In the summer of 2017 I embarked on my biggest endeavour of my life: walking the age old pelgrimage from St Jean pied du Port to Santiago de Compostella. A distance of about 800 km. A journey not only about the goal. Challenging the immens heat of the great plains in Spain, pain in every body part. But also joy, meeting new people, creating memories for life. During this time I wrote everything that I encountered in my journal. After 35 days I arrived in Santiago, a book full of stories and memories. I completed the biggest achievement of my life! Proud but mostly thankful for the amazing people I met. The memories that I created for life. Slowly I will turn the journal entries in articles on this blog. I’m excited to share all the fun stories!
6:00 am, out of nowhere the song Avé Maria was playing loudly in the large dormitory at Ronchevalles, Spain. A volunteer from the monastery was walking past the beds with somewhere hidden a device creating these melodies. It was mixed with the sounds of people waking up in the space around me. My bed was located at the top floor with an attractive view on the wooden construction of the roof. The engineer and hobbyist woodworker rises in me. I could feel the warm glow spreading in my heart. But it was also mixed with a kind of sadness. Memories of my grandfather’s funeral where vaguely floating before my eyes. It was this song. The sound still hearable at the other side of the room. It played at his funeral. I could still see the tears and sadness in the eyes of my father, leaning for support on my mother’s shoulder. It must be a couple years ago right now, but the images still felt fresh in my mind. I tried to be strong, not show emotions to the rest of the family. Trying to hide the tears in my eyes, afraid of the judgement of people around me. A smile appeared on my face: I know better now.
Emotions are people. Letting it out realises the energy instead of bottling it up. I learned it the hard way as with many things in life. Vivid memories of these experiences colour my brain, this particular scene one of them. My grandfather was a strong and good person. A resistance fighter in the second world war against the Germans. Captured 4 days before the Americans and Canadian troops liberated the Netherlands. He survived the brutal 4 days without food and little water. A terrible experience as I can imagine. Not weird that I never heard him talk about it. These stories all came from my father and other family members.
The movement of the woman in the bed next to me rocks me out of my day dreaming. I better get up and start packing. The place around me is still covered in cloths. I check mine. As I guessed my socks are still a bit moist. My green army trousers are dry thanks to the quick drying material. Memories of yesterday sprinkling in my brain. Rain, wind, climbing. So cold. Fingers almost blue. Trying every technique to keep them warm while keeping the rain out. In my jacket, under my armpits, on my belly.
The Napoleon pass it is called. For hundreds of years it was the best route from France to Spain. A cobble stoned path leading high through the Pyrenees. The rain of yesterday was prohibiting me to take breaks. Exhausted. Wind pulling on my poncho. Fog everywhere. I couldn’t see more than 50 metres. It was even difficult to know if I was still on the right path. I walked most of that day with two Colombian women. One was living for many years in the USA and spoke perfect English. Her sister was harder to communicate with. Hands and feet were used, but somehow she learned me some Spanish.
Out of the fog, on what looked like the top of the mountain, a small stone cabine appeared. I walked to the door and opened it. To my surprise the interior was engulfed in light. On the right wall, in a small fire pit, a fire was humming away. Two more people were in front of it warming themselves. A cloud of white steam was surrounding them as if they were about to set fire. A big smile on their faces as they made some room. Excited I moved closer and immediately white smoke started to come from my wet rain jacket. I felt the warmed of the little flames creeping up deeper and deeper into my bones. I needed this. A break from the relentless rain outside.