Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage trail

Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan

The Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage trail is located in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.

When friends inquired about the destination of my upcoming trip to Quebec, I replied, “The name of the place is so French that I don’t even want to TRY to pronounce it.” It seemed somehow glamorous to be headed to a place so exotic that I feared slaughtering the pronunciation of “Saguenay Lac Saint Jean” with my meager French, which I admit “c’est une catastrophe” (is a disaster.) The pronunciation of Lac Saint Jean is “pas de problem” since I mastered the pronunciation of Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port after numerous Caminos that brought me through that French village near the foot of a pass “pied du port” in the Pyrenees Mountains. But the “Saguenay” had me tongue tied.

After I arrived at the Bagotville airport in north central Quebec, my new friend and local expert, Nancy Donnelly, pronounced it for me: “Say-gan-eh.” Not so difficult after all. The word is not French, but derived from a Native American word Saki-nip, which means “water that comes out” or “source of water.” [1]

I was visiting Quebec to research the food and culture, but because of my Camino experiences, I was particularly interested in learning more about Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan called the “Petit Compostelle du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean” or the “Small Camino de Santiago de Compostela of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.” Kapatakan, I learned, is a Native American word for “path.”

The 215 km (133.5 mile) pilgrimage trail weaves its way through spectacular north central Quebec from the Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Saguenay Fjord National Park) to L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette in lake country. In this fairly short distance, pilgrims find a variety of stunning landscapes. First passing over high granite cliff walls along the magnificent Saguenay Fjord and later following waterways to manicured urban river walks, hikers complete their journey in lush boreal forests that fringe serene lakes.

Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay

Statue of Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay on Cape Trinidad

The Statue Trail led me up and over granite cliffs to Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay, a nine-meter (30-foot) tall statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooks the Saguenay Fjord. The fjord’s sheer size makes it the only navigable fjord in North America. I hiked up stone steps, cedar staircases and glacier-polished bedrock to overlooks above the vertical cliffs to view the shimmering water below.

Spiritual adventurer Stacey Wittig on Statue Trail, Saguenay Fjord National Park

The enchanted pathway was lined with dark green spruce and white-barked birch, and I relished the quiet punctuated by the chirp of a woodpecker. The calming green environment on the first day of the pilgrimage is perfect for meditating and peeling off the cloak of stressful city life.

Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan

Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay and the Statue Trail, where you start the pilgrimage is located in Saguenay Fjord National Park. In the nearby town of Rivière-Éternité, 17 km away, pilgrims can find accommodation in the dormitory or private rooms at Auberge du Presbytère at Rivière-Éternité, a municipal albergue in a renovated rectory. Here you may purchase a Pilgrim Guide that includes the Pilgrim Credential. Other accommodations, including camping, are available and listed on the website.  Tip: Procure your guide and credential at Auberge du Presbytère at Rivière-Éternité before you head off to the park, 1.5 km away, so you can get your credential stamped at the park’s information center.

La Baie, Quebec

Depending on your itinerary, the town of La Baie is probably where you will sleep on your third night. This picturesque town is a port for cruise ships coming from NYC or Boston. Because this area has so much to offer, passengers must choose from a wide variety of shore excursions including a walk in the National Park from which you’ve just come, ‘La Fabuleuse,’   an exhilarating, live cultural stage show, or a visit of the Fjord Museum, a fascinating, experiential attraction. [2] Of course, you don’t have to be a cruise passenger to see these delights. You might want to take the day off from walking to take in some of the local culture and natural splendors. Tip: I ate at La Grange aux Hiboux for a satisfying taste of the local French Canadian cuisine. Try the chomeur, a true Quebecoise staple of moist white cake laced with maple syrup. The proprietors also rent rooms with views of the bay.

