Posts tagged pilgrimage
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.

The pussy trap, doggy style. Who's your daddy!

It was only a matter of time before I would get hooked on a woman somewhere. But I never imagined her stretched out on my cart while I walked on. In my dreams she was never hairy all over either, and she wouldn't garbage her food down in a second either. But hey, I'm a homeless person and beggars can't be choosers. So here I go, walking over hills and through valleys with a puppy barking at me when she needs to go wee wee. I shouldn't complain, at least she is cart broken, but it is hardly romantic.

Putnik makes up for her eating habits and her impatient cart surfing manners in cuteness though, as the video below will show. She isn't really an easy rider, but her ride sure is easy. And I think she doesn't have much to complain about given the fact that I literally picked her up off the street. I'll take that lick in the face in the morning as a token of gratitude. 

She doesn't make it easier for me to continue my journey. I think I have heard said once that all women are impractical. Not my words and actually her being a dog is much more impractical in this part of Europe. They are regarded only slightly higher than pigs or cows, but really the only reason I have for saying that is that they don't eat them. For someone who is brought up with dogs and cats being part of the family this is sometimes hard to imagine. But that goes both ways. They look at me like I am an oversensitive mother at best, but plain weird most of the times. 

I don't care. We are a team now. Putnik lost her mother to the road, but the road also brought her to me. My mission for next week: teach her to bark when I say 'Who's your daddy!' ;)

War and Peace, Us and Them

The cold war
I am a child of the cold war. For many years in my youth my sense of European geography was defined by the divide between East and West. The political border between American oriented countries and those that were under the influence of the Soviet Union was as tangible as a mountain range or an ocean. Maybe even more so, because it was a line that you did not want to cross. There was nothing but poverty and oppression on the other side. Who would want to go there? 

“I hope the Russians love their children too”, Sting sang in the eighties, and that pretty much sums it up. It was impossible for me to imagine what the people on the other side were like. As a child it is hard to make sense of political subtleties and the easiest thing to do was to think of ‘our side’ as the good guys and the ‘other side’ as the bad. The political covered up all cultural, religious and linguistic differences that exist in the east as they do in the west. Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the world witnessed Germans from the DDR running into the arms of their western counterparts. The ‘war’ was over.. 

The Balkan war
Soon after that, in the beginning of the nineties, former Yugoslavia fell apart. While part of Europe pressed on with a political experiment in the form of the European Union, hoping to abolish war on the European continent by increasing economic and political unification, Serbians, Croatians, Albanians and Bosnians fought each other in a war that was as violent as it was confusing. Ethnic cleansing, genocide, all the crimes that we in the west imagined was something that belonged to the past, were now taking place very close to home. I was 14 years old at the time and again, I could not understand. 

About a month ago I crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia, my first time in a former Yugoslavian country. It looked like Austria to me and the most striking difference was the overwhelming friendliness of the people. They assured me that the hospitality and friendliness would only increase as I moved further south into Croatia and Bosnia. I couldn’t believe it, but they were right. When I crossed the border between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina I experienced something that I hadn’t experienced in three years on the road: culture shock.  

Peace is peace, until it isn’t
The internet is not of much help here, because outside of Banja Luka and Sarajevo, the villages I walk through are mostly tiny, poor and with an aging population. It is getting increasingly difficult to find people that speak English or German, but wherever I go I find hospitality. I have been generously hosted by catholic Croatians, orthodox Serbians and islamic Bosnians alike. Some insist that they don’t only differ in religious affiliation, but that they also speak different languages. But others assure me that that is only nationalistic rhetoric. It is like American and English; some words may be different, but there is more than just a family relation and they understand each other perfectly. 

That these people were fighting and killing each other only 20 years ago is very hard to grasp for an outsider. Sure, here in Bosnia I hear chanting from mosques instead of church bells from catholic or orthodox church towers, but that merely gives this country a slight oriental flavor. The people look the same, I hear them speaking the same language and most importantly, they are just as friendly and hospitable. This is an important lesson for all of us to learn: the fact that we have been living in peace for so long should never be taken for granted; and being a so called ‘civilized’ people is by no means a guarantee that we would not be capable of the violence and destruction that has been a red line through the history of humanity.


