Day 4. The world is the only home I've got. Bellver de Cerdanya - Prat d'Aguiló

When I walked through France in 2015 the attack at the Bataclan took place. I asked myself then if it made sense to walk while horrific things are happening in the world. If I shouldn't be doing something more useful.

Last Thursday the Ramblas in the city where I live and had left that same morning turned into a bloodbath. I am reading the news every day after having arrived in again another idyllic place.

If heaven would exist it might look like the place where we ended today. Prat d'Agilò, at the foot of the Cadi mountains. The only way to get here is by foot and it isn't easy. Stale blue skies, majestic mountains, the sound of cowbells. Horses wandering around, fowles practising their first jumps. I sit in the fields and stare. So much beauty.

If heaven would exist it might look like the place where we ended today. Prat d'Agilò, at the foot of the Cadi mountains. The only way to get here is by foot and it isn't easy. Stale blue skies, majestic mountains, the sound of cowbells. Horses wandering around, fowles practising their first jumps. I sit in the fields and stare. So much beauty.

Is it naive to say we have to be reminded from time to time that the world is a beautiful place? Would it make a difference if we would spend more time in nature? If we would slow down more? I don't know if the answer is in the walking but I know I walk to find the right questions, I walk to know I can trust the world. It is the only home I've got, with all its terrors, its disasters, its magic and its wonders. It is all part of the same thing.

While writing this it has turned dark already. The stars are popping up. The mountains have turned black and small now the focus is on the sky. The dog that came with us all the way from Pi is still trying to convince me I have to throw away his stick. I thought he belonged to one of the new people who joined the group today but he didn't. He just chose to walk with us for 16 kilometers and is unstoppable. I figured we weren't the first group he chose to become friends with and the enthusiastic welcome by the man who is running the refugio confirmed it. The dog is a regular visitor and probably knows the route back and forth better then anybody else. I was welcomed just as warm, with pink comfortable slippers, a cold beer and a big smile.

I laughed when he asked me if I wanted a cold beer. I had already drunk that beer when I walked today's walking day virtually in May but then it came in a glass, now it came in a can. And it tasted so much better today than it did then. You can imagine how it feels when you sit down after a long walk up the mountain and take the first sip from your beer but you can't taste it if the beer only exists in your imagination.

We lost some people today. Franco had to go see a doctor in Barcelona because his ankle hurted too much after three days of walking. Imma needed a few days of rest before coming back. I am not surprised. This first part of the 18 day tour is the hardest part and only on day 9 we will get an easy day with a 7 km walk. No resting days.
Other people join. We are 12 today (plus a dog of course), after a start with 14 and a short walk with 17 people.
To makes things easier this morning we skipped the first couple of kilometers from Bellver to Pi, being driven there with the car after coffee and croissants, yoghurt and peaches and big slices of ham at the breakfast buffet in the hotel where we slept in a soft bed after having used the turbo shower. I am being treated well and I enjoy it a lot, although I can get just as much but a different kind of pleasure out of sleeping at the edge of a forest in my sleeping bag after having eaten a cold tin of chickpeas and waking up with the sunrise.

Two of my trees went missing. The people carrying them went home yesterday and left them with the bags in the transport car. I didn't know. I hope they won't be crushed. The two we carried today are sort of ok, but the twin tree seems to have focused its energy on only one of the two trees that grew out of the acorn. My fellow tree-carrier, who is carrying it in the small backpack, originally on his back but since day 2 on his chest, "like a baby" as he said, was worried. He wants it to do well and it touches me to see how he cares. They got some new soil today and fresh mountain water.

Water comes out of the rocks everywhere. Cold spring water, a weary walker's wet dream. Sometimes there is a tube sticking out of a stone wall, sometimes it is caught in a basin, sometimes it just flows down from the rocks. And sometimes there is a stream with big boulders and small pools and we can fill our water bottles first and then float around for a bit. How nice it would have been to take little samples of all the water we passed, stuck our feet in, ate our food next to, dipped our tired bodies in. A water walk. Although I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not the first one thinking this.

After the villages of Pi and Nas there is only forest and narrow paths. I leave the group behind when the speed gets to slow for my itchy feet. Big pine trees block some parts of the trail, the sun is burning. But when I arrive it is only the middle of the afternoon and all I do until dinner at 7.30 is nothing in the best way possible. There is music after dinner, a young singer-songwriter. I can't sit inside while the mountains change colour though. And there is work to do. There is this to write. And maybe this is just as unreal as the story I wrote after having imagined to make this walk.

All the lights are switched off now. The dog is resting next to the door. Upstairs my fellow walkers are asleep in the giant 15 person bunkbed. If the cows wouldn't still be walking around there would be complete silence. A cowbell soundtrack for the nightsky spectacle. New moon, too dark for a little midnight strole but my eyes wander from star to star. And if this would be a perfect day there would be a shooting star to finish things off. So there it is.


Day 3. A horse concert. Err - Bellver de Cerdanya

"Now, to be properly enjoyed, a walking tour should be gone upon alone. If you go in a company, or even in pairs, it is no longer a walking tour in anything but name; it is something else and more in the nature of a picnic. A walking tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl."

- Robert Louis Stevenson

We didn´t manage leaving at 8. When you´re in a group, the person who is ready is the one who determines the moment you start.
I understand what Stevenson means but there are different ways of walking. I didn´t mind the delay, when you are on your own your pace is being influenced by a lot of things you didn´t decide on yourself as well. Unexpected extra time, the possibility to drink coffee and browse through the newspaper before finally leaving at 9.30. To somehow lose the group shortly after we started and ending up making a solo walking tour anyway. Not planned but pleasurable. In another way than walking in a group is.

