Jerusalem, Part Two

Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben and Mikayla Journee

Old City streets

Old City streets

Jerusalem – probably the holiest holy city - is one of the oldest cities in the world. It was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, and has (according to Wikipedia) been destroyed twice, attacked 52 times, besieged 23 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Jerusalem is a holy city for all three major Abrahamic religions – religions that all believe God revealed himself to the prophet Abraham. In order of their founding, these major Abrahamic religions are Judaism (7th century BCE), Christianity (1st century CE)  and Islam (7th century CE), and the younger two both have some roots in Judaism. Abraham was the receiver of the covenant, is considered the ‘first Jew’, the ‘father of faith’ for Christians, and the ‘friend of Allah’ for Muslims. Abraham means ‘father of many nations’.

The people of the holy land – and the ancient region beyond - share amazing commonalities in language and food and culture and religion. They are brothers and sisters. The people of these religions share the same god. They share morals and values. They share prophets and patriarchs. They share stories. And yet, what they have never been able to share too well, is space.

The Western Wall surrounding Temple Mount and the golden Dome of the Rock 

The Western Wall surrounding Temple Mount and the golden Dome of the Rock 

The walls that define the Old City today were re-built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538 (Sulieman was the longest reigning emperor of the Ottoman empire). Despite being only 0.9 square kilometres, the Old City is home to many sites of religious importance for these three religions. The most significant sites are Temple Mount with the Western WallDome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the 19th century and still today, the Old City is divided into four unequally sized sections – the Armenian (which is the smallest and the oldest inhabited quarter), Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters.

Western Wall

Western Wall

The Western Wall as it's seen today is just a very small part of what was built by Herod the Great to surround the sacred Temple Mount. Construction started around 19 BCE. The almost rectangular retaining wall was later destroyed by Romans along with the rest of the city around 70CE. The Western Wall is the holiest place for Jews to pray, but the holiest site itself is the Temple Mount which lies behind it, where the original temple built by Herod stood. Current restrictions on entry mean the wall is the closest Jews can get to Temple Mount. The cracks in the wall are stuffed full of prayers written on paper by worshippers. The courtyard in front of the wall is divided into male and female sections (the male’s is a lot bigger), and people pray and commune at the foot of the wall at all times of the day.

Western Wall

Western Wall

School boys at the Western Wall

School boys at the Western Wall

Prayers in the Western Wall

Prayers in the Western Wall

Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount is a sacred place for Muslims, Jews and Christians. It is the place where their shared patriarch and prophet, Abraham, attempted to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as well as where Mohammed ascended to heaven.

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock) is the stunning Islamic shrine on Haram esh-Sharif (Temple Mount). Originally built in 691 CE, the current shrine was rebuilt in 1022-23 after the original collapsed. This is the third holiest site for Muslims to pray, after Mecca and Medina. After his night time journey on from Mecca to Jerusalem, Mohammed tied his heavenly steed, al-Buraq, to the western wall before climbing Haram esh-Sharif. Mohammed then began his ascension to paradise, from the rock that still lies in the centre of the Qubbat al-Sakhrah shrine.

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

On Temple Mount, walking up to Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

On Temple Mount, walking up to Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Qubbat al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock)

Most Christians believe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains two of the holiest sites in Christianity. Firstly, Golgotha (meaning ‘place of the skull’), a site also known as Calvary. This is where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Secondly, the temple holds the empty tomb in which Jesus was buried and from where he was resurrected three days later.

In the 2nd century CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian had a temple for Venus built over this site to hide the cave in which Jesus had been buried. The location of Golgotha derives from the identification of the site by Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. Here she found the tomb and discovered the remnants of the True Cross (there is still a relic in the Church today). Constantine ordered that the Roman temple be replaced by a church around 325-6CE. These accounts date back at least to the 4th century.

The oculus above the tomb of Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The oculus above the tomb of Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The tomb of Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The tomb of Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The location Christ's dead body was laid after the descent from the cross

The location Christ's dead body was laid after the descent from the cross

The location Christ's dead body was laid after the descent from the cross, in the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The location Christ's dead body was laid after the descent from the cross, in the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Despite the existence of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Garden Tomb is considered by some Christians to be the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. I found the argument too flimsy, but it’s a beautiful, quiet place just outside the walls of the Old City, and whether people believe this to be the true site of Jesus’ resurrection or not, it serves as a place for Christians to contemplate Christ’s sacrifice and his story. The garden is a lot more peaceful and contemplative than the frenetic energy inside the church and when we visited, there was a church group sitting in the garden singing gospel. It brought the place to life.

