A note from us: “I want to do that once”. This has finally become reality after just under 9 years. We have completed the pilgrimage to Santiago, Maricon once and I was allowed to do it twice in 9 weeks. Our first time in Santiago was a pilgrimage by car from home to Fatima (Portugal), Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lourdes and Nevers (both France). We saw the walkers when leaving Santiago, at first quite a bit and as the distance to Santiago grew, less. All with backpack and toiling in the summer sun. But when we were going to do it and what was involved, we still had a big question mark.
At the beginning of 2017 I picked up the idea again, a plan to set off from home in 2019 and Maricon would then walk the last 100 kilometers. But how many days would I be traveling? What do you have to take with you, where do you sleep and especially which route do you walk. All questions that I had at the time and had to look for the best answers. Not every day, not even every week, I was busy with it, but it didn’t let go, because 2 years of preparation is still so far. And then you walk the Swentibold March in just over 6 hours, so training will also be “A piece of the pie”.
I quickly found the Dutch Society of Sint Jacob where a lot of information could be found. This was almost a “One-stop-Shopping” location for me, full of information that I was looking for, and many others with me. So to gain access to all information become a member. Of course also from the Limburg department. So record information as a dry sponge in a bucket of water. The quarterly magazine with its stories, it stimulates a bit and every day a little more.
So what are we going to prepare for 2019? First of all, we ensure that we get enough leave days together to be able to stay away from work for a longer period of time, without financial consequences. A calculation tells me that it must be possible. And under the name “We take a Sabbatical” should 4 months off be feasible, right? I can be happy with a good employer who may like this, but we are still waiting with questions until later. First ensure that we know what we want to start with.
On the way to 2017, the route will be established and also what equipment needs to be taken with it. In my childhood and youth we always went to the campsite at home, most of my years in a mobile home. You would think that camping on my trip might work, but then I don’t see myself doing it, especially the extra equipment that is needed. So it would be overnight in alberges / gites / refugios / etc and so maybe a bit more expensive than with a tent. We are waiting, because the time of year in which I will run naturally also plays a role.
In September we are told that a brother-in-law, so a brother of Maricon, is seriously ill in the Philippines. At some point his health is deteriorating very quickly and we decide that Maricon is traveling to the Philippines. Unfortunately he dies before Maricon goes to him. She may be at the funeral, but would rather just have said goodbye. She stays in the Philippines for a few weeks to support the family. When she is back, we decide not to go back to the Philippines in 2018, but to postpone it to 2019. Because of this postponement, I have to decide to walk earlier or later to Santiago.
I do not like to postpone to 2020, although there is more time available to prepare things very well. But a 1-year delay also has a 1-year risk (after all, you don’t know what can happen). So it seems that with 1 year advance (is this Dutch) a better option with 1 large concession: NOT starting from my home but shorter at Santiago. So not a 4 month walk, but a short 2 month walk. Also means that I have to make a different choice with regard to my starting place. Am I going to use the most used starting place outside of Spain, or am I looking for something else? My preference is not for the “everyday”, I want to taste some peace but also see the crowds.
The Limburg branch of the Santiago association holds a Saint Jacques café in Roermond every month, for people who want to go and for people who have been. This way the newcomers can get information and the others can share their experiences. So the first meeting in 2018 I go to Roermond for the meeting. Here I meet various people including the walking tower Henk and Ria from Munstergeleen. They tell enthusiastically about the possibilities, the do’s and don’ts, but especially about their experiences. And along the way, also partly because of the photos, I find out what a good starting place will be. Why not walk from one place of pilgrimage to the other? From Lourdes to Santiago is a good option and you can choose where to cross the Pyrenees.
OK, the starting place is fixed: Lourdes. Now the route that I will take. You can cross the Pyrenees in 2 places: via the Somport pass (East) or via the route from Napoleon (West). When choosing the Somport, you walk around France for about 6 days and when you pass the Somport pass, you start the Camino Aragonese. This runs through the valley of Aragon and therefore also the region of the same name. If you take the western crossing, you also walk 6 days in France and the last stop in France is Saint Jean Pied de Port. This place is the busiest starting place of the camino outside of Spain. Those who start here must start the climb on their first day, something that often turns out bad for many pilgrims.
I am going to cross the Somport for 3 important reasons:
you pass the Somport at 1,640 meters altitude. This is higher than the usual highest point on the Camino, namely Cruz de Ferro.
the unfamiliarity of the Camino Aragonese. Perhaps in the near future it will also no longer be fully accessible if the reservoir is allowed to grow. Areas where you can still walk now would be flooded in the future.
Enjoy the silence en route for longer and with it the peace and quiet that I want to experience. The crowds may come later, first enjoy nature.
With this, my solo route also got stuck. From Lourdes 3 days to the West to Oloron, then 4 days to the South to Jaca, and then only to the West until Santiago de Compostela. How many days I will need for the distance from Jaca to Santiago, I expect about 40 days. From the Somport it is still 6 days quiet, to Obanos, where the pilgrims of the Camino Frances and Camino Aragonese come together and then continue brotherly on the Frances.
