Travel Tuesdays - The Long Walk

Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel.  Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.

All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!

To read Lorraine's archived posts, visit this page.


Travel Tuesdays, March 23, 2021 - "The Long Walk"

I’m looking forward to my next long walk.  Whenever I can walk outdoors, my body relaxes, my senses come alive, my mind grows calm and alert, and I rejoin the world around me.  It’s downright good for the spirit, which is one reason, I believe, that pilgrimage has such a long tradition.  It is, as researcher, Dr. Heather Warfield, claims, “the oldest form of travel.”  Now, admittedly, not every long walk or hike should be considered a “pilgrimage.”  According to most experts, a pilgrimage must have an added layer of meaning or intention.  The journey takes one out of ordinary daily life and has the potential to be transformative.  And, I should add, that many pilgrimages entail a measure of sacrifice and commitment.  

If your mental image of pilgrims looks like this . . .



 Canterbury Pilgrims. Miniature from 'The Siege of Thebes' by John Lydgate

Credit:  Public Domain


. . . you should realize that pilgrimages are not at all a thing of the past.  Around the world, millions of pilgrims journey to sacred sites to fulfill religious duties and to renew their spirit.

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has inscribed some of these routes and sacred sites on their World Heritage List.  One of these, the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range we considered in the “Sacred Wonders” post about Koyasan, a Japanese Buddhist temple site.

Another pilgrim gathering, Kumbh Mela, is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is “the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth,” attracting over 100 million pilgrims over the course of a two month period.  “Devotees believe that by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from sins liberating her/him from the cycle of birth and death.”  To learn more about this pilgrimage, watch “The Architectural Wonder of Impermanent Cities.”  In this TED Talk, architect Rahul Mehrotra describes the temporary megacity created every twelve years when the river’s flood waters subside.


 Kumbh Mela

Credit: “The Architectural Wonder of Impermanent Cities," TED Talk by Rahul Mehrotra


During 2020, the coronavirus impacted pilgrimages, especially those that end in large-scale communal gatherings.  The Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, normally averages over 2 million participants.  Last year, only 10,000 were allowed to make the journey.  This striking image illustrates the socially-distanced version.


Hundreds of Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque,

as they keep social distance to protect themselves from the coronavirus

Credit:  Associated Press


Recent headlines convey more disruption:

“Saudi Arabia says COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for Hajj 2021”  --  Aljazeera

“Annual Fatima pilgrimage to be virtual due to pandemic”  -- Catholic News Agency

“Pilgrimage to Chimayó canceled for second year in a row” -- Santa Fe New Mexican

“Covid negative report mandatory for Kumbh pilgrimage”  --  United News of India

All the same, travel experts predict a bright future for pilgrimage when the pandemic eases.  Prior to COVID, some long-neglected pilgrim routes had been experiencing a dramatic renaissance.   The best known example is Spain’s Camino de Santiago.  In an article entitled,  “A New Love for Medieval-Style Travel,” the author recounts how the number of pilgrims along this route skyrocketed from 67 during 1972 to 348,000 in 2019.  He declares that “Pilgrimages are back in fashion.” 

If you have any doubt, consider “Best Films About The Camino De Santiago” by Follow the Camino, a company that organizes pilgrim tours.  The article reviews ten, yes ten, movies about this particular pilgrimage produced in the last decade.  The list includes comedies, documentaries, dramas, inspirational stories, and scenic films. The best known of these, The Way, is a good place to start.   Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, the gentle film offers empathetic characters, scenic views of the route, and insights into grief, change, and self acceptance.  It is available, of course, through the Ames Free Library.



Similarly, in the UK where pilgrimages had been banned since the days of Henry VIII, historic pilgrim routes have been reconstructed . . . and promoted for tourism.  The British Pilgrimage Trust, was established to “advance British pilgrimage as a form of cultural heritage that promotes holistic wellbeing.”  Its website is very helpful for choosing routes and planning a journey, with clear maps and beautiful photographs.

Travel & Leisure expects interest in pilgrimage to reach even higher levels as the pandemic subsides.  Why the Oldest Form of Travel Could Be the Most Popular in a Post-COVID World” proposes two consequences of the pandemic that might impact travelers’ decisions.  First, the forced isolation of the past year has pushed people to reflect upon their values:  people will want “to have an experience that is more focused on meaning.”  Secondly, the virus encouraged people “to be more engaged in the natural world.  Pilgrimage can bring those experiences together.

Let’s not forget that pilgrimages aren’t necessarily religious.  The British Pilgrimage Trust’s definition opens up a wide range of possibilities:  “A journey with purpose on foot to holy/wholesome/special places.”  This can encompass journeys to battlefields, stops on the Underground Railroad, visits to ancestral homelands, and many other sites with historic or artistic significance.  Contemporary people will adapt the concept of pilgrimage to be meaningful to their lives.  As a final, and moving, example, read “Survivors of Japan’s 2011 Tsunami Make A Pilgrimage to the ‘Phone of the Wind.”

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