John

I walk the Camino as part of my healing journey.


Posts by John

A Day in Bracciano – April 3 (Part II)

It might seem premature to take a day off after just two days of walking. It’s been challenging for me to let go of ‘goals’ that, on reflection, are not important. I ‘ve been working on this change for some time and now is the opportunity to put it into action.

I took a bus from my lakeside camping ground into Bracciano. The bus route takes in part of the lake’s edge where people were sunbathing in the 23 degree Spring day before going to one of the many restaurants, some with their tables on the beach (about a 10 metre wide stretch of gravelly sand) for lunch.

After buying some provisions at the supermarket I headed to the castle. It’s southern side is most imposing, standing around 50m high. Access was not possible. Restoration work is being carried out to pathways. The castle is surrounded by housing where narrow alleys lead to doorways. Outside of one a couple of people were standing with glasses of wine. I looked into the dooway. The space was no bigger than a bedsitter kitchen. A middle aged man had a giant pot on a stove from which the steam and smells of his creation were coming. Perhaps a niche place for something to eat and a glass of wine on a Sunday.

The camping ground proprietors suggested I could return via a dirt track that descends from directly in front of the castle with a warning to keep to the left and not take any oath to the right. Obediently following these directions led me to a dead end so I decided to escape through some private properties that backed onto the track. After a couple of driveways led me to locked gates I eventually found one open. Back at the camping ground lunch was followed by an afternoon sleep in a pleasantly warm tent.

The camping ground proprietors, husband and wife, were extremely friendly. They had a ‘restaurant’ where I had pizza one night and pasta the next. Both delicious. Not particularly vegan, but I’ll say more about this later. I couldn’t get a salad ‘because we have just
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A Day in Bracciano – April 3 (Part I)

Bracciano was once a centre of culture in Italy. It has one of the finest examples of medieval castles, the Orsini-Odescalchi Castle, overlooking the lake. The Odescalchi family, to whom it was sold in 1696, still own it. The Bracciano district became a Papal possession in 1375 and in 1419 Pope Martin V gave it to the Orsini family under whose control the area flourished with its iron, sulphur and paper production, and becoming known for it’s tapestries. On a more frivolous note Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes were married at the castle in 2006.

My main reason for staying two nights in Bracciano was to try to replace some things I had lost in the crazy few hours before the start of the walk and to sort out my 3G connection that I’d secured from an Italian internet provider. Normally I don’t lose things but in that time I managed to part possession with the recharger for my IPad and two extra batteries and a spare memory card for my digital
camera, popping out of a side pocket to my backpack as they must have done. Bracciano proved to not be the resource centre I hoped it would be, hence the lack of blogging in the early days.

I always knew that the first week or so would be the toughest on my feet. No amount of walking around my suburb could prepare me for walking bitumen roads with a heavy backpack. I am not under any imperative to cover any particular distance each day, nor even to walk each day. I’ve decided I don’t want this walk to be daily goal driven. My goals are to reach Santiago and to enjoy the journey getting there. My feet needed to rest so I gave them one.

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The Road to Bracciano – April 2

Some walks are more a test mental than physical stamina. Today’s was one of those. The morning walk went well. I felt full of energy as I strode away from my camp site around 7.45am. Even the hefty 18kg of my pack was not bothering me. Around 11.00am I stopped at a roadside cafe for lunch. In between the road was a mixture slopes, bends, twists, climbs and falls, just the variety I enjoy.

Anyone who has walked the Meseta along the Camino Frances in Spain will vouch for the impact that long stretches of flat paths can have on the mind. At least along the Meseta the tracks themselves provide a variety of surfaces which help to break the monotony. Not so a bitumen road with it’s continuous white painted line along it’s edge.

My map told me it was 16km from my lunch stop to Bracciano. It was one of the toughest 16kms I have ever done, staring at that white line and always looking up with the sound of an approaching car to make sure I had time to take evasive action, if necessary. Fortunately, it never came to that. It took me 4 hours of walking with 15 minute breaks after each hour to reach Lake Bracciano.

One thing I’ve so far noticed is that directions and distances are not particularly well signposted. Upon reaching the outskirts of Bracciano there was a sign pointing in the direction of Campo Lago (Lake Camp), however, that was the last sign and so when I came to an intersection with a choice if three directions I asked a local. Shortly after I asked a different local and was pointed in the opposite direction. I decided to follow a sign to a B & B where I was told there were no vacancies. Sometimes we just follow our instincts. Mine suggested I continue down this ‘track to nowhere’. But as good fortune often follows adversity it led me to the entrance of another camping ground which had only opened for “the season” (late March-September) the day before. Here I was to stay for 2 nights.

