Since placing my first steps on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela I had the idea, or should I write ”dream”, to once walk the Camino from my home in the Netherlands to Santiago. It seems like a such a grand adventure, crossing The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain on foot. However, it is about 2800 to 3000 kilometers and that will probably take me 120 days or so. That is a good 4 months and then I’m only counting the walking days. At such a distance it would be good to include some resting days as well.

And there is the big dilemma, if I plan well I might be able to afford it to be away for 4 or 5 months. But do I want that? One half of me says “Yes!!”. The more realistic part says “No, I’m not alone in this life, right now is not very practical nor sociable”. So, I pondered on an alternative. First I came up wit some alternative routes, but it did not feel okay. Then suddenly last week I questioned myself: ”why not in stages?”. The Camino route that is the nearest passes in a city only 15 kilometers walking from my home.

And off I went Today, walking from home to the city of Zutphen, a 15,6 km walk. Next stage will be to continue on the Jacobsweg Nieumeghen, one of the Camino routes in the Netherlands.

How many stages it will take me to do the whole distance? Time will tell!

A month ago I upgraded my equipment to a Canon R6 with the RF 24-105 F4-7.1 lens and the RF 35mm F1.8 macro IS STM lens. A long awaited upgrade and a camera with an amazing low light performance especially in combination with the F1.8 lens. The obvious first objects to capture include our Schapendoes Max, a (nearly) full moon over our Orchard, some cooking results and the uncorking of a New Years Eve bottle of Cava.

Camino del Norte – Day 11: O Pino – Santiago de Compostela – 16,7 km. ⁣

Today is a short day: I “only” have to walk into Santiago de Compostela. When you think you’re almost there, the last stretch is always longer than expected. ⁣

After about 2,5 km’s My route connects with the Camino Frances. It is more crowded than the Del Norte, which is not difficult given the fact that I only saw one other pilgrim yesterday. Yet it is less crowded than expected. ⁣

After a breakfast break I walk into the suburbs of Santiago, which means I have the opportunity for a selfie with the Santiago sign. It means also that there is yet another few kilometers to go before I am at the official end of this Camino. ⁣

Another difference on the Frances stretch is that there is a different type of pilgrims than on the Del Norte. I see more people limping, wearing bad shoes, I see children and more nationalities. A natural observation given the fact that the Frances is more popular than the Del Norte: it attracts more and a different kind of people. However, sometimes they seem to be lesser prepared than the people on the tougher Del Norte. Is it a more opportunistic approach?⁣

After arriving at the square I visit the pilgrim office to collect my compostela. The official sign of completing this Camino. Subsequently I visited the local living room of the Dutch Santiago society and while talking to Klaas, the host, new plans for a next Camino start to emerge …

Camino del Norte – Day 10 – Boimorto – O Pino – 26,7 km⁣

⁣At this stage on the Camino del Norte one can choose what route to follow and there are basically 3 different options. The first one will bring you immediately to the Camino Frances, the second one will take a bit longer to connect with the Frances and the third one, you guessed it, will take the longest time before connecting to the Frances. The advantage of the third option is also that it is the shortest route to Santiago de Compostela.⁣

Now, to make a choice you should know that the Frances is a very crowded route, compared to the Del Norte. Right now, on the Del Norte, I see hardly any other pilgrim on a day. On the Frances I would look around me and probably see ten’s of pilgrims. To give you a different perspective: in 2018 56,88% of all pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela walked the Frances and only 5,62% followed the Del Norte.⁣

Used to, and appreciating, the quietness of the Del Norte I wanted to stay away as long as possible from the Frances. Hence I chose the third option and that was an interesting road Today. A road that can be divided into three parts: the first 10 km was along a long and windy road with some great views and lots of asphalt. The second 8 km was along country roads with beautiful views and local encounters, like another herd of cows with the farmer directing the herd from his Lamborghini tractor, while his wife was walking with the cows. The last 8 km of Today were downright boring and sometimes even dangerous. This stretch was along the N634, a major road with lots of freight traffic. Walking this part I wondered why the Xunta designed the route like this. There are so many more beautiful roads in Galicia!⁣⁣

Had I known on forehand about the N634 stretch I would have chosen one of the other options and joined the Frances earlier. At hindsight the mid-section across the beautiful Galician landscape made the walk still worthwhile.⁣⁣

Today’s stretch showed once again the many aspects of the Eucalyptus forestry in Galicia. From full grown, large Eucalyptus trees to freshly cut large tree trunks and new planting.

Camino del Norte – Day 9: Baamonde – Boimorto – 44km⁣

Today was a long day. As a runner I never completed a marathon, but as a hiker I did today. With a little extra. ⁣

I chose to follow a new route of the Camino del Norte that was said to have no services available. So last night I stocked already supplies for Today. Also it was Sunday, so the place I was staying at was not serving breakfast until 8:30am. Much too late for a Pilgrim. Hence during my first break I enjoyed my carried along breakfast. It was the first time I saw other pilgrims on the route. ⁣⁣

Later I was happily surprised to see a bar at the route. Best part of the bar was that they were open and served coffee. Here I also met a group of 8 Spanish pilgrims. It was “crowded” in this place. The remainder of the day I would not meet any walking pilgrims again. During a later break I had a short conversation with two American girls who were doing the Camino on a bicycle. As there are some steep climbs, also on this part, I asked them how they managed: They followed the road and walked up and cycled down. ⁣⁣

Today’s stretch is relatively easy. Some climbs, but it felt that there are more descents along endless roads. The only serious traffic I encountered today was a herd of cows that was on it’s way to a different location. No running with the bulls for me, but stepping aside for the cows. ⁣⁣

Upon arrival in the Albergue in Boimorto it felt as if I am the only guest Today. According to the nice hospitalero there are a few others. So far I haven’t seen them. While writing this in the courtyard, the hospitalero and her family celebrate the birthday of one of their family members and I am offered a piece of the birthday cake. ⁣⁣

It’s a warm welcome

Camino del Norte – Day 8: Vilalba – Baamonde – 21,5 km.⁣

Today was a relative short day: only 21,5 km and I am in my hostel around 1pm already. It felt like a busy route Today, after a break I reentered the Camino in the middle of a group Pilgrims from Australia. Spread out over a few hundred meters about 10 people were walking. Compared to the days that were almost alone it was crowded! One of the Australian ladies I spoke to was already on her 22nd Camino! So, should I think that my 6th Camino is a lot, think again ?⁣

The route today continued through the rolling landscape, no serious climbs for Today, which is good for a change. ⁣

The last 100 km is ahead of me. 100 km is often a landmark for Pilgrims, especially on the Camino Frances many people walk the last 100 km to be eligible for their Compostela when arriving in Santiago. In most places the 100 km mark is written all over by pilgrims with all kinds of messages. Not sure if that’s the reason, but here in Baamonde they decided not to place a 100 km marker, but a 99,994 marker instead. Hence some pilgrims started to created a pile of rocks just 6 meters left of it, at the 100 km mark (last picture).⁣

Camino del Norte – Day 7: Mondoñedo – Vilalba – 34,5 km⁣

Wen leaving Mondoñedo the atmosphere seemed to have cleared up after last night’s thunderstorms. It could very well become a nice weather day. Clearly I was not aware yet of what lay ahead of me. ⁣

After a few turns and streets that went down a turn followed that entered a country road that was partly washed away by yesterday’s rain and this road went up. And it continued to go up for 6 km’s from an altitude of 132m to 663m. The climb continued and continued, whenever I thought (hoped?) I had reached the peak, there was another ascent ahead of me. In the meantime the sun had broken through, which made it a hot endeavor, as the photo shows. ⁣

It was however a beautiful walk, just extremely steep and hot. If you ever think that walking the Camino is a walk in the park then think again: the Camino is a serious hike. ⁣

On top of the mountain the atmosphere changed completely once again, when I entered a dense fog. A surreal difference within a few minutes. ⁣

The day followed mostly downhill, with some minor climbs up. But then again, after the first climb every other one was minor Today. ⁣
During the whole day I only saw 3 other Pilgrims which reconfirmed the quietness of this particular route. A quietness I like, as it gives a lot of time for reflection. Reflect about almost everything, from business, family and friends to recent news. Reflection puts things in a different perspective, you think and question your thinking, it opens new insights. ⁣⁣

Sometimes it is great to think about nothing, and just walk.⁣

Camino del Norte – Day 6: Ribadeo – Mondoñedo. – 37,5 km

Today started as a typical Galician foggy day and ended as a sunny, 29 degrees warm day. It was a sweaty day and I am glad with the laundry service in my hotel!