Those that visit this page regularly and check the map to see where I am walking will have noticed that I have been stuck in Colle di Val d’Elsa for a week or two. Well, I am not there. I actually walked on to Pentolina, Chiusdino and Montieri, but my iPhone broke down so I couldn’t update my whereabouts. 

My phone had been slowly falling apart in the past year, but he’s had a tough life with me on the road. I already had it before I started my journey so it isn’t a big surprise that after three years of service, of which two on the road, it should throw the towel at some point. But now what? I don’t have the money to buy a new one and if there is a tool that is essential for my journey it is this one. So I decided to post a cry for help on Facebook and Twitter: “Is there anyone who is now very happy with a new iPhone 5, so that they would be willing to donate their old phone?”

The social media did not disappoint me and neither did my followers. I got several offers, but there was one that was of the ‘an-offer-you-can’t-refuse’ category: a brand new Samsung Galaxy III. It was Dutchtel that came to my aid. 

I used to be in primary school with Patrick Balleur, one of the founders of Dutchtel, a telecom company from Breukelen in the Netherlands. We lost contact when I moved away at the age of nine, only to get back in touch again years later through the internet. At that time I was a barista trainer and had just written a booklet for a big Dutch milk company about the secrets to making the perfect espresso and how to pour latte art. Patrick turned out to be a fanatic coffee lover with the tools at home to do what I taught the professionals. So that is how we got reconnected after more than twenty years.

You can never be sure in your life whether things happen for a reason. And if they do, it might be that you were important in someone else’s life instead of the other way around. But it can be fun to trace the steps that were necessary to bring two people in the position that they are able and willing to help one another. In this case, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I am doing today if I hadn’t moved around so much when I was young. And if I had never gotten interested in the coffee roasting and serving trade and I hadn’t written a booklet about it and Patrick had not been interested in coffee and Facebook hadn’t existed and Patrick wouldn’t have been in telecommunications… then I wouldn’t have owned a brand new Galaxy right now, and you would at some point think that I had settled down in Colle di Val d’Elsa.

Thanks Patrick and Dutchtel for your support! I guess I will have to change my slogan now.

You can find Dutchtel also on Facebook. Please like their page as a thank you for their support !

If the shoe fits...

While the financial crisis is making itself comfortable to stay with us for some years to come, now might be the right time for some free advice on one of the cheapest means of transportation: your feet. Walking is bound to get big! For some this may seem like a gloomy outlook, but I have had the opportunity to test this a bit in the last year and a half and it has its advantages. For starters there is no law against drinking and walking, you are allowed to use your phone while you walk and people seem to be much more understanding when you don’t show up on time. Never mention the speeding tickets and parking fees that you don’t have to pay. You don’t need a walking license and you get into shape without paying for a gym. I therefore proudly present to you, the biggest invention before the wheel: the shoe. 

Ok, all jokes aside. More and more people go hiking these days. The Camino the Santiago gets busier and busier every year, and yes, there is the possibility that the number will go up even more because of the crisis. Spending the night in a hostel costs between zero (!) and ten Euro’s a night and you can often cook your own food there, or else go out for a budget prized pilgrim menu in a local restaurant. A month hiking on the camino is a social, sportive and cultural experience that is very affordable and if you have already done it, there are thoussands of other paths you can go down. But although you will find that a man doesn’t need much to be happy, there is one thing you can’t do without: the right shoes.

My first Mammut's were of the B/C range. The stifness of the boot is secured by the tough rubber band all around the foot. Any stiffer and you could go skying with these.

So let’s get one thing straight, shoes are not clothing, they are equipment. And your feet are even more sensitive than the princess in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea. Buying the wrong shoes will get you nowhere, literally. So if you are thinking about a long distance walk like the Camino the Santiago, read on for some pointers for buying the right ones.

These boots are made for walking
In a way buying shoes is like buying a car: you can have preferences about color and brands, but when you have to work with them on a daily basis, esthetics is of minor importance. Choose them according to what you are going to use them for. Similarly, where with cars you can choose between sedans, MUV’s, SUV’s, vans and pickups, with proper walking shoes the range is between the softest hiking shoe and the toughest mountaineering boot. Hiking shoes will be labeled A, mountaineering boots D, and in between you have cross hikers for less smooth trails (B) and off trail hiking boots (C).

