Walking the world
- Country: Spain (New Zealand)
- Continent: Europe
- Route: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port – Santo Domingo (Christchurch)
- When: 4-20 March 2020
- Season: spring
- Distance: 224 km (5555 in total)
*This is the story leading up to our expedition being put on hold, and us returning home to New Zealand, in the midst of the global covid-19 pandemic.*
We cross the Pyrenees into Spain on the French Camino pilgrim trail. We were looking forward to the arrival of spring on a well-established trail with good trail culture. Spain is the 8th country on our expedition and this is where we are forced to make the difficult decision to put our expedition on hold, and try to make it back to New Zealand, just as the borders around the world begin to close.
Trails and paths and resources used to create our route through Spain:
SPAIN (part 1)
We are thru-hiking the French Way, or simply “the Camino” next. This is the famous pilgrim trail running 800 km from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The trail crosses over the Pyrenees on the first day and since we are very early in the season the weather in the mountains is still something to consider. Once over on the Spanish side, the trail takes a lower elevation route which should be quite nice this time of year. When we got to the trailhead our weather window had closed. So if we wanted to cross dry we had to just push on that same night or wait three days—or do it in the rain, sleet, and snow. We enjoyed a moonlit crossing over the Pyrenees. The high route is still closed for winter, but the lower route still meant a 1225 m elevation gain crossing over the Ibañeta pass at 1057 m.
SPAIN (part 2)
We dropped out of the Pyrenees into Pamplona with one of the last winter storms on our heels. We really enjoy following a marked trail again… meeting other hikers, people cheerfully greeting us with ‘buen camino’ as we pass, and to top it off it is a really beautiful country! Meanwhile, the coronavirus situation in Spain absolutely blew up! From the 170 known cases when we first entered the country to over 4000 cases in the span of a week! A number that is climbing exponentially every day!
We keep on hiking the trail but as we move further into the beautiful La Rioja wine region, one of the hot spots in the country, we start feeling increasingly uneasy. WHO declares a global pandemic is unfolding and things are pretty bad here. Spain only trailing Italy’s trajectory by a couple of weeks. Villages are quarantined, schools and stores are closed. The government is slowly imposing more and more restrictions as the situation worsens and finally declares a state of emergency. Just about every day we question our decision to continue walking the Camino—or even walking the world for that matter.
We keep talking about the magic number. What is the magic number that will make us say enough? Well, turns out that in our case that number is 4209. The number of confirmed covid-19 cases by lunchtime today, one thousand more than yesterday. We really don’t want to be stuck here when the borders close. So after hiking from North Cape to Santo Domingo, a 5555 km long journey over nine months, we decided to stop walking and leave Spain. We do not feel safe here anymore and it is not very enjoyable to walk through ghost towns and not being able to interact with the country and culture we pass through. We are returning to Sweden where we will be self-quarantining for 2 weeks while we make a new plan on how to proceed from here.
You only live once—but you only have one life to do it with. Stay safe out there everyone!
NEW ZEALAND (part 1)
It has been 9 days since we decided to put our epic expedition on hold and leave Spain in the middle of the escalating covid-19 pandemic. We have now decided to wait out the storm in New Zealand.
For the past three years, we have been traveling the world together. Partly to satisfy a desire to be free, to explore, to go on epic adventures together. But another reason for our nomadic lifestyle choice has always been a necessity due to visa restrictions. An ever present shadow.
In June 2019 we started hiking south from the North Cape in Norway heading for New Zealand. By the beginning of March 2020, we had walked over 5000 km into Spain. This is when the covid-19 outbreak suddenly begins to ramp up in Europe. The situation quickly spirals out of control and we make the difficult decision to put our multiyear expedition on hold.
We manage to get out of Spain just as the borders around the world begin to close. At first we return to family in Sweden with the intention to self-isolate and then assess our options. But things continue to happen so fast! The stock market crashes. Airlines start canceling flights. Borders continue to close. Scott is not allowed to stay in Sweden so with the global situation rapidly declining, we decide to go to New Zealand while we still can. It was really stressful and sad having to leave without a chance to properly visit with family and friends in order to protect them. But we felt that we were running out of time.
We made it to New Zealand just as the borders close here too. We are currently self-isolating in Christchurch supported by family and friends. New Zealand has a very proactive approach to fighting the outbreak. We hope that it will mean a less dramatic outcome here as the situation unfolds. Karma has more visa options here so we can at least buy more time together. For now.
As for the future. Well, at the moment the future feels very uncertain. We still dream of continuing our nomadic hiking expedition in some form. But who knows when this is possible or even desirable to do. Not only from a logistical point of view but also morally and ethically in the aftermath of a global pandemic and possibly a financial recession or depression.
We have made a lot of friends along the way, both in real life and here on social media. We have really enjoyed sharing our journey with you all and will keep you updated on what is happening going forward. In the meantime. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Stay safe out there everyone!
NEW ZEALAND (part 2)
Day 9 of self-isolation and 15 days since we put our expedition on hold in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic. We just wanted to let you all know that we are doing good! We have no symptoms and we are being well looked after by family and friends—from a safe distance. That is the most difficult part of all this isn’t it? No hugs! Well, as we double our efforts to feel close while staying distant we hope you are all in a good place to ride out this storm as well!
Obviously any form of a nomadic lifestyle is now impossible, so we have chosen to make New Zealand as our base for the time being. While it is a bit hard to accept this new loss of freedom we still have a choice. While we did not choose to put our expedition on hold, we do choose to unite in the fight against this virus. That means staying put for a while in order to save lives. At least that part is not difficult to accept.
So for the unforeseeable future, we will be in Christchurch, in a house (!?!). Thank you Steve and Ana! We even got the ‘Beast’ back! For some of you this tiny beaten up van is an old acquaintance, for most of you, this will be an introduction. This was our home for a while when we first met, some three years ago. It has been passed among friends for a few years and miraculously survived our absence. We will give it some love and see if we can make it into a suitable home again while we wait for the world to heal.
Who knows how long this national lockdown will last, or how long it will be until the world finds some semblance of normalcy again. Until then all we can do is our best to stay safe, stay positive and be kind.
Take care everyone! #stayhome
We have made a lot of friends along the way, and we have really enjoyed sharing our journey with you all! So we will keep you updated on what the future holds for us moving forward.
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