Monday, July 25, 2016


Today is St James Day.
It is also the official opening of the Alberge Alpriate. I will leave today for Santarem and Tomar before I start my journey back home. This is most probably the last blog post.

Yesterday when having coffee at Maria's cafe, she invited me again to come and have supper. "We want to thank you for serving here without getting paid and on your time." What can I say? "Thank you", sometimes sounds so meaningless, fortunately when there is a language barrier "thank you" still has meaning.

Again, no pilgrims arrived. I accept it as part of my journey. Solitude is sometimes the most important part of our journey. It is not solitude that makes us depressed, it is loneliness. If you, however, are not used to solitude, which is part of the inward journey, you will most often feel lonely when by yourself. Silence-meditation is the school of solitude and the road away from loneliness.

This does not mean that I did not experience loneliness. There were times that I missed my family. The challenge is to embrace both solitude and loneliness. The more you venture inwards, the more the balance is restored.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


It happened again, no pilgrims!
After cleaning I walked to the supermarket - fruit, wine and salmon. The rest of the day was spent reading, walking and talking to Jose in the wheelchair. At 19:00 I made the salmon with a tomato salad and bread on the side. I watched a movie on my phone and went to bed. As I said before, nothing glamorous about working in an Albergue.
There was an article in yesterdays' newspaper, "Beeld", that describes the camino very well and is worth the read.
Here the shootings in Europe are big news and constantly on TV. Africa does not exist and many people do not know whát South Africa is but conclude that it must be in the southern part of Africa. We met a number of people who lived in Angola or South Africa many years ago. No one has any intention of going to South Africa.
What I read about South Africa (the politics and violence) upsets me and angers me. Let me not make any comments about the leadership in SA. Let me, however, add, what I pick up on Facebook about the church (NG Kerk), saddens me. Looking from the outside, the church looks desperate. On the one hand it is the fight (it does not look like a debate, let alone a dialog) about gay people in the church and on the other hand all the "marketing" to get people to the Sunday sermon.
I do not see a drive by churches to get people involved in community life. I do not see I drive to be a witness of a loving God who cares about people (please take in mind this is my deduction from Facebook). I see churches who are kidnapped by  the same individualism that drives the economy and politics. It is a numbers game!
I have learnt on the camino that it does not matter whether you serve one person or ten, you serve them all as if it is Christ Himself you are serving.
(Maybe I am just depressed and miss my family. Kyrie Eleison!)

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Fabrizio walked in at about 18:30. He is a professional photographer from Rome. I do not know why, but we almost immediately start to talk about religion. "I was Catholic, babtised, first confession and left it behind."
The conversation is one of those where you feel as if it can go on all night. From the moment he walked in, through dinner and when he woke up this morning we talked. Religion, faith, photography, politics (he tried to explain to me how the Catholic church, state, mafia and free masons are all intertwined in Italy - "That is why we are crazy!")
One thing I noticed on the Camino is how people are willing to listen to one another. One of the things we discussed is his reason for walking the Camino: "I am busy with an inward journey, I need to get rid of anger and pain." He is actually taking time out to do something about achieving real growth in his life.
How we (as Christians) have become almost obsessed with quick fixes. "Just confess your sins, Jesus is the answer!" Is this really a Biblical model for healing? Did Jesus not spend 3 years with his disciples and then another 40 days? Did God not decide we should spend 9 months in the womb and then another 9 months before we can start to try and walk?
Healing, being whole, takes time. Benedict realised this as well. In his rule, he describes how monks who erred should be treated. This takes time. As Chittirster comment; we do not want to be healed, we just want to feel better.
(I had to ask about his tattoo - same answer as all the others, difficult period in my life, decided to take action, this is to remind me.)
When Fabrizio left this morning, he said: "You must read the meditations of Marcus Aurelius. You really gave me a lot to think about."
Buen Camino Fabrizio!

Friday, July 22, 2016


Yesterday not a single pilgrim! It was like the story Jesus told: A man made a pot of pasta for at least four people. He left the front door open. He opened a bottle of Portuguese wine. He later sat down, sipped the wine and ate in silence. By 20:00 he realised no one was coming. He left the pot on the stove and corked  the bottle of wine. He could not go into the street to call the strangers because the Albergues are strictly only for pilgrims and the neighbors had dinner already.