No mountains today. But 28 kilometers to walk. I walk fast, I get distracted by a huge old empty farmhouse I could imagine living in and I miss the sign I should have followed. The group is far behind, I decide to continue the road I am walking on and catch them later when our routes will meet again. I walk the big road that leads to Puigcerda, the only safe pathway is through the cropless fields on the side. Cars rushing by, not the nicest view but it doesn't matter as long as I am walking.

Bourg Madam, in the Lidl I bump into four friends who I contacted earlier to say I will be in Puigcerda and who wrote me they don't know if they can enter the city with all the police controls. My mistaken road led me to them anyway. I take a picture of them in front of the olive oil. We say goodby three times. When I walk through Puigcerda I see what they meant. Long lines of cars, waiting to be checked or waved through.

I am not sure if the small roads are busy because it is a Saturday or because people are driving alternative routes to avoid the police controls. Or because they all come from the golf course where  the parking area is as crowded as the Barcelona beach on a sunny summer's day.

I find the Segre again, we drank from its source the day before, just after we wondered if we would be able to cross the border without problems. It was a tiny stream there, here it is a proper river. I walk along the river, loose my way again and end up in a field where three horses give me an unexpected performance. A black one, a dark brown one and a light brown one. All carrying a big bell in a different size. All moving their heads rhythmically up and down to graze and in sudden bursts of energy from left to right to get rid of the flies. Amazing sound.

When I follow them walking out of the field I find the path. The Segre on my right, the mountains far in the distance on the left. It is getting late, 25 kilometer, 26, 27. The campsite is there after 28,5. No trace of the others though. The others who read the info in Catalan I received last minute and not the extended online programme I had used as a guideline.

One quick phone call, one cold drink and a short drive by car later I found myself in a Bellver hotel lobby. Not a bad ending for a day with three wrong turns.


Day 2. The shadow of a black dog. Nuria-Err

The mountains are gorgeous. I already mentioned them yesterday, determining our movements, our state of being. They wore us out on the first day already but at six in the morning the will to walk, the eagerness to move on, to see more, to get tired again, is back. The world is new and we are new.

We. I haven´t walked in a group for a long time, it is so different from walking on your own. Comforting and challenging at the same time. But so early in the morning I am alone with the mountains.

Breakfast, packing, gathering, starting. We are high up already but there is a long way up again. I can see where we have to go from here, a small pass inbetween mountain tops. Just put one feet in front of the other and you will get there at some point. And we do.

We reach the other side of the mountain and in the small valley the news reaches us that it might not be so easy as we thought to reach Err, our goal for today. We have to cross the border between Spain and France, which normally isn´t a problem but after yesterday´s terrorist attacks in Barcelona (and as I hear later in the day, in other places in Catalunya as well) the border controls are strict. Our transport car apparently had problems and most of the people in the group only carry an identity card which normally is sufficient but now people are being asked for their passports. We discuss, continue or go back and skip the part going through France? Some people suggest a vote. Should we stay together as a group? Should the people who don´t want to return the way we came from and take a train from our startingpoint to Puigcerda and continue from there go the way we planned to walk and join the rest later?

I can´t follow all of the discussion (in Catalan) but I express my wish to continue. I don´t know what to do if the group decides we have to stay together and return. I am part of the group but what does that mean?

Somehow during the discussion something shifts. Where first the risk of getting stuck halfway seemed to determine the decision, now people start to realise the authorities are limiting our freedom of movement and are spreading fear and we shouldn´t bough for that. The only way is forward. So on we go. And when we reach the next top we can see France.

There wouldn´t be any problem getting there, but we didn´t know that then. And I don´t think we even noticed when we passed the border. The trees looked the same, the cows made the same sounds. At some point the language changed but not much. Catalan isn´t confined to country borders.

But before we got there we passed the highest point. We could see two countries from there, one behind us, one in front of us. And it was there I saw a big black dog and I remembered something I had almost forgotten.

Quiero que a mí me entierren
Lejos de esos lugares falsos
Donde la gente al año viene
A depositar sus llantos


Quiero que mi tumba sea
Cubierta de espinos altos
De zarzas grandes y espesas
Abrojos y salvajes cardos

Que brote a sus alrededores
Hierba para los ganados
Y que descanse a mi sombra
El perro negro cansado

“ I want to be buried/Far from those fake places/Where people come all year/To shed their tears ….. I want my grave to be/Covered in the thorns/Of big and prickly blackberries/Hawthorns and wild thistles … All around/Grass for lifestock will sprout/And in my shadow/A tired black dog will sleep."

The black dog in the only poem known written by Caracremara, the last Spanish guerilla fighting Franco. More about him in one of the coming days.

Down into the valley, filling our water bottles at the source of the river Segre, going up again and even when Err seemed near it took forever to zig-zag down. We had dispersed, allowing differnt walking speeds for the group to fall apart in smaller groups. But at the campsite we reunited. To all sleep under the same sky as our fellow human beings elsewhere who are really restricted in their movements.


Day 1. What the mountains know. Queralbs - Nuria

I see the world waking up. Mountains turning from black to blue to pink. Sun touching the ridges on the left, lighting up the grey and green, turning it a bright dark yellow. Cowbells, some animals are grazing so nearby I can hear the sound of their teeth pulling out the grass. A chamois on its way down.

Nuria. 2117 meters up in the sky. A silent, beautiful world. But when we arrived here yesterday people were glued to the tv inside the hostel. The attacks in Barcelona had just happened. The outer world enters quickly. Sirenes and people screaming and running. Our phones start ringing, there is no escape.

It is the first thing I think about when I wake up in my bed and walk outside. These extremes. This amazingly beautiful world in which the most terrifying things are happening. I am lucky to be here but I am there as well. I read the messages of friends who can't go back to their homes or were at the place of the attack just a few minutes before it happened.

