St. Jacob's way/Jakobsweg in Switzerland
When people hear the word ‘pilgrimage' they automatically think of El Camino de Santiago that leads through Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
Last spring I became interested in a lesser travelled route that goes right through my adopted country Switzerland. I had actually never in my life considered traveling through a country on foot. Previously holidays had meant doing something relaxing. A year ago my whole life changed after having a nervous breakdown.
I was told I was suffering from burn-out and post-traumatic stress disorder. After months of therapy, I started to feel like I needed something else to move me along the healing process, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
Then my husband told me about Jakobsweg or St. Jacob's Way, the part of the El Camino de Santiago that runs through the whole of Switzerland. One of the routes actually passes through my village, so I decided to begin the voyage from my very own door step with Geneva as the end goal.
On Becoming a Pilgrim
Never in my life had I imagined that I would travel carrying everything on my back or that I would require something called a Pilgrim Pass. This pass is essential to record where you've been and also opens doors to discounts and offers for the weary pilgrim. It feels so very rewarding to reach a little chapel high in the Alps and be able to put a stamp in your pass showing that you made it.
Another important accoutrement on the trail is the scallop shell. This is the sign of the pilgrim and I was amazed how positively people reacted to this object on my backpack. I have lived in Switzerland for 15 years and I tend to find people rather shy and stand-offish when it comes to talking to strangers however that all changed when people saw me walking with the shell on my backpack. In almost every instant people struck up a conversation with me. They wanted to know how far I had walked that day, Where was I headed to? Did I have a final destination in mind?
I experienced some of the friendliest encounters while walking on the Jakobsweg. People seem to be drawn to the plight of the pilgrim, even if they don't know why you're doing it.
The pilgrim's tools
The Miracles along the Way
My decision to walk through Switzerland opened up a whole new side to the land I call my home and made me feel like less of a stranger.
One of the things that stuck with me while walking on Jakobsweg is that every time you feel like giving up, you are blessed by these small miracles. I know it sounds strange to talk of miracles in the 21st century, but there is no other way to describe them. I experienced this over and over again on the trail.
At the end of May 2017 it was exceptionally hot and there were moments during hiking, when I felt I couldn't put one foot in front of the other due to the scorching heat but then the path would lead into a forest offering shade and a cooling brook.
Another time, after hours of walking, there were no trees in sight for me to go to the bathroom and out of nowhere, a make-shift, hand-written sign appeared pointing to a W.C. and I asked myself Where? And sure enough around the bend of a hill, a farmer had set up a fairly decent bathroom with a flushable toilet and even sanitary supplies, fresh smelling hand soap.
It was surreal to find this near an old barn in the middle of nowhere, but there it was and I felt so very thankful.
A similar situation occurred when my water began to run dry and I had at least another two hours of walking ahead in some isolated foothills. Sure enough a little chapel appeared and along with it twin girls, around nine years old, who were selling home-made flower tea and sticky chocolate sweets. They too were from a farm located along the trail.
These occurrences happened to me during my times of despair while hiking and it was these experiences that kept me going.
The End of the Trail
In the end I made it to Interlaken because my knee swelled up and I could no longer hike. I had to come home and get a cortisone shot. When I told the doctor that I felt defeated she reminded me, "You did just walk half-way through Switzerland."
Yes, I did and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different kind of holiday. It was safe, it was beautiful and the people I encountered along the way were most encouraging and kind. I got to experience this country in a completely different way, submersed in nature and quiet.
I look forward to picking up where I left off this summer, maybe I'll just pass you on the way.
Photo credits: © TAK Erzinger