Light a Candle | Include Strangers | No Complaining

Ballintubber Abbey, Summer 2019

Light a Candle

Don Elais Valiña Sampedro | Fr. Frank Fahey

I would have loved to know Don Elias Valiña Sampedro, dubbed the ‘mad priest of O Cebreiro’ for his tireless efforts over 2 decades to re-energise the Camino de Santiago. The yellow arrow synonymous with the Camino de Santiago is largely attributable to him. He personally invested in large quantities of yellow paint and crossed Spanish countryside from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela painting arrows. He did not live to witness the routes being elevated as UNESCO World Heritage significance as he died prematurely in 1989. Santiago de Compostela became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The Camino was recognized as a European Cultural Way in 1987. But it was not before 1993 that the routes tied to the 9th century discovery of the sarcophagus of St. James, were declared of World Heritage significance by UNESCO.

I have the pleasure to know Fr. Frank Fahey, the parish priest of Ballintubber Abbey in County Mayo, Ireland, where the Tochar Phadraig commences, traversing pristine Irish pastureland along the ancient chariot road, through the ancient town of Aughagower and across Croagh Phadraig to Murrisk. His words come back to me from time to time and I smile as I hear his voice with my inward ear, “Light a candle, include strangers in your group and no complaining.” The Augustinian abbey was built in the 13th century on the site of an earlier church next to the well where St. Patrick evangelized and baptized the local Celtic tribes in the 5th century AD, some 300 years before the discovery of the tomb of St. James in Compostela, Spain. Fr. Fahey, like Fr. Elias, worked relentlessly to re-establish the Tochar Phadriag negotiating paths with local farmers and landowners. My wife and I are probably the only 2 pilgrims to have walked all five of the Celtic Caminos twice; and we did this in the space of a fortnight back-to-back in summer of 2019 leading two groups of XirCammini pilgrim hikers. It was a memorable experience for all 60 hikers; so much, so that we are planning to repeat this experience again – Covid 19 permitting – in the summer of 2020.

Photos of the Maltese pilgrim hikers receiving the teastas from Fr. Fahey: https://www.facebook.com/ballintubberabbey/photos/a.2519805538238852/2519807844905288/?type=3&eid=ARCnMsN9j7bRHOmpF-K-yP4NA2ySqKHsuwP2wLaPqYHi2pnFXQpQ3wl1KvwMJ2bexfUI1viVn7PXE5AJ&__xts__%5B0%5D=68.ARASMKW75nUVh9RByc-KrK3rf7OcL7Z7pfBn0nk69zT5uJZr_vrqrihBWlGxQkBgAJYmGoYVbjCYFa6disU2E5PIoYFYH-Zw8J7jubMWvUFUmSntG9Asok0WH2HNEaYtYJew4un5CMxRLpcw_1ypL677cmH_wedHzX8-2jHTqgo9N2A8nBe0O0MHM6ZGsKavKN74kC2JEzmsbG_rdSOeITaFbx9gXaAPFBIiVoJiIhgqm9RWnIfrqX4HtCI6rXmLHwT_JqmwzUxnQoV6NsSVIbPoo2m-JMPlwU9U21e7k2MIAVSxxUEp5VPH9hDV09YGzVCVJGs&__tn__=EHH-R

The inspiration of Fr. Elias and Fr. Fahey ‘lit a candle’ for us. They were an inspiration for XirCammini to look closer to home to revive a similar, ancient walk. Their inspiration enabled us to work with vigour on the Universal Peace Walk 1543AD®, a 16th century walk in Malta of European (i.e. old world) significance. Malta may not have the natural beauty that larger trails – such as in Spain or Ireland – offer. But what we lack in relative natural beauty we surpass in historical heritage. https://xircammini.org/route/malta-universal-peace-walk-1543ad/

Fr. Fahey’s, “light a candle, include strangers and no complaining,” are the rallying cry of this project.

Include Strangers

Strangers are friends that we have yet to befriend; or once-upon-a-time friends that for whatever reason fell along the wayside.

We engaged with virtually all the local councils in the Majjistral and Xlokk segments through which the Universal Peace Walk would cross. All local councils supported the idea in principle. One in particular, the Zejtun local council, stepped up to the plate offering practical help, which we greatly appreciated.

The island has a number of hiking groups. We identified the most visible (including in alphabetical order: Caminiamo, Experience: Adventure & More, Leisure Ventures, Malta Photo Trekking, Trail Makers and Whereto360). Although the event has been publicly advertised and is open to everyone, we thought of reaching out to such groups inviting them to be part of this historic walk. Some ignored it, one declined and one, Whereto360, enthusiastically shared it.  For this we are grateful.

A local Re-enactment group – Compagnia San Michele – also got in touch with us to participate in the event. Needless to say, we were elated.

No Complaining

We engaged with local authorities and private companies seeking funding opportunities for the project. Regrettably – but thinking positively – it soon became apparent that Fr. Elias’ proverbial brush and paint would define our course as no entities seemed to share our enthusiasm for the project. The 1% inspiration had to be followed by our 99% perspiration if we were to see this project through. Of these entities perhaps the only supportive one was the Malta Tourism Authority with whom we continue to engage informally with the long term objective of ‘polishing the event’ to a tourism-quality product that would in time attract overseas hikers to it.

However, in the meantime, we operated on a shoestring budget and a small army of volunteers to procure waymarks, produce Credencials, book transport and to subsequently fix and remove temporary waymarks. We are thankful for all the support that we received so far.

When Covid 19 hit XirCammini reluctantly decided to postpone the walk. This was a difficult decision since its date ties with the anniversary of the historic event. Identifying a date later on the year that ties in with the event may be a challenge. But we were inspired by the words of a veteran Camino aficionado, “ancient pilgrimage routes have been here for centuries and will be here after Covid. The life, health and welfare of pilgrims may be more fragile.”

So we decided that we will live to walk another day. That is what pilgrims do. No complaining.

Conclusion?

Life is a journey and so much of accomplishment depends on the outlook we have and the ardour we put into life. Perception is key and positivism lightens the yoke that each one of us carries.

So, “light a candle, include strangers and no complaining” should define every other journey we have.

Above all, while on your journey be kind to other pilgrims on their respective journey of life. It is generally the aspects of life with no or little cost that have the highest value.

COVID 19: Keep Calm | Carry on (#5)

This is the 5th  update in our Covid 19 announcements to XirCammini Members.

Our underlying advice remains, “Keep calm | act sensibly | exercise discipline | (where permissible) carry on.”

Introduction: Thank You

We want to start as always with a heartfelt note of thanks and caution:

Thanks: We want to thank all the healthcare professionals, paramedics, disciplined forces, volunteers and all those engaged in the effort to halt and or heal. Thank you.

Caution: A word of caution to everyone else out there in touch with the healthcare profession. Please be supportive of the efforts and instructions in place. These are there to protect us. Please cooperate fully with the medical fraternity. They are our ultimate line of defense.

Overseas Trekking

General Instructions & Announcements from Airlines

Today we thought of providing in one document links to information from the most commonly used airlines to and from Malta typically used by hikers travelling from and to Malta.

There are Maltese that are endeavouring to return to Malta and we thank AirMalta for their commitment towards repatriation.

Most airlines have been very pro-active in either providing refunds or re-scheduling. All re-assure passengers of the ventilation / filtration systems available in aeroplanes which is similar to hospitals and stops a a wide range of virus and bacteria.

WizzAir also provides excellent general information on Covid-19, transmission risks, etc in addition to the customary flight information due to the disruptions.