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Gethsemane, the beautiful, man-made garden of ancient olive trees, was high on my list for Jerusalem. I’m not really sure why, but I think it’s because I think the word gethsemane is beautiful (I found out it means ‘oil press’). I also think it’s because Giotto’s moving Kiss of Judas is so vividly burnt into my brain from my earliest Art History lessons.

The Garden of Olives

The Garden of Olives

2000 years ago there was a man called Jesus who hung out and prayed here with his friends, a stones throw away from the city walls. Following the last supper, where Jesus informed his disciples that he knew one of them would betray him, he came to the garden of gethsemane with Peter, John and James. He prayed in anguish and sadness to God to give him strength, knowing the time of his betrayal had come. The Church of all Nations (also known as the Basilica of the Agony) is next to the garden of Gethsemane. Within the beautiful church is enshrined the piece of bedrock from the garden, upon which Jesus prayed on the night of his ‘agony in the garden’. The next day, in the grotto near the current garden, which was often used by Jesus and his disciples for prayer, Judas betrayed Jesus to Pontius Pilate with a kiss. And from there, the events of the Passion would lead to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Church of all Nations at Gethsemane

The Church of all Nations at Gethsemane

The Church of all Nations at Gethsemane

The Church of all Nations at Gethsemane

Several of the olive trees in the garden are the oldest known to science and have been dated at nearly 1000 years old, though they could be a lot older. The insides of the oldest trees are hollow, with the oldest wood missing. The three threes that could be dated also come from the same parent plant, which could indicate an attempt to keep a lineage of an older species intact. It’s not conclusive whether these could be the same olive trees that sheltered Jesus and his disciples on this night, but it’s not impossible and hasn’t been ruled out.

The Garden of Olives

The Garden of Olives

A final wish 

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Jerusalem, Part One

Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben and Mikayla Journee

At the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives

At the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives

I like religion. I get it. I get what it does for people and I get that humans need answers. I don’t practice a religion. But I understand that humans need a god, or some equivalent, to make sense of who they are. I love ritual and symbolism, but don’t need to practice this myself to believe in their validity.

Looking over to the Old City from the Church of Mary Magdalene

Looking over to the Old City from the Church of Mary Magdalene

At the Church of Mary Magdalene

At the Church of Mary Magdalene

I’m becoming quite comfortable with my own sense of spirituality and my openness to different ideas and concepts of life. I have a comfortableness with the idea of great undefinable unknown.I think that there’s space for the currently secularised mainstream to find an easy way of talking about spirituality without a whole lot of heavy handed symbolism, paraphernalia, cliché New Age language or inappropriate cultural and religious appropriation that dominates this space. I think that we’re heading in the right direction. I think people are once again seeking a groundedness to something more meaningful, and we’re just figuring out a way to do this in a healthy way.

Everyone understands energy. If you’re into sports, then go to a live game. If you’re into music, then go to a live concert. If you’re into Jesus, then worship together in a Church. If you're into pilgrimage, then walk the Camino de Santiago. Whatever it is for, there’s something magical that happens when people come together in a shared experience. This can happen on a small scale, or a large one, and it has the potential to both bind, and unravel communities.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

Since university, I have been interested in comparative religion, and more recently have begun to define my own understanding of spirituality and human nature. Going to Jerusalem felt like an important and natural next place to journey to, given since finishing our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a couple of weeks earlier.

I didn’t come to this place with a neutral perspective (and as much as one might try, no one ever does anyway!). I grew up in a Christian home. And though our family’s church going years were a long time ago, those foundations don’t disappear. My identity was built on Christian values. I also grew up in Aotearoa New Zealand, where, though a secular country, Christianity is the most common religion. Further still, I studied European Art History for many years, with a mostly Christian subject matter and iconography, and still teach in that area today. So, the religious stories I know most are those related to Christ and art. But this was my background, not my purpose. We were there for more than that. We were there to experience it all and learn as much as possible.

View of Jerusalem toward Mount of Olives 

View of Jerusalem toward Mount of Olives 

Jerusalem is an incredible place – and it has been very very hard to put all the complexities and importance of this place into words. Jerusalem is special, in a mind blowing, thought provoking and often unsettling way. Religion is talked about there – you’re asked what you believe, you’re asked which side of the line you lie. People wear their religion clearly. And there’s no such thing as neutral. It’s a place that kind of forces you to own your own beliefs, and acknowledge your biases. It was a healthy challenge for us.

Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem

Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem

We kept our list pretty short for our 10 or so days in this holy city, so we could just let the place happen to us and absorb and learn as much as possible. I’m glad we made that decision. We didn’t want to take a formal tour of the city, and be told what to think. We wanted to just feel our way through it and seek the things that were going to be meaningful to us.

The Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter

We also didn’t really have anywhere else we wanted to go in Israel. We weren’t interested in Tel Aviv and its busy beaches, and there were other important religious sites around the country that we could have visited with day tours, but we were there for the Holy City. The small, weighty piece of land that’s driven people to do awful things to make it, and keep it, ‘theirs’ for millennia… and with angry zealousness for the last 100 years. So that’s basically all we did, aside from a day trip to the Masada fort and the Dead Sea, we spent our time in the city – where we stayed in a couple of different locations - and we wouldn’t have done it any other way, and would probably do the same thing again.

Wandering the The Jewish Quarter

Wandering the The Jewish Quarter

Our timing for heading to Jerusalem was interesting.

A few days before we were due to fly into Ben Gurion, Israeli forces destroyed a lifeline tunnel in Gaza Strip, killing 10 members of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad resistance, and 2 fighters for Hamas. The news channels reported that Palestinians were clear on their intention and entitlement to retaliate. We were a little tense, and we didn’t tell our families about it, assuming and hoping they wouldn’t have heard about this event through mainstream New Zealand news channels.

A few short weeks after we left (and just handful of days ago), President Trump decided to announce Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel.

We arrived in Jerusalem on the 31st October. It was a couple of days before the centenary of the Balfour agreement, and there had been (Israeli) celebrations the weekend before. We didn’t plan that, and we weren’t actually even aware, but we were made aware – and rightly so – almost as soon as we arrived. The regular airport process had irregularities. There was no stamp in the passport but a removable ticket instead, so you could hide the fact you’d been there. There was all encompassing political propaganda promoting Zionism on every wall of the airport. And that was all before we even got to Jerusalem. We had chosen a budget hotel near the Herod’s Gate. We’d chosen it because, first and foremost, it was one of the cheapest accommodations we could find, and because it was close to the Old City, the Garden Tomb and Gethsemane. We were aware it was close to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and aware that we were on the West Bank side of the line on Google maps, but not quite sure what that would mean in reality. It didn’t take long for the hotel owner to ask us if we were there for the celebrations of the Balfour agreement the weekend before, along with the British and Kiwis and Australians that had come for it. We replied that no we weren’t here for that at all. He relaxed, and expressed his gratitude, and thanked Allah that not everyone was there to celebrate the Palestinians’ greatest heartbreak, and then welcomed us warmly to his country and from there referred to Ben as ‘my brother’. It was palpable, and we were instantly humbled and brought intensely into the present. We were in Jerusalem.

Herod's Gate - our first entry into the Old City

Herod's Gate - our first entry into the Old City

The Muslim Quarter

The Muslim Quarter

Bazaars of the Muslim Quarter

Bazaars of the Muslim Quarter

Bazaars of the Muslim Quarter

Bazaars of the Muslim Quarter

When we relocated to another guest house in West Jerusalem, it was like being in a different city. There was light rail and newly paved boulevards. There were rowdy Jewish teenagers that could be heard down the street at all hours of the night. There were crowds of people playing the public piano, literally all the time. There was also quite a few young men (and I mean very very young men), often not in uniform, walking around the streets with automatic weapons slung over their shoulder. There was an instance early one evening where we wlked past a young man sitting on a bench, watched over by police, arms and face covered in what looked like self-inflicted wounds. Things were also unsettling. There was plenty that didn’t seem natural, or calm. In hindsight this part of town seemed to be forcing something, and we could feel the dark underbelly of the city and the tensions just below the surface every day.

Dates at the Mahane Yehuda market

Dates at the Mahane Yehuda market

We absolutely loved being in Jerusalem. We were pretty relaxed when we were there, but the city and its people weren’t. And even though the atmosphere was generally more tense than spiritually enlightened, it also felt like a special special place. As we stood outside the church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives, looking back toward the Old City and the brilliantly white, dusty, sandstone buildings and cemeteries, as we walked the path Jesus walked when he carried his cross, and as we stood in his prison cell, as we wandered the bazaars of the Muslim quarter, wishing we had another suitcase to fill, as we ate Arab bagels and drank Arabic coffee, and devoured shakshuka and a million pitas with falafel and hummas, as we took in the city’s history at the museums (with a critical eye), and ultimately as we observed people in their sacred spaces, we took it all in. As uncanny and unreal as it was to be there, we felt Jerusalem – as it has been always and as it is now.

Getting lost in the Old City - somewhere between the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters...

Getting lost in the Old City - somewhere between the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters...

