On 7 November 2015 Paul Whittering undertook an epic solo cycling trip of 2194 kms from Swindon, England through France and Spain on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route to create awareness of the Groot Marico River and its catchment and to raise funds to assist Mmutlwa wa Noko in our quest to protect this special area.
Paul's Journey started with a life changing swim in the Groot Marico Eye, major source of the Groot Marico River. He was also moved by a heartfelt talk given by Jeanne to retreatants from all over the world at the Tara Rokpa Centre about the importance of our river, its catchment and magical source, the many threats facing it and the urgent need to protect it for the huge number of people who rely on it for survival.
'Since swimming in the Eye and hearing about the threat to its future as a clean water resource Paul has taken it upon himself to support Mmutlwa wa Noko, a charity protecting the ecosystem:
" You hear something terribly sad and it gets you right in the solar plexus. I felt like I had been hit. I just thought 'bloody hell'. It really made an impact on me". He added: " I swam in the eye and I have never been anywhere quite so amazing.The water is so cold too, while everything around it is baking hot."
excerpt from 'The Swindon Advertiser', one of the local English newspapers which featured Paul's Journey.
"I set off on November the 7th 2015, wobbling and teetering my way along the Goucestershire lanes. the bike laden with, as it turned out much in the way of unnecessary things, amongst which was a very expensive Swedish tent, camping equipment that never got used, a folding guitar and a 25 key midi keyboard controller for music making when the mood took me. But of course when you are on the road there is little time for that. When at the end of a long day's cycle finally you alight, accommodation having been sought and a hearty meal wolfed down, sleep beckons. And then you do it all again the next day.
My departure was delayed by a month due to an eye infection that required a small procedure, and though the weather gods were kind to me in France, they took no mercy when having traversed the Pyrenees I found myself in mid December working my way along the lonely Camino across the northern Spanish plains. Although flat as a pancake the altitude stays at around 800 meters above sea level for a good 5 days, and let me tell you it was cold. Very cold. Freezing fog developed me, the extremities, my feet and hands despite being swaddled were achingly cold, the tip of my nose, a small cold damp thing attached to my face. My moustaches formed icicles.
Panorama, Aquitaine, France
Me, after a gruelling 5 hour assent after passing into Spain, Pyrenees
Now read about Paul's inspiration and his preparation for his journey here:
Santiago for Pristine water - an epic solo cycling trip of between 1000 and 1500 miles
On Thursday 5th November 2015 from outside the front of the Town Hall in Swindon at midday, I set off by bicycle on a trip to raise money for a small African charitable project that is close to my heart. I shall be cycling the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route through France and Spain from the West Country, UK to Santiago in Galicia North Western Spain in November and December 2015 to raise money for Mmutlwa Wa Noko* who are based in Groot Marico, the North Western Province, South Africa.
As some of you may know, I spent just shy of three months in this wild and remote corner of the African bush at the end of last year. I was there to cook at the Tara Rokpa buddhist retreat centre and attend a month of teachings on meditation. I met Jeanne Kemack -one of the key people at Mmutlwa Wa Noko there, she also cooks at the centre, and on the last day of the retreat gave an impassioned talk about this project, their aims and objectives and the need for financial support to be sought for this important work.
Mmutlwa Wa Noko are a group of people who formed in order to help protect an extremely beautiful but vulnerable eco system, and those who depend on it. The Marico river is one of the only pristine rivers left in South Africa. It’s source is a large dolomite hole in the ground called the ‘Eye’. This place is quite literally an oasis, I was lucky enough to swim there a few times and have rarely been somewhere so unspoilt or beautiful.
Unfortunately the Marico river and the Eye are under threat from the encroachment of Nickel prospecting and mining in the area. As well as being an ecological disaster, vast numbers of people depend on this natural resource for clean water and would be adversely effected if mining were to commence there.
As Mmutlwa Wa Noko is not a UK registered charity, I cannot raise sponsorship funds in the conventional way (e.g. via www.justgiving.com). Instead I have set up a basic bank account with my bank Santander. This account has no debit facility - it’s sole purpose being to collect sponsorship money. Clearly, I am dependent on people’s trust here, but as friends you know me and can rest assured that the money raised will be transferred in one go from this basic Santander account to that of Mmutlwa Wa Noko upon completion of the pilgrimage. I estimate this will be in early December 2015.
I have already raised £300 from my parents friends and family who kindly sponsored me after I gave a small talk at their golden wedding anniversary party. My aim is to raise upwards of £1000 for Mmutlwa Wa Noko. The Pound Sterling goes a long way in South Africa, so this sponsorship money will make a real difference. If you feel like you would like to sponsor me with £5, £10, £20 or whatever you can afford that would be amazing! Feel free to donate into the account directly. Please email me afterwards to let me know you have done this. The bank account and sort code are at the bottom of this page.