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette on Lake Ouiatchouan

L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette (St Anton Hermitage and Shrine) is a retreat center founded and managed by the Capuchin Franciscan religious order. The Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes is located on the sprawling campus and is the end point of the Sentier Notre-Dame, Kapatakan pilgrimage route. The Grotto of Lourdes and a scaled replica the Lourdes Massabielle Chapel enhance the wooded setting, truly an oasis of peace and calm.

Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes at L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine in Quebec

The natural environment is part of Franciscan spirituality, and so programming at the retreat center links spirituality to nature. Pilgrims can walk the footpaths surrounding the hermitage where words from St Francis’s The Canticle of the Creatures are posted to encourage private meditation on our Christian’s connection to nature. Tip: Reserve one or two extra nights at L’Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Lac-Bouchette which offers chalets (cabins,) private guest rooms and camping. You’ll be able to take part in the nature programs facilitated by Capuchin Brother Sylvain Richer, daily masses and other traditions that will help you process your pilgrimage.

The retreat center has its own bakery, restaurant where you can eat a communal dinner in a fraternal atmosphere and museum of the 110-year-old hermitage.

Tourtière (pie) of Lac-Saint-Jean

REFERENCES

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20071025125908/http://www.histoirequebec.qc.ca/publicat/vol5num1/v5n1_6ri.htm

[2] Visit Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean https://www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en/

Stacey Wittig is a spiritual adventurer and Camino author who blogs from her home near Flagstaff, Arizona. The Arizona travel writer was hosted on this trip to Quebec and although all her opinions are her own, she believes in full disclosure. Thank you #QuebecOriginal and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean #saglac.

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Kindness of Strangers on Camino Primitivo

While walking along cow pastures and woody stands, I had not seen a soul for the past three hours. But I was accompanied by huge thunderclouds, hanging heavy with the rain that seemed destined to come. The low clouds refused to release, and I silently prayed for the showers that would dampen the oppressing heat and humidity that had been building all afternoon.

Combing the countryside on Camino Primitivo

I was walking the Camino Primitivo, an ancient pilgrimage path that connects Oviedo in Asturias to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. While trekking, I was also editing and updating a guide book for the route for a London publisher. I was not surprised how much the lists of restaurants and accommodations had changed since the last edition in 2011. With the growth of interest in walking the various Caminos that spider web through Europe, there was sure to be many changes and additions. But I was surprised by the amount of construction in the backwoods of northern Spain that was changing the actual route.

Course changes meant that I needed to document those route deviations in the guide book. I needed to stop, make notes and maybe retrace my steps to ensure accuracy. The frustrating search for San Salvador de Soutomerille, a small 9th C church, had me back-tracking through hot, farm fields. I finally decided that the ancient chapel must be on the alternative route that, although I was sure I had taken, I must not have followed. My 23-pound pack seemed twice as heavy as it did that morning when I left O Cadavo. I spent two extra hours and retraced three miles combing the remote countryside.

Alone in Northern Spain

That was the reason that by 4 pm I was walking alone. My pilgrim friends would have checked into Albergue Casa da Chanca, the place where we’d agreed to rest for the night, hours ago. I still slugged along under the sweaty heat of the pregnant clouds. I was climbing towards Lugo, which lies on a hill surrounded by three rivers. As I climbed, I got nearer and nearer to the clouds that were turning black. My prayers were about to be answered.

I set my pack down under the sheltering arms of an oak, opened my pack and as I reached to put on my raincoat, the skies opened. Hunching down, I fit my rainfly around my backpack as the rain pelted down. I was getting hammered and as I stood up to survey my situation in the thunderstorm, I knew I’d have to stay in place under the tree on this lonely farm road for a while. I could see a barn at the intersection ahead of me, but it looked deserted and locked. I thought of my friends sheltering in the albergue. I was looking forward to reconnecting with them for dinner; this surely put a kibosh on that.