But these mountains don't know anything about that. Or maybe they do, maybe they know more than I do.

We walked here from Queralbs, a group of about 14 people, carrying walking sticks and small backpacks and the 5 small trees I grew out of acorns from the forest where I grew up in in the Netherlands. Most of the people are from Catalunya, the first language is Catalan. I am handicapped but it doesn't matter. I mix English and Spanish and use hands and feet.

I wasn't sure if other walkers would be willing to carry my trees but it was quite the opposite, they seemed quite eager. I carried one myself and one we planted just outside Queralbs on an open spot in small forest close to a stream.

We weren't the only ones on the well-marked narrow trail. I must have been greated with a 'hola' or 'bon dia' about 300 times during the 8 steep kilometers up. The train followed roughly the same route, announcing its passing with the old-fashioned sound all trains made in the past.

We stopped for a bath in the river. I embroidered a winding blue line on my suit jacket. We walked on, slowly, eagerly, turning around from time to time to look back at where we came from. The higher we walked, the more impressive the views.

And suddenly there was a big lake, embraced by an enormous building, surrounded by mountain tops. Nuria. A former religious center, until times changed. In the 21st century it has turned into a tourist center with a hotel and an entertainment park in the back. A petting zoo where animals are kept within fences.

We don´t stay there long. We don´t belong there. Only long enough to watch a performance by two artists on the edge of the lake, our tired legs stretched out on the stony beach.

The road to the hostel is steeper than the mountain path we walked all day. It is ok, we persevere, because we know a warm meal and a soft matress are awaiting us. And an even more beautiful view than we experienced so far.

We are tired. And it is only day 1.


Taking five trees on a walk

“Of all the trees in the forest, none occupies quite the space in our collective consciousness as the oak. At once both mighty and ancient, the oak is indeed massive in stature, both physically and spiritually. Associated with gods and kings from the earliest tribes of Europe to the Greeks and Romans, right down to our present day nations, the oak continues to be used as a symbol of strength, endurance, and longevity.”

A lot has been written about oak trees. This quote comes from the jewelry maker Carl Blackburn who is also known for his role as a dealer of important and magnificent jewels and is one of the most recognized luxury estate buyers in the US. I don’t know why there is a page about the symbolic meaning of oak trees on his company’s website. Trees have rings. And some rings are made out of wood. But not his. It is a mystery to me. Like many things are.

I was never specifically interested in oak trees myself but somehow they entered my life the way all things enter my life. By chance and going with my instincts.

“Growing an oak tree from a tiny acorn takes a lot of time and patience” the “WikiHow to do anything” website says.

1. Harvest some acorns that are free of worms, holes, and fungus.
2. Place them in a bowl of water. Discard any that float after 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Place the good acorns in a zippered bag with damp vermiculite or peat mix.
4. Store the bag in the fridge for 45 days. Look for sprouting acorns.
5. Place the sprouted acorn, root-side-down, into a small pot filled with damp soil.
6. Water the acorn regularly as it continues to grow.
7. Transplant the acorn outside when it is 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) tall.

I didn’t do any of this. But there are five baby oak trees growing on my balcony, waiting to be taken on a walk through Spain. It makes sense now. Like most things that come into existence by a series of events do.

What I did do was this:

On a sunny day in April I walked through the woods where I grew up and felt just as much (or maybe even more) at home as I used to do in my cozy room in the house not far from the edge of the forest.
I walked along the paths that are now closed off because in the past we managed to disturb the living circumstances of the animals living in those parts of the Netherlands to such an extent that now they have to be protected from peoples’ presence. At the same time the Nature Reserve is being promoted as a great tourist location and more and more people walk and bike through there on less available sandy roads and winding paths. It makes sense to give the animals their space and privacy but it makes me sad at the same time that I can only experience “my” forest the way I’m used to by breaking the law.

I still know where my father took me to find chestnuts in autumn, where the dense corners are where I pretended to be living and tried out my survival kit, the hilltops with the best views, the path with the muddy pools on the left side where we watched salamanders, the location of the ancient grave mounts that are hidden from sight and aren’t indicated from the road, probably because human presence is unwanted there as well.

My goal was the hill top the area is named after. De Haarlerberg. The mountain of Haarle: 63,2 meters high. On my way back I collected chestnuts and beech nuts and acorns. I took them back to my parents house that used to be my grandparents house, the house I was born in. I drove them to Amsterdam, flew them to Barcelona, took them on a train to the Nau Côclea Contemporary Art Center in the Catalan countryside where I spent 18 days to walk the route I was going to walk in August without leaving the house. There are many ways to walk and walking can be many things. (see: www.wherewewandered.blogspot.com). Every day, while walking my route in the virtual world, I planted Cosmos Daydream seeds. A plant with the most amazing name and beautiful pink flowers.

“The “cochlea” /ˈkɒk.liə/ (Ancient Greek: κοχλίας, kōhlias, meaning spiral or snail shell) is the auditory portion of the inner ear. It is a spiral-shaped cavity in the bony labyrinth, in humans making 2.5 turns around its axis, the modiolus. A core component of the cochlea is the Organ of Corti, the sensory organ of hearing. The name “cochlea” is derived from the Latin word for snail shell, which in turn is from the Greek κοχλίας kokhlias ("snail, screw”) …..”
(from Wikipedia)

Nau Côclea is housed in a rectangular building, it looks like a box in the landscape without any curly shapes. But there are snails everywhere. Snails and music. It once started as an artist residency with a focus on sound art and these days music, sound, poetry and storytelling are still of great importance there. The Organ of Corti is stimulated in different ways. And once a year Clara, the director, organises a long walk that is spiral shaped. This year I proposed a plan for it and was invited to make it happen.