Shakshuka for breakfast

Shakshuka for breakfast

Arab coffee and bagel in the Old City

Arab coffee and bagel in the Old City

Arabic coffee 

Arabic coffee 

Shisha

Shisha

Zechariahs tomb outside the walls of the Old City

Zechariahs tomb outside the walls of the Old City

Tea stall at Mahane Yehuda market

Tea stall at Mahane Yehuda market

The Church of Mary Magdalene

The Church of Mary Magdalene

Exploring the quiet, ancient ruins of the City of David

Exploring the quiet, ancient ruins of the City of David

Churches of the Camino

Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben & Mikayla Journee

Because the Camino de Santiago is a Catholic pilgrimage after all, and there would be no Camino without them. We went to a few catholic masses during the Camino - some were beautiful and moving, and others were flat and sometimes soulless. There were always the same few figures in the pews - pilgrims like us in their sportswear, and older Spanish women in shoulder padded blazers, with hair worn short or pulled back at the nape of the neck. That was about it. Towns that seemed to have barely any economy aside from the handful of pilgrims that come through each day would still have overwhelmingly adorned and gilt churches. And even when the 'flocks' were small, the churches were still the heart of the towns. I'm not going to examine the Catholic church, and I definitely don't mean to define the Camino by its churches - because it's so much more than that - but these sites remain super important for the Camino as it's known today, and many were absolutely beautiful.

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Eglise Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncevalles, Roncevalles

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncevalles, Roncevalles

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncevalles, Roncevalles

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncevalles, Roncevalles

Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

My favourite Saint James in the Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

My favourite Saint James in the Church of San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, Estella

Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, Estella

Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Saint James in Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Saint James in Church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos

Parroquia de la Asuncion de Santa Maria, Viana on the day of the town fiesta and running of the bulls

Parroquia de la Asuncion de Santa Maria, Viana on the day of the town fiesta and running of the bulls

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Navarrete

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Navarrete

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Navarrete

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion, Navarrete

Collegiate de Santa Maria del Manzano, Castrojeriz

Collegiate de Santa Maria del Manzano, Castrojeriz

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

This tiny, beautifully restored, 12th century church of the Church of Saint Michael in El Acebo, which is too small for Google Maps! The roving padre gives mass here very rarely and usually has only one devotee come (the total population of the town is only 40). We took a visit with the albergue hospitaleros well past dark (and after we'd all done the dishes from the shared meal).

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Saint James in the Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

Saint James in the Church of Saint Michael, El Acebo

The massive Burgos cathedral (1221-end 13th century), built over the remains of an old Romanesque temple

The massive Burgos cathedral (1221-end 13th century), built over the remains of an old Romanesque temple

Burgos cathedral

Burgos cathedral

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Burgos cathedral

Burgos cathedral

Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari, Burgos

Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari, Burgos

Live guitar concert in Iglesia de Santa Maria del Camino, Carrion de los Condes

Live guitar concert in Iglesia de Santa Maria del Camino, Carrion de los Condes

Iglesia de Santa Maria del Camino, Carrion de los Condes

Iglesia de Santa Maria del Camino, Carrion de los Condes

Parish Church of Compostilla, near Ponferrada

Parish Church of Compostilla, near Ponferrada

The Virgin at the Parish Church of Compostilla, near Ponferrada

The Virgin at the Parish Church of Compostilla, near Ponferrada

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, completed 1211

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, completed 1211

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

The central dome of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela contains the pulley mechanism to swing the famous Botafumeiro. It was created by the goldsmith Jose Losada in 1851. It's the largest in the world, weighs 80kg, is 1.6m high and takes 8 men to pull!

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

The Camino, Part Two: Our Camino

Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben & Mikayla Journee

Somewhere near O Cebreiro

Somewhere near O Cebreiro


You are blessed pilgrim if you discover that
The Way opens your eyes to what cannot be seen

You are blessed pilgrim if what most occupies your mind
Is not simply getting there, but getting there alongside your companions

You are blessed pilgrim when you contemplate the Way
And you discover that it is overflowing with names and daybreaks

You are blessed pilgrim when words cannot express
Your gratitude at every surprise that springs from each twist and turn of the Way

You are blessed pilgrim because you have discovered that
The true Way begins when it ends

You are blessed pilgrim if your rucksack becomes emptier and emptier of clutter
While your heart struggles to find room to hang so many emotions

You are blessed pilgrim if you discover that one step backwards to come to someone’s aid
Is worth more than a hundred steps forward without a sideways glance

You are blessed pilgrim if you seek the truth and turn your Way into a life
And your life into a Way in your quest for who is the Way, the Truth, the Life

You are blessed pilgrim if while on the Way you find your true self and
Reward yourself with unhurried time, while not forsaking the image of the heart

You are blessed pilgrim if you find that the Way is paved with silence, the silence of prayer
And prayer for a meeting with the Father, who is with you, loves you and waits for you

Blessed you are pilgrim
— A poem from the Church of San Pedro de la Rua in Estella. It was our first day off, my Achilles were swollen and we were barely able to shuffle around town. I couldn’t keep the lump in my throat down as I read it…
At a rest stop in Galicia

At a rest stop in Galicia

We finished walking the Camino de Santiago at around 3pm on Sunday 8 October. 37 days after we left Saint Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrennes. 799km, or so our certificates say. We were exhausted. That is an understatement. It had been a very hard day for me, and the final push into town was a long and hot one. We were done. And though the feeling of relief was real, as we came around the corner into Praza do Obradoiro, the sadness was real too. Could it really be over? Were we ready for it to be over? Had we learnt enough?

