So in Luijk I went to the Jacobschurch and even the stamp that I got there was fucking ugly. Honestly this city.. Finally took the train to the most southern point of Belgium that I could reach, a little village called Couvin. Now Ive been here before, 5 years ago I basically did the same thing. Because I meant to visit the same places this time around (Lucy her campsite, friends that I met along the way) and it seemed only logical to follow the same route book. Its going to be interesting to see how things have changed and how this will affect my journey. 
It felt like things now really got going, crossing the border from the Netherlands actually makes you feel like youre on your way and just the fact that people speak a different language makes it all the more adventurous and satisfying.

On the way to Couvin I had a little part where I had to take the bus and there was a wasp there, probably the last of his kind this time of year but that didnt keep him from stinging me in my back. Fuck you wasp! I let it out of the bus anyway at the next stop, see Im kindhearted like that and I dont hold any grudges is one way of looking at it, you can also think that I left the little fucker outside so he could have a slow and painful death out in the cold, you decide. Off to a great start anyway! HMM!

Last time I was here I could barely speak any French and I knew only that the French word for sleep was dormir. I said ‘dormir’ to the nearest old person in that town and he drove me up to his little retirement cottage up in the hills and pressed a couple of beers in my hand..eeehhhh, somehow I dont think Im going to be as lucky this time around. Not to mention the guy is probably living in the cottage himself now. His name was Jacques, this is appropriate because Santiago or Saint James is called St. Jacques in French. I ate a sandwich and walked around town a little bit. Yea not that lucky this time, youre all grown and full of bravado now you little shit, handle your own shit this time around!

So the tent it was and I found a nice camp spot next to a river and a soccer field. It did stay reasonably dry and Ive noticed that I was dealing with more of a land climate instead of abominable, unpredictable, sea climate that Im used to in the Netherlands. That being said, next day was slightly more wet and I had to take shelter a couple of times. Got some water from a school that was closing and managed to buy my favorite brand of tobacco right on the French border in Bruly. It wasnt as cold as I thought and I contemplated sleeping in a dugout near the school but ended up choosing the tent again. The next day was full blown get-rekt storm. I decided to do a little stretch to the small village of Rocroix, I remember there being a gite (hostel of sorts in French) especially made for pilgrims. I stayed there last time and just as I got my hopes up of drying some of this bullshit I was carrying around, they were closed and I could just hear cosmic forces laughing at my suicidal ass.

The ladies at the Office du Tourisme were nice enough to point me to a commercial gite that was expensive as hell and just outside of town, I walked over there and they were closed as well. I went back to the Office de Tourisme where the lady said that I could sleep on the rampart of Rocroix (it was an old fort town), I admired her sense of epicness and just as I was about to go there they got a call from 1 of the volunteers. I should wait, a volunteer is coming to open up the pilgrim gite especially for me! I guess the guy admired my sense of epicness as well because he didnt charge me anything. Normally it would have cost me 10 € and Im not going to lie, as a Dutch person I love me my discounts! He arrived and it was the sweetest old man you’ve ever seen. White beard and mustache, friendly eyes with an easy-going demeanor about him, he took me to the gite which consisted of a little kitchen/sitting area, a few showers and about 10 bunkbeds. He turned on all the heating and showed me around and I gave him all the thanks that I had. It was more than sufficient. Lucy picked a bed she liked and I took a shower. I went to the store and prepared myself a nice meal. How quickly fortunes can change I wondered. This would have either been the worst or the best night of the trip so far like it was now. With a full belly I had a great sleep and all my stuff was dry in the morning.

The next day it was still drizzling in the morning but it cleared up during the day and even the sun popped out through the clouds at some point. I remember last time I was walking this route I walked the completely wrong direction and I was forced to have my first wildcamping experience, terrified for the gendarmerie and preparations at -10 (no water/food/internet). I slept out in a field only to be greeted by a nice farmer that I helped with some minor tasks even though I didnt speak the language. How different things were this time around. I walked the right way and made good time. In the evening I went to look for a camp spot, thought I’d found one but it was compromised by some drunk youth that started yelling at me from a distance. I relocated to an even better spot under an old mining monument in a park, my tent just low enough to sneak behind some bushes out of sight. There was even water close by and because the sun was out, I charged my powerbank with my solar panel.

The next day I was woken up by a dog that just wouldnt stop barking at me and Lucy, the yard which was his domain, was bordering the park and he found himself defending his territory. Slightly alerted wake up I packed my tent quickly and left before he alerted more people to my present. Je suis un fantôme. 

The road was very nice and sunny weather, even more so than the last day. I walked until I saw a church that had pinot noir fields next to it. The next time you drink a pinot noir I want you to think about me taking a piss in one of the fields. I ran into town and there was only 1 bar open, had a hamburger there that was crappy by all means but still better than nothing.

Next up was Signy l’Abbaye, a once important town that had a big abbey but that was long ago. Last time here I met with a German pilgrim that I walked with for over a month until I found Lucy. Good company but I prefer a dog to be honest. Germans do the camino like they do World Wars and thats without mercy..