Now decide when to leave. In the spring, but sooner or later in the spring. The weather can be bad in the Pyrenees for a long time, so too early is a risk. And if you leave late, you can get pretty hot further down in Spain if you have to walk on the mesetas. I have heard and read many stories. In February we will participate in the “Camino on the Wad”, here we hear many stories from those who have already been. This camino has been specially released this year due to the cultural capital of Europe, Leeuwarden.
In the Netherlands you can cross the Netherlands from the Sint Jacobiparochie, which is located in Friesland, via 3 hiking trails for the road to Santiago. Now the Santiago Association has reversed the 3 routes and during the weekends routes are being run in the South-North direction. We participate in the route in Limburg. In 4 Saturdays and 3 Sundays we walk from Eijsden to Maarheeze. Nice to make some training kilometers. And since I have already bought my backpack, I carry it with me every 7 days, filled with 12 kilos. A rough estimate of what the content will be brings me to 12 kilos, which is heavy and, according to fellow walkers, far too heavy. But it feels good, the backpack is comfortable and I hardly notice the kilos. I even take Jake Junior a few times, my (it turns out) mascot too big.
In February I book the trip to my starting place, from Liège with the Thalys to Gare du Nord in Paris. Then from Gare Montparnasse by TGV to Lourdes. For Maricon I book a flight from Brussels to Santiago and for both of us a flight from Porto to Brussels. At a later date I will book my first night in Lourdes, in a shared room for a maximum of 8 people. These are the only things that I book well before departure, the rest is booked just before or during arrival. After all, it must also become a real Camino and not an organized “Road Trip”.
My equipment is growing steadily, partly due to offers on the big network, but also because of the many reading on sites / forums / web stores. The biggest 2 challenges are rain gear and sleeping bag. With regard to the former, I found a nice raincoat that can also be carried over the backpack through a large recess on the back. This means you do not have to use the rain cover that comes with the backpack. And where do you buy it? Of course at the largest Chinese web store. Not expensive, free shipping and available in many colors. The choice is orange, this goes well with my overall picture. The disadvantage is that it is not a breathable jacket, so it gets wet on both sides under intense effort. During our training trip from Schoonbron to Geleen, he is tested, photographed and shown to the group on Facebook. I have never received so many comments, all of them positive with sometimes a slight undertone of sarcasm.
The second challenge in my equipment was the sleeping bag. Should it be thick or thin? You don’t go out in the coldest season, you sleep in alberges, so sheltered. Then the choice quickly falls on a thin sleeping bag and you get it everywhere. So if there is an offer with the Xenos and that also regularly on Facebook, other walkers with good experience with that sleeping bag, then the choice is quickly made and implemented. If it is once very cold and the sleeping bag would be too thin, there is a possibility that you might get a blanket in the alberge, otherwise keep some clothes on. There is always a sleeve to adjust.
In Munstergeleen there is twice a meeting for the starting pilgrim, at Ria and Henk’s home. At the first meeting we receive a lot of information about the ins and outs of the camino. What do you take with you, how do you go there, how do you get back, what can you expect etc. And the 2nd meeting is a practice trip WITH backpack. This is a cozy get-together with many newcomers through our beautiful Limburg country. In retrospect, all facets of what you might encounter on paths have also been offered here, albeit somewhat shorter in distance. It gave a good impression and was educational. You could also test whether your backpack was properly adjusted.
In March there is the annual national pilgrim mass in Roermond. The largest relic of James outside Spain is in the cathedral. Here we go, a blessing for the journey must not be missing and can be a support during difficult days and decisions. It is quite busy in Roermond. We both came with our backpack to the cathedral and at the end of the mass all pilgrims who made themselves known in writing were called to the front. When we are all there, we get the blessing. After mass, have a cup of coffee and cake and have our pilgrim stamp of Roermond, cathedral and Brotherhood put in our passport.
France, there are always nice reports / news facts from. And it is a people that likes to demonstrate and that “everything must stay as it was” culture. What now? The railways are going to strike, they are against a possible privatization, it must remain a state-owned company with all the benefits for the employees. And how are they going to strike? Work 3 days and then strike 2 days, over a 3-month period. I already receive a message in my mailbox about the possible cancellation of my booked trip from Liège to Lourdes. Not nice… .. Now I have read on Facebook many times that James pilgrims likes to lend a hand if they have a hard time, so let’s talk to him extensively. This boy desperately wants to face that challenge, walking to his grave, but then I must first be able to arrive in Lourdes…. Then there will be a calendar on the NSCF site with the planned work / strike days. Quick check … Yes I am lucky, my day is the 2nd day in the 3-day work cycle. If they do not deviate, my trip would continue to be expensive. Thank you Saint James.