These are the updates from the airlines mostly used by the Maltese (airlines in alphabethical order) travelling for hiking trips abroad:

AirMalta

AirMalta: As mentioned above, Airmalta continued to organise repatriation flights over the weekend and updated its news / links relating to Covid 19 on its website: https://www.airmalta.com/covid-19-info

British Airways

British Airways: https://www.britishairways.com/en-li/information/incident/coronavirus/latest-information?dr=&dt=British%20Airways%20%7C%20Book%20Flights,%20Holidays,%20City%20Breaks%20%26%20Check%20In%20Online&scheme=&audience=travel&CUSTSEG=&GGLMember=&ban=%7C%7CP1M%7C%7C%7C%7C%7C%7C%7CHOME%7C%7C%7C%7CL4%7C%7C%7C%7Canonymous-inspiration%7C%7C%7C&KMtag=c&KMver=1.0&clickpage=HOME

EasyJet

EasyJet is also offering re-scheduling of flights to those effected: https://www.easyjet.com/en/help/preparing-to-fly/latest-travel-information

Emirates

Emirates Airlines emphasizes more on cleaning of their planes and offering flexibility to their loyalty programme customers: https://www.emirates.com/media-centre/emirates-offers-travellers-added-peace-of-mind/

Lufthansa

Lufthansa details procedure  for cancellation and/or rebooking of tickets as well as providing information of limited flights remaining in place for example to the USA even beyond 14th March: https://www.lufthansa.com/xx/en/flight-information

Ryanair

Updates from Ryanair: https://www.ryanair.com/ie/en/useful-info/disruptions-and-refunds/coronavirus-covid-19/flight-passenger-restrictions

The restriction on Italy currently in place is until 8th April: https://corporate.ryanair.com/news/ryanair-suspends-all-italian-flights-to-wed-8-apr-as-government-extends-restrictions-to-all-italy/

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines updates of all flights that have been cancelled. Turkish Airlines is giving refunds for unused tickets. https://www.turkishairlines.com/en-int/announcements/coronavirus-outbreak/

Vueling

Vueling are offering rescheduling of flights effected: http://vuelingnews.com/?lang=en

WizzAir

WizzAir provided very good information on Covid-19, sysmptoms, risk of transmission etc.  and also answered questions specifically relating to their flights. Ay information website in this respect:

https://wizzair.com/en-gb/coronavirus-information and https://wizzair.com/en-gb/latest-travel-information

Local Trekking

XirCammini Approach

We firmly believe that hiking in fresh air has significant physical, psychological and social benefits. Under the current circumstances that advocate a measure of ‘social distancing’ the latter benefit may need be placed on the back-burner. However While not holding larger group walks as XirCammini , we will continue to recommend hiking solo or in small groups while respecting the directives currently in place.

Also, within this ambit, the weekly Wed Walks will continue to be held. These generally attract not more than 10 people walking at a pace of between 5.5km – 6km an hour spacing out, on average, over a 15-minute (i.e. 1.5km or 1,500m) time lag. Therefore, on balance – even under the current climate – these do not pose any increased risk.

We will also continue to harp on the following common-sense advice as recommended by ECDC, WHO and government directives i.e. Please:

  1. Do not join the trek if you are sick, running a temperature, have a cough, or experiencing trouble to breathe;
  2. Do not join the trek if you or persons close to you have recently returned from Italy, Spain, France, Germany or Switzerland. You should be in quarantine;
  3. Avoid any form of physical contact with others (i.e. shaking hands, hugging, kissing etc.) and try to maintain the 1-metre physical distance;
  4. Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, tissues, and other hygiene products constantly on a trek;
  5. Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  6. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  7. Check list of persons coming and make personal arrangements for car-pooling. Keep car windows open as much as possible.

Conclusion: be respectful

We conclude by again thanking all the healthcare professionals, paramedics, disciplined forces, volunteers and all those engaged in the effort to halt and or heal. Thank you.

It’s good to also see that some even from the front-line have – to varying degrees – a little bit of time to keep up-to-date with news and social media, to also post photos / profile pics in scrubs akin to haz-mat gear, to take time out and in one occasion also celebrating a birthday of a colleague working on the front-line around the clock. Maintaining a positive morale is half the victory.

Also some circumstances in life tend to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. it is worth remembering that in any war:

  1. We are not all on the front-line. If we were it means that the war is already almost lost. Wars with a successful strategy and outcome have a front-line, strong ‘behind the lines’ organisation, logistics, media / PR, opportunities to ‘take time out’, entertainment and humour (even if stoic at times) and a strong sense of, “keep calm and carry on” aimed at instilling a strong sense of balance.
  2. If / when you are visible your words and actions influence others. Be judicious in both.
  3. Prejudice brings out the worst in people. In this case, we’re all on the same side. let us be respectful towards each other.
  4. Unfortunately social media has replaced the soap-box and created multiple mutations of preachers who with evangelical zeal spout or advocate hell’s fire and brimstone at /for anyone who dares disagree with their point of view even on mundane matters. Bad as Covid-19 may be there are worse viruses infecting some of us and making themselves manifest particularly in such times. I am referring to such viruses as prejudice, gossip, bigotry, conceited self-righteousness and so on. If one is unable to speak (their version of the truth) unto others with respect then it would probably be more beneficial if we maintain our silence. After all it is our actions (not our words) that speak most volumes.

Life is a journey | keep walking | keep smiling | keep safe | keep calm | act sensibly | exercise self-discipline and (where permissible) carry on.

COVID 19: Keep Calm | Carry on (#4)

This is the 4th update in our Covid 19 announcements to XirCammini Members.

Our underlying advice remains, “Keep calm | act sensibly | exercise discipline | carry on.”

Introduction: Thank You

We will start Alert #4 by reiterating our thanks to the healthcare fraternity and those around them engaged in halting and healing. We also reiterate our note of caution:

Thanks: We want to thank all the healthcare professionals, paramedics, disciplined forces, volunteers and all those engaged in the effort to halt and or heal. Thank you.

Caution: A word of caution to everyone else out there in touch with the healthcare profession. Please be supportive of the efforts and instructions in place. These are there to protect us. Please cooperate fully with the medical fraternity. They are our ultimate line of defense.

Overseas Trekking

General Instructions & Announcements

We will continue to monitor local, regional and international news and advisories in order to update our members as necessary.

There is a general increase in cases mainly in continental Europe prompting more measures from respective governments.

Latest from Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Pilgrim’s office have announced today that they will remain closed until further notice. This coincides almost with the Spanish government’s decision to declare a state of alert today coming into effect on Saturday.

XirCammini has secured the refund of all payments made by its members to the various accommodation providers for the Camino Norte. This was due to take place next week and we will distribute these to the members shortly.  

Latest from Malta

Meanwhile in Malta, the government announced today that any incoming passengers (including tourists) from any country need to observe the 14-day quarantine on penalty of € 1,000 per breach.

Any returning trekkers are strongly urged to abide by the quarantine directives.

Schools closed for a week. Similarly, churches closed and catechism classes suspended; the church arranging for televised and streamed liturgical services. Hospitals and old people’s homes also have restrictions or in some cases a ban on visiting times. This is the latest from the Times of Malta on the government announcements: https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/watch-robert-abela-gives-update-on-coronavirus-measures.777839

Gatherings of groups of people, while not prohibited, are actively discouraged. Many of the local trekking groups have cancelled their hikes until further notice.

Local Trekking: Universal Peace Walk 1543AD

After having consulted the persons who were planning to participate in the event and weighed this against on-going directives and developments, XirCammini announces with regret that it will be postponing the Universal Peace Walk 1543AD event of 15th March 2020.

The Committee has taken the decision with great responsibility as a precautionary measure since the current Covid situation remains fluid and is constantly developing.

