgrim Record is to identify the pilgrim. It gives no rights, but serves two objectives:

“(1) Access to the refuges that offer Christian hospitality of The Way. These refuges are not free. It is proper to leave a contribution, even to those who ask for nothing.

“(2) Submission for the Compostela issued by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is the authentication of the completion of the pilgrimage. It is only obtainable from the Pilgrim Office of the Cathedral authorities in Santiago de Compostela. Minimum Requirements: Pilgrims on foot or horseback must have complete at least the last 100km and cyclists the last 200km, in one stretch, to qualify. Two stamps per day are required.

Pilgrims who start their journey outside Galicia require one stamp per day.”

We are proud to have completed the Camino from Porto to Santiago on foot, which covers a distance of around 240 kilometres, within 14 days.

At times it was arduous. At times it was exhilarating. Always and throughout it was amazing. Enlightening. Enriching. Life-changing. Rewarding. Unforgettable.

The lilting bird songs that accompanied me on my way – be it in forests or alongside streams, crossing ancient Roman-built bridges or passing one of the many farms with their vines and orchards – not only sustained me when fatigue and foot-ache called for rest; but they also reminded me that St James himself and pilgrims through the centuries heard those very same sounds and were more than likely also uplifted and cheered on by them…

Roomwit rose vir stukkende harte

Dis weelderig-winters, ironies blou en sonnig en stralend vir ‘n Kaapklimaat, met hemelse klavierklanke wat uit die cd-spelertjie in die slaapkamer teen die trap afgewentel kom. My binneste jubel saggies. Soos dit hoort. Want vreugde lê nie en wag in die ontvouende geskiedenis rondom my nie, en Paulus het dit toentertyd al geweet. En dit gesê, waarskynlik oorspronklik in Grieks. Maar saam met die blywees wat uit ongekende fonteine opwel, lê daar vlak reeds dae lank ‘n stuk deernis wat aan seer grens. Die vroue na wie my hart uitreik en vir wie dit huil, kon ek gewees het. So maklik.

In die naweek het ek hoopvol en hooploos saam met tientalle ander oor rotse geklouter teenaan die hoogwaterbranders wat selfs met die laagwater bruis en dawer: turende en soekende in die sloepe en selfs in die deinings – na énigiets waaraan klein Louise Fowler geëien sou kon word. Sedert sy Vrydagmiddag in die skuimende water verdwyn het, is net een of twee kledingstukkies gevind. Vandag is Maandag… Die soektog duur voort. Maar die vraag wat spook en spook, is hóé die lewe hoegenaamd intussen kan voortgaan vir ‘n ma en ‘n pa en ‘n sussie wat dáár was toe die see haar ingetrek het? Dit is ondenkbaar en onsêbaar.

Hóé moet ‘n mens opstaan en voortstrompel? Die een oomblik is jy sorgvry en uitgelate saam met jou drie kosbaarstes op die rotse voor die karaktervolle strandhuis teenaan die see; en die volgende oomblik word jou hart uit jou borskas geruk met ‘n geweld waarvoor die woordeskat ontbreek. O, diepste van alle dieptes! Donkerste van alle donkertes!

Eie krag sal nooit werk nie, dit wéét ek; want ek ken moederskap intiem. Soos Kim Fowler. Soos Christa Venter. Soos elke vrou wat ‘n kind onder haar hart gedra het.

My dogter was ook in háár kindwees teer en broos, glimlaggend en ontvanklik soos die sewejarige Louise in haar skooldrag op die foto’tjie.

Vreesloos broos

Dis soos gister. Sy is steeds kwesbaar en fyn, dog sterk en oortuig in haar skoene as joernalis wat weë baan. Soos Suna Venter was, en so oud soos sy was.

‘n Jong vrou wat saam met talle vasstaners in die mediadomein haar sê bly sê het, met ‘n ander soort visie en oortuiging as dié wat dit nie kon verdra nie en met die wil om dit tot elke prys nie te versaak nie, het ‘n verskriklike prys betaal.

Soos my dogter my fyngoudskat is, so was sy Christa s’n. Die pyl wat uit haar boog geskiet is, wat ver en sekuur getrek het. Wat siklone en orkane getrotseer het… tot verby breekpunt.

Al wat ek vandag vir jou het, Christa – en vir jou, Kim – is die allerfynste wit rosies wat hier voor my in ‘n glashouer staan. Ragfyn, rein, sterk, regop, wondermooi… die versinnebeelding van verganklikheid, maar ook van ewigheidswaarde.

Want nou bly geloof, hoop en liefde – hierdie drie. Die grootste is maar liefde.

Roomwit rose





Helen Zille’s Track Record speaks louder than her words


Although she did not use the word ‘devastating’ lightly, my mother in her lifetime fairly often resorted to it in describing adverse events that were deeply saddening or profoundly shocking.

