There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories.

In the third part of this series, I’ve shared my experiences of the first days walking through the Netherlands. This week, I’ll narrate about the Camino de Santiago route I walked through Belgium: the so-called Via Monastica.

gone with the guidebook

Armed with a beautiful guidebook, I continued my way on the Via Monastica: a Camino route that stretches from Den Bosch to Rocroi. After five minutes, I’d already lost all my confidence and concluded me and guidebooks just do not work together. Standing still to read a description and looking for clues like “the bridge” or “the fence” didn’t just require a lot of time, I also walked into the wrong direction a couple of times. Under the guise of “saves weight” I thanked and discarded my guidebook and continued wayfaring with my gps-app. An arrow pointing the way is challenging enough 😉

the Postel abbey

the Postel abbey

On my journey, I met several people and experienced certain places that have become very dear to me. The Postel abbey is one of such places. The abbey’s location was truly magical and the subsequent welcome of the Father was so warm and kind that I felt at home immediately. The union and safety that I felt within the walls of the abbey, were something extraordinary.

To soak up that feeling entirely, I stayed at the abbey for two nights. During my short time there, I walked through the gardens, went to a few services and conversed with one of the guest about divine love and loving yourself. The next day I had to continue my journey. With my pockets stuffed with food for thought, my heart full of gratitude and my eyes filled with tears, I carried on to my next destination.

“Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you.”

Matthew 7:7

featured in the newspaper

That next destination was Westerlo, a place I reached after a full day of walking in the rain without any breaks. As I was soaked, cold and tired, I decided to drink something warm first before heading to the Youth Hostel. I saw a bar and went inside. My perhaps rather strange appearance (a drenched figure with a large backpack) was immediately noticed by all of the bar guests.

“I’d like a coffee please.”

beer included

By chance, I’d walked into the bar of a fellow Dutchman in Belgium. And it became an unforgettable experience. I talked to everyone, told them about my journey, drank beer and, to top it all of, a journalist rocked up to make a picture for the local newspaper. Despite the buzzing atmosphere, I had to go on. I thanked everyone and grabbed my backpack. The owner quieted the guest and said: “Ladies and gentleman. This girl is walking to Spain!” With an applause and a grand smile on my face, I left the bar and walked on (slightly drunk). Sure thing, s couple of days later there was indeed a tiny article in the local newspaper.

a new accomplice

Barry besides the hut in Diest

My body was already protesting after the first week. My knees, my back, it was all hurting so much I didn’t know what to do with it. When I arrived in Diest, I rented a super cute trekking hut on a beautiful terrain. I decided to take an extra resting day to think about a possible solution for my bodily discomfort.

My internal dialogue went something like this: Why can’t you just bike a little bit? – No! I cannot do such thing. I can’t just bike, I would walk, that was the plan! – But if you bike then you can carry on and the eventual goal is the journey not the walking? It’s still a pilgrimage if you bike. – Hm. – And if you don’t like it, you can always decide to walk again. Maybe it’s just for a little while, just to give your body some rest. – Yeah, I guess it’ll allow me to proceed. Hm. Yes. Ok. Where is the nearest bike shop?

Once I arrived at the bike shop, I immediately fell in love. This is the one, I thought, this steel steed is going to accompany me from now on. Full of new energy and courage I went back to my hut, together with my new accomplice Barry.

Little did I know that the following week would be one of the hardest yet. More about that next time!