While – until possible to do so – we encourage exercise in sunlight and fresh air solo or in small groups we also advocate that interaction with others continues to follow the simple safety principles advocated by ECDC, WHO and the Government of Malta. XirCammini represented these principles in all of it Covid advisories (1 -4) contained herein.

XirCammini will refund in full the contribution collected for transport and the Credencial. We ask those who paid and wish to collect the refund to provide us with IBAN details so that we can transfer the € 5 or € 10 contribution back to them.

Practical Prevention Advice

We will end today’s advisory with some practical self-risk assessment / prevention.

The Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) may not show signs of infection for a number of days. By the time they fever or cough manifest themselves Fibrosis may already have taken effect in the lungs.

A simple self-test each morning:

Take a deep breath and hold it for more than 10 seconds.

If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness and so on this an indication that there is no Fibrosis in the lungs; i.e. no infection in the lungs. Slef-check every morning.

The following is a synthesis of a piece from the Stanford hospital board:

Preventative measures:
  1. If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold. Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.
  2. This new virus is not heat-resistant. Therefore temperatures of 26/27 degrees will kill it. Sunlight and heat limit the growth or longevity of coronavirus.
  3. A coronavirus induced sneeze can be airborne for about 10 feet before it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.
  4. Viruses dropping on
    1.  a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours. Therefore it is very important to regularly wipe metal surfaces with  anti-bacteria wipes and wash hands with anti-bacterial soap.
    1. On fabric it can survive for 6-12 hours. normal laundry detergent will kill it.
  5. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Do not to drink liquids with ice. Keep your mouth and throat moist with sips at 15-minute intervals if possible. Even if the virus gets into your mouth, drinking water or other liquids will wash them down through your throat and into the stomach. Once there, your stomach acid will kill the virus. If you don’t drink enough water more regularly, the virus can enter your windpipe and into the lungs.
  6.  Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minute.
  7. A lot can happen in 5 minutes. Avoid rubbing your eyes, unwittingly picking nose etc.
  8. Gargle as a prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.
Recognising the Symptoms of Coronavirus:
  1. It will first infect the throat, so you’ll have a sore throat lasting 3/4 days.
  2. The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.
  3. With the pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing.
  4. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind. You feel like you are drowning. It is imperative you then seek immediate attention.

Conclusion: A Reminder on Trekking Etiquette

  1. Do not join the trek if you are sick, running a temperature, have a cough, or experiencing trouble to breathe;
  2. Do not join the trek if you have recently returned from Italy, Spain, France, Germany or Switzerland. You should be in quarantine;
  3. Avoid any form of physical contact with others (i.e. shaking hands, hugging, kissing etc.) and try to maintain the 1 metre physical distance;
  4. Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, tissues, and other hygiene products constantly on a trek;
  5. Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  6. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

In the face of all this it is worth reminding ourselves that we are not circumstances and we can choose not to be defined or constrained by circumstances.

Life is a journey | keep walking | keep smiling | keep (yourself and others) safe. Take care.

COVID 19: Keep Calm | Carry on (#3)

This is the 3rd update in our Covid 19 announcements to XirCammini Members.

Our underlying advice remains, “Keep calm | act sensibly | exercise discipline | carry on.”

Introduction: Thank You

We want to start with a heartfelt note of thanks and caution:

Thanks: We want to thank all the healthcare professionals, paramedics, disciplined forces, volunteers and all those engaged in the effort to halt and or heal. Thank you.

Caution: A word of caution to everyone else out there in touch with the healthcare profession. Please be supportive of the efforts and instructions in place. These are there to protect us. Please cooperate fully with the medical fraternity. They are our ultimate line of defense.

Overseas Trekking

General Instructions & Announcements

We will continue to monitor local, regional and international news and advisories in order to update our members as necessary.

Based on the latest official directives Malta has suspended travel to and from Spain, Switzerland, France and Germany with effect from mid-night last night. These accrue on the earlier ban on flights to / from Italy (which is still in total lock-down). Local authorities have set up a helpline for stranded travellers: +356 22042200.

Equally important is the 14-day quarantine period imposed on travellers arriving from the following countries and on persons they have come into contact with (i.e. co-workers and family members) in the meantime. A € 1,000 fine applies to all those breaking the quarantine rule. The government is also putting in place a help-system for the delivery of medicinal and other supplies to people in home quarantine.

  1. Italy: anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  2. China (including Hong Kong): anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  3. Singapore: anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  4. Japan: anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  5. Iran: anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  6. South Korea: anyone who returned to Malta from February 26 onward.
  7. France: anyone who returned to Malta from March 11 onward.
  8. Spain: anyone who returned to Malta from March 11 onward.
  9. Germany: anyone who returned to Malta from March 11 onward.
  10. Switzerland: anyone who returned to Malta from March 11 onward.

(Source: Times of Malta: 12th March 2020)

Further information at European level regarding the latest updates is available from: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en

This is the EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control with the latest, up-to-date, objective information from which all local EU governments are drawing information.

XirCammini Members on Overseas Treks

Camino Norte, Spain 21st – 28th March 2020

Following yesterdays’ official announcements cancelling flights to and from Spain, regrettably the Camino del Norte has been postponed to later on in the year. XirCammini is currently in touch with the accommodation providers and will be writing individually to all members concerned regarding recouping of expenses shortly.

We have worked around the clock since yesterday and are pleased to inform you that so far our efforts to reverse costs has been successful. You will be hearing from us.

Lenten Retreat, Spain 29th – 31st March 2020

Similarly the Lenten Retreat in Miraz has been cancelled. The Confraternity of St. James who were kindly going to host us in ther Albergue in Miraz have been informed as have all the participants.

Il Sentiero Degli Dei, Italy 30th April – 4th May 2020

Since the official travel ban, lock-down and quarantine procedures in Malta and Italy respectively are in place until 3rd April 2020 we have been monitoring the situation very closely.

Our recommendation is that we wait until then and in the 1st week of April take a decision on whether or how to proceed.

Notwithstanding this, however, if there are hikers who were intending to join these treks but who – for whatever reason – from now wish to pull out, please let us know and we will return in full the contribution you have forwarded towards the event. We trek to relax and not to stress. While, on balance, it seems sensible to wait until early April to take a decision if anyone has made up his or her mind and is stressing about it please let us know. We will return in full any contribution forwarded to us in connection with this hiking trip.

Local Trekking Events

General Instructions & Announcements

While the official announcement locally was to cancel events with 2,000+ people and our trekking events attract much, much less people we advocate that members act sensibly and exercise caution and self-discipline.

Our activities attract, in general, less than 20 people on weekly evening walks, less than 50 on weekend walks and less than 100 on annual events.  Therefore, one can easily exercise caution for the common good while still practicing a pastime that is known to have significant physical, pscychological and social benefits to all concerned. So, the underlying advice remains, “Keep calm | act sensibly | exercise discipline | carry on.”

We have highlighted our recommendations, based on the ECDC, WHO and local health authorities’ directives in our first think-piece, i.e. https://xircammini.org/presidents-pen/covid-19-keep-calm-be-sensible-carry-on/

These are:

  1. Avoid physical contact with others (shaking hands, hugging or kissing). Where possible a minimum 1 metre distance is recommended;
  2. If you are sick, running a temperature, have a cough, or experiencing trouble to breathe do not join a trek. Seek medical attention. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room;
  3. Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Carry and use hand sanitizers, tissues, and other hygiene products constantly on a trek;
  4. Cleaning hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60%–95% alcohol. Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  5. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

Since we may carry some food and drink one also has to take into account the 5 key drivers of food safety i.e.:

It is always sensible to observe the five key points to food safety i.e.