I do not know how Western Cape Premier Helen Zille feels about the furore that broke loose after her now notorious colonialism tweet in March of this year, shortly after an official visit to Singapore. However, as rational and controlled as her responses may be, the various reactions may quite well for several reasons be devastating to her. One of them must surely be the fact that she has spent her entire adult life (from student days) fighting, writing and campaigning against political inequalities in this country. And notwithstanding this track record, she is being ostracized over this tweet: “For those claiming the legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport, infrastructure, piped water etc.”


Sure, it is probably valid to say that it was somewhat irresponsible to share a thought of that nature with the world at large and more specifically her extremely jumpy and jittery fellow South Africans. But what about context? What about the courage to point out that we are, in fact, in various ways benefiting from some of the more harmless leftovers of an undesirable era.

I only once had a very brief personal encounter with Zille in the course of my five year term as a ward councillor between 2011 and 2016 – during which time she was the Federal Leader of the Party until succeeded by Mmusi Maimane in 2015. However, as a journalist myself by profession, I have for long taken a keen interest in her leadership style, her role in the Struggle and her approach to politics in South Africa; and I have coincidentally learned a great deal more about her background and history by reading her autobiography ‘Not Without a Fight’.

She is perfectly human, which is a relief to know, and far from perfect. But, as the case would have been even before the unfortunate tweet incident, I am of the opinion that Helen Zille has an almost unparalleled track record as a (white) champion for democracy in this country.

In my humble opinion as a professional person with a master’s degree, an above-average interest in politics as well as a coveted first-hand experience in politics during a crucial time in democratic South Africa, the public response to her tweet by her own party leadership could have been dealt with differently. I mean to say: Surely her actions over decades speak way louder than a loaded word taken out of context?!


Have a heart. After fearlessly and tirelessly pioneering and spearheading in pursuit of a South Africa without oppression, racial divides and inequality for literally decades; after surrounding herself in the process with kindred spirits from all walks of life and mentoring, empowering those who could eventually take over the reins; and after stepping down at the best time possible to stand back – in favour of a new and equally dynamic leadership in the person of Mmusi Maimane, without however quitting the quest: was it the most suitable response from her inner circle, to declare that it was distancing itself from her and that she should be subjected to a disciplinary hearing?

On 6 April Times Live quoted her as saying:

“One of those lessons was that Singapore, having suffered centuries of colonial oppression, succeeded in re-purposing aspects of colonialism’s legacy to build an inclusive modern economy. This, among other things, has enabled its people to escape poverty within a generation.

“There is no question that colonialism was driven by greed and oppressive intent. The question for countries today is whether they are able, like Singapore, to leverage aspects of the legacy of an oppressive past to their advantage.” Mature minds, surely, could have processed and subsequently responded more wisely to the actual tweet, for example by requesting an explanation and clarification from her and by stating that further announcements would be made once the matter had been dealt with internally?


On 29 March 2017 IOL reported: “After a fiery speech in her own defence she received a standing ovation from DA colleagues.” “…Zille said on Tuesday that people who believed the price of colonialism was too high should not drive cars or visit places of worship, as these were leftover legacies of colonists in SA.

“I am talking about the motor car. Today in South Africa, this colonial leftover is not only a means of transport, but the ultimate status symbol,” she said.

“She defended her tweet as a ‘simple statement of fact’ and said it had sparked a ‘critical’ debate which was of ‘urgent national importance’.”

She had said her visit to Singapore and Japan had been eye-opening.

“It seemed to me that the colonised has overtaken the coloniser on the world stage and I thought it was worthwhile asking why,” she said.

She denied defending or praising colonialism and apologised to those offended by her tweets.

Earlier DA MPLs among whom Bonginkosi Madikizela, Masizole Mnqasela and Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer had defended Zille, with Mnqasela bringing up Zille’s struggle credentials, reminding MPs of when she had sheltered ANC activists such as Tony Yengeni and Mcebisi Skwatsha.


Ironically, in an interview with Alec Hogg for in November 2015, one of Helen Zille’s former critics from within her own ranks at the time, writer Bill (RW) Johnson’ had spoken out against the heavy penalty that MP Diane Kohler Barnard had incurred by tweeting irresponsibly, and prophetically made out a case in Zille’s favour:

“This nonsense with Diane Kohler Barnard… Look, I don’t do social media. I don’t waste my time with it but all these politicians seem to get into tremendous trouble by using it. I don’t know why they do either. It’s done nothing but harm to Helen Zille and now, it’s harmed Kohler Barnard. What she did was a sort of ridiculous thing, which anyone could do with a flick of the mouse. To throw her out of the party and ruin her career over that is an amazing piece of hypersensitivity.”