When I came back to Barcelona after collecting the seeds I went to Scotland for a week and left them in my room inbetween two layers of moist cotton wool. No idea if that was a smart thing to do. I was hoping they would germinate while I was gone. When I came back it looked messy and nothing had happened. I packed them in a big plastic bag, took them to Nau Coclea and left them outside in the garden next to my frontdoor for the first days when I was settling in. When I wanted to start planting them they were covered by a layer of slugs and snails that had been feasting on them.

I planted the ones that looked still good, I watered them daily inbetween staring at my computer screen and walking virtually through Catalan mountains. At night I put them inside to keep them as safe as possible from the snails, sometimes I checked them in the dark and removed the animals that had almost managed to climb into the pots. The tiny frogs didn’t form a problem but I had to make sure not to step on them when they were jumping through the living room. I don’t know why they kept coming inside when there was a large pond outside.

At the end of my 18 day virtual indoor walk only two of the beech nuts had grown into tiny plants. The rest didn’t show any sign of progress. But when I carefully dug up the acorns some of them had formed roots. So I carried them back on the train to Barcelona.

The beech trees died. The chestnuts never grew into saplings. But five acorns turned into tiny plants and started to form small leaves.

Oak tree facts. “Oaks produce more than 2000 acorns every year, but only one in 10 000 acorns will manage to develop into oak tree.”

I left them in the care of a friend when I went to a natural farming course. It felt a bit like leaving my children behind. I had to go to the Netherlands for a week. Another friend watered them. Every time I came back, the first thing I did was to take a look at my trees.

The young leaves turned brown and I thought they were dying but new leaves kept appearing. I saved the leaves that fell off and studied them as if they were maps.

The biggest one is 25 cm. now, the smallest 8. Two of them are twins which is just as uncommon among oak trees as it is among human beings. I will plant one of those at the location where once, centuries ago, two small boys had a vision. Originally two juniper trees marked the spot where Jaumet and his older brother Celdoni saw the Holy Virgin, but after crowds of pilgrims started to visit the location the trees died. The gothic cross that was put there to replace the trees was demolished during the last Spanish civil war. Now a new cross replaces the cross that replaced the trees in the old meadow of Bassedòria, a stonesthrow distance away from the church and convent (el Santuari del Miracle) that were built there after the miracle happened.

Five trees to be taken on a walk. One to be planted at the starting point, one at the middle (at the Santuari del Miracle) and one at the final destination, Montserrat. One to accompany me on the rest of my journey (which is my life) and one that will find its own destination.

I am thinking about carrying all five of them for the whole walk but I will be dependent on my fellow walkers for that. I can only carry one myself. I have to build handy sturdy lightweight constructions to put them in. I am not sure if they will survive the walking days and I am even less sure if they will manage to stay alive after I planted them but what counts is trying and it is a route that will pass many places where miracles took place so I’ve got good hope I will manage to perform the miracle of transplanting a little piece of my childhood environment to the country I love as a trace of the thing I like doing best: walking with people.


Day 18. Here and there. Montserrat Mountains

I arrived. Whatever that means. Two and a half weeks of walking. I am where I wanted to go. The sadness of arriving, the happiness of having come all the way.

I don't know yet how to describe these mountains, this holy place, I don't know yet what happened exactly in the last 18 days.

Today I will be there, surrounded by mountains. In the coming days I will return here, in the world of words. Different realities. Different worlds. Or maybe not.


Day 17. Crafting a walk and getting smaller in the presence of a mountain. Manresa - Monestir de Montserrat

I’m walking slowly over the old bridge, the Pont Vell, ancient stones forming six big arches. Behind me the Cova de Sant Ignasi, where according to tradition Saint Ignatius of Loyola shut himself in a cave (“cova” in Catalan) for almost a year to pray and do penance when he stayed in Manresa after his pilgrimage to Montserrat (1522-23). He wrote the Spiritual Exercises there and the site has been visited by pilgrims throughout the centuries.

The cave is still there and I went to see it this morning early. But I didn’t see a cave. I saw a baroque church and a Jesuit convent in neo-Classical style. I saw signs pointing in the direction of the cave and before entering the “cave proper” I walked through a vestibule with four stained-glass windows in Venetian style, bronze relief works and some other “remarkable artistic elements”. Two bronze angels are over the door of the cave, inside there’s an alabaster altarpiece. I tried to imagine the original cave and how Saint Ignatius must have seen it but it was hard with all that splendour and tourists chatting in the place where silence reigned once. Some of the big rocks were still visible. I put my hand on them and closed my eyes. Darkness and cold.

The Pont Vell bridges the Cardener river. The movement of the water is accompanied on both sides by the movement of cars on the big roads and trains on the left bank. I am happy to be walking.

The fields start straight after the modern bridge crossing the railway tracks. Terraces and trees that have been planted in long straight lines. I pass the tower of Santa Caterina, on top of the hill, clearly a defense tower and now used as a big flag post. Graffiti again, connecting old and new times.

The castle of Oller del Mas has been there for more than a millenium, Saint Ignatius passed here as well but in the other direction and coming from Jeruzalem, he might have been more eager to reach his destination than I am. Or maybe not. It is addictive and soothing to be on the road, even when it is hard. For me, this is an easy walk, planned for me by somebody else and without the hardships of my former walks where I sometimes slept under bridges in the rain or in old ruins surrounded by big black beetles or on mountain tops beings disturbed by wild boar in the night. Somehow there is a similar feeling though, being on your way for days, being inbetween, a state you never reach on a long circular walk or a daytrip walk. I can see my endpoint already, the mountains of Montserrat are dominating the view now, but I am not there yet.