In Santiago de Compostela, the day after we arrived

In Santiago de Compostela, the day after we arrived

Because for us it truly was an almost always slow and painful journey. Like really damn hard. Physically hard. Every day. I cannot overstate that enough. My feet still get a deep and sharp ache if I’m on them for a few hours. Ben’s hip gets sore and grindy every now and then. If I wear my backpack for too long the bump on my collarbone flares up. Let’s be honest, it’s a really nice thing not having to walk 25km each day.

Day one

Day one

Day... ???

Day... ???

Day one

Day one

Day... ???

Day... ???

First day back on the road after time off for injury in Burgos

First day back on the road after time off for injury in Burgos

Second to last day

Second to last day

I am also missing the walking.

Because regardless of the immense pain and injury, our Camino was punctuated by incredible people who we formed powerful bonds with in very short spaces of time. And we found these people when we needed them most. These people were our Camino miracles. We walked around feeling inspired and connected to the universe and connected to each other and connected to ourselves all the time. It was a time of self determination, self (re)discovery, and above all else, a time of love. I’m going to speak for Ben, as well as make a big conjecture, when I say it absolutely is going to be one of the most important experiences of our lives. Sure, we’d do things a little differently next time. But we absolutely wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m finding myself missing the Camino – whenever I crave some inner peace and quiet, whenever I crave clarity. I miss having one thing to do each day, and feeling proud at the end of each day for making it. What a glorious thing a really long walk is.

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Feeling the love and the peace at La Casa de los Dioses, an amazing donation-based rest stop just before Astorga

Feeling the love and the peace at La Casa de los Dioses, an amazing donation-based rest stop just before Astorga

Wildflowers somewhere near(ish) Belorado

Wildflowers somewhere near(ish) Belorado

Quiet time in Lorca

Quiet time in Lorca

Day one

Day one

Why did we do the Camino?

Because we (especially I) needed to fight for what we wanted and create some space in our lives. I wanted to be a bit selfish. In trying to live up to various expectations (mostly my own), I had been feeling a bit damaged. I also felt like I was too young to let life slip me by. I needed to pretend to be free – even though I knew that it would only be make believe for a while. I needed to be done with playing a role. I needed to get my balance back, and at the same time, we both wanted to give time and balance back to us. We’ve been together nearly 10 years, married for nearly 5, and we felt like life had been happening to us for at least 4. It was time to recalibrate. It was way past time to give attention to our bodies. It was way past time to give attention to our minds and souls.

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port

So, after what had been the hardest year of our lives so far, we decided that going and doing something really hard would be a good idea. So of course, we did no training whatsoever (big mistake by the way!). And we bought flights before I could change my mind. Then came the figuring out how to make it happen. It was the most selfish decision of my life.

Day one - still in France

Day one - still in France

I gave a bit of money to a man playing music today. After asking where I’m from and some small talk, (where I said I was a Camino pilgrim) he said kindly, I hope you find what you are looking for. I thanked him and then thought, what was I looking for? Why are we here?
Peace
Acceptance
Two words came to mind. I have a good life, I know who I am, I know who I want to continue to be. I know about love - and I have been feeling and projecting so much love during this 560 odd km journey so far. But there’s more to grasp on this journey yet. More potential to tap. More of my potential to untap. More patience to practice. More acceptance. More peace. And what is it that I want to bring home with us? What is it we want to share? How can we use this experience for the better? Ultimately, what can we share with others... what can we offer... and how do we offer it? How can we practice, and give action, to our gratitude?
— Written in Ponferrada, while having a wine and eating cheese and cuts of cured meats.
A very satisfying lunch stop in Zariquiegui

A very satisfying lunch stop in Zariquiegui

One day, during our last week, feeling very close to the end, and determined to make sense of the experience, we walked up behind three people.  They were all walking separately, but we realized that we’d met them all before. One of them, we’d been running into regularly but hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. Another, we hadn’t seen since Pampalona, our third day, which was 30 or so days ago. Another, we hadn’t seen since Saint Jean Pied de Port. She left the day before us and we had breakfast with her before she set off. It was truly bizarre. We were all within a few metres from each other, 700 odd kilometres later. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our Camino. We had all been thinking about each other, and we were all sure that each other would have been in Santiago by then – each of us always feeling like the slowest. But we’d been walking along at the same pace the whole way, only a handful of kilometres ahead or behind. We were never ever alone.