Galicia remains the land of the beautiful vistas and small paths through the country. And as such it is still a beautiful walk, even in a foggy environment. 

This Camino del Norte is in many aspects different from the other Camino’s I have walked. I believe it might be a harder one, more hills and thus more ascending and descending. Also I realized Today that I haven’t seen any cyclists on the walking paths yet. Not that I am missing them though!

Camino del Norte – Day 5: La Caridad – Ribadeo – 31 km

Magnificent Views! 

If there are only two words that I could use to describe Today’s stretch then it is the combination of these two: Magnificent Views!

I decided to follow two detours along the GR E9 today that guided me closer to the coast than the way-marked Camino route does. The first one was around Cabo Blanco where an ancient Celtic fort was located. The second detour was even more beautiful, because now the sun was out and shed a different light on the environment. One Spanish gentleman tried to protect me from taking the “wrong” route, as the route to Santiago was different then the one I was following and my route was harder to walk. However, I was stubbornly enough to continue and it paid off. It did remind me though to improve my Spanish before the next Camino. 

Later I met a very kind old lady who started a conversation about my hike to Santiago. She blessed me on my route going forward and had many questions that I did not understand. Nevertheless it was a nice conversation. Note to self: learn to speak Spanish!

Ribadeo is the first city in Galicia on this Camino. That also means that starting Tomorrow I will leave the coast behind me and will go land inward towards Santiago de Compostela.

Camino del Norte – Day 4: Luarca – La Caridad – 33km

Stepping out on to the street this morning I was greeted by drizzle. Just before when I checked the weather app, it said that there was only a 7% chance on rain and it also said that it was not raining. However, it was enough water to get really wet today, so I stopped even before I started and put on my rain jacket and hat. Later it became clear that the rain wasn’t really rain but a constant drizzle from low hanging clouds. Time to start walking with my head in the clouds! ?

Today was a relative easy route and by the end of the morning I had already covered 20 kilometers and had no feeling for stopping yet. In the middle of the morning the clouds cleared to a bit higher altitude and the rain gear went back into the backpack. The sun did not show, but with 20 degrees and high humidity it was a sweaty endeavor. At the end of the day I treated myself to a nice hotel room in Casa Xusto in La Caridad. Highly recommendable!

Camino del Norte – Day 3: Santa Marina – Luarca – 28,13 km

Today was another day with lots of ups and downs and I felt the muscles in my legs that I did not realize that were there. It was a beautiful stretch Today, with many views on the sea, once coming close to it, but never really walking along the sea. Perhaps another day the route will bring me to the sea instead of just letting me see the sea.

The route sometimes went over paths where I almost doubted if I was right. Small, very steep, covered with long grass. Nevertheless the Yellow Arrow was unmistakably directive: I was on the right path.

Today was a busy day on the Camino, maybe I saw 20 other pelegrinos on the whole 28 km stretch. If you ever walked the Camino Frances, you will laugh out loud about that. There you could already count 20 or more when looking around on a few 100 meters. This route certainly allows time for reflection!

Camino del Norte – Day 2: El Pito – Santa Marina – 23,57 km

Today’s route went over a quite hilly terrain. Not the big mountains, but with constantly going up and down between 0 and 190 meters it reminded me of the fact that there is a difference between walking at home in the flatlands and here on the Camino del Norte. I like it, even though the weather with a bit of sun through the clouds and a humidity of 90% made it a sweaty experience. 

Again a quiet day on the Camino: on Today’s 23,5 km stretch I only saw 8 other pilgrims and walked the whole day alone. Halfway in Soto de Luiño the waiter Pepe recommended me to stop over for the night in Santa Mariña and so I did.

Camino del Norte – Day 1: Santiago del Monte – El Pito – 17,02 km

An early flight out of Schiphol Airport brought me via Madrid to Asturias Oviedo airport. A perfect location to start these two weeks at the Camino del Norte as the route passes the airport only at about 500 meters. So, it was easy to start walking directly from the plane.

The route today was very quiet. In total I only saw two other pilgrims. This might have to do with the fact that I only started at half past 12, in the middle of the day. Still it felt very quiet and also comfortable at the same time.

The route was a variation of small forest paths through Eucalyptus forests with every now and then a view on the sea or an river delta with an old castle. In total for today 17 km, which makes a perfect distance for day 1.

Walking the Camino from Santiago de Compostela via Muxía and Finisterre back to Santiago de Compostela. June 2018, many days with average temperature of 30+ degrees.

All photo’s captured with the iPhone X. Today, I made a walk without my digital camera and only brought my iPhone along. With surprisingly good results. It proofs once again that the camera that you are carrying is the best camera available.

The Camino Portugués in July 2017. First walking from Porto along the coast till Vila do Conde, then continuing land inward on the Camino Portugués Central.

 

On Kingsday I decided to use the day off for a long walk. It has been on my mind for a while to walk the complete “Voetstappenpad” that surrounds the city of Hilversum and now it was time to do so.

This path is a route that had been created in 1939 and has been restored in 1997. The most of the path runs through nature with a few kilometers exception that run to the outskirts of Hilversum. The whole path is around 25km long and for me, with the walk to connect from home and disconnect back home again, the walk turned out to be a good 30km.

The path is worth it, running through a variety of nature, covering moorland and woodlands, it shows a quite diverse landscape. There are some locations where one can stop for a drink. However, I started my walk at 6:30 in the morning of a national holiday and thus the restaurants and bars I encountered were still closed when I passed them.

I brought my smaller camera with me, the Canon EOS M. Despite it not being the fastest camera, for hikes like this, it is an excellent companion. The quality of the photos is great, and the size is quite convenient. In the case of rain, I can quickly stuff it in the pocket of my raincoat, which is undoable for its larger brother, the Canon EOS 7DII. Will be great to test the new Canon EOS M5 once on some of these trips. It seems to be a worthy follow-on to the original M with capabilities that come close to the 7D, while still having the size and convenience of the M package.

With that, I finally decided to test my Peak Design Capture. This clip allows me to carry my camera conveniently on the belt of my backpack. Previously I had tried it with my 7D on my full pack but failed to find a convenient place to carry it. Hence on my previous walks, I referred back to carrying the 7D with the excellent Peak Design Slide. Here you’ll see how the EOS M is being carried on the Capture.

 

My pack on this day was the fairly new Lowe Alpine LA Airzone Z20, a 20-liter daypack with a rain cover that came in handy at the end of this days walk when I was treated at first a rain shower and later a hail shower. The Lowe Alpine is just large enough to carry all I need for a day walk and has still room to stuff a rain jacket and fleece. It is clearly not large enough for a full Camino; then I will revert to trusted Gregory Savant 48 liter pack.

 

The “voetstappenpad” is easy to follow as it is well marked with footsteps as part of small concrete stones alongside the path. In some occasions you will find small signs with the footsteps on it next to the road as well, helpfully directing the way.

Altogether it is very difficult to miss a turn. Although this was the second time I walked the path and I must confess that the first time I missed a turn south of Hilversum ending up in the middle of the city. That time I walked straight through the city back home. Now I followed the complete path and recognized the turn that I must have missed the previous time, back in 2013.

Some impressions along the path:

Photo impression from a week on Terschelling

Walking on the Camino from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela in September 2016, a short photo report.

Getting lost on the road to Santiago is a hard thing to do with all the signs that will guide you. A collection of the signs as can be found along the Camino Francés:

When waking up in Maastricht, I was greeted by a new golden horizon showing that the sun was working hard to push through the clouds. A perfect morning for a stroll through the city of Maastricht before going back to business.