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Leaving Rome – April 1 – (Part II)

By the time I had done about 16km I’d had enough. It was time to look for a campsite. Off to my right, adjacent to one of those new housing developments, was in a lush green field with an old almond tree as it’s centerpiece. This was to be it.

As I was laying out my tent I was approached by a man and his rather large drooling dog. Both had come from the nearby estate. He asked if I was intending to camp the night, if that wasn’t obvious from what I was doing. He assured me, and I took him as being genuine, that he did not mind but urged me to head back towards Rome to find a camping ground. I declined. He countered by saying that Italians, of which I assume he was one, did not like what I was doing. He followed up by mentioning the police, not threateningly, but with an implication that they might arrive and move me on. The man, and his dog which all the time had shown a keen interest in me, soon left and I got on with the business of setting up camp.

Darkness came around 8.00pm. I watched the fading light from inside my tent. There is something very comforting and secure about being inside a one-person tent with the warmth of a sleeping bag enveloping you. It was probably a combination of exhaustion from all that I had done in preparing to leave Australia, the trip over, and the days walk, Which helped me get 8 hours sleep, in stark contrast to my usual 4-5 hours a night. I believed I would be o’kay where I had stopped for the night and I’d had a sleep which
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Leaving Rome – April 1 – (Part I)

Things don’t always go as planned. I was staying at a hotel near Ciampino Airport. The train into the city stopped after two stations whereupon the driver, who had emerged from his cabin to have an animated conversation with two other passengers, announced public transport was on strike for 24 hours. Adversity quickly became good fortune when I teamed up with 5 other people to get a taxi into Roma Termini. From there it was another taxi to the Basilica. As we drove past the official residence of Prime Minister Berlusconi the driver commented upon the shame Italians felt about his behaviour.

It was now after midday. I shied away from starting from the steps of the Basilica on account of the 300m queue and got a Japanese tourist to take my photo with the Basilica in the background. Before setting out at 12.30pm I was interviewed by Dorothy, a Polish journalist who was gauging people’s responses to the May 1 beautification ceremony for Pope John Paul II.

I chose the via Aurelia to leave the city. In fact this street gets it’s name from one of the original pilgrim routes coming from Western Europe, down the west coast of Italy to Rome. The other more travelled route to Rome was the Via Francigena from Canterbury in the UK, south-east through France, and passing through Siena to Rome. The reverse of this route was documented in 990 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigercic the Serious, when he recorded his 80 overnight stops on the way home from Rome where he had been to visit the Pope.

Leaving Rome is probably not that much different than leaving any other city. At some stage you get to the rural-urban fringe and then into the countryside. There were numbers of small housing estates with no more than a dozen or so houses. A lot of them were gated.

On my walks in Spain rarely did I have to walk on a bitumen road close to passing traffic. Not so in Italy. This was something I was going to have to get used to. Since reaching the urban-rural fringe I crisscrossed the road to find that side which had at least half a metre of verge on which to walk. in some places the verge did not exit and so I was forced to walk on the road with a heightened regard for my safety as the oncoming traffic bore in my direction. Little did I appreciate that walking on the road was to become the norm.

Generally, drivers have been o’kay. I got the thumbs up a couple of times. A few other messages I found hard to interpret, but I took them as positive, probably naively.

This being a pilgrim can be a hazardous business.

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Pilgrimage (Part 2) – History repeats itself

There are striking parallels between how some pilgrims went about their pilgrimage in the Middle Ages to how some do it today. Jerusalem was a popular pilgrimage destination. A pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Europe was usually undertaken by sea, not by land. A long sea voyage was tedius, conditions cramped, and food, where it was supplied, not particularly good. Boredom was a problem, sometimes overcome by the appearance of pirates. Some drank their way, others played dice or chess, and there was communal singing. Yet others kept fit by running up and down the rigging or doing weight lifting. (One can’t help but see the similarities between categories of passengers who engaged in those pastimes with those you might encounter on a modern day cruise ship.)

From about the mid 7th century until its capture by the Ottomans in 1517, Jerusalem was under Arab rule except when it was recaptured by the Crusaders between 1099 and 1187 and for two short periods between 1229 and 1244.A� Most ships carrying pilgrims landed in the port city of Joppa (also known as Joffa, and which is now known as Tel Aviv-Yafo following the merging of Tel Aviv and Joffa around 1910.) Arriving in Joppa under Arab rule had cost implications for pilgrims. After paying a toll per head at Joppa, pilgrims were led by Arab guides to Jerusalem. In addition, at Jerusalem a poll-tax was imposed under Islamic law on non-Muslims wishing to enter the city. Non-payment of this tax resulted in a refusal to enter the city walls. Penniless pilgrims often begged other pilgrims to pay the tax on their behalf.