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Is there a Great Unknown? Is there a point to all this?

There is, because there has to be. There has to be an unknown. There has to be something to find.... something more to find. Otherwise there is no point.

Because the point is in the journey. In the looking. In the seeking.

You’re not looking for the point to all of this. The point of all this is in the looking.
There is no end to the journey. The journey is the point.

You create your own purpose and there is never an end goal. You never stop half way through your life and think that’s it. There’s always a next. And you create what’s next. You don’t find the reason, you create the reason.

If you already knew the answers and didn’t need any faith, then nothing wouldn’t mean anything. Faith is the thing, the super human thing. The ability to have faith in something, in anything, is the thing that makes us human.
— Obviously a bit inspired by this exchange with our friends, Ben and I wrote this together just a couple of hours later – whilst walking of course! We were trying to answer one of the questions that our best friends had given us to think about the morning we left Saint Jean
Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Day one - nearly there

Day one - nearly there

Somewhere in Rioja

Somewhere in Rioja

Somewhere between Pampalona and Zariquiegui

Somewhere between Pampalona and Zariquiegui

Fonfria 

Fonfria 

Somewhere in Spain

Somewhere in Spain

Somwehere between Los Arcos and Viana

Somwehere between Los Arcos and Viana

Should you walk the Camino? 
Walk it if you need to find yourself, remind yourself, create yourself.
But if you only want a physical challenge and accomplishment, then that might be all you receive 

If you’re open to the Camino then the Camino will be open to you
If you listen, you will also hear and be heard 
The Camino will put you in the right place at the right time if you allow it to 
And it will provide you with people to inspire you and help you find your way 
People are the only way 
You already have everything you need but the Camino can absolutely and will absolutely provide you the time and the space for it to flow out of you 
Out of the discomfort comes strength and power 
And out of the confusion comes clarity and acceptance and peace
But if you bring nothing and are open to nothing and carry your fears every day more than you 
carry your courage, then you will put up walls that will only keep yourself from being set free
You already know your answers 
You already know yourself 
You already know your truth 
— I wrote this on one of our final days of the Camino. It had been the hardest day of the whole journey for me. I was literally wincing and grimacing as I typed this awkwardly on my phone as I maintained a fast pace. (It was one of those days where I knew that if I stopped, as my body was crying out for me to do, I literally wouldn’t be able to start again). I cried as I read it aloud to Ben when I had finished. Then I put my phone away, looked up, and kept walking.
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I believe that the Camino will happen to you, in your own way, and in the way that’s right for you. You can and you will experience the Camino that you’re supposed to experience. Your Camino is inside you. The walking just brings it out. Unlocks your truth and sets it free.

You will find your people, and every person will reflect back to you more you need to understand about yourself - Your fears, your truth, your curiosities, your self 

Just finishing our lunch in Leon

Just finishing our lunch in Leon

We learnt so much from our Camino people. We think about you all a lot. We are always sending our love to you from afar. We have faith that we will meet many of you again. You gave us so much, and our biggest fear now is that we never gave enough back to all of you, and that we didn’t give enough back to the Camino.

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Magnus - you opened our minds and inspired some of the most connected conversations we’ve ever had

Kia – you humbled us and brought us back down to earth and reminded us to not be too proud

You both impacted our lives in such a huge way. We will never ever ever forget our time spent with you and all the things we explored during that time. You made us feel inspired and brough about clarity, and helped us find courage within ourselves for our lives to come. 

Stephen – I wish we had a way to contact you. Your love defines the Camino and I miss your smile. Your presence helped save us on our worst day.

Rachel - you were the first person to help us fight the urge to judge ourselves when we thought we weren't good enough. 

Ernst – for making us really clear on what pilgrimage is for us

Roland, Dongyun, Haru – a beautiful reminder of how far we had all come, and to be proud of what we had achieved, and to be proud of walking a humble Camino, and allowing us to smile and laugh through the pain

Nadine – strength and acceptance and hope

Joseph – I wish we had met your earlier on the Camino. You seemed to be a quiet listener and a deep thinker and you had a sparkle in your eyes when you were excited by an idea. You seemed to live with clarity and travel with confidence. You reminded me to try and be all of these things more too.