On Friday morning we started with breakfast at the Albergue. This was my last morning on the Camino, as I went by train from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela this afternoon, to fly back to the Netherlands Tomorrow.

After a steep climb, the route to Sarria is all the way down. We walked for a while with Andy, a professor from the USA who is walking the Camino with 5 students. The Camino is part of their graduation. Over the past few days, we’ve seen Andy several times and had great conversations with him. This time, we talked about family and Camino experiences. Andy walked the Camino before with his family and his two-year-old daughter, bringing along a cart for the special luggage that traveling with a baby requires. That brought some special challenges for them on the small and sometimes wobbly Camino paths.

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Sarria

In a typically Camino fashion, during the next break we got separated from Andy and Laurens and I walked together towards Sarria. There, when walking into the city, we saw Andy again, outside on a terrace enjoying his well deserved “Cerveza”. His walk was done for the day and he already checked into the Albergue. Now he was here, in a tactical spot along the route, waiting for his students to arrive.

We joined him and we had lunch together. Laurens was getting ready to walk on and we said our goodbyes. It was weird seeing him walk away this time, knowing that our routes separate here for this Camino. We had a great week together, a week I can recommend to every parent to undertake with your children. It brings one close to each other. We were already close, yet this week allowed for deeper conversations about everything we wanted to discuss, like life, career, work, friends, spirituality, and so on. It also allowed me to observe and experience my son in his normal doing with other people. I can only conclude that I’m proud to see how he has grown into a warm and caring adult, open and respectful to others and the world.

Later in the afternoon, Andy walked with me to the train station and I departed from an empty Sarria train station for Santiago de Compostela.

In Santiago de Compostela, I decided to walk past the cathedral before heading to my hotel. When walking up to the entrance I saw a familiar face: Maggie, with whom I started my Camino back in 2013, was standing there in conversation with some others. It was good to see Maggie again, she just finished her fourth Camino, this time on the Del Norte.

It was a typical Camino encounter; on those moments you expect it the least, you meet old friends again. For me, it was a warm and worthy closure of this week on the Camino.

When we made ourselves ready to leave the Albergue in Cacabelos on Wednesday morning, we had to be ready for rain. Despite our wishes otherwise, the rain had come as liquid sunshine to color our day. We geared up in our rain gear and got going. After about half an hour, the rain stopped and we got rid of our rain gear again. This rhythm would become the rhythm of the day: every time we felt it would be dry, we changed gear and moments later the rain would start again.

In the end, we walked for about one consecutive hour in the real steady rain. Still, despite this “liquid sunshine”, we had a marvellous walk. Beautiful sights with great heights and fabulous views made it altogether a great day. In a typical Camino fashion, we had some deep conversations with fellow pilgrims. Some conversations continuing onto conversations from previous days, some simply as one of a kind.

Finally, we were treated with a steep climb bringing us to La Faba, a small town located on the flanks of O Cebreiro. This town holds a few Albergues and we opted for the Albergue next to the old church. This Albergue is operated by the German association of St James and the German hospitaleros Franz and Ursula made it a warm welcome for us. By now we reconnected with the girls we had said goodbye to yesterday. They had decided to take it a bit slower than originally planned, and so we turned back to a similar schedule.

The next morning we departed around 7:20 to climb up to O Cebreiro, the highest point before entering Galicia. Slowly, but steadily, we entered the fog still embracing O Cebreiro.

After 4 km of uphill walking with stunning views, we were ready for breakfast and the local bar in O Cebreiro turned into our breakfast location. The walk continued through a nice forest and for the rest of the coming days it would be in the light of descending, with some little and nasty climbs in there to remind us that it can not always be downhill.

Thursday night we stayed at Albergue El Beso, just after Triacastella. El Beso is the Albergue of Marijn and Jessica, a Dutch/Italian couple that met each other on the last day of their Camino a few years back. During my previous Camino, I had been one of their early guests when they had just opened. Now we were able to enjoy their hospitality again. This, combined with their ecological vision, the great food, and the beautiful style in which they rebuild the house, makes for me one of the best Albergues on the Camino.

Today the Albergue woke up in a typical Albergue way that called back memories of my previous Camino. Somewhere between 5am and 5:30am the rustling starts. People are waking up and plan to leave early. In gesture kindly meant to not wake up other pilgrims, people won’t turn on the lights in the room, but use their headlights or flashlights instead. This good meant action might very well have the opposite effect. Many people in the room wake up due to the rustling of people packing their stuff and the lights that go back and forth.

It is common practice in the Albergues to get up between 6am and 7am and this morning when the lights went on, it showed that more than half of the room had already left. The other half seemed to take the light as a signal to get up and get moving as well.
We packed our stuff together and started to walk, first from Molinaseca to Ponferrada, then on to Cacabelos. In Ponferrada, we enjoyed our breakfast at the foot of the old Knights Templars castle and Laurens ran into some old Camino friends. That is typical when you walk the whole way like Laurens did so far. You meet people along the way, say goodbye to them when one of you moves on, and then you can unexpectedly meet again in a different place on the Camino.

In Ponferrada, we said goodbye to Joakim who is traveling back to Sweden, and also to the girls we walked with during the last two days. The girls plan to go for long stretches as they are on a tight schedule to reach Santiago de Compostela on time. Laurens chose not to follow that schedule and keep his own, non-schedule based, walking pace and I’m happily joining him in this. My only scheduled event is that I need to travel back to the Netherlands in the coming weekend. I’ll see where we are by then, that place will be my starting point for my travels back home.

The walk Today was relatively flat with some small ascents and descents. We walked for 22km with some stops to Cacabelos, where we booked the Municipal Albergue for the night. The weather was good walking weather with some threats of rain that forced us into our rain jackets. However, the rain did not push through. So after a few kilometers of walking the rain gear became unnecessary and too warm, so we had to put the backpack down and get rid of the rain jackets again.

Tomorrow we go on to Villafranca del Bierzo and beyond. Villafranca is one of the last places before crossing the mountains into Galicia. Back in history those pilgrims that could not make it over the mountain for health reasons, could obtain their indulgence in Villafranca instead of in Santiago. Like the cathedral in Santiago, also the church of Villafranca seems to have a door that only opens in a holy year. Now, as the pope declared 2016 a special holy year, these doors should be open when we pass them. Curious to see and learn what this means!

It is good to be back on the Camino! I was on the train on my way to León, when Laurens texted me that all places were full and there was no bed for us for the night in Astorga. Luckily the old saying goes up again “The Camino will provide” and by the time I arrived in Astorga, Laurens had managed to secure a room in a pension for us.

On my first night we had dinner in Astorga with a great bunch of people Laurens had already met on the Camino. With Joakim, Anna, Yvonne, Brooklin and Iru, we would be spending more time over the coming days, this was only the beginning. The true Camino spirit was widely around the table and I quickly felt really back on the Camino. The next morning we set off at 6:30 with the plan to walk 20km to Rabinal el Camino. I noticed that I had to be careful not to compare this Camino to my previous one. The experience is different; one for walking only a part of the way this time and certainly for walking it together with my son.

This first day was almost a walk in the park. With a long ascent, we went up the mountain in a smooth fashion. The only dissonant was the strong head wind that pushed us back and made it a cold experience. We checked in in the Albergue Gaucelmo, ran by the English Confraternity of St James. It was a well organized and clean Albergue with at 5pm a round of English tea for all pilgrims. The Camino was quite busy and around 2pm the Albergue was fully booked. Later it turned out that by 4pm all Albergues in town were booked. For late pilgrims, this meant that they had to go on for another 6km to the next town.

On Monday morning, we set off on a cold start. It was barely above zero degrees. However, the steep climb up the mountain warmed us up quickly. In Foncebadon we held our first stop and second breakfast. Now it was time to take the last hurdle and cross the pass over to the other side.