One has to be very realistic to volunteer to work at an Albergue. You must be willing to clean toilets, wash floors and welcome strangers. You must not be afraid of living in community and willing to sacrifice privacy. You must be able to embrace silence and solitude. And you must be rooted! There is nothing glamorous to this work, people are not going to write nice comments in the comments book and you will not know if you made a difference. But that is what serving is about. It is sacrificial and because the God I worship is a sacrificial God, I will do all of this because it is of Him and for Him.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting outside when Jose in the wheelchair arrives. He greets me with a shake of the hand (and so does Manual when he arrives). We start talking (Google translate!) He has been living in this village for thirty years. He has been in the wheelchair for the past 20 years. He worked in construction, amongst others, for three years in France and can also speak French.

How easily did they accept me as part of their community, this in spite of the language barrier?

This is the one thing that is lying heavily on my heart the past few weeks. For St Benedict (The Rule of Benedict) everything stand or fall with the community, community grounded in God and built on love, respect and silence. This is the spirituality of Benedict.

O, how far do I still need to journey....

Thursday, July 21, 2016


So yesterday morning at the supermarket, the security card immediately started following me the moment I entered the shop. I had a backpack, cap, sunglasses and slops on. I was wondering if he thought here comes trouble. However, he was inexperienced. The moment he started looking at the salad prices behind me, I looked at him. He knew I knew he was following me. I ignored him, but somehow I enjoyed this little game.

Every day I look forward to see who will be my guests for the night. Tonight two women from the Netherlands arrived. I spoke Afrikaans to them. They plan a six week pilgrimage to Santiago but also Finistere and part of the coastal route in Spain. I do not know how old they are, but for their age, they look in good form.

The couple from Chechoslovakia is on a delayed honeymoon! But as with the two Dutch ladies, no guidebook! I sold the last book to the Dutch ladies. I let the couple take photos of two of the maps in my guidebook. You cannot walk the Camino with a GPS neither with a map and compass. It will get you there, but you will walk along highways all the way with little sleeping facilities or water.

What is interesting is how we became so dependant on technology. In spite of telling Ludovit where the supermarket is (500m down the road), he switched on the GPS. They are back within minutes. "What now?" "No, the GPS says there is only a small shop in the next town." I walk them down the road, around the corner and show them the supermarket.

Is this what technology is doing to our relationships? The thing(person) you trust most, you will listen to! How sad that our lives (relationships) should be so influenced by something that is supposed to make our lives more comfortable. We have become so dependant on our mobile phones and social networks. We want to tell the world where we are, but we cannot tell the person next to us how we feel to be where we are.

Technology is robbing us of not only our relationships, but one of the key elements of a relationship - emotions. Because we are loosing the ability to really communicate our emotions, we are loosing our relationships.

