Of course a pilgrimage to Santiago always starts with the question - why? Why do you walk trough heat, sun and storm for five weeks with a considerable weight on your back over 800 kilometres? Generally the answer is not easy.
Why did I do this? For that I must firstly go back in time more than thirty years. When I was twenty I saw a two-part documentary on television about the then total unknown Camino. The first part concerned the part from Le Puy to Roncesvalles. The second concerned the Spanish route. It fascinated me enormously and was something always that remained with me since then. When some time later I studied history (and especially medieval history) I discovered the travelling guide from the year 1132 of the French priest Aymeric Picaud in the so called Codex Calixtinus. With that my interest became still larger, but I did not yet have plans to walk it myself.
The experiences of a good friend, a visit as a tourist to these regions and a travel guide I found last autumn at our library definitively helped me to make the decision. At first I trained with a full backpack to see if I was able to walk long distances this way. In the past I had back complaints and I did not know if I could walk with 10 to 15 kilogrammes on my back, but it turned out a lot better than I expected. I also walked together with my wife over a number of stages of a long distant path in Holland, generally 20 km a day, where we increased our taste for walking. I was not really a walker, but, by training for the Compostela, I have become one.
The most important intention for me was to try to get a better impression of the experiences of the medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The circumstances for our generation are indeed much more comfortable, but nevertheless I hoped in this way to get something from my pilgrimage. I also had a Religious/spiritual aim. Of course for me it was also something of a challenge, physically, to see if I could make it.
A pilgrimage from my house in Dordrecht to Santiago was not possible for me, because I could not leave my job or my family for such a long time. A period of five weeks, however, appeared feasable. I had saved up some holidays from the previous year. Like most Dutch pilgrims I started the camino in Saint Jean Pied the Port, because I absolutely wanted to climb the Pyrenees. That, however, meant that I would start with one of the heaviest stages, 26 kilometers uphill. Something you cannot train for in our flat little country.
Were my travels what I expected? This is a question which cannot simply be answered yes or no. I had prepared everything very well and I had read already everything concerning the camino I could reach for many years. I knew more or less what I could expect and most of the time it proved to be right. On the other hand there are things you cannot imagine if you do not experience them yourself. Such as: the openness and spontaneous friendship between people, who hardly know each other still and live in totally different circumstances and countries. Moreover, what you experience is also strongly dependent on your own individuality and conviction. Are you inspired by a traditional or more modernistic Roman Catholic or Protestant belief? Are you a humanist or a fervent new-age person? That strongly colours your impressions. I did not have visions or hallucinations and honestly can say that I really did not expect them. What I, however, experienced was an intense solidarity between people from over the world. Young and old, just like me, want to deepen what they believe in and search to inspire each other. As well as a physical travel to a geographical place the camino is also a search for inner self, and that which gives sense to your life. If you have an open mind for that, you see that many things you experience do not happen by chance, but that there is an evident intention behind it. A pilgrimage to Santiago is different from an ordinary holiday. More than an ordinary holiday, you are torn apart from your usual daily life. As you get further separated of it, it gives you more insight into yourself, your relations with other people and your relationship with God. I cannot say that, because of the camino, my conceptions have changed very much, but I feel that I am living with more awareness of everything than ever before.