Admiration, astonishment, envy, or just utter disbelief. The quest just begun by Italian hiker and grandmother Vienna Cammarota might inspire any or all of these feelings.
As reported in several news sources this week, Vienna Cammarota left Venice on Tuesday (April 26, 2022) to begin her planned walk of Marco Polo’s Silk Road. To be clear, this is a 22,000 kms (13,670 miles) route that goes through 15 countries, starting in Venice and ending in Beijing. To be even clearer, Ms. Cammarota is 72 years old. OK, it’s true that she’s 4 years younger than I am – a mere stripling – but, wow! This is where the admiration, astonishment, envy, and utter disbelief start to kick in!
Vienna will be carrying Italian and Ukrainian flags with her as she makes this trek, which she has called a Walk for Peace, attempting to encourage understanding and peace among people as she travels from West to East. As a veteran hiker (thank goodness for that at least), Ms. Cammarota has explained that one of the things she enjoys about hiking in different parts of the world is getting to know the people and their customs and culture. She enjoys stopping and making personal connections on her treks; one way she will be doing this is by seeking out host families along the way, learning the hosts’ stories and making her connections as meaningful as possible. More admiration.
In her planning, her schedule includes non-walking time to stop and get to know people, but the mind still boggles at the distances she’s hoping to cover. She is expecting to take 3 and a half years to complete her journey, arriving in Beijing in December 2025, at which time she’ll just be a year younger than I am now!! By my calculations, to cover 22,000 kms in 3.5 years, she’ll have to cover an average of just over 17 kms each and every day. For 1280 days. Including any down time. More astonishment and utter disbelief.
This admirable woman has previously undertaken lengthy walks through countries as far-flung as Madagascar, Patagonia, Israel, Palestine, Tibet, and of course Italy. She’s ready for this Walk of Peace, or at least as ready as she can be. She has her backpack, her camera, and an app on her phone that connects her to a medical service that can monitor her health. Of course, she’ll be encountering a wide range of terrain and also wide-ranging temperature variations, from the heat and dryness of the Middle East to the biting cold of Mongolia. Face it, the challenges are many and enormous, over and above the challenge of just being able to keep walking.
Cammarota points to Goethe and Marco Polo as her inspiration for this journey. Goethe traveled throughout Italy way back in 1786-88 and then returned to Germany, where he published his travel diaries, which became very popular. Marco Polo’s travels started long before that (500 full years before) and were, of course, far more extensive. However, his travels were not done primarily on foot; he was more into horses, caravans, and having a retinue around him. Polo set off from his hometown of Venice in 1271 at the age of 17 and spent the next 24 years traveling (and establishing merchant routes) in Asia. He actually spent 17 full years in China; I don’t think that is part of Vienna Cammarota’s plan!
Marco Polo traveling in a caravan, illustration from the Catalan Atlas (1375), in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France.
For the record, Cammarota’s route will see her cross into Slovenia from northern Italy, and then move slowly but surely through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and, of course, China. She should celebrate her 75th birthday somewhere in Mongolia or China.
Vienna Cammarota’s proposed route is shown by the dotted line in the map below.
Personally, I am blown away by Ms. Cammarota’s spirit, sense of purpose, and can-do attitude. Along with wishing her safe passage and many serendipitous experiences along the way, let’s all fervently hope that the message she carries with her on this Walk of Peace produces the peace the world so desperately needs.