What starts, ends
The question why I had chosen to walk to Santiago de Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem has come up often on my journey. I explained that those places were arbitrary on a personal level, because although I am open to spiritual matters, I am not religious. I told people about the queen’s Christmas speech and her comparison of kindness in the times of Joseph and Mary and kindness in modern times, where, according to the queen, individualism and the internet are dividing society. I wanted to prove that things aren’t as bad as the queen proposed and that in fact, the internet can be a great help to bring us together. By walking these ancient pilgrim routes with the help of the internet I wanted to make a statement. But it has always been about the journey, not about the destination.
My non attachment to the final destination made it easy for me to say yes when Ilco van der Linde contacted me with the question if I would consider to become the first pilgrim to make Paolo Coelho’s book The Alchemist come alive by walking on after Jerusalem to the pyramids in Egypt. I was already halfway through France at that time and I considered a couple of hundred kilometers extra on a 10.000 kilometer walk not much of a problem. I liked the book and agreed with many of its insights, and the prospect of finishing at such an iconic site and with a peace concert to celebrate my arrival appealed to me. I had already come to trust the things that crossed my path, and my heart for making the right decisions. So Cairo became my new end point.
Like the shepherd boy in Coelho’s story I have had doubts, leaps of faith, hardships, amazing encounters, lessons to learn and relationships that made me rethink what I set out to do. I thought it would take me a year and a half to arrive in Jerusalem; I am now almost three years on the road and I have made it to Sofia in Bulgaria. And with the war in Syria raging, Jerusalem seems further away now than when I started my journey in 2010. I have always wanted to walk everything, but political circumstances have made it necessary for me to reconsider either the walking part, or the destination. This is a process that started already when I was walking in Italy. Now it is time to share with you my decision and considerations.
Maybe it is best to start with the conclusion: Istanbul will be my final destination. Let me explain. Like I stated above, Jerusalem was never a destination I clung to personally, but having a symbolic significant end point is something I am attached to. Because there is no end in sight to the war in Syria, walking to Jerusalem is no option. I could take a boat or a plane in the south of Turkey, but the experiences of my fellow pilgrim Ken Schroder made me doubtful if I even wanted to consider it. You can find his account on the interrogations at Haifa and how he was refused entry into Israel here. He was put on a boat to Cairo.
I have never said much about Israel’s politics in my blog or on social media, because I thought it might make my walking there troublesome, but I think there is much to be very critical and very disappointed about. So I don’t really mind ignoring that country all together, even if that means missing out on many wonderful individuals that I have already been in touch with through social media. Egypt isn’t much better at the moment, but more importantly, if I would take a boat from Turkey to Egypt I would arrive there long before the MasterPeace concert on 21 September 2014. So I would arrive by boat to a city where there is no peace and no concert and my walk would in reality have ended in some arbitrary harbor in the south of Turkey. That doesn’t appeal to me.
I have shown the power of the internet and how I can find help everywhere from all kinds of people for almost three years, and I still think it is important for people to be aware of my experiences, but politically, other events have made the continuation of my journey less necessary. The world has seen the power of social media during the Arab spring, even if its end result is not yet satisfactory. And people like Julien Assange and Edward Snowden have made the public aware of the importance of a free internet.
In the meantime, the queen of the Netherlands abdicated. Not that I ever walked to convince her exclusively, but it is relevant to my journey. In short, I believe I have made my point, and it is possible for me to arrive in Istanbul on the International Day of Peace of this year, on the 21 of September. I will have walked out of Europe and into Asia, to a capital with a history as rich as that of Jerusalem and Cairo. I think it is a great place to finish.
I never expected a treasure at the end of all this, but like Santiago, I have found it along the way. I am living my Personal Legend, as Coelho calls it in his book. And I know by now that I don’t have to dig next to the pyramids to know what the real treasure is. Many people have asked me if I wasn’t afraid that I would never be able to stay in one place again and work a ‘normal’ job. There is no doubt in my mind that I can. It is people that make life worth while, and I have many great friends and a wonderful family waiting for me in the Netherlands. The real journey is never external, it is within, and my heart is calling me home.