Monday, 8 February 2010

Walk With Earth pilgrimage ends in Santiago, Chile

This article, translated from El Mercurio of Santiago, Chile, appeared in Rolene Walker's blog Walk With Earth | Caminata Por La Tierra on 4 Dec 2009.

It was 10 years ago that Rolene Walker, a sociologist from California, began to devise a plan for when she began her retirement: traveling across Latin America from Mexico to Chile. “At first I did not like the idea at all, it was too much work,” she says, over coffee here in Santiago, with the goal accomplished and 20 months of walking behind her.

The idea was not just sightseeing, but to raise awareness about excessive consumption. “I realized we will not survive unless we have a spiritual change.” So before leaving with the help of the Quaker church, in which she participates, she created the foundation Walk With Earth, made the blog (where you can review her journey), got a support truck and 8 March [2008] in San Diego, started out.

That first day, Rolene walked several miles in the company of children. The enthusiasm was enormous. It was not always so. There were many sections that she did alone, along highways, in temperatures of 105 degrees and feeling too close to the passing trucks.

She quickly lost 12 kilos and befriended unconditional sunblock. She also faced accidents (her own truck ran over her) and the medical sdoctor who suggested she not walk more than four hours a day, then developed asthma. And to put the icing on the cake: the motor burned out in Arica and she decided to leave it there.

But she’s happy. “After this trip, I’m more optimistic. This is a pilgrimage and the idea is to see the Earth as sacred space. I have a better sense of humanity after this walk,” she reflects. “People are nicer than I thought: I have been fed, I have been hosted. With only a phone call, people welcomed me into their homes,” she adds.

The accounts are lively: “We have spoken with 340 classes of students, from primary to university, engineers and doctors. Also to churches and environmental groups.

During her tour, Rolene turned 60 and, while acknowledging that “it is very hard to walk every day”, she feels much better than when she started the journey. “The human body is made for walking. And we’re much healthier if we walk regularly,” she says.

But not everything was on foot. She only walks 16 kilometers a day. And if the distance separating one town from another exceeded 30 miles, if the road was too dangerous or if there was any other problem, then she climbed into her truck. There was a sink and bed and solar panels for all electrical requirements.

Throughout her ordeal, about 300 people walked with her in various stages of the journey. They walked with her one day, a week or more. “I ask all to plant trees and I suggest they reduce gasoline consumption." In fact, at the end of this conversation, she hands me seeds to plant a redwood tree, the oldest and tallest tree in the world.

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