The first 21 days of my Camino de Santiago have passed and I can tell you, it didn’t go quite as I had expected. After a very cold start, my body started to disagree with me just a few days into my journey. Some extra stops made it little better, so I decided to buy a bike (Barry <3) and cycle a bit until my knee would be happy again.

Unexpected stuff happens, just roll with it! At least, that is what I thought.

In all honesty, I think I am more suited to endure the scorching heat Islamic pilgrims face when performing the Hajj, than I am to temperatures below zero, snow or overcast skies. After three days of cycling I had a full-blown winter depression and was hating every single minute of this pilgrimage (ok, that might be exaggerated but I started to develop very unpleasant thoughts).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the challenges. Getting stuck in the mud, getting lost, doing another 10k, I can handle it. But the past days I did not enjoy cycling as much as have loved the walking. Likewise, although I am very much grateful for the hospitality of my host families, the fathers at the Abbey, the B&Bs and hotels I have slept in. My heart lies with sleeping in my tent, waking up with the sun and being one with nature. That makes me feel independent or free. A state I was perhaps unknowingly chasing and, up until now, haven’t found myself in often.

Yes. In light of my plans to camp, we can all conclude that I have left a month too early. But if I had known everything beforehand it would not have been much fun either, now would it? When looking at the weather forecast in Europe (indeed, I thought I would just hang out somewhere warm before continuing my pilgrimage), the south of France caught my eye as the minimum temperatures there are above 0 degrees. I remembered something about a Camino route starting there and had a look. It was at this moment I remembered the proverb: “if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain”. Hello Via Tolosana!

Starting in Arles, the Via Tolosana or Chemin d’Arles, is one of the four French routes to Santiago. It also functions as a pilgrimage route to Rome, going in the opposite direction. From what I have read it is beautiful route, though it can be tough at times. Furthermore, the Via Tolosana is less popular than the other French routes, so I don’t have to expect masses of fellow pilgrims. The knee is doing better, so looking heaps forward to walking again. There is only one problem: most campsites in the south of France will open from the first of April onwards, so I’ll have to find a solution for that…

I wanted to experience what is was like to be a pilgrim, what would happen when I’d dive into the unknown. Reaching certain conclusions, making decisions and, perhaps most important, listening to myself… it’s all happening. Guess when you cannot be the pilgrim you want to be, why be one at all.