600km Walking Pilgrimage through Spain

Written by Denise Chng Lisan & published on September 2 2008

From the moment I discovered an ancient pilgrimage path in Spain in June last year, the attraction of walking hundreds of kilometres towards an assured destination grew on me daily. My eagerness to go on a month-long journey on foot across the steep slopes, lush valleys and forests of the Pyrenees, and through countless small towns and villages, was part of a subconscious quest to find depth and meaning in my life. At the age of 33, I was approaching – prematurely, perhaps – what seemed to be a mid-life crisis.

Straits Times Life! Article,Denise Chng Lisan,Camino de Santiago,Camino Frances

Letter from Quebec: Preserving Heritage

Written by Denise Chng Lisan & published on November 8 2008

'TRAVEL is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living,' wrote Miriam Beard. Life in Quebec is now my teacher, pointing out my knowledge gaps and honing my ideas of living - be it language, culture, life-skills, or the environment.

Denise Chng Lisan

Gypsy Caravan part 2: Mont St. Pierre

Posted by Denise CHNG Lisan On Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The coast of Gaspesie measures approximately 1,000km+ in distance. The name 'Gaspesie' comes from the Ameridien language 'Gespeg', which means "end of the land". The peninsula is situated at the gulf of the St Laurence river, southeast of the Quebec province. Gaspesie, although spans a vast area of 21,000sqm, only has a population of less than 100,000 in total. As we drove along the coastal highway 132 that embraces this long coast, I slowly discovered the many faces of Gaspesie and the strings of villages on our road.

We passed towns like St. Flavie, Matane, CapChat, and camped at Mont St. Pierre for two nights, where we had an unobstructed view of the sea, with mountains flanking on both sides. In our little caravan, we cooked our simple meals and lazed around. We took walks by the beach and read when we wanted to. Life slowed down enough for us to appreciate the birds gliding across the sky.

The northern coast, that faces the harsher polar winds, presents its masculine assertiveness with its rugged mountains and sharp cliffs. If I should find a word to describe its essence, it would be ‘magnificence’. I could not help but to compare its awe to that of the Pacific Coast of California. But here, there lies a greater mystery in the lives of its habitants that led me probing.

Amidst the grandeur of the coastal mountains near Mont St. Pierre, I could not help but wonder where the people are. For a summer month of August, the motels and inns seem quiet and deserted. Richard told me that this year all the tourists have gone to the capital city of Quebec province, Quebec city, where many extravagant festivities are held to celebrate its 400th year anniversary. Tourism in the Gaspesie region has suffered greatly because of that. The locals shared that if this trend continues, many would be forced to move out of this place, or find other forms of livelihood, if there are any. I began to understand what I saw: motels for sale, homes for sale, shops closed near the towns of Mont St. Pierre.

As I probe more, I realize too that the challenges Gaspesie faces go beyond its tourism industry. People are unemployed. The rugged northern coast is full of rocks and unpredictable elevation, leaving its inhabitants no way to grow their own crops. Fishing, which was once a thriving industry that provided livelihood, faces increasing competition from international fishing companies. The increasing gas prices makes it increasingly unsustainable for fishermen who now have to move up further north to find their fishes. The young is forced to move to bigger cities to look for jobs. The old is left behind. Population is declining, while their industries continue to be labor intensive. It is no wonder that villages and towns are left to close down. For the first time in my life, I am witnessing the possibility for an entire village to disappear. It sends chill down my spine.

Juxtaposed with this reality before me, I see evidence of a bygone era. Inns have names like “Rainbow” (“l’Arc-en-ciel”), “Dream & Reality” (“Rêve et Réalite”). I saw a painting on wall that said, “Gaspesie, like a waking dream…” (“La Gaspésie comme un rêve éveiller”). Richard and I continued on our road, and I let the dream and reality of Gaspesie reveal itself to me.

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