The Venetian ship-owners, who had high reputations, came up with the answer to many of these problems a�� the all-inclusive package tour. The 13th century Venetian Republic imposed stiff regulations on ship owners so that their standards of safety and commercial morality were without peer. Sailing times to and from Joppa were set in statute, as were maximum passenger numbers. Rights, such as a minimum amount of deck space upon which to sleep, and duties of pilgrims were set out in contracts between the ship owner (usually the master of a vessel) and the pilgrim. Contractual disputes could be taken to a magistrate. The package tour included the fare, food and board throughout the journey as well as in the Holy Land, the payment of polls and taxes, the cost of donkeys and pack horses, guided tours of Jerusalem, and special expeditions to the River Jordan. Ship owners were sometimes left out of pocket when unexpected costs arose.

Even today people still do package pilgrimages. I have witnessed those who stay in hotels or have a private albergue (Spanish for hostel or refuge) pre-booked ahead, have their luggage transported by road to their next destination where there meal is organised at a local restaurant. While walking they can be spotted carrying a simple day pack looking remarkably refreshed from day to day. Their ‘pilgrimages’ are usually for 7 or 14 days. Somethings don’t change.

A�(Sources: Jonathan Sumption, The Age of Pilgrimage, Hidden Springs, 2003, first published as Pilgrimage in 1975 by Faber and Faber, and various internet sites)

John Bettens

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The Gawler Foundation – Sydney says, What is that?

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While I have personally been publicising the Rome to Santiago Project around Sydney one question has repeatedly come up when I mention the Gawler Foundation? What is that? Regretably, it may be the case that widespread knowledge of the Foundation is limited to Victoria, or possibly Melbourne. Clearly something needs to be done about this because there are many, many people now affected , or who in the future will be affected by cancer, who will be denied access to the exceptional benefits that can be obtained from their programs simply because they don’t know about it.

Those of you who have found your way to this website without reference to the Foundation will no doubtA�will takeA�a look at its website, and if you haven’t already, I urge you to do so. You never know when that little piece of knowledge you gain fromA�going thereA�might come in handy if a family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer.

Some people who receive a cancer diagnosis and are thinking of exploring the Foundation’s approach to health, healing and wellbeing might be put off for any number of reasons, one of which is the inconvenience of having to travel to the Yarra Valley in Victoria. However, you don’t need to travel there to experience the Foundation’s teachings. There are in the major population centres around Australia courses which are run by people trained by the Foundation to present a 12 week program which deals with all the major topics that are covered in a 10 day live-in program at the Yarra Valley. I am personally only familiar with the course run in Sydney where I have been a guest speaker for the past two years. The invitation to speak came about after I had done the 12 week program in the latter half of 2008. I did this program as a refresher after having completed both the 10 day and follow-up 5 day live-in programs at the Yarra Valley in late 2006 and early 2007, respectively.

I found the 12 week program invaluable for many reasons, including it re-familiarised me with the Foundation’s teachings, it re-inforced and gave me a better understanding of those teachings, and it provided a forum for all the participants to bless us with their personal experiences from which we can learn so much. A friend of mine did it the other way around.A� She has told me that when she did the 10 day program she got so much more out of it because of her earlier experience with the 12 week program. Either way, the programs will teach you how you can do so much for yourself to improve your survival time.

It is important to know that the overwhelming number of people who attend these programs, be they the 10 day, 5 day, or 12 week ones, do so having had, or who are in the process of having some form of conventional treatment like surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

The Sydney program, conducted at Crows Nest on Sydney’s lower north side, is run by Sabina Rabold, a very experienced counsellor, educator and group facilitator. You can access information about Sabina’s programs by calling her on 0419 980 923, emailing her at , or going to her website at

John Bettens

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Pilgrimage (Part I) – Relics as a drawcard

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The role of relics has played an import part in the history of pilgrimage throughout the medieval or middle ages, generally thought to be between the late 5th and mid 15th centuries. During this long period the cult of the relic ebbed and flowed. Some outlandish claims were made, often to give prominence to their location and the supposed miracles that they were said to have produced. Thus, these places would become a drawcard for pilgrims making their way to one of four main destinations, Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Canterbury.

