Short stories, Travel and Health Information
From Oxford Today: Off the Shelf by Richard Lofthouse (July 2014)
Strangers on the Camino is by Sanjiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan, Oxonian physician based at an Australian University. He takes time, with his adult son, to walk the 800km long Catholic pilgrim trail in Northern Spain, and Strangers is the diary and account. It grew on me for its utter lack of pretension and because here is a modern physician viewing Catholicism via a residual, inherited Buddhism. By merely recounting the daily dramas and incidental details of the walking, the book acquires a moral authority without trying to, and is quietly compelling while also offering good advice for anyone contemplating the pilgrimage.
From amazon.com By Grégoire Crevier >Chelsea QC, Canada
A good walk, a good read. (August 1, 2014)
Structured as a timeline of their journey, the book explores why he decided to walk the Camino, details his day-by-day experiences and ends with his thoughts about the journey and the lessons learned.
But this book is far from being a simple travel log.
Anyone who has walked the Camino understands that it is an experience of beautiful places and challenging physical endeavors – but at the same time a very emotional journey. Strangers on the Camino details all this beautifully, and the reader is doubly rewarded with a very sensitive and insightful window into the evolving and maturing relationship between the father and his son.
As a travel log
Those contemplating walking the Camino would do well to read this book beforehand. The author explains what he did to prepare himself for the 800 km trek – and shows that this trek is within the capability of anyone who is able to walk down the street. As he notes in the second of the Twelve Camino Lessons he lists at the end of the book: “No enterprise is too difficult to accomplish as long as you take it slowly. Take one small step after another and constantly keep your main objective in sight”.
He details useful information about places to stay (albergues) along the way, and provides historical insights into the towns and villages the Camino passes through.
As a reflection on religion
It sometimes takes an outsider to shed a fresh perspective on a well-known subject. Many accounts of the Camino have been written by devout Catholics and other Christians. What makes this book especially interesting are its observations by an outsider – someone born and bred in a Buddhist country. For me, a Catholic from birth, the images of Christ suffering and dying on the cross are part of my DNA. Yet it this non-Catholic ‘Stranger’ undertaking the Camino who raises questions that resonate with me. While describing the Processional Cross of Monjardin in the 12th century church of St Andres, Sanjiva asks “Why does Christianity depict the suffering of Christ and the saints in so many of its works of art?….What purpose do all these gruesome images of nasty things being done to good people have in emphasizing Christ’s basic message of loving your neighbour and doing good to others?”
As a reflection about fellow pilgrims
Those who have walked the Camino understand that what makes this experience so special is not the destination itself, but getting there and the people encountered along the way.
This is why the title of this book is so appropriate.
Early in their journey the two travellers accompanied by a women from Denmark, come across a very disheartened pilgrim who soon after embarking on his journey, concluded that it was not for him and was returning back to the town of St Jean-Pied-du-Port. With a bit of encouragement they convince this young man to turn around – and this chance encounter commences a friendship that continued to flourish long after their arrival in Santiago.
Sanjiva describes heartening experiences of people they meet along the way, and never loses an opportunity to remind us “… there is much more in this world that we have in common than that which divides us”. However, not all human encounters are positive. As he points out in Camino Lesson number three, “Not everyone who comes on the Camino comes here with good intentions. Remember the old saying: Trust in God – but make sure to tether your camel”.
The Father and Son
What this reader found most interesting are the father’s observations about the relationship existing between him and his son: a relationship marked with love, admiration and respect. The book is peppered with appreciative comments about Shivantha’s efforts in helping out his father (as well as other travellers along the way) – as well as many instances where Sanjiva describes the simple pleasure derived from sharing a bottle of wine and meal with his son.
Their journey together to Santiago is marked in so many positive and memorable ways. And having reached their destination, when they find themselves staring up at the imposing cathedral, the son suddenly embraces his father and tells him how much he loves him. For any parent, hearing their grown child tell them this must be the ultimate destination, the ultimate reward.
Throughout the book, Sanjiva reminds us, as he does in lesson number six, “The pleasure of walking to Santiago is as much in the journey as in the destination”.
Anyone interested in walking the Camino de Santiago should read this book. When reading I suggest you have a map of northern Spain to help follow their itinerary, accompanied by a nice bottle of Rioja wine.
Upon completing the book, you will likely be very anxious to start making your own travel arrangements to St-Jean-Pied-du-Port.