As a sponsor, you will receive emails from me with links to my blog www.crazyguyonabike.com/whitteringwheels whenever I post. This blog will be a daily account of the trip and the trials and tribulation along the way. I will endeavour to make it diverting, fun and informative. I will write everyday but may not always be able to post entries, this will depend on internet availability. You can also find me on FaceBook: (Paul Whittering, I think I am the only one!) where updates will be posted along side photos wherever and whenever possible.
Many thanks and do please forward this to anyone who might be interested, Paul x
Santander Account Name:
Mr P H Whittering. Sort Code: 09-01-28. Account Number: 86508316
IBAN - gb50 abby09012886508316
BIC/SWIFT – abbygb21xxx
PAUL’S GOURMET PASTA
Venue: atop a mountain in Scotland
Pasta and Olive oil
Runner beans and garlic
Parmesan and fresh lemon
Salt and pepper
1 .Half cook pasta
2. Add beans and garlic
3. Drain when cooked
4. Toss in parmesan and lemon
Tip: Cook in the shelter of a walled bridge
PAUL’S CAMPING ESSENTIALS
2 sleeping bags
Primus Omnifuel Stove – runs on petrol/gas
Set of saucepans that fit together with a small kettle
and a lid that doubles as a plate
25 note musical usb keyboard & headphones
i phone 5s + free mapping app ‘maps.me’ - download entire countries and GPS locator works w/out 3G
Global sim card
The symbol of the pilgrimage is the scallop shell, a metaphor for the various routes pilgrims have travelled since the Middle Ages to arrive at a common point – the tomb of the Apostle James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The UK is about to be plunged into its coldest winter in 50 years.
This is the alternative to camping:
Paul is registered as a guest and has a profile with 2 online hosting communities
– Couchsurfing (for anyone) and Warmshowers (for cyclists)
The website’s search box throws Paul a list of hosts in the area .
Paul submits a request and the potential host responds or not based on past reviews of Paul!
It’s a great way to make new friends in new countries and no money changes hands.
What your donation accomplishes:
£5 = R100 Sponsors 140kms (84 miles) of travel
- 1 return trip to meet with our traditional
community partners downstream.
£10 = R200 Sponsors 2 week’s worth of telephone
calls to all our contacts and official departments.
£15 = R300 Sponsors cold drinks, snacks and lunch
for a tour of 8 young people from the township to
see the magical source of their river for the first time.
£20 = R400 Sponsors 1 month’s internet access via
satellite on the bushveld farm where we are based
There were few Camino followers at this time of year, one of the reasons I decided to do it out of season, but of those doing it a significant portion hailed from South Korea. Apparently, if you are doing a gap year, having a career break or taking stock, if you are Korean you do the St James' Way, the Camino to Santiago in Galicia. Through France I stayed in French homes, via the Warm Showers network - a Couchsurfing thing for cyclists, and this was wonderful. That strangers are prepared to open up their homes to one, offering a bed and sustenance, and most importantly friendship, is the most wonderful thing. Moreover it gave me the opportunity to practise my French. A memorable night nearing Spain I stayed with a fireman and his girlfriend, we had a good meal, and I found myself completely part of the conversation enjoying the frequent jokes and stories, my Englishness had faded and beside his thick southern accent I was able to understand almost everything.
In Spain when on the Camino proper I stayed exclusively in the hostels provided for by the Catholic church for pelegrinos (pilgrims). These can be lovely, quirky spaces, one was in the rafters of an ancient church that perched in the square of this lovely hilltop town. But they can be institutionalised and rather cold with dormitories commonly having 100 hundred beds. Kitchen facilities are often limited to a sink and a microwave. I discovered that a reasonable pasta meal can be produced using only a microwave!
As I left the plains and headed into the hills of Galicia things got warmer but wetter. This corner of north western Spain juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, and the reason is that it is so verdant is that it rains. A lot. And so it was that I heaved my soggy self into Santiago- the completion of the journey, delighted and yet a little sad that it had all come to an end. I found the pilgrims office in the ramparts of the wonderful old city and presented my pilgrim carnet to the man at the desk - this is a booklet that you get stamped as often as possible along the Camino - in bars and hostels, mostly as proof of the journey and all its pit stops. Whereupon I was presented with my certificate. My name is written in Latin 'Paulum'. I had been the sixtieth pilgrim to arrive at the pilgrims office that day. In the summer, incredibly, the numbers swell to 2000.
I learnt much about the friendliness and kindness of strangers on this trip. I learnt about my own endurance and perseverance, something that I feel tallies well with Mmutlwa wa Noko and their gargantuan efforts they go to protect the Groot Marico river and those that depend on it.
I was delighted and amazed at the generosity of friends and family alike who donated to the cause. And at last after countless setbacks, both bureaucratic and technological MWN I am delighted to say received the funds raised into their account. For my part it has been a wonderful thing to help Jeanne Kemack and her team keep going with the important work they do."
Mmutlwa wa Noko sincerely thanks Paul for his immense effort, commitment and dedication to assisting our community.