South America

The Walk of Faith

Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams  |  17 April 2014

A 45km midnight Pilgrimage in the Ecuadorian highlands. 

As Easter approaches I am sitting in my office reminiscing of an Easter spent in Ecuador in 2009.  We were in the town of Ambato building one of our expedition vehicles at a local coach builder.  Earlier in the day we had been talking with Paola, the daughter of the owner, who told us about the annual Caminata, or pilgrimage, where around 30,000 people walk through the night from Ambato to the town of Banos, a trek of 45 kilometres which finishes at the shrine of the Virgin of El Rosario de Agua Santa.

Paola had never done the walk, and jokingly we said "if you do it, we will do it".

We thought nothing more of it until 7pm that night when Paola showed up at our door asking if we were ready to go.  Completely unprepared we headed out into the cold, dark evening.

We walked . . . and walked . . . and walked.  

The winding road seemed endless and in the dark of night there was no way to tell how far we had walked or how far we still had to go.  It was raining and we were not really prepared, luckily we managed to find some plastic bags which we converted to rain jackets, but we were wishing we have proper jackets and above all proper footwear - my sandshoes were wet through and Brendan was walking in only a pair of Crocs, both options not up to the arduous task ahead of us.  

Caminata 2

 Meanwhile we were surrounded by tens of thousands of people from all of the country who had travelled to make this holy trek.  There were people of all ages and most of them were wearing only rubber sandals and their every day clothing (making our complaints about inadequate clothing & footwear seem like a lame excuse).  Many were carrying large wooden crosses, further evidence of their devotion.  Other groups were singing songs, some were praying and all were heading in the same direction.

Caminata 1
We walked . . . and walked . . . and walked. 

Sometime near sunrise we arrived at a small bridge that signalled we were 5km from the town of Banos. From here the path headed up into the mountains.  This is the point where we made on fatal error - sitting down.  The cold quickly crept into our muscles, our legs cramped up and suddenly we were bitterly cold and sore and not at all happy.  

I am ashamed to say at this point we gave up (along with thousands others, not that this fact is any justification for our failure).  We just could not make one step more. Thus we waited there for a couple of hours until we were able to squeeze onto a bus for the painful ride back to Ambato where we showered before going to bed and sleeping for the entire day.

Caminata 3

To this day I am plagued by the feeling of failure and am determined to someday return and try again, better prepared and more determined that we were on that day in 2009.  

So whatever you are doing this Easter, have fun, be prepared, and don’t give up!    

Caminata 4

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