By Randi Somers
Christina Whiting left Homer last Saturday for Spain where she’ll explore the Basque region for two weeks. She’ll then begin a solo five-week, 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a portion of a network of trails that lace Europe, known as the Way of Saint James. This ancient trail, in use for over 1,000 years, is based on the discovery of the tomb of Saint James the apostle, one of Jesus’ disciples, in Galicia early in the ninth century. Saint James is now interred in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Christina will walk the Camino Frances (French) route, starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small town in the French Pyrenees mountains, and ending in Santiago. This ancient route meanders through villages, small towns and the countryside as well as through some cities and along highways.
“I’m eager to explore the countryside and to interact with local villagers. From what I’ve researched, pilgrims on this well-traveled path have an easy time getting to know the locals because the walkers are such a common sight,” she said. “People who live in the area understand and appreciate the trail’s appeal and many of them have completed the walk themselves. I look forward to the sense of community.”
Even though it is called a “pilgrimage,” Whiting said her walk is not motivated by religion, but rather it’s a continuation of her lifelong love of traveling, exploring and meeting people from different cultures. This insatiable desire to be on the move was instilled during her childhood by her mother.
“My mom is responsible for my wanderlust,” Whiting said. “There were six of us kids, ranging in age from six months to 15 years, and Mom would pack us all up in the car with just basic supplies and we’d spontaneously hit the road with no maps, no plan, just a wonderful sense of adventure and eagerness to explore. Sometimes we ended up in campgrounds, sometimes at hotels and sometimes at the homes of friends or family members,” she said. Carrying on with that spontaneous sense of adventure, Whiting indulges her inner gypsy in her 1986 Volkswagen camper van (the brown one covered with bumper stickers that you see around town), exploring the roads and coastal communities as well as the Alcan Highway. One future goal is to drive from Alaska to Mexico and back, collecting stories and images of other travelers.
Whiting, born in Alaska and raised in northern Canada, left home at 17 and has been traveling regularly ever since. Her departure for this walk coincides with her Sept. 27 birthday when she’ll turn 42. She started planning the trip two years ago as her rite of passage to a new decade. Whiting loves to travel and typically takes four or five trips a year.
“I like to travel very simply, with just the basic supplies and an open heart,” she said. When she was turning 30, she decided she would celebrate all of her birthdays from then on by alternating international travel with national and local travel around her birthday month every year. She celebrated her 30th birthday on a ferry crossing between Ireland and Scotland and since then has spent her birthdays in a variety of places including Mexico, Hawaii, Canada, New England, New York, Kodiak, Cordova, on the Alaska Highway, hiking the Resurrection Trail, Hatcher‘s Pass and Crow Pass. This fall she is adding Spain to that list and next year she intends to travel Africa.
“Again, it was my mom who created a very special day for each of us on our birthdays. Ceremonies, traditions and rituals are very important to me, and I thought that spending my birthday doing something I love so much, traveling and exploring, seeing new places and meeting new people, I would continue to honor this,” she said. “It’s one of the best gifts I could have ever given myself, this gift of travel. I’ve grown so much as a person and have met amazing wonderful people all along the way. The more I travel, the more I realize how this experience of being human is what connects us to one another and to the planet.
I encourage everyone of every age to just go. Step off your front porch and wander. You never know who you’ll meet around the corner. I have been fortunate to have several life-changing experiences and have made friends for life with folks I’ve met in unusual and unexpected places.”
Christina said she prefers to travel in off season and to places not frequented by most visitors. “What I love to experience during my travels is the heart and soul of an area and its people, local music, arts and culture. I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is in quieter times and off the beaten path,” she said. Although the Camino Frances is the most commonly traveled of the Spanish pilgrimage routes and therefore an unusual choice for her, Whiting said she was drawn to the route for that very reason. “I love the idea that I’m walking the same path that millions of other people have walked over a thousand years and each for reasons as individual as they are. That feels very sacred to me.”
Over 94,000 people reportedly completed the Santiago trail in 2005, up from 2,500 in 1985 and those numbers keep growing.
She will be carrying just a backpack with one change of clothes, toiletries, a small journal, her camera and the Camino pilgrims‘ trademark, a seashell, which she collected from the Diamond Creek beach. She plans to walk 15 to 20 miles a day, staying in hostels and pensions in the villages and towns scattered along the route. Though she does have a November return ticket, Whiting has no timetable for the walk. “I want this journey to unfold naturally, to give myself time to explore and meet people and places as I am drawn. I’m giving myself five weeks to walk the 500 miles and then a week to explore further or to rest, whatever I feel I need to do,” she said. “I’m approaching this walk as a physical journey inward. I hope that by creating a physical distance from my daily life, I’ll gain a deeper perspective of my current path and paths I’m considering. This isn’t a midlife crisis, but a midlife re-evaluation. My life is great and full and I’m very blessed with wonderful people and opportunities, but I have been feeling out of balance for the past few years and like I’m not meeting my full potential so I am choosing some quiet alone time to delve deeper in to my spirit to reconnect with my center. Quite a small goal, isn’t it?” she said.
Whiting’s boyfriend Taz Tally, a photographer and adventurer as well, secured a job in San Sabastian, teaching a one-day photography workshop and will accompany Whiting for the first two weeks in Spain. They’ll explore the Basque region of Spain together before he returns home and she begins her walk.
To do the pilgrimage, Whiting is taking a hiatus from her jobs at the Fireweed Gallery, as Shorebird Festival coordinator, as a freelance writer and as grant facilitator for the energy program that she and Tally manage.
Also, as a professional photographer who exhibits her work year round at the Fireweed Gallery, Whiting plans to display images she creates during this pilgrimage at the gallery in March 2012. “I’ve met so many local people who have heard of this pilgrimage, who have wanted to do it themselves and who are excited for me. I will be eager to share my experiences and perhaps inspire others to venture out on their own pilgrimage. My images will be a visual story of what I hope will be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime journey, both inward and outward,” she said.
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