Throughout her years, Marie Vaters has travelled across several continents. She resides now in homes in Norris Point and Placentia Bay.
NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – From climbing the heights of Kilimanjaro to a 900-kilometre pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. James, Marie Vaters has experienced a life full of travel.
Partaking in everything from backpacking, kayaking, biking and taking the cheap means of travel on chicken bus, Vaters likes to delve directly into the culture and community she is voyaging through.
“I’ve gone to resorts many times, but it’s not the same as experiencing what it’s like to really live in a place,” Vaters said.
“Travel gives you the chance to re-group and change your ideas, to situate yourself in the world.”
Much of Vaters’ travel was garnered through her work as a teacher. Her first international experience in teaching came in Europe, where she travelled across several different countries of the continent.
Vaters also taught in Malawi, Africa, during a time of great social change. Organized through the Canadian Teachers Federation, Vaters worked with local teachers during a summer school program as the nation prepared to install free education. She was the only Newfoundlander present.
At the end of her trip, Vaters treated herself to river safaris and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
For the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Vaters participated in a tour of the educational facilities of Cuba, organized by the Cuban, Canadian and American governments. She was one of two Canadian teachers involved.
But Vaters says what was most amazing about her trip was getting away from the guided tours, and mingling with the Cuban locals.
“Everything was arranged and prepared, memorized and spewed out, and of course it was all very positive,” she said. “But when I had my own time to explore Cuba, and the stories you get when you are there one-on-one is not the same as what you’re told by the government.”
Her trip created friendships that remain to this day.
Travels with her daughter
Vaters and her daughter have also been adamant travellers together, backpacking through various locations at her daugther’s request.
Her daughter’s fascination with ancient ruins has been a staple of her choices. They once travelled through Peru on chicken bus, exploring every Incan ruin they could find.
The following year, they travelled to Guatemala to see the ancient ruins there.
One of the most important journeys of Vaters’ life was the 900-km she trekked across Spain, taking the Christian pilgrimage commonly referred to as the “Way of St. James.”
“That was a magnificent, life-changing experience,” said Vaters.
It was also a trip that was at the back of her mind for several years.
The foundation for the pilgrimage began when Vaters had returned home from Africa. Her father had retired at the age of 57, and had just then passed away at the age of 58. It was something that weighed heavy on Vaters’ mind.
“That didn’t bide well,” she said. “I was alone in Norris Point raising a teenaged daughter, thinking a lot about my father, about my life, about rural Newfoundland and where the province was heading.”
One day while taking part in an exploration of the Northern Peninsula organized by Parks Canada and the Department of Education, she complimented a woman on her hiking boots.
The woman then detailed how she had just completed the walk to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where St. James’ bones are said to be buried. During a tough battle with cancer, the woman said she made a promise to God that if He cured her of cancer, she would walk the Camino de Santiago in gratitude. When her cancer was cured, she fulfilled her promise.
As the woman described the experience to her, Vaters say she could sense in her heart that she was going to do this same pilgrimage some day.
“It was bizarre, I knew in my heart I was going to do it,” said Vaters. “The woman laughed when I told her. But I said to myself, ‘if God spares me to finish my career, raise my daughter and be in good health, I am going to walk the Camino in gratitude.’”
Then, last year, Vaters took the pilgrimage.
Vaters says the walk paralleled her life in many ways, and it was of the utmost personal and spiritual significance to her. Making her way across Spain with no directions, she followed her intuition and signs to both success and wrong turns.
At one point, the pain from two bad blisters on her feet nearly made Vaters break down and end her journey. But suddenly, a doctor crossed her path at just the right time. The doctor too was taking the pilgrimage, and helped her get back on her feet to complete the journey.
“It was so much like a reflection of my own life,” said Vaters. “Sometimes I followed other people and went the wrong way. So just like life, I had to turn around, trust my gut, and find my way back to the right path.
“I’m home now and still think about this trip all the time.”
On through Newfoundland
Through all her travels, for Vaters there remains no place like home.
Born in Trinity Bay, but now living in Norris Point and Placentia Bay for part of the year, the island of Newfoundland is a place of exploration Vaters knows well.
She’s kayaked and taken her motorcycle through Newfoundland several times, and says there remains no nicer motorcycle ride than Deer Lake to St. Anthony. Above all, her many experiences across the globe have deepened her appreciation of the landscape and retainment of culture unique to her Newfoundland home.
“I travel just as much around Newfoundland,” Vaters said. “There’s nothing like this place, and I don’t think we appreciate it or are aware of it as much as we should sometimes.”
For Vaters, travelling is not just a two-week vacation, but a life experience.
“I am a traveller, but that could mean just stepping out my front door.”