Upcountry Maui resident Brandon Wilson followed in the footsteps of the first Crusaders last year when he walked from Dijon, France, to Jerusalem, spreading a message of commonality among people.
This fall, he will follow another pilgrimage route in the same, traditional way, trekking the 625-mile Via de la Plata trail through Spain on foot.
Wilson said he has been drawn to spiritual pilgrimages since 1992 when he first hiked through Tibet with his wife. He has made six pilgrimages since then, following what he calls “deliberate travel” by slowing down the pace and immersing himself in the journey.
“It becomes a sort of transcendent experience,” said Wilson, a writer and photographer who has published two books about previous walks. “Outside of the cocoon of the known, you put yourself out there in the universe. You learn to have trust and you learn to have faith.”
Where crusaders trod
From April to September 2006, he walked the Templar Trail, so-called because it was the route that a leader of the First Crusade, Godfrey de Bouillon, and the original Knights Templar traveled on their way to battle in the Holy Land in the ninth century.
“This trail that was used for war … throughout the Crusades,” said Wilson, who considers himself Christian. “I wanted to do it as a walk for peace — to walk through nations that had been so war-torn for so many generations and to remind people that there are better ways to solve our problems instead of resorting to war.”
He hopes the Templar Trail will be designated as a “trail for peace,” especially since it cuts through so many different countries with people of varied religious and ethnic backgrounds.
“The ultimate route for peace becomes a path that begins with every individual,” he said. “A physical path such as this sets people in that direction.”
During his 2,620-mile, 160-day journey, Wilson carried only a 15-pound backpack. He began his journey with an older French companion, who had to turn back once they reached Istanbul. Wilson often had to change his planned route because of political unrest in certain areas.
When Wilson needed food, water or shelter, they were somehow provided.
“I walked through 11 different countries on two continents and I was shown universal hospitality by complete strangers,” he said.
Wilson said that every day he would stop and talk to people about being an American, about the war in Iraq, and other world issues, often clearing up misconceptions and learning much himself.
“Once people, no matter what background they have, start off on these trails, reduce their lives to the basic essentials that they carry with them on their backs, learn to trust again and deal with lots of pent up feelings and emotions … we realize how much we are alike, no matter what our religions, no matter what our cultures, no matter what our nationalities,” Wilson said.
A road less traveled
His next pilgrimage, along Spain’s Via de la Plata, follows part of an ancient Roman road stretching from Seville in the south to Astorga in the northwest. The pilgrimage route ends in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James the Apostle are said to be buried.
“It’s a less traveled route,” Wilson said, compared to the popular Camino Francés route that also ends in Santiago de Compostela. “There will be a lot of time for contemplation, I’m sure.”
Wilson will publish a book this coming January called “Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace” about his pilgrimage from France to Jerusalem. He also has a website: http://www.pilgrimstales.com.