The days leading up to my departure were hectic. As usual everything was done at the last minute.
The night before my departure my good friend threw a boat party, which, of course, I couldn't miss. At the party I picked up some good tips for my backpack, something I hadn't yet given much thought. It wasn't a case of unwillingness, nor laziness. I had a long to-do list to get through in order to leave everything behind as good as possible. This kept me busy.
'Why are you going to Santiago?' I was often asked. 'Has something bad happened?' No, nothing to worry about. Strange question really. I just fancied a long vacation and I like hiking. I've been going on hiking holidays for years. And no, I didn't have issues to resolve or things I needed to explore. However, I did read a nice article in the newspaper before I left. The article touched me, even though I wasn't quite sure why.
'In the Exodus story in which people distance themselves from a restrictive Egypt and head for the land of their dreams, it is all about people freeing themselves from their chains and leaving anything that enslaves them to search for a place where they can finally shine. To allow vision to prevail above fear is what this story is inviting you to do. But striving towards a vision does not mean the need to break away from your own history and traditions; it is about keeping vision and tradition together' (Source: Trouw/Deirdre Enthoven, interview with Pieter Lootsma)
There was no time to read books about Santiago. I did, however, get all sorts of great tips from those around me. I had to walk hundreds of kilometres with a big backpack. Also, it was too heavy to cross the dangerous Pyrenees on the first day. It's better to travel with a companion, definitely don't do it alone. This, I must say, scared me a little ;-(.
To be honest, all the well-intended advice brought out my rebellious side. Surely I could hike at my own pace? I had already experienced this on all my previous mountain hikes throughout the years. Training beforehand seemed like a ludicrous idea, it's not a marathon or a competition! When a friend of mine told me I'd suffer from blisters, I got angry. How did she know? Oddly enough I felt as though this wouldn't happen, I was adamant.
And so, I set off without any prior training, with a stuffed backpack that weighed 10 kg and a thick down-filled winter sleeping bag, along with the fears now instilled in me by those offering me advice before I left. My journey started late July, I hadn't even considered the fact that it could be hot in the South of France. The only thing I had taken care of was a one-way ticket from Rotterdam to Biarritz and a hotel room for the first night in St. Jean Pied de Port.
In a rush, I just managed to catch the express train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. Straightaway I was given a whopping fine as I didn't have the right ticket for the express train, even though I had paid for one. I must have left the ticket in the ticket machine. How annoying. Whatever I said and however many times I tried to explain myself, the conductor was having none of it.
Finally in the airplane, I got talking to the lady sat next to me. I didn't know her. That's always nice about travelling alone, you make contact with people quickly. The conversation continued and suddenly it hit me, bizarrely, I recognised her from stories my friend had told me. Without hesitation I blurted this out mid-conversation. She, too, was flabbergasted and taken aback, as she hadn't seen this special friend in years. What an extraordinary crossing of paths and life stories... As she had already arranged to be picked up from the airport, she offered me a lift to the railway station where I needed to catch my train. It was an hour's drive and her driver had to make a detour to drop me off. It's great that I hadn't organised transport to St. Jean Pied de Port...moreover, what wonderful chance encounter!
That night I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port. When I stepped off the train I bumped into a French girl. Together, we walked to the town centre and arranged to grab a bite to eat after we'd checked in. She would start her hike the next day as she was on a tight schedule for the coming 30 days. Luckily I wasn't on a schedule and I decided to spend an extra day in St. Jean Pied de Port.