A woman and her harp have hit a long road as she embarks on an 8,000km pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Anja Bakker (52), who lives in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, started on her journey last Friday and expects to reach Jerusalem in Israel in a year’s time if she walks up to 20kms daily with her harp she fondly calls Seán who weighs seven kilos.
The mother-of-one has previously walked to the Vatican in Italy and Santiago de Compostela in Spain when she started her long treks at the age of 40.
Born in Canada but having grown up in the Netherlands, she made her home in Ireland along with her Ravenna 26-string harp and her daughter Sarah who “is delighted” her mother is on the road again. Anja started playing music at the age of four and is also a recorder player and singer with a love for performance.
Calling herself “The Flauting Harper” Anja plans to trek up to Dublin by the start of next month, after travelling along St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path in Cork and the Gaeltacht then travel by ferry to Liverpool onto Hull, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and finally to Jerusalem.
Her epic treks started after she met a man in Spain when aged 19 who was “trying to find purpose in his life” by doing long walking trips.
“It’s been four years since my last trip with Seán and it will take me some getting used to again, especially now that I’m older. I know it may sound like an insane idea but it will be good for my body and mind.
“I’m not planning to walk 35kms daily as it’s too much. I need to savour the moments and the people I meet,” explained Anja. She is aware that she does not want to end up a “cripple” as she did for several months after she returned home after her last pilgrimage.
“After the last pilgrimage, my hips and back suffered so I’m very aware of that. I want to try to protect my body as much as I can as I plan to return to Ireland by foot which will take me another year realistically. So it will be two years before I set foot in Clonakilty again.”
Anja hopes to live on €50 per day by staying in hostels, B&Bs and sleeping in a hammock and sleeping bag. She has received €2,500 in donations from the public to help her along her way on a journey she has dubbed, From Here to Jerusalem.
“My last trip to the Vatican people kept giving me donations as they knew I was on a pilgrimage like I am now, but they felt badly when I didn’t want to take money from them."
Even though Anja has a long and challenging year ahead of her she is not afraid of what the journey may bring.
“I’m not afraid of the risks, if I was I wouldn’t be doing this again. I will stop off a lot to meet friends and take my time. The weather with hot and cold temperatures will also prove a challenge but I will manage,” she explained.
“My 25-year-old daughter who is studying art curation in South Korea is a chip off the old block and is not worried about me and what I may encounter. I’m very lucky that Sarah is backing me in what I’m doing. She knows I live to travel, meet people and play my music”.