The Kokoda Trail: Pilgrim’s progress

COMPLETING the trek depicted in the movie, The Way, is no mean feat - but Jenny Hall did it.

In the movie, Thomas Avery, played by Martin Sheen, goes to France after the death of his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago - the Way of St James, a Catholic pligrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago of Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Although unprepared, Avery decides to complete the journey carrying his son's ashes.

The thought of conquering this arduous 800km mountainous trek was inspired by Jenny's 83-year-old sister, who had suffered breast cancer and was unable to make the journey herself.

Two years ago, Jenny trekked Kokoda, a feat she thought would have put her in good stead for this long walk.

"If I could do that, I could do this," she said.

The view of the road ahead at Galar in Spain. Right: Jenny Hall near the start of her journey.
The view of the road ahead at Galar in Spain. Right: Jenny Hall near the start of her journey. Contributed

But she underestimated how difficult it would be.

She had read a lot about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and spent months training.

"I started my training by walking five kilometres a day and got to 10km before leaving," Jenny said.

However her vision of "a walk in the park" was dashed on the second day when she was hit by wind and sleet on a slope which almost blew her off the trail.

"As I walked pieces of fellow travellers' raincoats ripped from their backs flew past me," she said.

Jenny followed the yellow arrows and brass shells from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France with her backpack weighing 9kg. It was here she received a special passport which would log her journey and remind her of the challenges she would overcome. But each kilometre would test her.

Everyone walked at their own pace and had reasons for doing it. "I met a lot of people - some old and a lot younger. I didn't see many middle-aged pilgrims," she said.

"I made many friendships and remember an 18-year-old Korean who struggled with the food because there was very little or no rice. In Spain, the staple food is bread and wine."

As Jenny walked, she followed the Camino Bible - a book which showed the way to go, the towns where pilgrims could stop, cost for the night and the time it would take to walk between each town. Each day, she started out between 6.30 and 7am, ending her day's walk at 2pm.

"If I didn't get in early (to the hostel), there wouldn't be a bed in the Municipal Albergue (hostel). The cost was between five and 10 euros ($7.50-$15).

"One woman snored so loudly, it bounced off the walls. And many leave the accommodation at 4am, rustling plastic bags and zips as they pack and continued on their way." That's why Jenny made the decision to take ear plugs.

What upset her the most was toilet paper and tissues which were not buried properly by pilgrims and left to fly into the beautiful scenery beyond.

Those who didn't have Jenny's stamina would send their backpacks to the next town and walk without the weight.

After finishing and having her passport stamped at all the stops, she walked on to Camino de Finisterre.

Before flying back to the Fraser Coast, Jenny couldn't resist stopping at Reims, in France's Champagne region.

Camino de Santiago

The Way of St James, Spain, was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages.

Legend says that St James' remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrims can follow different routes.

Everywhere pilgrims stop along the way they obtain stamps on their pilgrim record passport as evidence of their pilgrimage.

When the passport is presented in Santiago pilgrims are awarded a Compostela - a certificate from the cathedral.

It can take between 5-6 weeks.

Over the past 40 years the Santiago pilgrimage has enjoyed a great revival and in 2004 250,00 pilgrims walked to Santiago.

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