The family living and working at Oller del Mas has been there for 37 generations. I didn’t have the intention to visit the place but I am curious and walking around the building I bump into Frank, the owner who is in the middle of his work. He asks me if I am there to taste wine and it is tempting, after having thought about the blood of christ earlier that day but there is still a long walk ahead and the mountains are pulling at me. I ask him if it is true that they are tasting the soil and he smiles and confirms and we talk about the love of earth and the art of winemaking. He tells me there is something I might like to see and he hands me over to Jordi who takes me inside the building where I stand in awe in front of man-size amphoras containing wine. He tells me about the master craftman who makes them, Carles Llarch, an artist who calls himself a “currante” and works in the space where art and craftmanship meet. A man who embraces slowness and cares about what he makes and how he makes it. I would love to meet him. And as always when I see beautiful basic functional pieces of furniture, earthenware, knives, I want to learn the craft. Make something useful.

But I am already. Even when you can’t see it. Or can't use it in the way you use cups and knives and tables.

Time to go. And craft a walk.

Fields and farmhouses. Hills and valleys. The pale green of the crops and the different shades of the trees. The earth is a light red. Stone quarreys, scars in the beautiful landscape. Naked grey walls rising up to my left, all vegetation gone but not for long, back into woods, walking a winding road on a mountainside, a big road down below, the C-55. Castellgali, a quite charming medium-sized town, I walk on the Cami de Montserrat but there is no way to get lost, the mountains show the way anyway.

I walk through Can Prat. The mountains are getting closer and closer, rising up from the earth as out of nowhere. It is hypnoticing to walk with them in sight. With every step they get bigger. And I get smaller.

Santa Cecilia Montserrat must have been located perfectly before the road was there. It is still in a wonderful spot though, a bit lower than the road, overlooking a wide open landscape, the Montserrat mountain peaks in its back. The Irish artist Sean Scully fell in love with this place, love at first sight, and he was invited by the director of the Montserrat Museum to transform it into a space where the spiritual and the down to earth meet. Scully describes himself as a mixture between Rothko and Picasso. There is so much to say about him and his work and I will. More later. In the meantime here’s a video about the Espai d'Art Sean Scully - Santa Cecília de Montserrat: http://www.santaceciliamontserrat.com/es/intervencion-sean-scully.

The last 1,5 hour to the Montserrat Monastery. I have seriously shrunken. I am somewhere inbetween the foot and the top of the mountains, balancing somehow, even with the road being two car lanes wide. A smaller path diverts from the big road at some point. The monastery remains out of sight. I know it is around the corner. I know what it looks like. Or at least that’s what I’m thinking. But when I walk the last bend in the road and enter the narrow valley inbetween the two parts of the mountain range I can’t believe my eyes.

Day 17. Landline. Santa Cecilía Montserrat

"It's a reference to the horizon, or the line between the sky and the earth, or between the sea and the edge of the earth, the beach. It refers to this line that has fascinated us from the start, in this world."
- Sean Scully

Landline Cecilia
by Sean Scully
oil on aluminum, 300 x 190 cm

Reading is like walking

"The power of place will be remarkable"
- Aristotle, Physics


Day 15.

A half moon, bats flying low over my head, hunting for insects. A cat looking for mice in a pile of logs. I look out over the field and hunt in my own way. My prey is here.


Day 14. A different story.

A different story today. Yesterday I was already wondering about our human interference, how we manipulate nature, how things slowly started to change after we settled down and became farmers. Until that "happened" we lived in nature, through nature, but we started to create borders between our own habitat and the places where trees and plants and animals did things the way they had been doing it for milennia. Of course you could say we are nature as well and natural forces also take back what humans claimed, creating new natural borders, but I think we all (well, many of us at least) agree on the fact that homo sapiens is the only species that is ruïning its own habitat and thereby doing the same to all the other species.

It wasn’t on my mind when I woke up though, surrounded by trees and plants and the soft buzzing of insects, the sky a light blue. I hadn’t found the river or stream I had promised myself yesterday and my small research into finding a communal swimming pool in the nearby village wasn’t succesful either: I had drank a beer on a terrace and chatted with two locals who seemed to be very happy to live there. I secretly hoped my question whether there was a swimming pool nearby would lead to an invitation to take a dive in one of the private pools I had spotted earlier on. It hadn’t. But the really hot summer days hadn’t started yet so the cold beer cooled me down sufficiently and I made my way back into nature when the sun set.
No tent. Trees for shelter. A sleeping bag to stay warm. Life can be simple. A long walking day through villages on the northern outskirts of Manresa was ahead so I went to sleep early and woke up when it was still cool.

The first part, walking from the two lonely towers, Les Torres de Fals, to Sant Joan de Vilatorrada along the GR3, dipped in and out of the woods covering a small mountain range. Even walking in the middle of nature I heard cars in the far distance, the buzz of a highway which strangely enough always sounds like the sea. It is quite interesting how you perceive sounds. Knowledge always directs our imagination and from there our emotions. If I would think there was an ocean out there, I wouldn’t mind the sound. Now I did, walking in nature but in a sea of cars at the same time. The C-25. I laughed when I thought about the pronounciation of “C”.

Views to both sides, into my past and into my future. The Pyrenees to my left and the Montserrat mountains to my right. Trying to not be in three places at the same time. Thinking that that would be impossible anyway. Or wouldn't it? What is place and what is time? Trying to get rid of those questions and just walk and smell and see.


From the last mountain top, the Collbaix, I could see the highway and the cars like tiny fish. The small plateau I was standing on looked manmade. I wondered if there once was a building here. Another castle maybe, overlooking the valley.
I ate my lunch sitting on some big slabs of stone, looking east, to where I was heading. The grey squares of concrete buildings, big roads sliding like snakes through the valley and forming circles where they met, fields in irregular shapes, the city of Manresa dominating the view.