Ian – you ooze love, and you’re the kindest of souls. May love always be with you

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For us the Camino was an entirely spiritual experience. There was an undeniable energy on the trail – one that bound you to it, bound you to your self, bound you to others, and for us, bound us intensely together. We had a lot of fun being together every day, and had real joy enjoying the small pleasures. Tortilla for second breakfast and the little booty boost it gave us, and rest stops with offerings of coffee and fruit and music that sweet angels set up for pilgrims to enjoy by donation only.

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Still in Roncevalles at the (sore) start of day 2

Still in Roncevalles at the (sore) start of day 2

Estella

Estella

Lunch on day 3

Lunch on day 3

Lunch on day 4

Lunch on day 4

Approximately 616km away from Santiago (no one ever really knows how far away you are haha)

Approximately 616km away from Santiago (no one ever really knows how far away you are haha)

Breakfast on the road as we leave Viana

Breakfast on the road as we leave Viana

A really special rest stop the day before reaching Sarria

A really special rest stop the day before reaching Sarria

Land of light 

Land of light 

Lorca - day 5

Lorca - day 5

Here are some lessons, things to think about, advice we tried to give ourselves and usually ignored… (P.S. these don’t really apply if you’re just walking the 100km from Sarria, sorry not sorry)

  • If it hurts, do something about it. The Camino is too long to play a martyr for too long and risk losing it all. We did this and we shouldn’t have.
     
  • On the other hand, if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not getting stronger. It’s meant to hurt. I just hope it doesn’t hurt you as much as it hurt us. We hurt too much.
     
  • This is a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages should be long.
     
  • This is a pilgrimage. Why are you here?
     
  • You are privileged to be doing this. And others will reflect this back to you all the time. Practice gratitude.
     
  • The Camino is a gift. What are you gifting it?
     
  • Your Camino people are a gift. What are you gifting them?
     
  •  If you’ve got a big pack, why do you have a big pack? Your pack is your fears. What are they, it’s time to face them, it’s time to get honest.
     
  • Ice, Ibuprofen, Eye masks, Earplugs – use them all. They don’t fix your problems, but they do help, and you’re allowed to show yourself some love.
     
  • The Camino will always provide you with good drinking water, and a clear yellow arrow, right in the moment when you’re worried it won’t.
     
  • The Camino will not always provide you with a toilet. Never pass one up. If there’s a spot that looks good for a wee, you will not have been the first pilgrim to use it. Watch your step. 
     
  • Rest more.
     
  • Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright.
     
  • As soon as you start walking someone else’s Camino, it’s gonna get real shit for you. Don’t do it. Be true to yo’ damn self.
Ben wrapping his toes in the morning before leaving Navarrete - day 10

Ben wrapping his toes in the morning before leaving Navarrete - day 10

Soaking our sore and swollen ankles in the freezing river in Zubiri - day 2

Soaking our sore and swollen ankles in the freezing river in Zubiri - day 2

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Coming into Castrojeriz with the guiding symbol of the scallop shell always present

Coming into Castrojeriz with the guiding symbol of the scallop shell always present

One of our many mid-morning stops for coffee and tortilla de patatas

One of our many mid-morning stops for coffee and tortilla de patatas

Resting after our biggest day (36km) in Trabadelo

Resting after our biggest day (36km) in Trabadelo

Delightful tapas in Burgos

Delightful tapas in Burgos

Beautiful sunrise the morning we left Hospital de Orbigo

Beautiful sunrise the morning we left Hospital de Orbigo

Our first rest day in Estella

Our first rest day in Estella

Can't remember for sure where this was

Can't remember for sure where this was

Looking through our credential on our last night in an albergue.

Looking through our credential on our last night in an albergue.

May you have strength in the facing of your fears. Go with the love of the world. We wish you well on your Way.

P.S. if you’re interested in walking the Camino and have specific questions, hit us up! We made it and we are more than happy to share more of our learnings.

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The Camino, Part One: A History

Written by Mikayla Journee
Photos by Ben & Mikayla Journee

Sunrise somewhere along the Way

Sunrise somewhere along the Way

Saint James at San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Saint James at San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

James, the son of Zebedee, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. His is the only martyrdom to be recorded in the New Testament, and therefore it’s held that he was the first of the apostles to be martyred. The book of Acts describes James as executed by sword by ‘Herod the King’ (aka. Herod Agrippa, who was grandson of Herod the Great). Tradition has it that Saint James’ remains were taken in a boat from Jerusalem to Galicia, in northwestern Spain, and his remains are buried beneath the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.

Along with Rome and Jerusalem, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) was one of the most important pilgrimages for Christians to make in the Middle Ages. As with other pilgrimages, taking this journey would earn pilgrims their plenary indulgence – a reduction in the amount of punishment you would have to undergo for your sins.  