For some reason, I looked back up the tree-lined road where I’d just come. Maybe I heard something that caused me to look. But there, up the lane, were two Spanish people walking their dog. The country couple huddled under a big umbrella, which maybe seemed so large because they were so short of stature. The man held the umbrella in one hand and his wife’s shoulder in the other. As the rain pelted sideways from the wind, he pointed the umbrella towards the gusts and steered his wife to another oak on my side of the road. Their Golden Retriever crouched at their ankles.

Appeared out of nowhere

After an afternoon without seeing anyone, they seemed like angels to me. They appeared out of nowhere, and I thought, “They’re old folks, walking their dog. Their home MUST be close by.” I waved a hand of welcome, and the woman waved back. We stood under our prospective trees for what seemed like 20 minutes. I had no idea how far I was from Lugo, but it was already after 5 pm, and I was giving up hope on meeting my fellow pilgrims for dinner. I felt sad that after such a frustrating day, I would miss the compassionate companionship of fellow walkers.

When the storm finally let up, the villagers began walking. I waited, and we trod through the light rain together. We only smiled and laughed since none of us had a handle on the other’s verbal language. After about a mile, and the third country intersection, the wife pointed to the right and said, “Camino.”

Through the twilight drizzle

I said, “No, yo voy a su casa. You quiero un taxi.” “No, I go to your house. I want a taxi.” They both smiled and motioned onward. And we kept walking and walking. So much for my theory that old people take short dog walks. Another twenty minutes, I could see a line of row houses through the twilight drizzle. We must be reaching the outskirts of Lugo. “Esta es la casa de mi amigo,” she smiled. “Llamará un taxi para ti.” “This is my friend’s house; she’ll call a taxi for you.”

Muchas gracias,” I cried. The door opened, and the wife explained in rapid Spanish as I slid, dripping, into the entryway. I was happy to have the introduction because the friend spoke no English and I couldn’t understand her Spanish. She left me standing on the linoleum at the door to go upstairs to get her millennial son to call a cab.

Rescued by Camino Angels

She returned to ask me a question, which I couldn’t understand. After repeating it three times, she gave up and went back upstairs to retrieve a huge, thick cotton towel. Toalla! Towel! That’s the word I didn’t recognize. Then she asked me if I needed a shirt – I could understand the word camisa. No, the towel would do, I somehow explained. I felt bad about all the water on the floor that was dripping off of me, my raincoat and my pack. But I helped her mop it up. The kindly mother made her son come down to explain that the taxi would be here soon. His English was about as good as my Spanish.

The taxi arrived and whisked me to Albergue Casa da Chanca. The ride was only five minutes long, and I realized how close I was to town when the thunderstorm had broken loose. Rodrigo and Ximena, my pilgrim family from Mexico, welcomed me warmly. They laughed at my stories of misfortune and Camino angels, and I had fifteen minutes to unpack and dry off before we went back out into the rain for a late dinner. There, over octopus and white wine, I repeated my story of the kindness of strangers to Lazlo and Peter, our Hungarian friends.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, has written three books about the Camino de Santiago. To learn more, go to Amazon at http://bit.ly/CaminoBook

Spiritual Guide on the Camino in 2018

Albergue Santa María de Carbajal-Benedictinas CarbajalasHappy New Year! I’m looking forward to walking and writing about the Camino de Santiago in 2018. I was honored to see my Camino book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: León to Santiago in the book showcase at Albergue Santa María de Carbajal “Benedictinas Carbajalas” during their New Years dinner in León, Spain.

On Facebook, the Sisters posted “Cena de Nochevieja que nuestros Hospitales prepararon para los peregrinos que ayer pasaron el día y la noche en el Albergue del Monasterio.”

In English: “New Year’s Eve dinner that our Hospitaleros prepared for the pilgrims who yesterday spent the day and night in the Monastery Hostel.”

The Christian daily devotional is available for sale at the Benedictine monastery’s albergue in León, Spain. And on Amazon.com  Happy New Year!

Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, AZ. She writes about pilgrimage and Camino de Santiago.