Manresa. I like that name. I tend to think places look like they sound but I also know that doesn’t make sense. Still I have been disappointed often, visiting a town with the most amazing name, sounding like ancient history, forgotten dreams, birds with big wings floating through the air, laughter, and then finding myself in some ugly place with rude people.
From a distance it was hard to know if Manresa looked the way it sounded. But I didn’t have my hopes set high, knowing this is an industrial area. Textiles and fabrics. But with its heydays over which increased the chances of visual pleasure. Industrial heritage can have a beauty of its own. But so does any kind of ugliness. And I am not a nature walker anyway, not a walker for pleasure.

First Sant Joan de Vilatorrada. Downhill. The last bit of forest and then farmers’ fields. The first big building, low concrete halls. Storage space.
It was a bit of a shock to see the church but I guess I’ve been spoiled, walking through so many beautiful villages.

At the end of the fourteenth century the people in this village were mainly farmers, producing cereals, wine and olives. The textile production that became so important later in history was already present in products like hemp and flax. Things changed profoundly during the Industrial Revolution. An increasing population, increasing exploitation of the resources, mechanisation of production processes leading to more production of barley and decreasing cultivation of vineyards and olive orchards. A lot of immigrants arrived, big textile factories were build, a process that continued until the economical crisis in the 70’s put an end to progress. The former textile factory Cal Gallifa is a library now, organizing “activities to encourage reading, exhibitions, book presentations, conferences, literary gatherings (Reading Club), workshops, storytelling for children and adults”. I would call that progress.

No terrace or bar which was a pity. My coffee addiction is very useful during my walks since one of the essential things is to get into unplanned conversations with random people to hear strange and somehow informative stories that often tell me more about the history or current state of affairs than “official sources” would do. Bars and restaurants are perfect for that. There was a bakery though, the Forn de Cabrianes selling beautiful bread in many different shapes and with promising names. Small conversations with shopkeepers can be nice as well but they never have a lot of time and my Spanish asks for some patience so I just bought bread and tried to say how much I liked the smell of it but I’m not sure if she smiled at me because she liked what I said or if she had no clue and was just being polite.

The village was indeed not very attractive (and now I’m being polite). I walked out, walked through farmers’ fields and alotment gardens. The C25 was right by my side, sometimes left, sometimes right. I crossed it twice.
A big detour to cross another big road, I passed Sant Iscle de Bages and landed in a horrific but therefore quite amusing industrial zone just outside Sant Fruitos de Bages. More alotment gardens, the sadness of Sant Fruitos de Bages, another highway and finally some sense of nature again. Woods, El Pont de Cabrianes, a big river, a town called Navarcles, streets, apartment blocks, had I been here before?

I just kept walking, what else was there to do? Fields again, going up and down the hill, another hill and there it was. El Forn de la Calç. Centre d'Art Contemporani i Sostenibilitat (CACIS).

To be continued.

Day 14. Looking into the future

Montserrat mountains, planned arrival this Sunday (Day 17)

Where I am

You said once how memories also recall other memories, that is, moments of remembering particular events, spaces, in turn become memorable, contributing to an accumulation of details overlaid; memories that in fact produce their own memories. Phantasm. A recurring melody that begins to take on a life of its own, that echoes until the original soon dissipates, unfixed by a repeating continuation. Such echoes become their own body; a body ahead of and behind this one; steps that suddenly haunt my own, and that dislocate and displace the certainty of being here.



A new itinerary.

-Brandon LaBelle, Handbook for the Itinerant


Day 13. Dusty feet

I got a lift back to the Observatori Astronòmic and entered the woods from there. A sand and gravel road, dusty, the rain from last night hadn’t left any traces. Walking through a small valley first and then along the hill, slowly going up. Now and then a farm and terraces, former woodlands now turned into arable land. The opener the landscape became, the more farms and houses popped up. Or maybe it was the other way around, maybe because the farms had established themselves there, the border between open land and forest had moved back. The village of Camps, a handful of houses a few hundred meters to the left of the road, didn’t seem worthwile making a detour for. The farmers were working hard, some of the fields had already been cut and big round haybails decorated the landscape. I like them and here they don’t cover them in plastic like they do in rainy countries: understandable but so ugly.
Some houses had a swimming pool. A swim would be nice now, but maybe I would be so lucky to find a river or a small stream at the end of the day.

Just around lunchtime the dusty slow road turned into a big and fast one. I passed El Molí de Boixeda, a former mill, now restaurant with a big vegetable garden in the back. It was too tempting not to stop and there were only one or two kilometers left to walk. And there were snails on the menu! A good excuse to slow myself down. I hadn’t expected so many people inside on a Tuesday afternoon in what at first seemed to be a lost corner. The road was a sign of many people passing by though. From where? Manresa? Where to? The geography of Catalunya is still a mystery to me.

The owner told me the mill was originally a saw mill and later on used for grain. He was mainly using local products in his kitchen and they baked their bread themselves. He brought me some cherries he had harvested in the weekend. My first cherries of the year.

The big road led to Canet de Fals, one of the least charming villages I’d walked through so far. A modern streetplan with a somewhat rigid grid, new houses with cars parked next to every one of them. Lots of swimming pools, little atmosphere. Apparently these houses were originally second homes of people who lived in the city, most of them build in the seventies. These days people live there permanently though.

I quickly walked out of it, back in the direction I’d come from to climb the hill with the towers, Les Torres de Fals. It was an odd sight. They are the only remainders of the castle that overlooked the village just over 1000 years ago. The old parish church of Sant Vicente and the rectory are still there, the two cylindrical defense towers are far apart, seperated by a small ravine and still give an impression of the size of the former castle by marking the space it once occupied. One was clearly older than the other. What happened here? There was nobody around to ask.