In the early part of the 12th century the Monks of St Medard issued a pamphlet advertising the miracles of the milk tooth of Christ which they claimed was preserved at their abbey. One might wonder why a milk tooth of Christ was preserved at all given that the man would not have likely come to public attention until he began his ministry in his 30′s. Guibert of Nogent, who died in 1125, wrote extensively on religious life. His writings included his treatise On the Relics of the Saints. Guibert put paid the to monks’ claim by pointing out that it was inconsistent with the doctrine of the resurrection which could not be completely true if any part of Christ’s earthly body remained on earth. Considerable suspicion surrounded claims made by Guibert himself of his possession of relics which included pieces of rope which bound Christ to the whipping post and fragments of the crown of thorns. Another ‘relic’ falling into this same category was the blood of Christ.A�In 1351 the Franciscan prior of Barcelona sought to explain the presence of Christ’s blood on earth by stating in a public sermon that the blood shed at the crucifixion lost its divinity and remained on earth after the resurrection. He was promptly prosecuted by the Inquisitor of Aragon and forced to make a humiliating retraction.

Other absurd claims included the two heads of John the Baptist, each in different locations, and milk of the Virgin Mary preserved in a crystal vase at Laon. The ‘relics’ of Christ preserved at Rome, which included the foreskin and umbilical cord caused some embarrassment to Pope Innocent III who thought he’d leave it up to God to explain their authenticity.

Possession of a relic could result in a town or city being added to a pilgrim route. In the mid 11th century a second phial of the blood of Christ was unearthed in the garden of the hospice of St Andrew in Mantua, the first having been ‘discovered’ there around 804.A� This quickly resulted in Mantua becoming an important place on a pilgrimage to Rome.

(I find this a fascinating subject and one upon which I will touch again in the weeks ahead. In writing this blog I have relied exclusively on an extensively researched and wonderfully entertaining book by Jonathan Sumption, The Age of Pilgrimage, Hidden Springs, 2003, which was first published as Pilgrimage in 1975 by Faber and Faber.) By the time the band chugs into that justbuyessay.com first refrain, heads are banging

Alternative – a word in need of therapy

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Don’t mention the ‘A’ word.A� If you use the word alternative in the context of medical therapies you likely will be met in some conventional medical circles with responses that include scepticism, scorn, derision, or even abuse.A� Anecdotally, I am led to understand that some medical specialists, particularly oncologists, are unusually skilled with these types of reponses.A� Fortunately, my doctors, including specialists, have been accepting, and in some cases, supportive of the approach I have taken to my healing, although I have felt the pressure of being told I will die sooner than later unless I availed myself of conventional therapies.

How has this situatiion come about?A� After all, alternative simply means one of two or more available possibilities.A� I guess that those who scorn, deride or abuse a particular alternative therapy do so because it may not not supported by ‘science’.A� Without the support of science it is said to lack credibility.A� Science is held up by many as the only yardstick by which a therapy should be judged.A� Another part of the explanation might lie in alternative’s other definition: of or relating to activities that depart from or challenge traditional norms.A� If you are trained in a particular medical paradigm it is lilely to become the only paradigm.A� My own experience has taught me that it was challenging to the norms of medical orthodoxy when I chose a range of therapies, including stress reduction, diet, regular exercise, yoga and meditation in lieu of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to deal with my cancers.

My own use of urine therapy (see Post 09.01.2011 Urine therapy a�� a taste of things to come) fits both definitions. It proved to be a viable treatment for follicular lymphoma in lieu of chemotherapy, and it certainly challenged traditional thinking as to how lymphoma should be treated. I’m happy to call it an alternative therapy.

The use of alternative as a word generically descriptive of a therapy is mostly no longer used by those involved in the integrative approach to medicine. Why? Perhaps its use is assiduously avoided because it is thought it might bring the integrative approach into disprepute, or it is thought that this approach will not be taken seriously if it uses it.

I’m for bringing back the use of the word alternative as an adjective to describe a therapy that the user believes is a viable possibility for the treatment of a condition, particularly if such therapy departs from or challenges traditional thinking about how that condition ought to be treated.

John Bettens

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Urine therapy – a taste of things to come

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I wanted to make this post one that would give some insight into how I’ve gone about managing cancer. This is why I have chosen the topic of urine therapy. Whenever I have spoken at the Gawler Foundation’s 12 week program held in Sydney for people affected by cancer () the mention of urine therapy attracts disproportional attention to anything else I might say. Why is this so? It’s probably because the very thought of drinking one’s own urine evokes in people a feeling of repulsion while at the same time triggering a deep sense of curiosity and wonder as to why anyone would do it.

As you will probably have already read on the website, I have chosen to not have surgery, radio therapy or chemotherapy for either of my cancers. My view is that we should not be afraid to experiment. After all, it’s our body and our life which is at stake. Sometimes you just have to trust your own instincts when it comes to trying something new, even if that something seems so far from left field.

