One of my favorite quotes (attributed to Proust) is: "The secret is not seeing new landscapes, but having new eyes."
The idea has taken on additional meaning for a friend of mine. this week, Jumbhot Chuasai begins a month-long 1000km walk along the Camino Santiago in Spain to raise money for eye operations in Thailand. I've been acting as khun Jumbhot's virtual coach, helping him prepare with conditioning and ultralight gear via email and long distance phone calls. Attached are details about his trip and his fundraising mission. As his trip reports come in via SMS, you can follow his progress--or make a donation--via his website: www.rotarywalktosantiago.com
Trekking for a Cause
Prominent management trainer swaps his business suit for some hiking boots in preparation for a monumental journey
Krissie Na Klongtoey, Bangkok Post, Outlook Section May 17, 2005
Jumbhot Chuasai of Leadership Management International (Thailand) is getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime. At the end of the this month, he will be putting aside his management training courses, and setting off on a 1,000 kilometre trek along the Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St James, on a personal pilgrimage that has been long in the planning. The walk will take him from St Jean Pied de Port, a small town in the French Pyrenean foothills, to Santiago de Compostela (St Jacques de Compostelle) in the northwest corner of Spain.
Just for the record, the Camino de Santiago is a 900km trail across the north of Spain, following an ancient pilgrimage route west to the magnificent cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. ``Tenth century pilgrims braved bandits and wolves in their quest to revere the bones of St James, entombed in a silver casket in the cathedral. Ancient stargazing Celts went this way too, following the Milky Way west towards the setting sun and the solar temple of Ara Solis at Finis Terrae, the end of the Earth,'' wrote Bethan Davis and Ben Cole in their book Walking in Portugal.
Whether this trek has anything to do with a midlife crisis is not clear, but it is certainly a decision that came about as Jumbhot reached his 50th birthday. You can go through life just existing, or you can try and achieve something that you can be proud of, something challenging and worthwhile. The latter was how he intended to mark this important milestone in his life.
For some pilgrims, walking to Santiago is a lifelong dream borne out of religious faith. Other seek a break from their daily routines or want to get back to the simpler way of living. Some want to immerse themselves in Spanish history and culture. "For me, I guess it is a little bit of each,'' he noted. The pilgrimage is a step that follows on from his ordination into the monkhood two years ago. During his stay in a remote forest temple, he found the isolation very uplifting and refreshing, and wanted to duplicate that experience without having to resort to monkhood once again. The trek seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do just that. There are other motives involved as well. As a Rotarian, he wanted to honour 100 years of Rotary International, and his late father who passed away in January this year, and, most importantly, to raise $25,000 (988,000 baht) from this walk to support Peoples Eye Care Foundation, so 200 underprivileged people in rural areas of northern Thailand can receive cataract operations free of charge.
"So many Thai people suffer from cataracts and it's especially a problem for disadvantaged people because they become a burden to their families. Besides, the cost is not too expensive, and it's something I feel I can handle.'' He will begin the walk on May 31, and is expect to arrive at the cathedral at Santiago on July 3. "I figure I will be able to cover the total distance of about 1,000km, including some sightseeing and getting lost here and there,'' he remarked.
Although he has never done a long hike in his entire life, he feels confident that he can do it. "I have been walking five to six kilometres every day since last summer, and I think I will be able to cover 30km a day without much difficulty.''
This walk will take him across the Pyrenees, through a vast range of Spanish topography: From mountain ranges to vast plains and high plateaus. He might run into cold wind in the Pyrenees, hot sunshine on the Meseta, and lots of heavy rain in Galicia. "But I will meet interesting people along the route. I will see gorgeous Romanesque churches and tiny hermitages tucked into cliff faces. I will be sleeping in small inns, refuge areas, hotels, farm houses and God knows where else. I have even learned to manage a few phrases in Spanish; enough to get me in, and, hopefully, out of trouble.''
So far his preparation has not only involved a daily 5km walk on a treadmill. During a business trip to Canada, he sought out a specialist hiking store for his trekking gear. On a trip like this where he will have to carry his essentials in his backpack for just over a month, every single kilogramme counts. As such, his clothes will have to be drip-dry, yet able to withstand the variations in climate and temperature that is expected along the way.
His backpack will be limited to seven or eight kilogrammes, so all his clothes (even his knickers) have to be made of breathable and drip-dry material, and socks have to be cushioned. His liquid soap is an all-in-one shower gel, shampoo and detergent. His foldaway toothbrush even has an extra short handle to conserve weight. The walking boots are light and water-resistant, and have to be broken in three months before the trip.
"I have been wearing them around the house mostly,'' he laughed. "When I went to Phangnga recently, I wore them on the beach, though I must have looked a little silly.'' To prepare his feet for extended walking and protect against blistering, he has been bathing them in Epsom Salts to harden the skin.
The backpack itself was sent to him from the US by a friend, Steve Barth, a business consultant and a professional hiker. Barth has also been coaching Jumbhot via email, giving weekly instructions as to his training programme and preparations.
When he first revealed his plans to close friends, some thought he had gone mad. Others raised their eyebrows, and still others patted him on the back and wished him luck. But when he started taking a four-month crash course in Spanish at Ramkhamhaeng University, they realised he meant business. He has already received pledges for 100 eyes, so he is halfway there. His endeavour has also piqued the interest of the royal family. HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana has pledged a donation, which has also added an extra incentive for him to complete the mission.
"One eye patient requires 5,000 baht or $125, but any amount is most welcome,'' he added. Donations can be sent to Rotary Club of Bangkok Ploenchit, attention Past President Mugdavadee Suwannasilp, at 6 Soi Lertsin 2, Sukhumvit 7 Road, Klong Toey North, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, call at 02-650-3514, or transfer money to Savings Account: 'Fund for Cataract Operations by Rotary Club Bangkok-Ploenchit', account number 009-2-65371-2, Siam Commercial Bank, Sukhumvit 45 Branch. You can fax your pay-in slip with your name and mailing address to 02-650-3515.