As with most pilgrimages, the pilgrims of the Camino would traditionally set off from their own home, and their journey would end at Santiago de Compostela. However, even in the middle ages, several routes were popularized. The earliest records of pilgrims arriving to Compostela were in the 9th century, and the earliest records showing pilgrims starting in the Pyrenees ie. the Camino de Frances (the French Way) was in the 11th century. Today, the route beginning at Saint Jean Pied de Port, on the French side of the Basque Pyrennes, is by far the most popular.

Church at Saint Jean Pied de Port

Church at Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port, the day before we walk

Saint Jean Pied de Port, the day before we walk

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Saint Jean Pied de Port

The pilgrim route is a very good thing, but it is narrow. For the road which leads us to life is narrow; on the other hand, the road which leads to death is broad and spacious. The pilgrim route is for those who are good: it is the lack of vices, the thwarting of the body, the increase of virtues, pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent, the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens. It takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the fortress of the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty. It hates the reproach of those fuelled by greed. It loves, on the other hand, the person who gives to the poor. It rewards those who live simply and do good works; And, on the other hand, it does not pluck those who are stingy and wicked from the claws of sin.
— Codex Calixtinus
We're walking! Looking back toward Saint Jean

We're walking! Looking back toward Saint Jean

By the 12th century, the pilgrimage was highly organised. This was mostly due to the Codex Calixtinus which was published around 1140 by Pope Callixtus II - a great proponent of the pilgrimage. Even today, the 5th book of the Codex is a definitive source for many guidebooks. This text launched what is now known as the Compostelan Holy Years.

To service the needs of the pilgrims, a series of hospitals sprouted up all along the trail. In the Middle Ages hospitals were like almshouses for the poor or hostels for pilgrims. Donations were encouraged but many poorer pilgrims barely had enough health to make it to the next stop, so were cared for by these religious institutions. Many towns still tell this story in their names, such as Hospital de Orbigo.

Estella

Estella

Parroquial Albergue at Hospital de Orbigo

Parroquial Albergue at Hospital de Orbigo

Estella

Estella

The Abbaye Cistercienne albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

The Abbaye Cistercienne albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada

San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

San Pedro de la Rua, Estella

Hospitality upon arrival at the albergue in Najera

Hospitality upon arrival at the albergue in Najera

The scallop shell has long been the symbol for the Camino. As the symbol for Saint James, and often found on the shores of Galicia, it became customary early on for pilgrims to carry back with them a Galician scallop shell as proof of their completed journey. As the medieval pilgrimage became established, many pilgrims began to carry a scallop shell to identify themselves as a pilgrim. This gave them privileges to sleep in churches, ask for free meals, hopefully ward off thieves, and even function as a drinking or eating vessel. The scallop shell is also a metaphor – the grooves in the shell coming together at a single point represents the idea that all roads lead to Santiago. The scallop shell motif on signposts at regular intervals is the symbol that guides pilgrims along the way. 

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The Protestant Reformation, the Black Death and European economic decline meant that pilgrim numbers decline dramatically over the coming centuries. Up to the 1980s, only a few pilgrims would arrive in Santiago each year. But there has been a momentous renaissance for the Camino since it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named a European Cultural Route in 1987. So much so that in 2016, 276,224 pilgrims arrived in Santiago and achieved the minimum 100km to receive their Compostela certification (46% were Spaniards), and the numbers are still increasing every year.

Walking through Puente la Reina

Walking through Puente la Reina

Coming into Castrojeriz

Coming into Castrojeriz

Pilgrimage has come to mean something even for those who don’t identify as religious (us included) – and we saw this in all forms on our five-week journey (more on our experience to come!). When we began our pilgrimage, we were open to the spirituality of the journey, and the energy of the Camino, and found these things in spades. I find it interesting and telling, that pilgrim numbers are swelling once again, and that each year, more and more people travel to Spain to seek their answers, in the footsteps of those that have sought answers before them. After decades of increasing meaninglessness in secular Western societies, what a blessing it was to see a resurgence of meaning-making on our Camino. Just as humanity has always needed meaning, and has always created this meaning, I was reminded that people DO still need meaning in their lives - whether they find it through a religion, a spirituality, science, or in something that looks completely different. It’s all the same thing really…

To be continued

Foggy morning in Galicia 

Foggy morning in Galicia 

Much needed inspiration, somewhere along the Way

Much needed inspiration, somewhere along the Way

Moody weather, somewhere along the Way

Moody weather, somewhere along the Way

A stunning sunrise, somewhere along the Way

A stunning sunrise, somewhere along the Way

More needed inspiration, somewhere along the Way

More needed inspiration, somewhere along the Way

Day 1, somewhere outside Saint Jean Pied de Port

Day 1, somewhere outside Saint Jean Pied de Port

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More to come!

More to come!