  1. Cleanliness (food, surfaces and utensils);
  2. Separation of raw and cooked food;
  3. Thorough cooking;
  4. Maintaining food at safe temperatures; and
  5. Using safe water.

Universal Peace Walk 1543AD

While the official announcement was to cancel events with 2,000+ people and our trekking events attract much, much less people we advocate that members to act sensibly and exercise caution and self-discipline.

Given the foregoing, XirCammini decided to proceed as follows on the Universal Peace Walk 1543AD

  1. The event will go ahead because the
  • The likelihood is that it will not attract more than 50 people;
  • Hikers – by nature – stagger out when walking; and
  • We will be walking in open spaces.

So, the Walk is still taking place BUT

2. We will be cancelling the transport to avoid having 50 + people in the same confined coach for a length of time. Please make your own transport arrangements for the day. We suggest car-pooling (open windows) among friends leaving cars in Mdina and Zejtun respectively.

3. A full refund (€ 10 Credencial + Transport or € 5 Credencial) will be given to those who paid. No one is obliged to participate and if anyone feels that they shouldn’t we understand. Those who still wish to walk it this is not an event in a confined space. It is an event over a 25km spread.

Refunds will be given during the walk. Please approach the Committee for these.

Needless to say, XirCammini, as a voluntary organisation, has incurred costs for procuring signage and printing Credencials. So if anyone wishes to waive the refund we would appreciate it. However, this will be up to individual prerogative. We will offer the full refund to everyone.

4. The Qormi (05:00 a.m.) segment will be cancelled and we all start from Mdina at 09:00 a.m. We regret this change; but this measure would help facilitate car-pooling in the absence of a coach. We will meet on the Cathedral Parvis in Mdina for a 09:00 start.

5. We wish to reiterate the earlier recommendations in line with ECDC, WHO and government directives i.e. Please:

  • Do not join the trek if you are sick, running a temperature, have a cough, or experiencing trouble to breathe;
  • Do not join the trek if you have recently returned from Italy, Spain, France, Germany or Switzerland. You should be in quarantine;
  • Avoid any form of physical contact with others (i.e. shaking hands, hugging, kissing etc.) and try to maintain the 1 metre physical distance;
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, tissues, and other hygiene products constantly on a trek;
  • Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Check list of persons coming and make personal arrangements for car-pooling. Keep car windows open as much as possible.

In the face of all this it is worth reminding ourselves that we are not circumstances and we can choose not to be defined or constrained by circumstances.

With the right attitude, awareness and self-discipline we can still keep calm and carry on.

Coronavirus emergency: can you trek or perform outdoor activities? (#2)

Massimo Clementi [source www.trekking.it]

This is a useful think-piece by Massimo Clementi (www.trekking.it) coming from a country currently in lock down because of Covid 19. The underlying message remains the same as expressed in our think-piece on the same subject (https://xircammini.org/presidents-pen/covid-19-keep-calm-be-sensible-carry-on/) i.e. to “Keep Calm | Act Sensibly | Exercise Self-Discipline | Carry on”.

This morning the Official Gazette published the new Prime Minister’s Decree which extends the provisions and limitations previously applicable to Lombardy and the other provinces referred to as the “Red Zone” to all of Italy.

We made a general examination of the current provisions for the containment of the spread of Coronavirus. In this article we want to focus on sports activities and, in particular, on non-competitive outdoor activities, such as trekking, Nordic walking and mountain biking.

For these disciplines where there is an area of doubt in ​​the legislation, it is important to achieve clarity and to understand what can be undertaken safely and what must be avoided.

What are the activities that are definitely prohibited

Article 1 – paragraph 3 of the Prime Minister’s Decree, which came into force this morning, expressly prohibits all types of competitive and non-competitive sports activities, in any sports facility. The following is articulated in a way that it leaves no doubts:

Sports events and competitions of all kinds and disciplines are suspended, in public or private places. Professional and non-professional athletes can use gyms / training grounds behind closed doors where it is recognized as being of national interest by the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and by their respective federations

This provision:

1. Prohibits all sporting events, competitions and competitions of all types, both in professional and amateur settings; but

2. Training of professional athletes is allowed only if recognized by CONI or their respective Federations of interest, in view of future sporting competitions, such as the Olympics.

The rule continues by providing further indications for outdoor sports: these activities can be carried out provided that the minimum distance of one metre between the practitioners is respected and without prejudice to the prohibition of gatherings of people. The same article states that:

“… sports and physical activities carried out outdoors are allowed only on condition that it is possible to respect for the interpersonal distance of one metre …

Leaving the house to go walking alone, or with the people with whom we share a house, and immersing yourself in nature or in a street outside the centre is not only allowed but it could be a great way to combat the stress and anxiety of these days.

All those who are fortunate enough to be in mountain or countryside locations will be able to take advantage of these days to take long walks in nature.

Staying indoors may not be pleasant, but it is a necessary measure to stop the spread of Coronavirus. Trekking outdoors can be a valid alternative that allows you to recover physical and mental balance in these days.

Let’s try to make a short list to better understand what you can do without risk:

  • Go walking in nature and, in any case, away from crowded areas.
  • Go walking alone or with the people you share your home with.
  • Avoid crowded places and city centres.
  • Take advantage of green areas that are located near your homes.
  • In any case, respect the distance of one metre.

Massimo Clementi: Web Content Manager of Trekking.it. Social media, writing and content are my daily bread. Mountain lover, trekking and outdoor activities. I take care of the contents of trekking.it every day, I ensure that there is quality reading material that is useful to those who read it. We try to take the best ingredients from the great jungle of the internet to “cook” articles and insights that know how to give value to our readers.

Covid 19: Keep Calm | Be Sensible | Carry on (#1)

As a membership-based association engaged in local and overseas trekking XirCammini (we) are committed to continue hiking; recognising the social, psychological and physical well-being benefits of this pastime.

In the wake of COVID-19 out-break we must practice this and advise our members and guests to undertake this sensibly also bearing in mind that hiking, in our case, involves the meeting, greeting and walking with a group of people.

The key words that we wish to stress are:

Keep Calm | Be Sensible | Be Disciplined | Carry On

What is Covid-19? How is it transmitted?

Covid 19 is a respiratory virus with flu-like symptoms that can cause severe illness and pneumonia in some people. Death caused by this virus is suffered mainly by the elderly or people with impaired health. It has a survival rate of around 96.5%.  Covid 19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

COVID-19 is transmitted in a similar fashion that the common flu is i.e. through respiratory excretion. This means that those in contact with COVID-19 carriers need to cover their mouth, nose and eyes. Since one may have a tendency of touching the face then it is advisable that one also covered the palms of one’s hands for those in close proximity of carriers / patients.

Local Trekking Events

Recommendations when meeting fellow hikers are mostly common-sense hygiene and social etiquette practices. However, for those of us with more of a “Mediterranean” disposition we need to, perhaps, emphasize more the heightened need for more “personal space”.  Within the current climate one also needs to  

  • Avoid physical contact with others (shaking hands, hugging or kissing). Where possible a minimum 1 metre distance is recommended;
  • If you are sick, running a temperature, have a cough, or experencing trouble to breathe do not join a trek. Seek medical attention. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room;
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Carry and use hand sanitisers, tissues, and other hygiene products constantly on a trek;
  • Cleaning hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60%–95% alcohol. Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

International Trekking Events

Since we have some international trekking events, we have compiled the following additional notes for members.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. This is not a cause for panic, but for approaching the situation calmly and with discipline. WHO, in general, advises against the application of travel restrictions. In circumstances when these are warranted such restrictions “must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be re-considered regularly as the situation evolves.”