At the Cruz de la Ferro it is the tradition to leave a stone behind that you have brought from home. The stone represents something that you want to leave behind. Thus for some, this was a very emotional moment. After the Cruz we walked for another kilometer at the same height, after which a steep descent started bringing us 1050 meter down to the city of Molinasecu where we found an Albergue for the night.

Temperature wise a strange day; we started at barely above zero degrees, we ended up on the other side of the mountain in shorts in the sun at almost 20 degrees. A great walking day where my “flatland legs” had to adjust to walking in the mountains. A great day, like yesterday, to be spending with Laurens and have conversations about the Camino, about life in general and about future plans.

Does the Camino ever leave you?

You might think that you have finished your Camino after arriving in Santiago de Compostela, but by now I can tell you that the Camino will never leave you. The longing for the long walks, the comradery with fellow pilgrims, the meditative moments alone; every now and then the desire to return to that experience will come back.

I’ve had it for the past years, since walking my Camino to Santiago de Compostela in 2013. I knew I would return to the Camino some day, and for long there were general statements like “yes, I will do it again“. Yet never with a firm date, until now.

This year my son Laurens is walking his Camino. He is doing the same route as I did, all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Perhaps he too is continuing to Finisterre and Muxia, who knows. The plan to join him on his Camino was dormant for a while, yet difficult to firm up.

Now, with a little push, the opportunity presented itself. It is time to go back to the Camino! Saturday I will travel to the León region and join up with Laurens to have a quality week together. A week later he will continue through the beautiful Galicia region on to Santiago de Compostela and I will return home.

Follow us here, if time and internet connection allows me, I will post regular updates on this site.

Now, let’s hope León will show itself to me in a friendlier weather dressing than during my previous time on the Camino!

Update 20/5/16: Laurens is progressing already beyond León, so Tomorrow I will travel to Astorga instead. Rain or shine, León will have to do without me.

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The first time in Rome is obviously filled with “must see” items in town. However, the history of this town is too rich to see it all in one afternoon. So, just an impression of my first visit to Rome.

Note to self: add Rome to the list with places to visit again!

It has already been a week since my last day in Santiago. After my final walk from Finisterre to Muxia on Monday of last week, my Camino was over. The next morning at 6:45am I boarded the early bus to Santiago where I arrived only two hours later. As my flight back home was only on Thursday I had nearly two days to spend in the city.

So far I had not been in favor of spending much time in the cities I passed, after all walking in the country side is much nicer. This time, it was different, I knew that I would have to spend nearly two days here and so I enjoyed it differently. First of all I had to do some special shopping: I needed a flight bag for my backpack. This allows to check ones backpack safely on the flight without the risk of the straps getting strangled on the luggage belts. The alternative is to seal a backpack on the airport, but I preferred a flight bag as I can reuse it. It was a kind of a challenge, in some shops my Spanish was insufficient to make clear what I needed and some shops simply did not sell flight bags. Finally I found a small shop where I explained what I was looking for and the shop owner said “O you mean a flight bag” as it was the everyday best sold item of his shop.

When this purchase was done the rest of my two days were open. I visited the “living room of the lowlands” hosted by the Dutch St James association to welcome Pilgrims to Santiago and offer them a helping hand where needed and possible. Then I simply wandered around town and spend some time on the square in front of the cathedral. The square is a lively environment of pilgrims arriving where you see all kinds of emotions as a result of completing the Camino: laughter, happiness, and crying. It is also the place where many pilgrims reconnect with pilgrims they have met – and lost contact with again – along the way.

And so did I: the Tuesday afternoon I met with Maggie and Ella again with whom I jointly walked the Camino in the first week. We enjoyed lunch together and caught up on experiences. Also, I almost literally bumped into the three Northern Irish guys I have met at several Albergues during my Camino, from as early as Larasoaña as all the way to Finisterre and now back in Santiago again. We progressed our complete Camino on a similar distance and time schedule. On Thursday after check in at the airport, I met briefly with Søren again, the Danish guy that walked with Ella, Maggie and myself during the first week of walking. There is not such a thing as coincidence and it was nice to see them all back again at the end of the Camino.

Now I am back in the Netherlands for nearly a week and am spending some time off with my wife to catch up on experiences and ideas. There is one thing that a pilgrim has available in sufficient amount during his Camino and that is time to think. In my case, this leads to many new ideas with some course corrections for the business. Elements that I will communicate about more extensively shortly.

Looking back there are two main initial insights from my Camino: Realizing that I walked 900 kilometers through Northern Spain it feels like a lot. But I never experienced the walking as a burden or heavy or it being a lot of kilometers. It simply was a step by step approach over 28 days that made me cover the 900 km. With that in mind, there are parallels to our everyday tasks and I believe that as long as we approach a challenge step by step, every challenge can be solved. It may take a while, though.

Secondly, there was the insight I gained from meeting David and the thoughts of “donativo” and “enough is enough” that stayed with me along the remaining of my Camino. It felt very good to have stopped the commercial approach to the “Camino experience” project and focus the Camino on my personal experience rather than carrying the burden of the necessity to write a book. I am happy with the positive responses I received from many people on this decision and looking at the personal feedback it seemed that it improved my writing style in the later blog posts.

These insights and the many ideas I wrote down will find their way back into the way I intend to move on with Simoons & Company, with a broader focus on helping companies grow and develop. But as said, more about that shortly.

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My Camino covered three goals: Santiago de Compostela, Finisterre, and Muxia. Today was my final walking day, from Finisterre to my last goal Muxia. Somehow you seem to carry the fact with you that it is the last day of walking. I enjoyed it nevertheless very much. The landscape was quite diverse with sights on sea and beaches, fields and forests. It was a nice summary of a lot of the Galician landscape of the past week.

The morning started with a nice sunrise in the distance on a ridge behind the sea. However, it would take a couple of hours before I was actually walking in the sun as I followed another ridge in which shadow I walked for a long time. When the sun reached me I realized that it was actually the first walking day that the sun was predominantly on my right side. So far I have continuously walked westward and hence, the sun was mostly on my left side.

It appeared also to be one of my fastest walking days, within six and a half hour I covered the 33 km for today and at entering the Albergue the hospitalero was surprised that I walked it and did not come by bus. But for me it did not feel as if I had been hurrying, I had a pretty fine pace and took my regular breaks as I normally do.

This stretch between Finisterre and Muxia is a stretch that can be walked both ways. Some pilgrims do Muxia first and then Finisterre and some it the other way around. Halfway today’s stretch in Lires I met the first pilgrims from the other direction. Furthermore, it was a quiet route, many pilgrims clearly stop their Camino in one of the two places and do not make the connecting stretch. The dual character of the route made the signs sometimes difficult to read and there was a situation where I had to look twice to take the right road. Sometimes the signs were very clear: M for Muxia, F for Finisterre.

Walking up to the Virxe da Barca in Muxia really felt special: this is really the end of my Camino. I spent quite some time at the Punte da Barca enjoying the silence and at the same time the noise of the water breaking against the rocks. The Camino is now over, although it is said that the Camino never leaves you, but for now the walking is over. In another century, I would have only been halfway as I would have to walk the way back home too. But for me, after 900 km of walking, it is time to enjoy the benefits of a modern day pilgrim: tomorrow the bus to Santiago, Thursday the plane back home.

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Sunrise

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Seaview

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And for the last day: one muddy path.

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Clear signs: M for Muxia, F for Finisterre.

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The Virxe da Barca.

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My Muxiana, as proof of completing this part of the Camino.

After walking through a beautiful countryside suddenly there was the sea. At least a view on a blue sea. It would take at least another two hours of walking till I could dip my toe in the ocean water. In those two hours, the route seemed to be going towards and away from the sea. In the town of Cee, I passed a wrinkled old lady who was cutting wood with a hammer and a chisel. Suddenly when she saw me approaching she stopped her work and with a torrent of words she asked for my help. Not that I really understood her Spanish waterfall, but all the gestures that came with the words made clear that she needed help to lock the garage door. Someone needed to push the door in order for her to lock it on the inside. I pushed the door and after some “mass, mass” yells from inside the garage, she was able to close it. The lady showed up again and as thanks for my help, I received a big wrinkled smile and a “¡muchas gracias!” after which I continued my walk.