Make time to fast from your device, spend that time in silence or connecting with the (P)person who is with you. This is what makes this journey so exciting and rewarding.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Yesterday was a quiet day. Karla took her time to get going. Once a week a volunteer comes to give the Albergue a spring clean. I had some extra time and yet I could not settle into my meditation. My mind was really like a monkey, jumping from one thought to the other. I have learned over time to accept this as part of my spiritual discipline.
After I had breakfast and coffee, I walked to the next town to get to an ATM and do some shopping. I sat down for a beer and had a look at my feet. It was a bit shocking to see how hard my soles have become.
Gergely from Hungary was first to arrive. He also ran out of water and therefore first stopped at the bar to refuel. He booked in and fell asleep. Peter and his son Jack, from Scotland arrived before seven.
Peter is taking strain. I look at his backpack. "What do you have in there?" "Everything!" answers Jack, who is 18. "We come from the high mountains of Scotland and must always be prepared." Peter adds: "Stove, jacket, rain gear!" I tried to lift their pack. My response: "You need to get rid of a lot of stuff otherwise you will not make it and definitely not have fun." (At the airport the bags weighed 20 and 15 kg. Then they added another 8kg of water when they started in Lisbon. Take note - 11kg should be the max, for a woman even less - 9 kg)
Jack has just finished school. He and his father is doing the adventure together before he leaves home. "He's getting old," says Jack. "He's been helping the old man today, he carried the heavy backpack most of the day" replies Peter. I smile, their journey has just begun. They will get rid of a lot of things over the next 600km.
Then I think of my own son who suddenly became a man and I am proud but hope that we will also be able to do this together one day.
Gergely returns after he went for supper. This is a retreat for him, an inner journey. He is worried about Ansie returning to SA. He asks me directly if I have marital problems. "No, we had a wonderful Camino, but she had to go back to work." He is thankful to hear this and I appreciate a stranger's brief concern. He's off to bed early.
Just before Peter and Jack went for supper I gathered from them that they do not have a map or guidebook. I wondered how this can be, they have everything in their packs to help them survive for five days, but no map. I wonder how many people go through life that way; so much unnecessary stuff they carry with them without knowing where they are going. When things become more important...
They buy a guidebook and we sit and talk until 23:00 about the Camino. Again, I give as much information and advice as possible. When they get to the next town they will send all the unnecessary stuff back home by post.
How little do we really need!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I wake up everymorning wondering what will this day bring and who will I meet.
The village is so small that I start to get to know the routine of the people living around the square. The old man in his electric scooter had a stroke. He has a distinct sounding horn attached to the handlebars. He blows his horn in the morning to tell his friends he is ready for the day's conversation. They will move around the square to stay in the shade all day long.
Yesterday, after I had supper they called me over. They were outside having soup and bread, do I want some? I explained that I have eaten already.
When I was a young boy, we stayed in  Cameron steet no 7, Georginia. There was a small shopping centre in our neigborhood. Mr Zachanowich, a Jew, was the pharmacist. The greengrocers were Portugues, the Greek had the cafee. I never knew their surnames. The were just the Portugues and the Greek.
The Portugeus family lived in 5 Ave just around the corner from the cafe and butcher (whom I cannot recall at all). They had a big vine growing in their driveway that almost functioned as a carport. The Portugeus women always had an apron on over her clothes. It seemed as if the whole family worked there, but Mrs Greengrocer always looked content.
These memories came flooding back the past few days. Maria Jose working in the cafe bar wears that same apron (I am sure it must be the same one as Mrs Greengrocer used to wear!). Maria Jose always looks content and she is always serving the customers with content.
Last night I went to eat at the cafe. Maria asks me if I would like fish, beef or pork chops. I decided on the pork. She brings me the bottle of wine that I did not finish the other night! The food is prepared fresh, therefor only the three choices, the potatoes are peeled and sliced to make the chips (no chip looks the same) and the food is served on platters so that you can dish up yourself.
I write Maria a note on Google translate: "Thank you for the food. It reminds me of my mother's home cooking, I enjoy it." When I want to pay, she says I must wait a few minutes. I quickly go and check if the German girl who arrived at the albergue, is ok.
I went back to the cafe, but before I can show her the Google note, Maria passes me a handwritten note that someone translated for her: "When you want to eat more elaborate things - rabbit, chicken??, etc tell me in advance. Dinner today I offer you. I am sorry to be so but what ?? get way to talk with you." I want to pay, but she insists that I do not pay. I show her my note. She is grateful, I hug her and tell her the Wednesday I will come for the rabbit!
Back at the albergue Karla is studying the guide book that she bought from me on my recommendation (We sell guidebooks because firts time pilgrims think they can walk with Google maps or good luck).
She is 18 and still in school. She looks 15. "Your parents are ok with you walking the Camino by yourself?" Her mother walked the Camino and suggested she also does it. She wants to see Portugal and chose this route. She does rock climbing as a sport.
I am amazed at this young girl. So much guts and determination, but I am also a bit worried about her. Last night I got the impression that she did not want to go and sleep. I tried to give her as much advice on the camino as possible. I explained how the guidebook works, how to read the maps and at the end to just enjoy it. This morning she only left at eight, as if she could not get going. I wished her a Buen Camino and she was off.
And now a new day begins. The man in the scooter is calling his friends. What will the day bring?