Huge black beetles moved from flower to flower. The swallows were back. The mountains seemed far away but only a week and a half ago I was 2 kilometers higher up than I was now, wearing socks as gloves and thinking of logs burning in the fire instead of dipping my feet in cold water.

I had promised myself a river. Let’s see if I could find one. The sky was clear. Maybe I could sleep under the stars.

Day 12 (night). Two eyes

It was an easy walk to the Observatori Astronòmic de Castelltallat. Still warm and long before dark. The opening hours depend on the sunset and in May you are welcome at 21.30 but on weekdays by appointment only. I was lucky I’d bumped into a small group of enthusiastic amateur astronomers on the campsite and was invited to join them. They all went by car but I wanted to go on foot. Preferably under the stars, so originally I had planned to walk back but it promised to be a dark night and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find my way without a light through the woods and I don’t like using one when I’m walking in the dark.
There was some discussion before I left about whether it would make any sense to go there since it had gotten quite cloudy but everybody seemed to be wanting to give it a try. I left before seven, they waved me out.

You can sense it when nature is getting ready for the night. Birds get louder, the scent changes. I thought I felt raindrops now and then but it remained dry. Two deer crossed the path, standing still in the middle. I stood still as well and we stared at each other for a bit. The trees were mainly pines and gave off a strong smell after the hot day. While I walked the colours disappeared slowly and when I arrived at the observatory everything had turned from green into grey. There were no stars in sight. But the onservatory was lighted beautifully and it was still possible to see the outlines of the Pyrennees on the one side and the Montserrat mountains, my goal, on the other.

I was too early and I walked around the white semi-sphere. There was a small complex of old historical buildings, a big contrast with the observatory itself that looked like a spaceship. I was hoping for the sky to open up, most nights had been clear and filled with stars in the last two weeks but of course tonight everything was covered up.

The cars and the men - why are astronomers almost always men? - arrived and I joined them. They came from different parts of Spain and met up once a year to look at the sky together. In a way a very romantic thing to do (which of course I didn’t tell them). The tour was going to be in Spanish but I was mainly here to look at something I didn’t understand anyway, not in any language. We might have given things names and calculated distances and sizes but the universe and any part of it is still ungraspable for our human mind, even when we think we do know about it because we can photograph it and measure it.

There was an exhibition about the proportions of the solar system with a huge (not talking universal proportions) gleaming yellow ball in the center. I was surprised to find out that this permanent exhibition originated in the place where my journey had started, at Nau Coclea, the Art and Residency Center that had sent me on this walk. In 2006 the sun was standing in the basement studio where now swallows live and artists present work. Other planets were located in the area, Venus 126 meters away, Mars (only 8 mm. big) 245 meters, Uranus 3 kilometers, Jupiter (2 mm.) 6,5 kilometers from the sun, in a nearby village. You could move through the whole solar system by biking or walking through the countryside around Nau Coclea. I wondered why Clara, the director, hadn’t told me but I guess she was curious what I would find out on this walk myself, just following her route without too much knowledge about it, the same route we will walk in August and September with a number of people.

The men admired the big microscope on the roof but there wasn’t much to see looking through it. It was a pity but I suddenly remembered an e-mail I had received last week. It was from a friend who is a doctor, haiku poet and amateur astronomer, somebody I have never met but communicate with ever since he started supporting my walks. I had sent him a small paper boat and a photo of all the boats I had folded out of trash I had found on the road while walking from Barcelona to Paris in 2015. I had also included a story I wrote about “The one million star hotel”, a night I spent sleeping outside under a first cloudy but later on clear starry sky. He wrote me: “I like your story about the million-star-hotel ... And I understand your disappointment with the cloudy night ... If that should happen again, I attach a photo of the "Heart and Soul" nebulae (and the "Double-Cluster" in Cassiopeia like two eyes). They are SO beautiful. And there are LOTS of stars around. You can save the photo on your iPad and then point it towards the sky."

So that is what I did. It was beautiful. And when I showed it to the men they all recognised it and smiled.

I drove back with them to the campsite. It had started to rain softly. The headlights of the car scanned the road. The men were a bit disappointed but I wasn't.

Back in my tent I held my iPad up again, wandered around in the amazing photo until I got lost and fell in a deep sleep.

(Photo: Henrik Bondo)


We are all the same but in a different way

It happens often. I meet somebody who asks me where I am from and when I say I am from the Netherlands - with hesitation, I don’t feel too connected to that country, usually I say I am born there and my roots are there but I lived in and learned from other countries the biggest part of my life - and minutes later I hear the same person tell somebody else I am German. The Netherlands and Germany are completely different countries with two completely different languages. Yes, there are cultural similarities but also many differences. And yes, they are both Germanic languages but I still had a hard time learning German and most Dutch, especially the younger generation, speak English far easier than German. It might be confusing that “Dutch” in English sounds like the German “Deutsch” which means “German”. But still.
And I don’t mind when people make a mistake or don’t remember correctly but I do mind when, if I correct them they just laugh and say “Ah, but it is the same, Dutch or German, the Netherlands or Germany, isn’t it?”

It happened again yesterday. In Catalunya, where I am very aware and supportive of the struggle of the Catalans to have their culture and language respected and cared for, where most people want to be independent from Spain. Where most people speak two different languages but have a preference for what is really their language, Catalan. “Where are you from?” he asked and I said “From the Netherlands”. And when a friend of his arrived he introduced me as Monique from Germany. Somebody else corrected him and he laughed and said: “But it is the same thing, isn’t it?”