Pilgrims who walk from Santiago to Finisterre receive the Fisterrana, the written proof that the pilgrim has reached “the end of the world”. Actually, I collected mine before making the last 3 km to Cabo Fisterra. This spit was for the ancient pilgrims the end of the western world and their goal after Santiago. Here they often burned the clothes they wore during their pilgrimage. Now many pilgrims still try to burn something at Cabo Fisterra, although signs indicate that it is no longer appreciated. Finisterre or Fistera is also the place where the ancient pilgrims collected their scallop shell as a proof of having completed their Camino. Nowadays a pilgrim starts already with a scallop shell attached to his bag. I found one on the beach and hence have collected that proof point too!

The last two kilometers before Finisterre were alongside a beautiful white, almost empty, beach. I could not resist and took off my trusted shoes and walked this 2 km barefoot on the beach and in the water. It was the best two kilometers of all 870 so far.

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The Spanish horizon is often filled with windmills. Don Quichot would have to work stressful overtime in this century.

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And then there is the sea.

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The two-kilometer beach before Finisterra

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My official collected Fisterra scallop shell.

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Cabo Fisterra

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The end of the world, only sea as far as the horizon goes.

It doesn’t end in Santiago. As described yesterday I continue my Camino today towards Finisterre and Muxia. The walk out of Santiago is completely different from the walk into the city. The moment you approach Santiago the first areas contain highways and industrial suburbs and it takes about close to an hour before you finally reach the old city center. Walking out of Santiago is only about 15 minutes through older areas and suddenly you are in the middle of a Eucalyptus forest again. Another 15 minutes walk through the forest and you will have an opportunity for a last look at the cathedral and then off it goes into the countryside.

Also, the pilgrims seem to be different this morning. They look more relaxed, it is as if they all have the same feeling as I have: Santiago has been reached, this is a bonus! There are also fewer pilgrims on the road and the touregrinos are completely gone. We seem to chat more with each other and exchange more words than just the common ¡hola! ¡buen Camino! Pricing is also back to normal: At my first stop after about 8 km walking I paid the usual 2 euros again this morning for a Cafe Solo and a Napolitana while in Santiago it was 3,30 euro.

The landscape continues to be hilly and filled with Eucalyptus forests. Some climb up to 500meter seem to be on the route to remind me that I may be walking to the coast it is not the flat coastline as I am used to in the Netherlands. But somehow I experienced already before that I like the climbing and descending very much. Actually, these tracks have my preference over the flat, homelike, tracks as on the Meseta.

Another Galician building is back in the landscape: the hórreo. These are typical buildings that were used to store the corn. I had seen them a lot and asked one of the hospitaleros along the road what it was. She explained that by the typical design the corn was stored dry and safe from mouses. As the legs, the hórreo is built on are designed in such a way that a mouse can not climb them. Some of these hórreo’s are old and a complete ruin, ready to collapse. Some are very well restored and show off in full glory.

Today was a short walk, only 21 km to Negreira. In these stages to Finisterre, there are fewer Albergues than on the other stages of the Camino. Walking becomes a bit more planning where to stay. Today 21, tomorrow and the day after around 33 km and then Finisterre: the end of the world.

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A last look on the cathedral in the morning light.

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Entering the next Eucalyptus forest.

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A large, well restored, hórreo.

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Cafe Solo with Napolitana (a walker burns a lot!).

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Ponte Maceira.

This morning there was only 20 km to cover to the destination of my pilgrimage: Santiago de Compostela. As some early birds in the Albergue already felt that 5am was a decent time to get up and in the mean time wake their neighbor beds too with their noise I was out early too. The downside of an early walk (mine started at 6:30am) is that one can not really enjoy the environment. In earlier stages of the Camino 6:45 was a good start. That was in stages without forests and hence the light came earlier. Today the first stretch was straight through an, undoubtedly, beautiful Eucalyptus forest. However, I could only smell it and needed my flashlight to find my way.

Not exactly my preference of walking through the forest, but today there was a goal with a time cap: be in Santiago for the 12 o’clock mass. And I made it: around 10:30am I entered the main square in front of the cathedral. It was a strange moment, good to be there: reached the purpose of the pilgrimage. But does it now, meaning will I stop walking ….. actually no. Like the ancient pilgrims, I will continue to Finisterre (Fisterra) and Muxia. As the Galicia tourist office writes it so well in their brochure I can only quote them:

Continuing with an old tradition, many pilgrims are not satisfied with just reaching Santiago, but continue on towards Fisterra and Muxia. In the first case, the aim is to reach the western limits of the ancient world, full of myths and legends. In the second case, the aim is to reach the sanctuary of A Virxe de Barca, where tradition tells that a boat came ashore bearing the Virgin Mary, on a visit to give encouragement to St. James in his work preaching the gospel in the Iberian Peninsula.

As the previous 790 km went quite prosperous I have about a short week left to walk to Fisterra and Muxia. I always hoped the Camino would allow for time to complete it with these two historical places too and I am glad to have that time and hence complete the Camino properly.

So, I have arrived, but yet another 120 km to go!

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The cathedral of Santiago
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My official Compostela as a proof of my completed pilgrimage.

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The mass is about to start. During the mass no pictures were allowed. The famous Botafumeiro, the 160 cm large silver layered thurible was not used as it is only used in special occasions. Unfortunately ascension day did not appear to be special enough for the Botafumeiro.

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An early way-mark in the flash light: 17,5 km to go. Later on these marks disappeared and my guide had already warned me to add another 4 km to them as they were not completely correct anymore.

I am quickly getting closer to Santiago. Today was a long walk of 44 km in the hope that the remaining 18 to Santiago can be covered tomorrow in the morning. That will bring me to Santiago on time for the 12 o’clock mass in the cathedral.

The landscape was great again today. Hilly and walking through many eucalyptus forests. They smelled good and reminded me of my mother every time I entered such a forest. She often used eucalyptus oil and I never paid much attention to the typical smell of the oil: it was a flavor that belonged in her house. Now in Northern Spain it suddenly smells as if I am back in time and in her living room again.

The eucalyptus is a typical tree, long straight and loosing its bark as it grows. It looks at first sight as if the tree is sick with all the bark hanging around it an dropped on the ground. But as every tree I saw looked like this I am sure it is the way it has to be.

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Since crossing O Cebreiro and entering Galicia it seems new types of Pilgrims are entering the Camino. The previous 620 km there were two types of Pilgrims: the walkers and the bikers. Both on their way to do the whole route to Santiago de Compostela. Suddenly in Galicia, a new type of pilgrim is showing: a walker equipped with only a small daypack. They walk the path is if they are on a casual Sunday afternoon in New York’s Central Park. They pay no attention to other walkers and barely respond to the traditional Pilgrim way of saying hello: ‘¡Holla! ¡Buen Camino! Most of them seem to be American, although I had some near clenches with some French who frolic across the path without paying attention. They look like tourists rather than pilgrims to me. Later I learned that they are called “touregrinos” among the pilgrims. A combination of tourist and pelegrino.

Also, local entrepreneurs happily jump in to serve these touregrinos. Jacotrans, for instance, exists for only one purpose: transporting baggage for pilgrims who are not prepared to carry their own pack and are happy to pay 7 euro to have it shipped to the next Albergue.

Today another new type of Pelegrino crossed my path. A complete Spanish school class with students of about 15/16 years old was walking the last 100 km of the Camino. Quite impressive to see a school camp being developed this way. In the end, it remained a school class of 15/16-year-olds. So they made the same noise every school class of 15/16-year-olds will do. So I quickly moved on, leaving the class behind me.

