A Camino Love Story by James Portelli
James is a guest contributor to The Camino Provides, and also the author of the new book Camino de Santiago: Microcosm of Life. I walked the Camino Primitivo in 2018 with James and his wife Rituccia after visiting them in Malta. Their love for walking predates their encounter with the Camino de Santiago. But embarking on their first Camino signaled a new phase in the journey together, and resulted in the birth of XirCammini, a voluntary organization focusing on ancient Caminos in Europe. It is an honor to add their unique love story—which spans continents and decades—to the collection of Camino love stories featured on this blog.
Love: Chemistry and Commitment in Equal Measure
By James Portelli
Love is essentially woven into the route of the journey called life.
It is life’s greatest adventure. It is often at the root of our uphill struggles and is one’s walking sticks on a steep downhill or slippery slope. It is our support when we falter. Love guides one through the quagmire. It casts certainty at a crossroad, and yet, imbues hesitation and introspection where fools rush in.
Love is a waymark by the side of one’s road guiding us on the journey.
Love is in the youthful exhilaration when peaks are conquered and rewarded with panoramas of what lay behind and what lies ahead.
Some pilgrims on this journey are truly blessed and I count myself among them. Love is embodied in our companion on this journey called life; a companion that walks sometimes with us and beside us, sometimes ahead, and at other times behind. Whether walking physically together or journeying apart, we are never absent in mind and heart.
Through love joy multiplies.
Where we are coming from
I do not believe in the notion of soulmates. That would imply that I believe in predestination. I do not. I believe in freedom. I believe in love and I believe that love flourishes when free. Within this freedom, love creates its own boundaries, commitments and behavior.
In the words of Fulton J. Sheen, I endeavor to behave as I believe and not to believe as I behave.
In late 1984, I met Rituccia “Tucc.” We were still at college then and she still concedes that I did not quite resemble the dark, handsome prince she always dreamt would sweep her off her feet. But for those in love, beauty and attraction are not skin deep. Love is chemistry and commitment in equal measure. And in the process our heart still misses a beat now and again.
We preferred hiking to night-clubbing, and walking was always intrinsically part of our relationship. In our late teenage years and early twenties we walked and talked and talked and walked with such energy and vigor for hours on end.
We married young and when we were 24 years old, our son Benjamin was born. Bettina was born four years later. Shortly afterwards, we traveled to the Middle East and lived there for almost 20 years. Expatriate life in a number of countries and the commitment of parenthood understandably reduced the time we could dedicate to walking. But, regular evening walks at home—wherever that was—and the occasional overseas holiday, which would invariably involve some rambling—underlined our commitment to walking as our preferred form of communal physical exercise. Our children inherited the bug, and in their teens, they had already trekked in the Annapurna range, Nepal, the Himalayas, South India, Borneo and Sri Lanka among other destinations.
The ‘Here and Now’
Let us fast-forward our life to 2015.
With both children having flown the nest and living elsewhere in Europe, Rituccia and I decided it was time to return to Malta, the place we ultimately called home. This decision was also more positively reinforced last year with the birth of our first grandson, Joseph, and the relative ease and proximity—albeit in a different country— to visit.
An empty nest meant that we had to stop and re-evaluate our relationship. Parenthood had been rewarding, but it does focus one’s attention on parenting tasks and bread-winning requirements that at times detract focus from the core relationship.
In many respects, we had to re-discover ourselves. And what better way to do it than through something that we had always enjoyed doing in each other’s company; i.e. walking.
We walked our first “mini-Camino” together from Sarria to Santiago in May 2015. We did this in the company of others and repeated our experience with friends in 2016—albeit on the Camino Inglés through to Finisterre—while raising money for charity. In those two years the group raised over € 100,000 for the Malta Community Chest Fund. Our focus was funds for the diagnosis and treatment of children afflicted with cancer.
We took a break from the Camino in Spain in 2017 due to other family commitments, but in May 2018 we walked the Camino Primitivo. An idea germinated by Tucc and myself garnered the interest of almost 20 pilgrims, including two Americans, and we embarked on the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo to Santiago. Laurie’s route report of the Primitivo emanates specifically from this adventure that we shared.
For those who are considering this Camino we highly recommend it. It is the oldest route; hence the name Primitivo. Since this route attracts less than 5% of all pilgrims on the Camino, pilgrims on the same route soon become familiar faces and friends by the time one reaches Santiago. Asturias as a region is very rural and very scenic. This Camino has truly combined mind, body, sentiment and soul. Some of the people we befriended on the Camino Primitivo will be joining us on our expeditions in 2019.
What Lies Ahead
During the Camino Primitivo, while interacting with a small but significantly diverse group of pilgrims, Tucc and I mulled over the possibility of establishing a voluntary association focusing on ancient pilgrimage trails that combine the cultural and historic heritage in Europe. There are over 50 such pilgrimage trails across some 20 countries in Europe pertaining to first millennium and middle-ages. In summer of 2018 our thoughts found favor with a small nucleus of like-minded Camino aficionados and on 1st November 2018 (All Saints Day) we submitted the application to establish the voluntary organization. Within a few weeks, a core group of six founding members (including ourselves) grew to almost 100 members and in 2019 the group will be organizing the Camino Inglés, the Camino Primitivo and three Celtic Caminos (each consisting of five Irish paths contributing towards the Teastas (the Irish equivalent of the Compostela). All five expeditions are fully booked. There are other plans in the works focusing on social impact and being a collective force for good on a voluntary basis.
When love dictates our behaviour there are no limits to what we can achieve. Who would have told us where our journey would lead us 35 years later when we first kissed goodnight, out in the rain, in the early hours 1985.
Love, like life, is a journey. And the attitude and behavior of love give birth to new journeys. Embrace them with passion, excitement or quiet introspection and seek always to add value on this journey called life.
James and Rituccia are two of the founding members of XirCammini, You can get in touch with them at information@XirCammini.org.
It was a blessing to see the Portellis in Malta and walk with them in Spain last year. I witnessed their family love and joy when they were notified of their new grandson while we were on the Camino Primitivo. Our group was in a café in Berducedo, just about to head out for our sixth day of walking.
James and Tucc, thank you for sharing your Camino love story. ♥ It has been added as the 14th story featured on the love page, just in time for February 14th!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I am featuring Camino love stories on this blog. Why? Because love is in the air! I certainly respect the premise of what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino. However, love is a splendid thing that should be celebrated. Has the Camino provided you with more than just a long walk? If you have a Camino love story to share, email me or use the form below. Photos and video links welcome.
Share the Camino love! ♥