#02 – Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
I woke up and gasped for fresh air. My mummy sleeping bag was covering my whole body, including my face. There was a tiny hole to get a little bit of fresh air, but during my sleep I probably turned my head around. It was cold, very cold. While half awake I managed to widen the opening and to get my arms out. In the dark I tried to find my phone, with my cold hands, in order to check what time it is. “Oh gosh, it’s just 4 a.m., and I’m freezing now already”. With some more effort I got my emergency blanket and wrapped it around me. A few hours later I woke up again, soaked in the condensation of my own body. Did I regret being in this situation? Hell no.
To see my video from The Netherlands to Santiago de Compostela, scroll down please.
On Friday the 22nd of February 2019 the moment was finally there. After spending 3 entire days at my parents comfortable houses it was time to enter the unknown. I was off to my first main destination: Santiago de Compostela. Was I really doing this?
From my moms house in Waalre it was just an hour of cycling till I reached the first border of my trip: Belgium. The border is now nothing more than a forgotten cycle path, guarded by a dog which was looking for some attention.
How this adventure is going to get in shape is something I wanted to find out on the road. I don’t want to plan too much, since it can only cause disappointment as soon as the plan gets disturbed.
Soon enough I found out that this tactic works pretty well. I stumbled up on three man who greeted me. I turned around and went to talk to them. They immediately offered me some food and asked me where I was going. “To Santiago”, I told them. “Ah Santiago, we walked to there.” They reacted very enthusiastic. “Where do you sleep tonight?” One of the man asked, and a few minutes later I changed my route to the man’s house, while I was eating another toast and some sausage.
The next morning I left from a suburb near Antwerp with a new experience and a bag full of food. It is truly amazing how things can work out. I started following the river called Dender towards my next host. There was a gravel road following the river and its scenic surrounding. This night I stayed at my first Warmshowers host of the trip, with many to follow. I can recommend every tour cycler to use Warm Showers.
First real experience in France
After cycling for 2 days in Belgium I entered France. It was still winter, although the weather was more like spring or even summer. People told me I was very lucky to have it, and I realized it, so I enjoyed it even more. The first few days I had to learn the country. What is my position as a cycler on the road, where do I get food and water, how do people greet each other and how hospital are they? After spending 2,5 weeks in the country of cheese, wine and baguettes I could tell. Except for one night I’ve been able to find Warmshowers hosts. Most of them were exceptional travelers like me as well. I don’t like to brag about the trip I just started, but I do think that this is a relatively unusual way of travelling.
And here in France I’ve been able to get the first results of my new lifestyle. The big question for me, before I started the trip, was if I would be motivated to cycle every day without getting bored or demotivated. And to my own surprise, I liked the new way of living even more than I expected. Having no pressure, complete freedom and being able to live in a sustainable way allows me to be happy. Entering different regions every few days excites the mind and functions as fuel. Even when I encountered the first rain and wind, I was able to stay motivated and it seemed to be not as bad as I was afraid of.
Big contrasts in Spain
I think there are a few elements that have an influence on a bad motivation. Some of them you can’t control, like the weather and the bad things that happen on the road. But the other aspects you can, such as variation in the daily routine, choosing beautiful and good roads, meeting people and the time you take to let the surrounding impress you. And just when I entered Spain, one of these elements I couldn’t control took over my mood. As I cycled in the Pyrenees, it was raining. Later on, at a height of about 950 m, it even started to snow. In the first hour I was excited, but once I stood on the top of the mountain pass I realized I was cooling down pretty fast.
I went down as fast as possible, and I had to circulate the blood in my toes and fingers in order to keep some feeling in them. And Spain wasn’t taking it easy on me. It was hard to find a dry shelter to have some food, but at a gas station I took the advantage of sitting dry. While eating something, my brace in my mouth broke off. But somehow I knew things would be all right.
Spain started bad for me, but soon showed its contrast of the huge hospitality it owns. My next host in Pamplona arranged a dentist for me in the next city I would be at. The next day I cycled to Logroño and went to visit the dentist here. After the dentist repaired my brace, he was able to make it understandable, even without speaking English, that he didn’t want money. Happiness and unbelieve made me realize that Spain is a country of taking care of each other, and even more in difficult situations.
On the road in Spain I also faced another aspect of traveling: meeting fellow travelers. When I’m alone on the bike, I can cycle at my own speed, choose where I want to go, have breaks whenever I want and search for contact whenever I want. And after 3 weeks of cycling alone, I met a French guy who was cycling to Santiago de Compostela also. We talked a bit and soon found out that we were both looking for some companion, so we sticked together. Having someone to talk to was nice, but soon I discovered that I wasn’t in my element. And I found it difficult to express myself. But in the interest of my own trip, I decided to say goodbye to him after 2 days. It had to happen once, and it is part of the process I’m undertaking in this trip.
Progressing to Santiago de Compostela
In the mean while, the main destination came closer by the day. It was getting more difficult to find hosts, so I camped more often and I started to like it much more every time. The challenge to find a good camping spot can be very rewarding as soon as the sun set down and you know that you won’t get caught anymore. The weather and the landscape were absolutely fantastic.
Even the many flat tires and the sometimes steep climbs couldn’t put me down. And after exactly 4 weeks since I left The Netherlands, I arrived at the pilgrim city. The arrival wasn’t spectacular as I secretly imagined, and perhaps it was better this way. I searched for a hostel to sleep in the first paid bed of my trip, to celebrate my first victory. With some Germans we went out to have some tapas and beers, while we tried to find out some typical actions of one’s another stereotypes.
I rested out and looked forward to my new destination: towards Africa. I will cross Portugal and then Spain again, from where I go to Morocco by boat. The trip to Santiago de Compostela has been a very good kick off and I actually feel good living my dream. I want to thank everyone who supported me in achieving this goal.