Author(s): Catharina Van Bohemen
Catharina van Bohemen walked the Camino de Santiago in 1998. Jenny Shipley was New Zealand’s prime minister,
Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky was exposed, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern
Ireland, and the Russian rouble nearly collapsed. Catharina’s marriage had ended and she’d left the Auckland home
where she’d raised her children. Cellphones were increasingly common but none of the pilgrims she walked with had
them. Her journal was the most important thing she carried.
Pilgrims to Compostela simply start walking; they stay in refugios and carry a passport or credencial that is stamped
along the way. Walking is physical and it reminds you of yourself in the world – you hear your breath and the scrape of
your boots on the track; the straps bite your shoulders; you feel and hear your heart beat. You can move as fast as only
you can move, and what you see while walking becomes infused with what you remember. Walking becomes as much
a journey through your own inner landscape as the one you’re passing through, and moves you towards a new way of
seeing. And acceptance.
Catharina’s story is written with restraint, beauty, wit and insight, accompanied by the drawings of Gregory O’Brien.
With great skill Catharina blends personal memoir – particularly influential childhood experiences and the importance of family – travel writing, and spirituality, both observed and her own. She also has a fine ear and eye for the absurd and Towards Compostela is studded with comic descriptions of pilgrims she met as she walked the route. Her writing is singular, questing and surprising in all the best ways. Kate De Goldi