Bhaktimarga Swami (aka The Walking Monk) passed through Winnipeg on the third leg of his fourth walk across Canada on Wednesday.
His first journey was in 1996 when he walked from Vancouver Island to Cape Spear, Newfoundland. In between his cross Canada treks, he has also walked across Trinidad, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Ireland and Israel; short walks compared to the 7,533 kms across Canada. Wearing out about three pairs of shoes per journey, at 40 kilometres a day it takes approximately 6 months to walk across this beautiful country of ours.
His second cross-Canada walk was in 2003 when he traveled East to West. The third time around, he spread the walk over two summers in 2006 and 2007.
I was his support driver in 2007. And when the Swami decided to do his fourth walk, he asked me if I’d like to do it again. Why not? I love traveling, and being a photographer who appreciates nature, my photo library has increased immensely.
This time, Bhaktimarga Swami broke the walk into three summers, walking from Cape Spear to the longitudinal centre of Canada (which is about 20 kms east of Winnipeg), in 2012.
In 2013, he made it to Taber, Alberta. This Saturday, he will be resuming the walk and finishing around the end of June. I met up with the monk, who lives in a monastery in Toronto about half of the year, in Fort Frances on Monday, where we visited some friends who we met on our previous visits.
The following day (Tuesday), we visited our friends Jennifer and Dan in Kenora who arranged a wonderful potluck meal with about 15 of their friends. We then met with a group of about 50 at the tent pavilion on the lake for a walk and talk with the monk, which Jennifer and her friends promoted.
After walking along the lake to Husky the Muskie (the giant fish sculpture) and back, the monk talked to the group about his walking experiences. The talk was followed by some drumming on the djembes that were brought along from the Art Hub where we had our meal.
Wednesday we stopped into Winnipeg where the monk did a kirtan (mantra meditation) workshop with a group of about 30 people.
Thursday it’s off to Estevan for a talk at ‘The Soul Hideout’, a new age store.
Friday we will be visiting Eastend, Saskatchewan at Brenda’s yoga studio. Eastend is actually in the southwest section of Saskatchewan but was named Eastend by some of the early Scottish settlers who liked their drink and named it Eastend to mess with people (or so the story goes). It’s really a very beautiful area, Canada’s badlands with rolling hills and a population of 600. Many artists and writers call Eastend home.
Why does the Walking Monk do these walks? Well for one thing, he loves Canada. The year 1996 would have been his spiritual teacher, A. C. Bhaktivedanta’s 100th birthday, and he was trying to think of something special he could do to show his appreciation.
He was also experiencing back problems that year and his doctor told him that he needed to walk more. So he decided to walk more, a lot more. It didn’t take long before he was hooked. Now he says, he’s a walking addict.
People ask him what the cause is and he tells them, “It’s not a fundraiser, it’s a friend raiser.” He also walks to promote walking culture. He gets support through donations at the temple in Toronto. Many people stop him on the side of the road and offer him water, food or donations also. Bhaktimarga Swami is a Hare Krishna monk in his early 60’s who has lived this lifestyle since 1973.
A typical walking day starts about 5 am (3-3:30 am on the really hot days to beat the heat). The Swami gets dropped off where he left off the day before and his support driver either goes back to the tent to pack up and move to the next campground where they usually set up for 2-3 days, or he will drive ahead about 10 kilometres and wait for the monk who likes to be alone for the first two hours where he meditates on his rosary-like beads.
As his driver for the trek this time around, I usually drive about 5 kilometres ahead and sometimes walk or hitchhike back and join him for a bit of walking. After about 3-4 hours of walking, we usually have a break where we have a wrap.
Some of my responsibilities besides cooking, doing laundry and setting up and tearing down the tent include contacting the media and setting up talks at schools, libraries and yoga studios.
After the wrap break, the Swami continues walking for another few hours, sometimes stopping along the way to do a talk at a school.
Then, at the end of his walking day, we’ll cook up a bigger meal at the campground and if he doesn’t have any speaking engagements, we do a bit of sight seeing and talking with locals. Sometimes we stay with friends who we know along the way but mostly we camp.
This summer we are traveling with a young monk named Karuna Sindhu who is coming along to assist because as the Swami says, “The support driver’s job is the work of about one and a half people.”
Also traveling with us for a few weeks is a filmmaker named Michael Oesch who has walked across Canada himself and is doing a documentary on walking. And of course, one can’t forget our feathery fellow traveler – Billie, my 27 year-old blue front amazon parrot with whom I have lived for 25 years.
For more information on ‘The Walking Monk’ check out his daily blog at http://thewalkingmonk.org/
All photos by Doug Kretchmer