After swapping my backpack for a cart the tough B/C model wasn't necessary anymore so I 'went down' to a B shoe. Still a tough boot, but Mammut replaced the rubber for slightly softer fabrics. After another 1200 kilometers on these I am now considering getting an A or A/B shoe.

This is the first thing you have to decide upon. Will you be walking flat asphalt with little to carry (A) or go over steep rocky mountain trails with a backpack weighing the equivalent of a four year old toddler (C). I started with B/C shoes, because my joints are sensitive to injury, I wasn’t an experienced walker and I would be carrying a lot of weight. They gave me a lot of support and after the first pair I bought the same ones. But softer shoes are more comfortable and easier to crack. So when I got accustomed to the walking and the weight, I went to a B shoe. In January I traded my backpack for a cart, so now I am even considering an A or A/B shoe. I am sticking to the same fit and therefore brand though.

If the shoe fits…
You can get all the advice you want, but in the end, you are the only one that can judge if the shoe fits. Myself, I have the worst feet in the world to put anything around. If I could, I would leave it at socks. Now unless you have the money to have your shoes custom made, you will have to make do with what the factory comes up with. Therefore, your feet are probably one of the few things that you can truly congratulate yourself with if they are average. Luckily, there are many different manufacturers with many different ideas about what that average is and the sovjet principle of ‘one size fits no one’ is a thing of the past. A good solution if your feet are not average is to have your insoles custom made. This made a world of difference for me so even I am now in a happy relationship with my shoes.

A customized insole is made on the basis of a 3D scan of your footbed. It supports your feet on the places where there is too much space between your shoe and your foot.

In a walking boot you need space in the front for when you are walking downhill or for when your feet swell up from walking many hours. You often hear people say at least one size bigger than your actual size, but this depends completely on the shoe manufacturer. At the back, the shoes need to fit neatly around your heel. If your feet slip at the back and you loose all contact with the bottom of the boots while walking, try another pair or you will get blisters for sure. Also, keep the shoes on for fifteen to thirty minutes to see how they feel after a while. Bring a book or take a walk around the store. This is crucial, because it may reveal pressure points that you won’t notice straight away.

When I went to the outdoor adventure store to get my boots, I prostituted myself on no less than 60 different ones before I got to the pair that ‘fits like a glove’. And like with every good marriage, I wouldn’t dream of changing to another.

Growing apart, or: until ... do us part
Walking boots will last somewhere between a 1000 and 1500 kilometers, depending on whether you walk mostly on asphalt or dirt roads. Be sure to check the soles regularly once you reach that point. In some cases the soles can be replaced so you can continue walking on your broken in shoes with fresh rubber.

I walked too long on the same pair of boots. Here you can see that not only the sole is worn, but even the layer in between soles that is there only for more comfortable walking. You will want to prevent this.

If you walk ridiculous distances like me you can experience unexpected changes to your feet. I had high arches, but after 3000 kilometers my feet flattened. The result is that my feet are now more than one size bigger than they used to be. I didn’t fit my shoes anymore at some point and had to refit. So don’t be afraid to change equipment when you have good reasons for it. In my case it was a necessity. Just be sure to follow the same guidelines as before: if the shoe fits, and only if the shoe fits, wear it.

If you are about to buy some walking boots or you have other questions about long distance walking, just send me an email. I’ll be happy to advise!

If you walk on the out- or insides of your feet , like me, your shoes will wear quicker on that side. In this case it is even more essential to replace them in time. If you continue walking like this it will put extra strain on your knees. Not only is that not good for your body, but you will get tired a lot quicker too.

The MasterPeace Journey - Alchemist Alive promo video !

It took some time to complete, because being on the road isn't ideal for editing video's, but my MasterPeace Journey - Alchemist Alive promo video is finally ready. I want to thank Sara Natal and Boris Booij for holding the camera's, Michiel van Meeteren for helping me record the voice over and Katelijne Langezaal for doing the final editing. They all participated voluntarily and it took a lot of their time and energy. I hope you are all happy with the result and proud as I am!

Please check it out and share it with your friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and any other site that you use to connect with people with the links at the bottom of this page. We need more peace pilgrims!