However, they do state that, “It is prudent for travellers who are sick to delay or avoid travel to affected areas, in particular for elderly travellers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.”

The practice of temperature screening at airports is largely ineffective for various reasons. Within this framework, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1] has designated 3 ‘Alert levels’ as follows:

  1. Watch Level 1: CDC does not recommend cancelling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is low. If you travel, take the following routine precautions:
    1. Avoid contact with sick people: and
    1. Practice the precautions listed earlier under “Local Trekking Events”.
  • Alert Level 2: Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, they should consider postponing travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices.
  • Warning Level 3: CDC recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices because of the risk of getting COVID-19.

Country Risk Assessment and Alert Levels / countries be monitored here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

To date, China, Iran, and to a lesser extent, South Korea and Italy, fall within the Warning Level 3 category where one is advised to avoid non-essential travel.

Japan falls within Alert Level 2 where older persons or people with health impairments should consider avoiding non-essential travel.

Hong Kong falls within Watch Level 1 where the CDC does not advocate travel restrictions but recommends a higher level of precaution and cleanliness regime. The same applies to all other countries not listed above. Common sense, self-discipline and cleanliness should prevail with no restrictions recommended.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR XIRCAMMINI MEMBERS TRAVELLING SHORTLY?

XirCammini members have the following upcoming overseas trekking trips between now and end of the year:

CAMINO DEL NORTE, SPAIN, 21th – 28th MARCH 2020:


Spain is not subject to any specific travel advisory. Therefore, to date, common sense, self-discipline and cleanliness should prevail with no restrictions recommended. We will continue to monitor the situation for changes.

SENTIERO DEGLI DEI, AMALFI –  30th APRIL – 4th MAY 2020:

Since Italy falls within the Warning Level 3 we will be watching this space to see how the situation changes. Currently while there are countrywide health measures in place, travel advisories recommend banning or limiting non-essential travel from / to Lombardy, Veneto, Marche and Emilia Romagna. 

Campania (where Amalfi and Naples are) has been less hit and there are currently no travel bans in place by airlines or foreign governments. The CDC recommends against travelling to Lombardy and Veneto in the North due to the high level of community transmission of virus and the presence of local quarantine procedures.

However, we will continue to monitor the situation and report to our members. One should defer taking a decision by a month as to whether or not to cancel or change travel plans.

If any of the members travelling for the “Sentiero Degli Dei Trek” (30th April – 4th May) have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us information@XirCammini.org .

If travelling, we need to exercise caution by:

  1. Avoiding physical contact in general and avoiding contact with sick people in particular;
  2. Maintaining a minimum 1-metre distance from others where possible;
  3. Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands;
  4. Cleaning hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60%–95% alcohol. Use soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;
  5. Cleaning hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose;
  6. Carrying supplies of hand sanitizer, tissues, and other hygiene products since these may be limited;
  7. Avoid travelling if you are sick;
  8. If you get sick with fever, cough, or have trouble breathing seek medical care and call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room;
  9. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

Furthermore, until travel advisories lift the Warning  level 3,it is also recommended that after travelling, one should self-impose 14 days of social distancing / quarantine. One should also continue all other above measures for at least the 14-day period after returning from Italy.

None of the other overseas trekking experiences (detailed below) are subject to travel advisories.

VIA PODIENSIS, FRANCE 18th – 29th JUNE 2020:

France is not subject to any specific travel advisory. Therefore, to date, common sense, self-discipline and cleanliness should prevail with no restrictions recommended. We will continue to monitor the situation for changes.

CELTIC CAMINOS, IRELAND 11th – 18th and 19th – 26th AUG  2020:

Ireland is not subject to any specific travel advisory. Therefore, to date, common sense, self-discipline and cleanliness should prevail with no restrictions recommended. We will continue to monitor the situation for changes.

ENCHANTING SRI LANKA,  26th DEC 2020– 9th JAN 2021:

Sri Lanka is not subject to any specific travel advisory. Therefore, to date, common sense, self-discipline and cleanliness should prevail with no restrictions recommended. We will continue to monitor the situation for changes. Most importantly, in respect of Sri Lanka one should consult a medical practitioner for inoculations in respect of other diseases potentially present in Sri Lanka.

Conclusion: Keep Calm | Be Sensible | Be Disciplined | Carry On

When trekking, locally or overseas, the general recommendations revolve around personal hygiene, keeping or respecting a minimum 1-metre distance from others when in groups where possible. All of the other sensible measures mentioned earlier, such as washing of hands, using and disposing of tissues, using hand sanitisers refraining from touching nose, eyes and mouth and avoiding to travel when sick should also be practiced. Use and disposal of any protective-wear should also be done responsibly. Hygiene in handling, storing, preparing and consuming of food is also very, very important. It is always sensible to observe the five key points to food safety i.e.

  1. Cleanliness (food, surfaces and utensils);
  2. Separation of raw and cooked food;
  3. Thorough cooking;
  4. Maintaining food at safe temperatures; and
  5. Using safe water.

In particular, it is also recommended that one monitors the

  • WHO

(https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200308-sitrep-48-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=16f7ccef_4) and

  • CDC

(https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html) websites for travel advisories and keeping oneself abreast of the latest information regarding overseas places of interest. 

We will endeavour to keep a close watch of the travel locations mentioned above.

Within this framework, the overlying advice is to be keep calm, be sensible, be disciplined and carry on.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Universal Peace Walk – Progress Report 1

XirCammini are re-launching the ancient Universal Peace Walk of 1543 AD. Once launched, the walk will be complete with a pilgrim passport and certificate for independent individual or group hikers. What Malta lacks in vast expanses of natural beauty it makes up for it in historical heritage. This will be a walk back in time also supplemented with some of our natural beauty spots.

This is the first in a series of progress reports aimed at keeping interested persons informed and attracting more people to walk.  

XirCammini is a NGO with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm but limited financial resources. Therefore if there are persons or companies interested in sponsoring this milestone project for Malta we would love to hear from you. www.XirCammini.org information@XirCammini.org

Introduction

On Sunday I set out to scout the Majjistral Segment of the Universal Peace Walk® as we talk to central authorities and local councils to officially launch it as a Heritage Walk in Malta for individual or group hikers, locals and tourists alike.

The Universal Peace Walk was an annual pilgrimage initiated by Bishop Cubelles in 1543. The intention of the walk was to pray for peace at a time when, during the reformation period, Pope Paul III was endeavouring to bring together Christian rulers in Europe for an the Ecumenical Council amidst significant division. The pilgrimage started at dawn from the Cathedral in Mdina and ended at the old church of St. Catherine, (known as St. Gregory’s) in Zejtun. Others attribute the procession to earlier dates (such as 1120) as thanksgiving following a failed attempt by Arabs to re-capture the island or a failed Turkish attack in 1452, sparing from a devastating plague in 1519. These and other events may all have been reasons for thanksgiving attributed to the pilgrimage which – later in 1543 – was firmly established as an annual event by Bishop Cubelles as an intercessory pilgrimage, “Pro Pace Universali”, i.e. for Universal Peace.

The plan is to launch a number of walks:

  • The Universal Peace Walk 1543 AD from Mdina to Zejtun. There will be some deviations from the original route to incorporate snippets of history en-route (similar to the various ruta complementaria on the Camino de Santiago);
  • 3 circuits or routes, to incorporate ancient parishes, from the Rollo de Mello (1436) being
  • Qormi (San Gorg), B’Kara and Naxxar to Mdina loop, dubbed the Ancient Parishes’ loop.
    The Majjistral Loop (below) incorporating Mdina, Rabat, Zebbug and Siggiewi, looping back via Dingli.
  • The Xlokk Route encompassing Hal Millieri, Kirkop, Zurrieq, Wied Hlantun, Bir Miftuh, Gudja / Ghaxaq to Zejtun looping back to Zurrieq.
  • Later developments will incorporate the 2 remaining Rollo de Mello parishes not included above (i.e. San Lorenzo al Mare, Birgu) and the Sanctuary of our Lady in Mellieha.

