Posts tagged twalk with me
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.

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.

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!

The end of the beginning: Santiago de Compostela

This Sunday I walked into Santiago de Compostela. Almost half a year after my departure from Leiden in the Netherlands on September 11. The first goal of my journey is complete. For now, noblog with experiences, reflections or thoughts. I just want to thank everyone who has helped me get this far. 

Firstly, I want to thank all the people who have been so kind and trusting to open up their house to me and offer me a place to sleep and a seat at their diner table. Secondly, all the people that have supported me by donating money to my cause. Although I spend most of my nights as a guest in somebody's house I do have expenses, and without your generous donations I would not have been able to continue as I have. The continued support of my sponsors is invaluable. Thirdly, all the people that have supported me with heartwarming messages, retweets and likes on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Couchsurfing, LinkedIn and by email. Some of you have been friends for a long time, others I have yet to meet, but the support is in all cases very welcome. They lighten the weight of my backpack and bring light in the more clouded moments of my journey. Of course also the social media themselves, because without the tools, the job cannot be done. Further, the people from the press that help me by informing the world of my project. 

A special thanks goes out to my webdesigner Thirdwave for their tireless work on this website and to the Navigauteurs and Web Moshi Moshi, who translate my words in all the languages of the countries I traveled and will be traveling through. A special thanks also for BAS energie, Avery Dennison and Jos Krijnen for some of the equipment without which my twalk would not be possible, and Ingrid Tappin for advice on the social media inns and outs. And last, but definitely not least, my family: my brothers and my sisters in law, my step parents, my nephew and my nieces. And above all my parents: you have helped me with a bit of everything of the above: mental support, financial aid and advice. I know you sometimes rather had me near, and I miss you too, but I am happy and grateful that you have always given me the trust and freedom to make my own decisions. Your love and support give me the strength to push on, always!

Oh, and of course I should not forget Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She put me up to this, so in a way, without her, I would not have the pleasure of thanking you all in the first place. Disagreement has never been so fruitful. Thank you!