Book Review: Elders – Erns Grundling

Although I recognised his name from reading various Weg magazine articles, Erns Grundling really came to my attention while watching the Kyknet series Elders: Die Camino. I thoroughly enjoyed his very South African take on the well-known Spanish pilgrimage and never missed an episode. By the time he walked the Kumano Kodo route, I was a firm fan and I followed his adventures in Japan with delight. Likewise, I watched as he traversed South Africa’s own Pilgrimage of Hope through the beautiful Western Cape with the sense of following in the footsteps of an old friend.

I was excited to finally read his memoir Elders: My 1025 km te voet langs die Camino (also published in English as Walk It Off: A South African on the Camino). In his initial TV series he had tried to recreate the events described in this book, so I was already a little familiar with some anecdotes and people he mentioned here – endearingly so.

To say I found the book riveting would be an understatement. Friends, I devoured it in one day! It was the perfect escape from the isolation that came with a Covid-confinement and reawakened in me the suppressed longing to go wandering in Europe again. Grundling expertly weaves stories from his earlier life with the events of his pilgrimage with a typically South African sense of humour that brought the tale to life.

Like many people who choose to walk the Camino for secular rather than religious reasons, Grundling used the journey to work through a few personal issues. He makes a point of asking each pilgrim he meets why they embarked on the journey and the answers are as varied as the countries they all hailed from. The message is clear: the Camino is for everyone, the ultimate equaliser in which nothing matters but putting one foot in front of the other and walking it off. Ultreia!

Elders by Erns Grundling is a deeply personal, highly enjoyable memoir that will appeal to South Africans who have already walked the Camino de Santiago or are thinking of doing so in future. It is not a guidebook and there is very little practical advice about the logistics of the physical journey. Rather, it is the tale of one man’s emotional journey that illustrates the need for all of us to unplug from our tech, take things slow again, and listen to our own thoughts to rediscover what is really important in our lives.

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