Majjistral Circuit

Mdina to Zebbug

I made my way to the main (Cathedral) square of Mdina from where this walked originally started.

At the square of the Mdina Cathedral, I turned left to request a blessing from our Our Lady of Mt Carmel before starting the walk.

Historically, there was an order of precedence that was observed during the procession, the Cathedral Chapter used to stand at the back of the procession and the parish immediately in front used to be the parish that was recorded as the next oldest, i.e. San Lorenzo del Mare (Birgu), Birkirkara or Naxxar and so on.

Confraternities and other churches (such as the Greek Catholic Church) were also represented on this walk.

From the main square I walked down Triq (street) il-Villegaignon past the Banca Giuratale and the Benedictine cloister of St. Peter & St. Paul. I was lucky enough that the church was open at the time and I dropped in for a moment of silent reflection in one of the oldest monasteries on the island the origins of which arguably predate the Rollo de Mello 1436 report. I then walked past the chapel of St. Agatha, (1 of the 3 patron saints of Malta) into St. Publius Square, the 2nd of the 3 patron Saints of Malta adorning the inside of the main gate of Mdina.  The Mdina (De Vilhena) Gate is flanked on the inside with the Palazzo de Vilhena and Torre de Standardo with a memorial plaque commemorating the Maltese who died in the uprising against the French that started in the church of our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mdina. Among the names is Mario Cortis, a direct fore-father of my wife; proud of her Rabat roots.  

Crossing over the city gate bridge and past the playground I continued towards Casino Notabile, (a 19th century ‘club’ for Mdina gentry) and down the flight of steps at Saqqajja towards the pedestrian crossing leading to Triq it-Tigrija. Triq it-Tigrija derives its name from the bare-back horse and donkey races, dating back to the time of the knights These took place annually on this road leading from Citta Notabile to Siggiewi during the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (Feast of Mnarja). The recently restored lodge at the head of road was built by Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt to follow the races from. Grandmasters historically awarded prizes of brocaded banners (il-Palju) to the winners.

From Triq it-Tigrija I turned left into Sqaq ic-Cawsli, past Xara lodge, turning right into the old road linking  Citta Notabile (Mdina) to the village of Zebbug, now named Triq 12 ta’ Mejju (12th May Street) within the Zebbug limits. This is a longish country road that leads past the church of St. Saint James. The parish church of Zebbug is visible ahead at a distance.

The church of St. James, within limits of Zebbug, dates back to 1430 (i.e. before the Rollo de Mello) and was rebuilt during the 16th century. It is now used as a place of worship by the Coptic Christian community in Malta. I was lucky to find the church open during this Sunday morning hike so I took off my trekking shoes and socks and joined the community for part of their Sunday service. Exiting the church I stopped for a chat with Therese, a Camino aficionado, who joined us on the Camino Inglés in Spain earlier in the year.

Continuing along the road, I passed a niche of our Lady and St. Philip of Agira (the patron Saint of Zebbug). Zebbug is an amalgamation of a number of older medieval villages and hamlets. Triq 12 ta’ Mejju morphs into Triq l-Kbira (main street) and continues past the Lunzjata Chapel towards this ancient village’s main square with it imposing cruxeiro.

There are various stories about origins of St. Philip. Perhaps the one that makes most sense is in relation to Malta is that he was a 5th century saint from Cappadocia and of Syrian descent who became known as the Apostle of Sicily. In the pre-knights’ era, Malta was still intrinsically under the Spanish king’s regent in Sicily. Even the knights subsequently ruled Malta as feudal title holders and Malta remained closely linked to Sicily in many respects.

Zebbug to Siggiewi

As soon as I reached the church parvis it started to rain so I stopped to don my rain jacket and to cover the back-pack. Facing the church I turned right towards the village Police Station, through Parish Street veering left into Triq Vassalli (Vassalli Street). Having written among the earliest books in Maltese (including translating Protestant gospels into Maltese and a book of Maltese proverbs) Vassalli is often referred to as the father of Maltese language and identity. Born during the reign of the knights, he died during the earlier years of British rule in Malta and is buried in the Garden of Rest overlooking Marsamxetto creek.

Instead of M. A. Vassalli street I could also have walked down Triq D-Dawl. These streets converge at the church of Sidtna tad-Dawl (Our Lady of the Light).  At the church I took a sharp right turn into Triq l-Ghanja Maltija, continuing the descent into Triq Wied ta’ Baqqiegha. At the end of the road I turned right again and walked the full length of the valley (beneath and parallel to Mons Mikiel Azzopardi main road) Siggiewi-bound. The signs above, welcoming visitors to Siggiewi,  are visible form the valley road.

In the valley basin I walked over a small concrete bridge slightly U-turning onto the other side of the basin which, after the rains, was full of water. The afternoon was quiet; the valley devoid of people and all I could hear was the wind rustling through the reeds. I could almost hear myself thinking.

The small bridge leads into the old Mdina Road that, from Siggiewi, led to Citta Notabile (Mdina).

 I started the ascent into the village and some 100 metres after the bridge I took a sharp right turn onto a rocky ascent between the fields leading to the Siggiewi Basketball Court onto and across Triq Dun Mikiel Zammit to Triq Hesri, turning left into Triq l-Mithna (Windmill Street). The dome of the Parish Church of Siggiewi became visible from Triq il-Mithna.

St. Nicholas of Myra is a 3rd century Saint from Asia Minor and Bishop of Myra. After the turn of the millennium when Asia Minor was conquered by Turks, a group of merchants took the remains of St. Nicholas and shipped them to Bari where they rest in the Pontifical Basilica of St. Nicholas. The old church in Siggiewi , not the one I had just walked past, was listed on the Rollo de Mello of 1436.

The village of Siggiewi was elevated to the status of a city; “Citta Ferdinand” by Grandmaster Hompesh, the last Grandmaster of the Order of St. John to reign in Malta. He also elevated Zabbar and Zejtun (in the South of Malta) to cities, “Citta Hompesh” and “Citta Beland”.

Triq il-Mithna leads into trip l-Parocca (Parish Street), past the church into the beautiful Siggiewi square with the magnificent statute of St. Nicholas and almost identical twin chapels facing each other. From there I walked past the Siggiewi Local Council office into Triq l-Knisja l-Qadima (Old Church Street), stopping at the gated entrance of the old church, now an archeological site.

The walk would continue from Siggiewi with the Xlokk segment to Hal Millieri, the remnant of St. James Chapel in Kirkop, through Zurrieq, Wied Hlantun, Bur Miftuh and onward to Zejtun. But, today, having concluded the Majjistral segment I was looping back to ‘Fuor le Mura’ of Citta Notabile, Mdina.

Hal Tartani Loop

Having completed my mission, I looped back to Rabat to complete the circuit via Salib tal-Gholja, and Fawwara Limits of Siggiewi, past Gebel Ciantar promontory to the Parish Church of Dingli (the village that succeeded the mediaeval village of Hal Tartani).  Hal Tartani was mentioned in the Rollo de Mello but was subsequently removed from the status of parish and amalgamated with Rabat when the latter became a parish. Dingli became a parish again in the 19th century.