That was the situation with which I was presented when urine therapy was recommended by one of my two GP’s, for the treatment of my follicular lymphoma. My GP said she was aware of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this type of therapy worked in the case of follicular lymphoma but not for any other type of cancer, and that she had no explanation as to why it worked. She did add that it may have something to do with improving the immune system’s ability to recognize the cancer and therefor be able to do the job it was intended to do. The issue between the immune system and cancer cells is that the immune system fails to recognise a cancer because the cancer cells have learned to disguise themselves as healthy cells. Therefor, unlike other foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria which trigger an immune response, this does not happen with cancer cells. So the explanation may be that the urine eliminates the ability of the lymphoma cancer cells to disguise themselves making them vulnerable to an immume response.

I was diagnosed in March 2007 with follicular lymphoma. In February 2008 I commenced to drink 250mls of my urine daily. Between these two dates CT scans showed that the cancers were continuing to grow, however, after February, scans showed the cancer masses reducing in size. The cancer was located in my neck, chest and stomach. I had scans in February, May, August and December 2008. In February the cancer mass in my stomach, which was the largest in any part of my lymphatic system, was about 3cm in diameter. In May that same mass measured about 2cm diameter, and by August it was down to about 1cm diameter. In December it was not reported upon, presumably because its size was insignificant. By August, the mass in my chest, which had been the most resistant to change, had also reduced in size. Those in my neck, which were small to begin with, had either reduced in size or completely disappeared. The most recent scan in February 2010 reported on only one mass, which was in the stomach and it measured just 6mm x 4mm. No other significant cancer mass was seen elsewhere.

I should note that during this period in 2008 the only alteration I made to my health and healing regime was to include urine therapy. I think these facts demonstrate a strong correlation between the use of this therapy and the reduction in size of the cancerous lymph nodes and that this correlation suggests the therapy worked. For me it doesn’t matter whether the urine therapy was the catalyst for these results, what matters is that I have the peace of mind that this cancer is presently not a threat to my life. I continue to maintain urine therapy as a part of my daily routine.

John Bettens

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Welcome to Rome 2 Santiago Project

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Welcome to the RTS (Rome to Santiago) Blog.

I welcomed in the new year in such contrast to last year. In 2010 I was with my two sons and an estimated crowd of 2 million people on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero. This year there was just two of us.

One thing will distinguish my previous walks along the Camino Frances in 2007, 2008 and 2009 from the journey I am soon to embark upon: Not one step of it have I walked before. I have not previously walked through Italy or France, and this year, upon reaching the French/Spanish border I’ll take the Camino del Norte (Northern Way) which generally follows the coastline along the Bay of Biscay, in lieu of the Camino Frances which, after crossing the border near St Jean Pied de Port, passes through major northern Spanish cities like Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, and Leon.

2011 holds the prospect of being one of the most exciting, rewarding and satisfying years in a long time. Having walked my first Camino in 2007, in the lead up to the 2008 and 2009 walks I fed on a joyous feeling which I felt when just thinking about walking my next Camino. I am experiencing that same feeling now. It is something that provides me with a source of energy and inspiration.

I’ll be leaving Australia in the March 29 and arrive in Rome on the 30th. I plan to spend two nights there before commencing the walk on April 1. I’ve so far mapped my route from Rome to Pisa, have a good idea of the way I will take across France, and will follow an established path upon reaching Spain. The added intrigue of the Italian section is that the path I have chosen is not part of an established pilgrim’s route. There is a way of linking up with the via Francigena, a pilgrim’s route from Canterbury in the UK, which moves south-east through France, into northern Italy and onto to Rome via Piacenza and Siena, but I have chosen not to do this. The via Francigena is based on a route developed in the 6th century and improved in the late 8th century by the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne. In 990, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric the Serious, diarised the 80 stops his party made on its way back to Canterbury after having seen the Pope in Rome.

The route I will take in Italy is more in keeping with the via Aurelia which followed the west coast of Italy into France, down through Nice, Frejus and onto Arles. It was originally part of the 100,000 kilometres of roads built by the Romans which extended from present day Portugal/Spain to Asia Minor. The first main road I will take on my way from St Peter’s Basilica is called via Aurelia, and my first night’s stop will be at Lake Bracciano, a distance of about 32kms.

There will be more about the route I have chosen in future blogs, along with a range of other topics, the most important of which is why I am doing this walk.? I’llbe writing about cancer and the path I have chosen to deal with the two cancers with which I have been diagnosed.

John Bettens

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