Today was quite a humid day, but as usual, on humid days I perform well in sport and walked nearly 40 km. I stopped in Pontecampana because there was a very nice Albergue, while I could have done more kilometers. Since entering Galicia every 500 meters there is a sign next to the road that shows how many kilometers to Santiago. At the point of this Albergue, only 61 km to go and Santiago is getting closer. With my current schedule time allows continuing to Finisterre, which is another three days. Finisterre is the place where the ancient pilgrims collected their shell from the beach as a proof that they walked the way before they walked back. I hope also to be able to continue to Muxia, the place where the ancient pilgrims buried the clothes they don’t need anymore. Muxia will be another day more. After that, I will be a modern pilgrim and fly home rather than walking home 🙂

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Today was a very nice walk through the Galicia landscape. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Walking day 20 and I caught myself realizing that I almost regret to have only 10 walking days left. Somehow the walking way of life is very relaxing: there is nothing to worry about, you simply put one foot before the other and keep on marching. You start in the morning, not knowing where you will end in the evening, but knowing that there will always be a place to eat and sleep. But how much I started to like the walking life I won’t trade it for my life with my loved ones, so on to Santiago and Finisterre and then quickly back home to my family!

It reminded me of my first day on the Camino, when I met Nathalie. This French girl already walked from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port and was at that moment half way of her total Camino to Santiago. She too regretted being half way as she liked the Way too much. We walked only for an hour together and made a photo of the first yellow arrow we see. The sign that marks the Camino throughout Spain. In France the Camino coincides with the GR65 and is marked with red/white striping on poles and trees. So both for Nathalie and myself it was the first yellow arrow.

Since then I have seen many more and many variations on ways to guide the way. Official signs, less official signs, arrows and markings on the roads to guide Peregrino. Unfortunately some pilgrims seem to have the urge to leave their own markings on the signs and certainly not always for the good. With all the signs the road is easy to find and one can hardly get lost.

Today I walked from Vega de Valcarce to A Balsa, a very small town just after Triacastela. Here the Dutch Marijn and the Italian Jessica run an Albergue together that is just open for two weeks. Jessica and Marijn met on the Camino and started their new life together in service of other pilgrims. I have been following their efforts to rebuild a house that was close to a ruin into a very nice Albergue. When I realized that I was only 7 km away from their place I decided to continue walking and check in at their Albergue ecológico El Beso. A good decision so far!

During today’s walk I crossed O Cebreiro and with crossing this pass I entered Galicia. The landscape started to change immediately and I learned later from Marijn that these mountains create a natural barrier that causes the other side of the mountains to have a land climate while Galicia has a sea climate. That basically means more rain in Galicia and that shows, the nature is greener and further developed. Again a beautiful walk today!

Many people on the Camino face challenges with their feet and legs. The most common problems are blisters, from small to huge ones. But also knee problems seem to show up often. Earlier in the Camino the was a nice Spaniard that I saw quite often in Albergues or on the route. He walked a bit faster than I and we always had a friendly encounter when we met. Till one morning I passed him in a city while most often he passed me. This time his steps were uncommon slow and careful. It turned out that he had severely hurt his knee and was on his way to get the bus to León to consult a doctor. He told me it was likely that his Camino was over for this year.

So far I have not been plagued by any of these discomforts. My legs are good, my feet are good and I feel good. Whether thats the result of a proper preparation, who knows. What I do know is that the shoes and socks are among the most important equipment of a Pilgrim. My shoes were broken in properly, I did about 250 km training on them and I tried several socks, until I found out that my oldest walking socks are the best. Many people try the two sock approach as they feel that wearing two socks will prevent the rubbing of the socks that will normally create the blisters. Somehow all the people I have met that followed this approach had problems with blisters.

This morning I met a young Italian guy who clearly was wearing brand new shoes: shiny white Nikes. When we had a little conversation I asked if it was his first day, which he confirmed. I thought so, the shoes were too white to have walked any kilometers. He ensured me that he trained on these shoes for about three months and I hope for him he did, otherwise he will likely face severe problems with his feet going forward on the Camino.

Today I walked from my hotel in Foncebadon to an Albergue in Vega de Valcarce, altogether 37 km. The route brought me from a wine landscape to high mountains. At Villafranca del Bierzo there was choice of two routes, one following the national route connecting the cities and the other called the “Camino duro”. Duro in Spanish basically means hard or tough and so it was, over 10 km the ascend was 460 meter and the descend 380 meter. However the ascend was very steep at the beginning, followed by a relatively flat mid piece of around 8 km and again a relatively short distance for the descend. But the Duro was worth the effort, great sights and beautiful blossoming flowers on top made it a great experience and again completely different from all the kilometers before on this Camino.
 
 

I stayed in Rabanal del Camino last night. The last stop before the pass over the mountains at Foncebadón. In the earlier times Rabanal del Camino was also the last safe place: it was a place protected by the Templars who’s mission was to protect the Pilgrims on their Pilgrimage, here to Santiago, elsewhere to Jerusalem or Rome. After Rabanal the Pilgrims in the middle ages entered a dangerous route, were they were threatened by wolves and bandits. Times have changed a lot. Wolves are no longer there, the closest that comes to it was a very friendly, a bit slow even, dog at the Cruz de Ferro. The only danger that threatens a Pilgrim nowadays is the danger of slipping and falling along the route.

Non of that happened and I safely crossed the pass at Foncebadón to continue to the Cruz the Ferro. This is a place where pilgrims leave a stone they should have brought from home. With this stone they leave behind their sins, or things they regret to have done during their live so far. Early on last years I already picked my stone from our garden and it has been on my desk since then and in my pack since my departure until today, and today I left my stone at the Cruz de Ferro.

After a quiet Cruz de Ferro I continued my Camino, which today was more or less completely in the light of descending. From 1518 meters altitude to 541 where I am now. A descend enlightened by beautiful sights on distant mountains and it seems that with crossing the mountain nature is changing too. Spring looks to be further in its development and flowers blossom more than the days before.

After the descent I continue my journey through Ponferrada. I decide to cross also this big city quickly and look for place to stay on the other side of the city. The albergues are not widely spread, but I more or less already decided that it is time to threat myself to a personal hotel room again. But I don’t know where yet, so I continue the route. Again “the Camino provides” as directly next to the route suddenly Hotel Novo shows up, with special rates for Pilgrims. Only 23 euro for a private room with a private bathroom and clean sheets is a no-brainer today for this pilgrim, sleep well!

This morning I departed from Hospital de Órbigo at 6:30am thinking to find breakfast in one of the next cities. There were after all two each within 2,5 km from the other so I felt to be safe. Unlike other mornings I was not carrying my usual banana or other supplies. Unfortunately it turned out that in both cities the bar was still closed. I could have known, only the Panderias open early and the bars in the big cities do, but in the countryside the Panderia is often not there and the bar opens later in the morning.

This basically meant another 11 km before the next city and before breakfast. Somehow this thought keeps one busy. Normally I can easily walk 16 km without food, but having had no breakfast makes you ponder on it while you walk. So I realized I had some cola left which would at least give me some sugar and you start to think like that.

How pleasantly surprised I was to climb a hill in the middle of nowhere and suddenly there was a shaft with a table with food. “The Camino will provide” is a saying often around on the Camino. This time it certainly was true. The table was filled with all organic food, bread, jam, muesli, bananas, coffee, etc. and it all was available on “donativo” basis. This means that you basically pay for what you feel it was worth.

The whole scene was set-up and run by David who actually lives there in the middle of nowhere. David is a Peregrino from Barcelona and he told me that he once walked the Camino and it made him realize the big difference between the “haves” and the “have nots”. He belonged to the “haves” and decided to change his life after his Camino and share all he has. Since four years now his table is 24 hours a day, year round available. He lives in a shelter next to the table made by himself and warmed by a stove. He calls his house “La Casa de Los Dioses” or the “House of God”.

Upon approaching the House of God you are welcomed by David with a big “Hello, where are you from? take what you want, this is your house”. You can imagine after having walked approximately 12 km thinking about breakfast this was a welcome oasis to me. The organic bread with organic marmalade tasted as the best piece of bread I have ever had.