Veering right, past Savio College, the road continued back onto the Buskett Road, past, Verdala Palace (President’s Palace) and towards St. Dominic Priory in Rabat. The Domenicans have only recently celebrated 800 years in Malta (arriving around a century before the Conventual Franciscans). Walking diagonally to the left in the opening in front of St. Sebasatian Church, another left turning led me to the Cruxeiro at the head of an alley leading to St. Agatha’s Catacombs. Walking past the alley, past St. Paul’s Catacombs and the Church of St. Cataldus (a Celtic Saint and bishop of Salento, Italy, in early Christianity) I arrived in the main square with the imposing church of St. Paul dwarfing the chapel of St. Publius above St. Paul’s crypt. Legend has it that St. Paul lived in this crypt while imprisoned in Malta, waiting to be transferred to Rome for sentencing.

During the time of the Rollo de Mello, St. Paul’s church in Rabat was not a parish but was referred to – similar to the one in Rome – as la chiesa di San Paolo fuor le mura; Rabat then being part of the Cathedral of Mdina.

Walking through the side parvis of the Church, I first turned right to the church of St. Francis and the small square in a true village core with the old building of Santu Spirtu. Santu Spirtu was the oldest hospital on the island run by the Franciscan (Conventual) Fathers as early as 1347, the first Franciscan Fathers to settle in Malta. This old edifice is now part of the national Notarial Archives. Back trekking on Triq San Frangisk, I continue until the church of St. Mark (and the oldest Augustinian monastery in Malta), taking a left on triq Santu Wistin to the Church of the nativity of Mary, commonly known as Ta’ Giesu Church but famous for the feast of St. Joseph. The first grandmaster of the Order of St. John, L’Isle Adam, had quarters in the Franciscan (Leonite reform order) convent of this church. He died in his chambers in the convent in 1534.

My walk stopped at tas-Serkin, a traditional village tea shop close to the Roman Villa just outside Mdina to regain some of the calories lost by the walk with a couple of Maltese pastizzi, washed down with tea served in a common Pyrex glass.

Distance | Grade | Elevation

The walk, as a complete loop, is approximately 20 km long.

It goes from just under 230m elevation in Rabat to around 90m in Zebbug – Siggiewi valley climbing to around 150m in Siggiewi, with further inclines to Salib tal-Gholja (approx. 200m) with a further slight ascent to Gebel Ciantar/ Dingli cliffs to under 240m followed by a final gentle descent to Rabat and Mdina settling again to just under 230m.

As a walk it is graded as easy.

XirCammini will shortly be walking this as a group on a weekend afternoon in a series of pilot walks prior to the official launch. If you are interested in joining us please drop us an email on information@XirCammini.org or watch out for the event on our website (www. XirCammini.org), or on our Facebook page

(https://www.facebook.com/XirCammini/?view_public_for=2202460050021157)

Camino Mozarabe

INTRODUCTION

There are catalysts, ebbs and flows to ancient pilgrimage practice. For Santiago 2 of the earliest dynamos generating momentum for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela were the

  1. The Ummayyed occupation of Andalusia (Arab Spain) as far East as Autun (Roman/Celtic Augustodunum) and Marseilles in France in the 1st millennium. In Spain, the stories of the discovery of the remains of the Apostle and the legends of Saint James as the Matamoros in the early to mid-9th century  helped galvanise support for the Reconquista;
  2. The early Christian reformation period, some 700 years later. This coincided more or less with the end of the Reconquista in Spain.  Unfortunately this period of history is not one which Catholics are generally proud of because it is mired with spiritual hypocrisy, political patronage and brutal suppression of opposition or, arguably reasonable, reform. The pope at the time, Alexander VI (Papa Borgia), was also at the midst or partly the cause of the sad state of affairs eventually culminating in the widespread wars and divisions in Europe. Paradoxically he was also the pope that issued the Papal Bull authorising monarchs to build a Hospital for Pilgrims (Albergue de Peregrinos) and instituted the Arch-confraternity of the St. James the Apostle in 1499 AD.

Between the middle and the end of the 1st Millennium, i.e. from the collapse of the Roman Empire and to the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe plummeted into the period known as the dark ages. In the midst of this the Umayyad campaign spread through Visigoth and other fragmented kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania or Andalusia) even reaching the Rhone Valley in France by 725 AD.

This coincided with the Golden Age of science, architecture and literature for Arabs and their legacy remains until today particularly in southern, eastern and central Spain. Succeeding Spanish kings not only sought to preserve the Arab legacy but also, for example in architecture, they merged it with their own. This is manifested in both larger edifices such as in Toledo as well as in smaller motifs such as some of the décor elements in the Las Huelgas monastery in Burgos.

The Camino Mozarabe is a Camino that walks through land occupied by the Arabs in the Middle Ages in central Spain. Raymond Aquilina, a veteran Camino aficionado recently walked the Camino Mozarabe. XirCammini interviewed him.

Raymond, recently retired, has walked a number of Caminos including the Camino Francés, Camino del Norte,  Via De La Plata and the Camino Primitivo.

His latest Camino was from the Camino Mazarabe.

INTERVIEW

1. What motivate you to go on this particular Camino?

I wanted to try a Camino that is not commonly walked by other pilgrims. The Mosarabic Camino (or Camino Mozarabe), as the name indicates, follows a trail with a Moorish and Arabic influence coming from the times of Arabic occupation of Spain. The Islamic historical and cultural contrast provides a fascinating backdrop to this intrinsically Christian trail.

2. What time did you start walking in the morning? What was (from where to where) was your longest walk? Which was your shortest? What was the average you covered per day?

I normally started at 7:30 a.m. In Autumn this is just before sunrise. There were only a couple of times that I started earlier, i.e. at 6:30 a.m. But I soon stopped this practice for fear of getting lost on account of the inconsistent signage (arrows).

3. How important was it to ‘share your experience with others as you walked’? Did you look forward to meeting others on the Camino; sharing your experience and hearing their story?

For me it is of utmost importance that I share this experience with others. I consider this an integral part of the Camino experience. I always look forward to meet other fellow pilgrims on the Camino. Every pilgrim has his own special experiences and I show great interest. This being said, on the earlier part of this Camino one encounters less pilgrims.

4. What do you think makes this Camino different from other Caminos in Spain from your perspective?

The ‘Mozarabic’ touch to the Camino makes it unique. Cities worth mentioning along the route include Almeria, Granada and Cordoba. One also mustn’t forget the many other small towns with innumerable castles or fortifications enroute.

5. Is there any accommodation  that stand out in terms of service? Are there others that you would not recommend?

Since it is one of the lesser walks Camino routes, one of the main drawbacks is that there are relatively less albergues along the way. In some towns or villages accommodation is limited to a municipal albergue if at all. For example, once I tried in vain to reach an albergue by phone and ended up walking an additional 2km on the motorway at the end of a day’s route in order to make it to a little hotel in a patrol station. Quite often I used hostals. I wish to single out for praise one lovely private albergue, Fandalucia, entirely dedicated for pilgrims, at Quentar before reaching Granada.

6. Along the route which were the towns / villages worth spending some extra time in and why?

Almeria (Alcahaba), Granada (The Alhambra) and Cordoba (Mesquita) are a must. However there were towns such as Guadix, Quentar, Medellin that also stand out among many other lovely towns and villages.

7. If you had to sum up the Camino in a few words who would you explain it / sell it others?

I would tell anyone who plans to walk this Camino that it is a wonderful route which gives one significant fulfilment both from a solitary, spiritual or reflective perspective as well as from a historic and cultural perspective. However one has to be prepared to walk relatively long distances at times and be prepared for hot weather especially between Almeria and Cordoba. Hours of solitary walking are to be expected due to lower number of pilgrims on this Camino. There were times when I was the only perregrino in the albergue!