The equipment is together, the test load of my backpack has been carried out and the scale indicates: 14.5 kg. This is WITHOUT food and drink, if that is added, I would end up at over 16 kilos. That’s a lot. Maybe not take my CPAP? This is a device that I use at home for apnea and weighs just under 2.5 kilograms. If I don’t take it with me, I get 12 kilograms. And if I do not bring a sleeping bag but a linen bag, it also saves nearly 500 grams … Yes, many will only make the journey with a linen bag, because you do not sleep outside, the time of the year is favorable, few cold nights. And often you can ask for a blanket in the alberge ……. Hey, I’m under 12 kg, the weight with which I made all my training kilometers. I did it!?!
But as the last few weeks go by, yet again one and a half kilos creeps into my backpack … .. With things that I think I need and my little emergency ration of crackers. You need an emergency ration for the parts where you cannot get anything to eat because you have not read the route correctly (Rother booklet) or if the shops / cafés are closed …… And then finally looking for a small Provincial flag for on the backpack. I don’t want to wear the Red-White-Blue and constantly get the question: “Are you from Holland?” I will always have to answer no and then “I am from Limburg”. I am not a Dutchman, but I am a Dutchman, but above all a LIMBURGER (no, not that cheese… .. although it is very tasty on rye bread with syrup). Fortunately I find one in a store in Maastricht.
And then the day comes when you are leaving and Sint Jacobus is still in a favorable mood. The trains in France almost all run that day. Quickly looked at the weather forecast for Paris, is it going to run from one station to another, or should we take the metro? The expectations for Paris are good, those for Lourdes less…. Good weather in Paris, how do you walk from Nord to Montparnasse? According to maps.google.com there are 3 routes that do not differ much in distance and time, but if you compare the routes 1 for 1, 1 stands out above it, which it should be: 1 route runs along the Tour Saint Jacques . A tower in a park where Saint James stands and is the starting point of a Camino.
On Friday morning, May 11, I packed my things together, said goodbye to my dog and drove with Maricon and Mariëlle to the station in Liège. The first stage has begun, we are right on time, so we may have to wait a while for the train to arrive, when it arrives … But luckily, no strange reactions from the speakers on the platform and slowly even more are appearing travelers on the platform. And then the Bordeaux red speed devil comes up, so time to say goodbye to my girls. It is not easy and it is 7 weeks for the others and 9 weeks for the other before we can hold each other in our arms again. So there is a tear in all of us.
The train leaves on time and we roll out of the station towards Brussels, then on to Paris. We arrive in Paris on time without delays. I think I also closed an eye or 2, because I can’t remember everything about the train journey at high speed. Paris is the end station of this train, so everyone has to get off. At the end of the platform it is very busy, looking for the exit and looking on Google maps for my route via Tour Saint Jacques. After leaving the station I pass a hotel where I once parked the car during an earlier visit to Paris.
The weather is nice, sun is shining, what more do you want. The route is easy to follow on the smartphone and soon I arrive at the tower. Take photos, walk around it and see if there is anything of a stamping option, but unfortunately I don’t think so. Then continue walking towards Gare Montparnasse. We have enough time, so we can go to the front of Saint Michel N.D. walk for a photo, also known as Notre Dame in Dutch. Then on to Montparnasse.
It is very busy at this station, many people are waiting in the station hall, I don’t see any strange directions on the signs, so it looks good. Just score something to eat and drink, enjoy the food and then wait until my train arrives. After boarding, no conductor seen until Lourdes. The first part of the route as a high-speed TGV through the French country, the second part as a normal express train in the Netherlands. Arrived in Lourdes with a 15 minute delay in the evening.
Quickly to my hostel, also via Google maps, found in no time, and just checking in. My sleeping place in an 8-person dormitory is converted into a 1-person bedroom, No Problem et Merci, at no extra cost. After installation go outside again towards the Sanctuary. Just informed what the procession is, then stop by the cave, buy a souvenir, check what time the pilgrim office opens tomorrow morning and then eat. After dinner back to the Sanctuary, buy a procession candle and wait until the procession begins.
It is always an impressive scene, that Light Procession. With so many people from different corners of the world here, to celebrate this together. Every time I get a little touched by it. After the end, slowly walk back to the hotel and then to bed. Yes I had already called the home front, that’s just the way it should be. the first night away from home and at the start of the journey of the journeys. I think about Jacobus for a moment, thank him for arriving safely and well in Lourdes, and also think of dad, who will experience the trip in my backpack. And then sleep … Or whatever it may be this night.
Lourdes Asson Arudy Sarrance Jaca Arrés Ruesta Sangúesa Monreal Obanos Estella Torres de Rio Logrono Nájera Santo Domingo Calzada Tosantos Agés Burgos Hontanas Fromista Carrión de los Condes Terradillos de los Templarios Calzadilla de los Hermanillos Mansilla de las Mulas León San Martin del Camino Astorga Foncebadón Ponteferrada Perejé Alto do Poio Sarria Gonzar Mélide Salceda Monto do Gozo Santiago de Compostela
Ferróll Xubia Pontedeume Bétanzos Presedo a Rua a Torre Santiago de Compostela Negreira Vilaserio Olveiroa Quintás Muxia Fistera
The journey begins