David dedicates his life to the Camino and make it good for the Peregrinos (pilgrims) in his area. He has a clear view on people and told me to look at the eyes of people. He said the eyes show you the filter people have on the world. Your filter is open, hence you are here and we are talking, but he said, many people have a closed filter. They view “donativo” as not good, it is not commercial and can’t be good. They walk by without greeting and look the other way. Indeed a view minutes later surly looking pilgrim walked by and refused to reply to my ¡Holla! greeting, the common Spanish way Pilgrims greet each other.

When a Pilgrim leaves David’s house of God he will be hugged by David and he will ring the bell as a goodbye! David meets new people every day and told me that he has the best living room view anyone can have.

The encounter with David colored my day and made me ponder on his lifestyle and realize a lot. Also the first Albergue I stayed was based on a basis of “enough is enough”, Arno and Huberta already run their Albergue “L’Esprit du Chemin” for 10 years on the same basis. For 10 years their price for a dinner, bed and breakfast is 20 euro. Many other places along the Camino are based on the “donativo” principle, in fact the whole Camino is focussed on helping others.

Now that León is behind me the guide predicts one more day of flatlands. That was today for me and it was a day with a series of endless long roads. Luckily it stayed dry today till I arrived in the Albergue. 

One of the things you are starting to forget during a multi-day hike like the Camino is the simple fact to know what day of the week it is, let alone the day of the month. Some days are different however. Today, for instance, it was clear to me that it was the 30th of April (is it a Tuesday?). Already at my first break in Mansilla de las Mulas in a bar for a coffee the television was on, like they often are, loudly dominating the bar. Normally I don’t pay attention, but today’s newscast was about “la Reina de la Hollanda” and it were the first news elements about our Queen Beatrix stepping down and her son Willem Alexander taking over. Chauvinistic elements made me watch the news and stay longer in the bar than normally.

On the next stop in Puenta Villarente in a Panaderia the television is not on, but I am receiving a nearly live report from my family through WhatsApp. My goosebumps moment is there when my wife sends the “now” message as a signal that Beatrix has signed her abdication and from that moment on Willem Alexander is our King.

I continue my journey across the wet landscape to León. This morning it was already raining when I left the Albergue and it will not stop until I am in the next one. León is a nice city, but I only stay for lunch as I have no desire to look around a wet city during siesta time. But from what I see of this city and its people it is definitely a city for the bucket list of cities to see.

During my lunch break in León, the TV is on again and a nearly live report from Amsterdam tells me that Rey Guillermo Alejandro and Reina Maxima are now legally King and Queen of the Netherlands. It is interesting to see that the Spanish news channels even translate the name of our King to their own language (so I guess I am Pedro for the locals). In a quick check on CNN, I see that the English speaking channels leave it to Willem Alexander and do not change it into William or something else in their writing.

Again I continue my wet journey and around 15:00, after 34 km and 8 hours, I sign into the next Albergue. Tomorrow I will be leaving the city area again for the countryside. So today, what day was it? Actually, it was for the next coming future our last Queens-day!

Another 306km to Santiago, so in the past two weeks I walked already 484km.

The last 60 km towards León are certainly not the most interesting ones. Today was a stretch of 38 km following a small path along the road through a flat country in gray weather. I was warned for this part by pilgrims who walked it before. But 38 km in the same environment with basically the only variation being the different types of cars that pass by was different than I expected. The photos below give an impressions of the highlights of today, leaving out the boring parts and a picture from the great dinner with fellow pilgrims from Bulgary, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Germany, Corsica, Spain and of course The Netherlands.

Tomorrow crossing León.

The last two days were two days where I kept walking across the Meseta. Yesterday no wifi was available in the monastery where the Auberge was located. That might be the only downside to that Auberge as for the rest it was one of the best. It offered private rooms and after just having walked 6 kilometers through a hailstorm I treated myself to this private room with private bathroom for an excellent night sleep. At first I was a bit afraid to be woken every hour by the clock of the monastery that seemed the be right above my room. However I noticed already before in a city that the church bells stop to announce the hour around 11 or 12 at night and start again at 6 or 7 in the morning. Luckily for me also in the monastery of Santa Clara in Carrión de los Condes stopped ringing the bell at 11pm and started again at 7am.

The Camino Francés is the route I am walking and for the most part it follows the route as described in the Codex Calixtinus from the 12th century. Over the centuries developments in the landscape obviously have taken place and it can very well be that where once was a trail for pilgrims it has over the centuries developed into a major road. In some cases the Camino follows that road and we are walking for kilometers alongside a highway. Sometimes there are alternatives.

Yesterday I decided in Población de Campos to follow such an alternative, the Camino Alternativo. It seemed as if I was one of the only ones. At a distance I saw most pilgrims walking alongside the highway for 10 km where I followed a slightly longer route, 6 km through the fields and 5 alongside the river. A very nice walk. The two routes connected in Villacázar de Sirga after which the Camino continued for another 6 km alongside the highway. That was the moment of the hailstorm so in the end I did not see the highway at all as I was walking while hiding in my raincoat and focussing on the path I was following. Ironically when entering the village of Carrión de los Condes the sun was shining and the environment looked as if it never had seen a hailstorm before.

Today started with a 12 km walk straight over the “Via Acquitana”, a grid road straight through the flat countryside with barely no options to rest along the road. Later in the Auberge I met up with three Northern Irish guys I have seen before along the route. They felt the “Via Acquitana” to be very boring while I enjoyed the wide views the road offered. It was long indeed, but beautiful.

Since the ending of that road the landscape looks to be changing again, from flat into rolling hills. Still very much focussed on grain production and no longer on wine as in the Rioja. A scary scene was to be walking alongside a bushfire in one of the ditches. Somehow it seemed normal for the farmer in the area as he did not pay any attention to it, but walking so close by this fire was strange and somewhat scary.

From Rabé de las Calzadas to Itero de la Vega was good for a walk of approximately 40 km. It was dry today, even tough the forecast contained rain. As you can see in the photo’s below some took the forecast very seriously and were prepared for the rain, that didn’t come. Today was the first day on the Meseta, the Spanish highlands that some feel to be a boring part of the Camino. But I like it, even in this landscape there is always something new to see or to experience.

Today was my tenth day of walking after starting last Tuesday from Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. I realized today that walking is starting to become natural. Muscle pains that often appeared in evenings when trying to walk up stairs after a day of walking are gone now. Walking a stair after a day of 34 km is now as natural as seriously considering walking another 8 km. But nevertheless I did not and decided to stay in the city of Rabé de las Calzades. A nice small town right before the next ascend onto the highlands between Burgos and León.

Last night I stayed in Atapuerca, the city where the remains of the oldest European have been found (est. 800.000 year old). That did not really make the city special for me. After 10 days of walking the basics become important and the fact that the Auberge where I was staying was run by a French lady and thus had a French cook in the kitchen made the difference. The pilgrim menu suddenly became haut cuisine!

Today I also passed through Burgos and although in general I like big cities, today on the Camino I noticed I don’t. After having walked 250km through a beautiful countryside crossing a city from one suburb through the center to another suburb is no fun, actually it is very boring. Visualize yourself crossing the nearest large city from one side to the other in about 4 hours of walking and you’ll understand what I mean. The cathedral of Burgos was a nice break in the furthermore boring city landscape. I guess when I come back to Burgos to visit it as a tourist I expect that I may have a different view on this city.

Headed into the region of Castilla y León and left the Rioja region. Below some new photo impressions from the last days.

While walking my camino I am walking from hostel to hostel, or from auberge to auberge. Most the Camino routes, and especially the Camino Francés are very well equipped with auberges in almost every city. During the high season making a reservation might be recommendable, right now it is not needed. So when I start walking I plan, or better said think about, to what city I would like to walk and simply start walking. This provides a lot of flexibility to me, when I feel good I can continue or when I feel for it I can stop earlier and have an afternoon off. Today for instance for two times I decided to continue ending up in Belorado after 40 km of walking.

Every auberge is different. Some are private owned, some are provided by the community or by the local church or monastery. Some provide communal meals, some have a kitchen where you can cook your own meal and with some you have to get out to get a meal at a local bar or restaurant.