The weather was shifting again and I could notice a pattern emerging here. 1 day of rain, 3 days of dry weather slowly deteriorating into rain again. In Signy l’Abbaye they changed the campsite into a soccer field but the nice people pointed me in the right direction, another 5km to the nearest campsite called, located in La Venerie. As soon as I walked on the campsite there were a couple of people standing around. I asked them if they spoke English and a guy holding a machete (that I didnt notice at first) said he did. He translated for me and the lady owner of the campsite gave me a discount of 5 € per night. Pretty cheap so I took the deal (not that I had a choice lol).

That evening Im sitting in the campsite restaurant, doing a little writing and the guy who held the machete comes in with his entire family (without the machete xD). His name was JP and he offered me some wine which I declined and he offered to put me in one of the chalet cottages instead of sleeping in my tent WHICH I didnt decline obviously. He was the nicest guy and he kept watch over me in the following days. After dinner he showed me around. The price didnt change as well and it was good to find another Angel so soon after my miraculous rescue by Bernard a couple of days earlier. The chalet itself could house about 8 people and had a nice sitting area and a little kitchen. 
The next day I had a bit of a resting day since the weather was shit anyway (~4:1 ratio) and I worked on the website and did a little writing.

The weather cleared up the next day and I paid JP a visit to say goodbye, he made some food and we talked about life and God and mannnn is it awkward to hear a French person to tell you about their sexual escapades in broken English. Its whatever, 70 year old blue eyed/dark skinned from Guadeloup, still beasting and getting his dick wet, what a legend.

We said our goodbye’s and I went on my merry way, bless this man and the campsite!

5 years ago I went to this old lady in Signy l’Abbaye to get a stamp and I assumed she must have passed away in the meantime but when I went to her house she was still as (sparsely) alive as 5 years ago. She didnt remember me but she did have a very nice stamp of the town for me. Another one for the pokedex!

Revitalized by all these great unexpected things and a great rest I decided not to stay at this hunting lodge that was semi-open(?) just 7km out of Signy l’Abbaye and decided to keep on going.

Even doing a night walk through a forest.

je suis le seul fantôme ici!

Now we all have our things in life that we need to deal with, some people cant wait to get that fast car, a house and kids. Some people cant wait to make a promotion and some people think its alright to screw someone over to get what they want. Some people steal and some people kill and most of us waste. As this empire is drawing to a close theres a little bit of blame that comes all our ways. Poor choices in our life make us lash out, sometimes at friends… Where Im going with this is that we all have our fears and our doubts and it makes us not our optimal selves, now not everybody is cut from the same cloth. To me there is some Universal Truth, some base layer that all humans posses. Finding your outlet however and trying to become a better person for it – is completely personal and optional. Being on the road and truly testing myself is where I find my outlet..2 days left until my grandmothers birthday, 2 days left..

I walked up to the 3 sketchiest mofo’s that I could see and they looked at me alerted but slightly interested. A small guy that seemed like a true Slav (Romanian A). A square blockhead kind of guy that looked like he strolled straight down the Caucus mountains, got in a van and drove to France (Romanian B) and 1 more astute fellow (Romanian C) that just made his life by being a carrier for whatever he had in his trunk this week. 

Romanian A & B almost spoke no English but Romanian C did, very well even and I asked them if I could hitch a ride. They were talking among themselves in what I believe to be Romanian and after 30 seconds I wished them well on their journey and started to walk away. They called me back and the Romanian C said that they were discussing things (obviously).

They had this setup in mind where Lucy + my backpack could go with Romanian B in the trunk, I could sit with Romanian C and the Romanian A had sympathy but basically wanted nothing to do with me or it. Alarmbells, can you hear em? They went off all around in my head and of course the red flags were extremely obvious BUT I was on a mission and according to my life philosophy, Im probably going to find common ground with anybody. Everybody has their reasons to do what they do and the setup they had in mind was probably just as much a failsafe for them as it was a barrier to me. 

While pondering my options, Romanian B managed to tell me in the most broken English – its a chance, its a chance. Yes it is my friend, yes it is. 

After shortly weighing the options I decided to take them up on their offer, put my sleeping mat in the back of the van of Romanian B and got in the van with Romanian C. I wasnt allowed to smoke my own cigarets and the guy insisted that I’d smoke his. Marlboro’s ya know, No time to not cowboy, no time to roll my own. I texted my brother the license plates of the vans along with my current location/the direction we were traveling and saying that I would check-in every hour or so to make sure I wasnt on the side of the road, face down in the mud somewhere.

Red flags aside, these guys were fucking interesting. Romanian C told me that he did a million kilometers in the last year alone and we were only 10 months into the year. His itinerary was that he was going to drive to Hull (Northern UK) by Friday evening and then he wanted to be in Bulgaria by Sunday. Their driving represented this statement and it became very clear that the vans they drove, even if they had very heavy industrial equipment in the back, were an extension of them. They literally were their vans. Driving these heavy ass vans across Europe to them was like operating an electronical toothbrush or flipping through TV channels for us mere humans.

To me it felt like getting on the rollercoaster or an airplane, you already made your choice and now its out of your hands. You might as well enjoy yourself a little while youre at it.