But, within this ambit and caveats, I would certainly strongly recommend walking the Camino Mozarabe.

Feel the Rain

Introduction

While walking home late in the evening after a social engagement it started to drizzle.

Ironically, as I walked past a bar, I could hear competing with the chatter of patrons, Natasha Beddingfield belting out, “Feel the rain on your skin. No one else can feel it for you.” I kept humming the song as I continued towards home.

As we journey through life we often find the meaningful competing with the distortions that distract us; quite often, either riveting our focus at a tangent of where it should be directed or paralysing us from progressing forward.

When hiking in inclement weather one often hears, “There is no such thing as bad weather; there is only improper attire.” This everyday advice to hikers holds a fundamental, albeit simple, truth that is universal in application. The proverbial storm, or fear of a storm or the mere movement of a weather-vane should only serve to equip us on our journey. They should not halt a pilgrim’s progress.

Drench yourself in words unspoken

It is surprising how much we rely on spoken or written words when so much of communication, consciously or not, is non-verbal. A facial expression, one’s demeanour, a sigh, a gaze or a gesture can tell stories that only a well-tuned inward ear can hear through the window of one’s eyes.

This will often not happen unless we “take it one down” and live the present moment. The Gospel’s Golden Rule (Love your neighbour as yourself) presents us with the compass that should set our course in life. Loving oneself is important. But it derives its importance solely from or for loving others. It is a perennial paradox of self-preservation and rendering oneself vulnerable for others. We can achieve so much more when we silence our inner voice and drench ourselves in words often unspoken in the service of others.

A well-tuned inner fulcrum is as silent as it is steadfast.

From it flows resolve that disentangles us from any outward distortion.

Parents, spouses, partners or a close friend can teach us a lot in this respect.

Conclusion?

I will conclude with verses from the same song mentioned above, “Live your life with arms wide open.”

“Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.”

Borrowing from John Keating (Dead Poets’ Society),”the powerful play (life) goes on and you may contribute a verse.”  What will your verse be?”

Camino de San Salvador

INTRODUCTION

As the old saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome.” This is also to a great extent true with Santiago de Compostela with so many European trails being re-created (or having been recreated) from all ancient kingdoms, princedoms, dukedoms or bishopric states Santiago-bound.

Within this context there is also the discussion of which is the oldest route on the Camino de Santiago. Many cite that it is the Primitivo, based on the story of the discovery of the holy relics and the visit being made in the 9th century by the King of Asturias, from Oviedo, a region relatively to the North of Spain that was not conquered by the Arabs. This is disputed by some. The preamble of the Statute of the Arch Confraternity of St. James refers to the Asturian story as a legend aimed at fuelling the fight against the ‘infidel invaders’ by turning St. James into a sacred warrior; the Matamoros. It bases its assertions on the Codex Calixtinus stating that these events happened simultaneously with the conquests of the Frankish king, Charlemagne, through Europe. The Codex itself is based on the pilgrimage of Charlemagne on what is today the Camino Francés.

The dispute, as to whether the Camino Primitivo is indeed the oldest Camino or whether it is the result of distilling a Romantic sentiment and to consolidate support for the Matamoros, is not a recent dispute. An element of rivalry among the 2 Caminos also seems to have existed. From this stemmed the saying, “Whoever goes to Santiago without going to San Salvador (Oviedo Cathedral) honours the servant but not the Lord”. The Cathedral of Oviedo is dedicated to Christ the Saviour, “San Salvador”.

From this saying emanates the name Camino de San Salvador; a 130km Camino from Leon to Oviedo taken by some pilgrims on the Camino Francés who also wanted to visit the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo and continue the Camino route from there.

Joseph Farrugia, a Logistics Manager, still in fulltime employment, takes time off every year to walk a Camino. XirCammini interviewed him after he walked the Camino San Salvador.

Joseph has walked the Camino Francés, part of the Portugués, the Camino Inglés, Camino Finisterre and the Camino Primitivo in full. In addition to this he also walked segments of others.

His latest Camino was the Camino San Salvador.

INTERVIEW

  1. What motivate you to go on this particular Camino?

I learned about the Camino Salvador only recently when I was researching about which Camino to walk next. At that time, I was thinking of doing part of the Camino del Norte. However due to vacation leave restrictions I had to opt for a shorter one.  I read that the Camino San Salvador was a very solitary one, walking mostly on the mountains and on quite challenging and tough terrain at times. I perceived this would offer me a complete break from my office routine which I felt was what I really needed at that time. It promised me time just with myself alone in nature and on the mountains. So I decided to do it. Since it is a short Camino I decided to combine it with the Camino Primitivo to spend around 15 days on both.

It was an amazing journey. Nothing prepared me for this. Walking alone, without meeting anyone during the days. Just nature, mountains and feeling like a drop in an ocean, day in day out. It was the best inward journey I have ever experienced.

  • What time did you start walking in the morning? What was (from where to where) was your longest walk? Which was your shortest? What was the average you covered per day?

I do not have a pre-set time when to wake up or start walking whenever I am walking a Camino. I’ am generally the last one to get out of bed and, whenever possible, I’ll take my time to savour a coffee and a tostada before I start my walk. If I had to calculate an average time, I would say I was starting out each morning at about 08:00. My shortest walkinf day was of 16km, from Poladura de Tercia to Pajares. It was also the most beautiful and arguably the hardest due to the very steep mountainous inclines. My longest walking day was of 34km from Pola de Lena to Oviedo. I averaged about 26km per day.

  • How important was it to ‘share your experience with others as you walked’? Did you look forward to meeting others on the Camino; sharing your experience and hearing their story?

On this Camino I knew I was not going to meet too many pilgrims. It was going to be I me and myself and I was prepared for it. The people who were walking this Camino at that time (8 or 10 of us depending the days) only met in the evening once we arrive at the albergue. All were very experienced on different Caminos with lots of kilometres under their belt. I felt very much a newbie; however it was lovely spending time with them in the evening. There was a strong communal feeling and camaraderie between throughout the pilgrimage.  

  • What do you think makes this Camino different from other Caminos in Spain from your perspective?

This Camino is very different than any other Caminos. One needs to be prepared to walk day after day in solitude. The terrain and very steep hills make it very tough. One also cannot have shorter days since the albergues are few and far apart. There is nothing in between. Cafés, shops or supermarkets are very scarce so one must carry sufficient food and water for most of the days. Even the villages where we stopped at the end of the day consisted mostly of a few houses and an albergue; nothing else. Food would be prepared by the hospitalera. That is a beautiful experience in itself. On the other hand, the scenery along the mountains and walking in solitude and peacefulness were amazing.

  • Is there any accommodation that stands out in terms of service? Are there others that you would not recommend?

The albergues were very simple with around 12 available beds each. However, in their simplicity, they were all special. One of the best stays not only due to the natural surroundings but also because of the wonderful communal meal prepared by the hospitalera was at the albergue of Pajares.  

  • Along the route which were the towns / villages worth spending some extra time in and why?

There were no towns along the way. There were only small villages. Pola de Lena was lovely but not to spend extra time in it. The beauty of this Camino weren’t the towns or villages but what lies en-route in between and the inward peacefulness this evokes.

  • If you had to sum up the Camino in a few words who would you explain it / sell it others?

It is a relatively tough but beautiful Camino.

It’s not for beginners. One must be ready to walk alone and be aware that if anything happens along the way one is alone. Terrain with steep inclines, some treacherous descents in wet and muddy conditions.

Notwithstanding all of this it is one of my most memorable Camino experiences. to date.