t. 92, Vivianne Flintoff, Kiwi on the Camino: A walk that changed my life.

Kiwi on the Camino: A walk that changed my life by Vivianne Flintoff.
Bloomington, Indiana: Balboa Press (A Division of Hay House) (2017).
RRP: US$37.95 (hc), $20.99 (sc), $6.99 (e). Pb, 304pp.
ISBN: 9781504382526 (soft cover), 9781504382540 (hard cover), 9781504382533 (e-book).
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.

Vivianne Flintoff divides her time between the Coromandel and Ohio, USA. She has worked as a school guidance counsellor, manager of a social service agency, clinical leader and counsellor-educator. Vivianne has published professionally and in the New Zealand Walking Magazine. Kiwi on the Camino is her first full-length book and describes a physical and spiritual pilgrimage on the route of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a 900-kilometre pilgrims’ route which has been travelled for nearly a thousand years.

The book in unashamedly a spiritual travel guide. The publisher – Louise Hay’s Hay House – specialises in self-help, inspirational and transformational books, and the overleaf title page includes the disclaimer: “In the event you use any of the information in this book for yourself, which is your constitutional right, the author and the publisher assume no responsibility for your actions.”

After a gruelling flight from Auckland, the preliminary to the adventure begins, for both the author and Bruce, her husband. During a practice tramp in Palma de Mallorca, the author leaps over a stile sans poles and sprains her ankle. Over the ensuing 900 kilometres, her fragility forces Bruce (whose health is variable) to slow down to her pace – a blessing in disguise, as it turns out.

The magnificent scenery along the route is justifiably famous. The first week alone features days of rain, days of snow, gentle farm terrain, rough climbs, and tortuous descents. But it also features their first acquaintance with some of the many pilgrims who have joined on this amazing path over the ages, people of widely differing appearance and of many languages. And we see the first of many special moments. One night in Navarrete:

‘The evening that unfolds at our small albergue remains one of the delights of the entire walk: an evening of intimacy. I sit at the dining room table to type up the day’s blog and covertly watch the four men gathered in front of an inadequate fire. The conversation is of the Camino. Bruce contributes in English, the Italian pilgrim in Italian, and the father in Spanish. … The strange are being rendered less so with knowledge and appreciation.’ (p 78)

And on Easter Saturday, in Rabanal del Camino:

‘The monks lead us in worship, using unaccompanied Gregorian chant, intoning the ancient Easter Saturday vigil. I am deeply moved by the candle lit atmosphere and centuries old music, in this ancient place of worship. It is midnight and with the coming of Easter Sunday, as a congregation of pilgrims, we celebrate resurrection and new life.’  (p 200).

The journey ends 100 kilometres past Santiago, at the end of the earth – Finisterre.

‘We began our walk in the east and each day moved westward, just as the pre-Christians and Christians have done for millennia. … On arriving at Cape Finisterre my Camino feels complete.’  (pp 288-289).

And indeed, the book is complete. In a Postscript, the author looks back on what has changed within her. She needs to slow down and be more creative, move away from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet – a health choice for Bruce, an eco-ethical choice for the author.

A year later, back in New Zealand, they quit work and moved to the Coromandel, to peace and quiet, an antibiotic-free existence, and improved health. And ‘in the solitude and beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula, I began crafting this book.’ (p 292). A glossary and bibliography of sources of inspiration are also provided.

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015.