It also means that every night will be a different experience. So far I have spent the night in rooms with, 8, 40, 24 and 2 beds. The latter one may sound good and in one case it was, last night however it was different as the assigned roommate did not follow the pilgrim rules. These rules in general have the silence and lights out sign at 22:00 and a wake up rhythm between 6:00 and 7:00. My roommate from last night decided to go bed in a loudly manner at 23:30 and then was moaning when I got out and turned on the light at 6:00 to start walking. So far this is an exception and most pilgrims follow the code and the nightly experience is in general ony disturbed by the amount of snorers in the room.

The auberge in Roncesvalles (the first picture) is so far one of the best and newest auberges.

Today I realized that it was only day 6 of walking and a week since I boarded the train to travel to my starting city, St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. In those 5 walking days, I already walked approximately 165 km and have seen the landscape change from the mountains of the Pyrenees to the rolling hills of the other side of Navarra county.

Today I walked from Los Arcos to Logroño. This city is the capital of the La Rioja county and during today’s 30 km the landscape changed even more into a wine country.

Upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela a pilgrim needs to present his pilgrim passport with the stamps. If at least the last 100 km 2 stamps per day have been collected a pilgrim will be awarded a Compostela, the official document that proofs he walked the way. At every auberge, a person’s passport will be marked with the stamp of the auberge and a handwritten date to it. But also churches and many shops along the way provide stamps. Today I collected even 3 stamps among one special one: shortly before entering Logroño there is a humble table near the side of the road where a lady stamps the passport of every passing pilgrim. Until 2002 it was Doña Felisa who personally stamped every passport. After her passing in 2002 at the age of 93 her daughter Maria decided to continue with this tradition. It was Maria who stamped my passport today with the “Higos – agua y amor” stamp.

I am writing the first sentences of this post in Estella in the auberge. Again an auberge without a wifi connection, so it will become another multi-day post. We started off this morning in Uterga where at first the auberge seemed to be full. They only had hotel rooms left for 25 euro per person. A room with a bed with clean sheets and a private bathroom after 4 nights sharing rooms with many many others was a no brainer end as such turned into a very good night sleep.

At 8am we started walking, for the first time this week with a little rain. The earlier days have been beautiful weather. The months before the region had experienced severe rainfall and snow in some areas. The damage from that weather showed still along the way. Some muddy roads, some roads washed away by the rain and trees fallen due to heave snow loads. In the end it did not cause us much trouble and in all cases there was a way around the obstructions the weather created.

The country side started to change today, slowly moving from the mountain country side of the Pyrenees into a hilly country side with farm land and the first wineries showing that we are slowly heading towards the Rioja county.

During our lunch I ran into a fellow Dutchman that I met before during a meeting of the association of Dutch pilgrims back in september ’12. At that time he was not sure if his bad knees would allow him to walk the Camino and today he was suddenly sitting there in a small restaurant where we both happened to have our lunch. He was in his second day from Pamplona, progressing slowly with careful steps towards Santiago de Compostela. A strange unexpected but joyful encounter.

The sense of time is starting to fade away, while writing this second part I have to realize myself that it is saturday and that I am not even a week away from home. It is only the fifth day of walking of the 30 I had available. In a conversation we just realized that we covered 140 km already but then the remaining 650 still seem a lot. If everything continues as the past five days the whole Camino will be a magnificent experience.

Today was a short day, with only 20 km to cover we arrived in the Auberge in Los Arcos around midday. More or less giving ourself a half day off. The landscape started to change even more into a landscape of rolling hills. The last stretch to Los Arcos was one with no stops or towns for the last 9 km. With a few “pelegrinos” we decided to prepare our own meal. So no pilgrims menu in a restaurant today, but something special, yet to determined.

The local restaurants along the Camino often offer a special pilgrim menu. Pasta or salad as a starter, meat as a main course concluded by a choice of desserts. All companied by a glass of wine and offered for the pilgrim friendly price in the range of 9 to 12 euro. Good in general, but today we will go for a different menu; our own.

Here on the Camino the three most asked questions are about the pilgrim and his/her background. It is not about what we do, it is about who we are, where we come from and if we are planning to go all the way. The last two days I have met people from South Korea, Japan, Denmark, France, Spain, The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Germany, Australia and the USA. Probably I will be meeting with more nationalities while we continue. It is amazing to see how everybody blends together as we all have a common cause in walking to Santiago de Compostela.

Today, on the second day another question came to the pack, the question where people started their Camino. Most did at Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, but some already started at Le Puy en Valley in the middle of France. At the Pyrenees these people are practically half way. Interesting to see that these people regret already being half way on their Camino. We’ll see I am only finishing up my second day at Larasoaña.

Unfortunately Larasoaña did not provide any wifi connection, so this will turn into a multi-day update.

Today while walking our third leg (34 km!) I realized that there is also one question not being asked among the Pilgrims. That question is why we are walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. It could be an interesting question, but nobody asks. Today a new question popped up and that is where a Pilgrim started. As we are further into the Camino new starting places show up. And hence a Pilgrim may have started later.

Interesting enough the Camino bonds the people walking it. There is an instant connection and we can walk for kilometers with a good conversation, but also kilometers together without a word. A great bonding.

As said, today we walked 34 km, forced by the fact that one Auberge did no longer exist and we needed to add another 7 km to our day. We crossed Pamplona and the well known Pilgrim monument at the Alto del Perdón

Made a beautiful trip over the Pyrenees today. The route Napoleon was open and quite doable. Only some very high stages were covered with snow and we had to wad through. After my first stop at Orisson I met with a small group of a Danish guy and a English lady with her daughter. We walked all the way up together and on down to the refugio. A nice company on the Camino. This seemed to have been one of the hardest legs of the Camino and still it was beautiful and well doable.

What do you bring to the Camino? In general, there is a huge focus on weight among the pilgrims. And rightfully so, after all, every ounce you bring needs to be carried every step you make. So whatever you don’t bring is a good choice. In the first picture below you can see what I packed in my pack today. The pack now totals up to 9 kilograms, without water. When adding water and lunch to it I will probably carry around 12 kg. Which is within the range of what it should be. Not in the picture are my camera, obviously, iPad and my Tilley hat.

I have been looking if there are items that I can leave out, but there is not much luxury in there, nothing that I could have left home. I already left out gloves and long underwear. These are among the risks that I can take as I don’t expect that I will need them. The current weather forecast is for next week already sunny and 29 degrees around the time that I will be in Pamplona.

Some pilgrims go to the extreme in their weight obsession. They will even cut off the handle of the toothbrush and will leave at least the bottom half of one of the zip-off pants at home. They try to minimize every gram. If the weather stays good I can probably send a vest home by using the rare specialism that the post offices along the Camino: assisting pilgrims by sending stuff home.

 

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This morning I walked from the Amsterdam Central Station to the office at the Herengracht. An impression of Amsterdam in fall colors.

During the recent photo trip to Bonaire I was able to see and capture some nice sunsets over the Caribbean Sea. Somehow in the Caribbean the lighting of sunset is more intense than we experience at home in the Netherlands. Have a look for instance at this sunset photos below and you’ll see what I mean. The first photo below shows one side where the clouds and air completely turned orange and red while the sun goes down at the horizon. The second photo below shows the other side of the location where I was, just 12 minutes after the first photo. Here the environment seems to mirror the color of the building on the waterfront turning sky and water almost purple.

The past weekend I had the pleasure of conducting a photo trip to the island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean. In many aspects Bonaire is a colorful island. Many of the buildings on the island are painted in bright colors and also nature, and especially the waters around Bonaire, shows some of its finest colors. Take for instance the salt mining area at Bonaire where for years already salt is being extracted from the Caribbean sea. The whole process on Bonaire is a natural process; water is being pumped in large man made ponds and then sun and wind will do their job to evaporate the water leaving behind the crystalized salt, ready for harvesting.  During the process the water shows some interesting colors. Pink on one side of the salt dunes, green on the other. A flock of Flamingo’s adds their own shade of pink to the color palette. And when you turn around you will see the Caribbean sea showing it’s many shades of blue.