As we flew over the Pyrenees the guy looked at me, radio in one hand, map on the steering wheel, steering the car with his knee and talking in Romanian to his fellow wolves. A flash in the distance signaled the beginning of rain. The guy looked at me still holding his map folded out over the entire steering wheel and his radio in one hand and he said to me; “Are you scared?” with a slight Russian pronunciation. I told him that I wasnt and that I had faith in him. 

‘This is your captain speaking’. Were going to fly this aluminum cage to your vacation destination. Maybe the plane has been checked, maybe not. Maybe the pilot is doing cocaine in the bathroom, maybe his co-pilot is some suicidal maniac thats going to park the plane on that mountainside over there.

Nah, I already made my choice as soon as I got into that van and now I lived or died by that choice. A warm sort of relief swept over me that I didnt have to worry about it anymore. Could have been the feeling of a prey going limp in the jaws of a predator but I didnt feel like a victim at all. Nor did they treat me this way, Romanian C asked me asked me at some point what if he grabbed a knife and stuck it deep in my belly, opened the car door and just left me on the side of the road and I explained to him that he could and that it would fully be his choice for a handful of quarters and dimes, not to mention a doG. He took a liking to that answer. 

Romanian C and me got along just fine, we talked about politics and the state of the World. Romanian A & B popped in over the radio every now and again to ask him some questions about how its going and at some point they asked why the fuck would I ever walk across several countries. They were slightly impressed if not blown away, it gave me a sense that I felt along the way many times where people are just in awe of how fucking crazy it is what youre doing, I find these reactions priceless although hard sometimes to give a good answer to that.
A wolf can be a solitary animal but they form packs because it exponentially grows their opportunities, wolves as a packhave a clear division in roles and hierarchy as well as some above average, problem solving capabilities, this while tempering each- and looking out for each- other. These 3 people were a pack, they rode together, dodging tollbooths like a log left over a river to cross it, riding the highway like it was a river and howling to each other and discussing strategies and plays. Living on the fringes of society, being on their own for their own but much sense of self – they did not need or have.

There were multiple reasons why they wanted to dodge any form of authority, maybe they had something sketchy in their van (which I dont believe) or maybe because all authorities, anywhere, always gave them shit for just being Romanian, Wolves be Wolves.. Its the stigma and the fear that stigma causes that really fucks em. These guys to me were straight shooters if not a little bit rough around the edges, living out in the forest of highways is hard enough as is and ofcourse youre going to get rough, Wolves adapt. HUMANS ADAPT!

We had a couple of pitstops where they offered me coffee and I got to checkup on Lucy and ofcourse checked in with my brother, I would say this was an exhilarating but pleasant experience overall. Romanian C explained to me that all his money basically went to his family in Romania straight away. That and the cigarets he was chain smoking constantly. To get something like a cigarets or coffee or a fucking ride across the border(!) from people like this really makes you think about luxury and the needs and wants in life. Life wasnt easy for them and they were getting shat on every other corner they drove around. Still grinding on, still trying to do good in this world (at least from my perspective).

I found common ground with these scruffy, hard working people and they helped me along on my way immensely. That day I had 3 rides and I shaved almost 700km off my journey back home. Today had been the 4thof November and I had a very good shot at reaching home just in time for my grandmothers birthday. They dropped me off in Bordeaux and then made dinner, they also insisted on giving me Romanian asparagus (?) soup (photo) and I felt like a pup in the pack for a moment, one of the most memorable and nicest ride Ive ever hitched. Daunting at first but then overcoming it and having a rare sneak peek into a world thats normally hidden from us, not to mention they were pretty nice cooks. They nicotined me, fed me and helped me on my way tremendously. Funny enough I was also their first hitchhiker ever. I hope I left a positive impression.

I slept upright with Lucy on my lap at the side of a gas station since it was my middle name anyway and since putting up my tent would have only put attention on me. Even with a long-line of survivor Wolves like Lucy guarding my stuff.

Safety first people..

Introduction to the blog

Its been at least 5 years since Ive written anything about anything. Maybe some of you read something by me here and there but Ive never actually taken the time, felt the need (or had the guts) to just run my big fucking mouth for all to see. 

In that same sentiment I would like to start this journey with the ending of my last journey, not just to satiate my beloved regulars but also give a little bit of a hint of what this website is going to be about. A sort of little taste of things to come, inshallah.

So after being a month in Santiago de Compostela I kind of had enough of the whole living-like-a-homeless-person. I had already decided on going back home after this since the cup of adventure had been adequately filled if not overflown a bit. Just as I got pulled on this crazy thing called the Camino de Santiago, I felt like the same force was also pulling me towards HOME.

Returning home is easier said than done however, ya know, you can talk about stuff but its very hard to sometimes implement the practical thing to that as well. Fucking getting out of Santiago back to the Netherlands was that practical part. The bus wasnt an option, airplanes were out of the question since then Lucy (my doG) would need to go into quarantine for an amount of time and that barely left any other options than hitchhiking.

I present to you < 3

The Way Back