I laughed and replied, in my best Spanish: Yes, it is the same thing. Just like Spanish and Catalan is the same thing.”

Day 12. The Cosmos

Practising being slow at campsite cal Paradis (Salo). No walking until it gets dark, to reach the Observatori Astronòmic de Castelltallat before midnight and look at the cosmos through a big telescope. A perfect day to make seed balls, small nature bombs with a variety of Cosmos seeds in them. My favorite one is the Cosmos Daydream, the pink one.

(last photo from: http://www.observatoricastelltallat.com)


Day 10. The ordinariness of true miracles. Solsona - Santuari del Miracle

"Es geht also nicht darum, an ein christliches oder in irgendeiner Weise spirituelles Ziel zu gelangen - sondern darum, auf eine bestimmte Weise zu gehen und zu sehen."

"So it isn't about reaching a religious or somehow spiritual goal - but about walking and seeing things in a specific way."
- W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn 

I didn’t leave Solsona without a last stroll through the beautiful historic center, still quiet on a Saturday morning. I filled my water bottles with water from one of the gothic fountains, wondered if I should find a place for an early coffee but decided to get on the road. The route to the Santuari del Miracle mainly follows the GR7 and the distance to that what I read to be a “magnificent place” is only 11 kilometers. I left the castle of Castellvell behind, walked through farmers fields and crossed roads and entered woods that are still recovering from a big fire in 1998 but are doing quite well thanks to succesful regeneration. More than 25.000 acres got burned that year, unfortunately not a very rare event. There are said to be up to 20,000 forest fires in Spain a year, killing uncountable trees and animals, sometimes people as well.
For nature it doesn’t always have devastating effects only. Nature renews itself, sometimes flourishes even better, bird species that haven’t been around, even in danger of disappearing elsewhere, benefit from new circumstances. But some plants and trees have a hard time surviving or returning, a whole ecological system can change. Some tree species suffered severely here and are struggling still.

I left the trail to walk through the village of Brics but nothing much happened there. Which isn’t a bad thing. Just outside the village there were two ponds and I made a stop there to see if I could spot any exotic (for me, not for this place) animals. I peeped through the window in the wooden structure that kept me out of sight of the animals (a reversed world!), some ducks were splashing around and even not seeing anything out of the ordinary, there was still something extra-ordinary about it. A dreamy atmosphere, maybe because they were so small and relaxing after all the overwhelming views. I read the information panels, looked at pictures of all the animals I hadn’t seen but now knew were there somewhere sometimes and continued. After all the climbs and 20+ kilometer walks this felt like a Sunday stroll. I walked slowly and now and then other walkers or strollers passed me by, surely heading for the same place I was aiming for.

Of course always when you think the walking is easy something comes up, but the steep slope just before the Sant Jaume ermitage was short enough to give me the feeling again I am doing something serious and short enough not to get really tired. I could almost see the place where a miracle happened more than 500 years ago already.

It is said the first church or hermitage was built here in the beginning of the 16th century, probably a simple construction. The miracle that was at its origin, as it often is, was the appearance of the Holy Virgin  to two boys who were herding cattle at the outskirts of Riner. The current church was built in the 17th century and the Baroque altarpiece that is its artistic highlight, was sculpted in the middle of the 18th century by Carles Moretó and in its center is the image of the HolyVirgin, as seen by the two kids.

I read that “the monastery fell into decadence at the end of the 18th Century” and that “from then the Miracle entered a decline from which it did not emerge until 1886”. I’m not exactly sure what that meant but in 1901 the old secular administration was replaced by a Benedictine priory connected to Montserrat and a convent was constructed. Since then a small community of monks has taken care of the sanctuary.

There are only four of them now and I would have loved to talk to them about walking and the meaning of pilgrimage but I am not sure if it is the right moment, being there unannounced and so limited in any non-English (or non-German, non-French or non-Dutch, I do have some language skills and hope, prey, haha, Spanish will come, and I hope I don’t offend the Catalans by putting that lower on my list) so I just wandered around, hoping for some chance encounter.

The courtyard inbetween the plain stone buildings was an oasis in this austere and dry landscape. I sat in the shade and watched other people wandering around. Parents with children, romantic couples, heavy duty walkers, a runner even, strollers and wanderers and some lost souls.

Of course I had a look at the famous baroque altarpiece in the church. The word big is too small to do justice to its size. Enormous suits it better. Meters of gold and ornaments. 23 meters high and 12 meters wide to be precise. But I was more impressed by the glitter of the big round silent waterbasin outside. 
I thought about the young boy who had had the vision. His name was Jaumet, he died a few days after he saw the apparition, he was 10 years old. He wasn’t the only one. A plague epidemy was raging through Catalunya. Visions often happen when times are tough and people feel God is testing them. The two juniper trees that marked the spot where Jaumet and his older brother Celdoni shortly before him had seen the young Virgin didn’t last long either, after crowds of pilgrims started to visit the location. The gothic cross that was put there to replace the trees was demolished during the last Spanish civil war. Now a new cross replaces the cross that replaced the trees in the old meadow of Bassedòria, a stonesthrow distance away from the convent.

In the restaurant there is the miracle of food. Local products are being sold as well and the chef tells me proudly about their biomass heater. I taste his love of the land in what’s on my plate. For some people cooking is almost a religion. Or eating.

But the true miracle happened just before sunset. I walked a big circle around the Santuari and stopped to look back at where I had come from, to see myself walking there again. The solid harsh mountains had changed colour and had become transparant. Blue in different shades. 

I remembered reading earlier today that Crayola is turning the first new blue in 200 years - discovered by a chemist by accident a few years ago - into a crayon.


Day 9. A small eternity

Somehow this turned into a day about flying. Maybe the seeds I sowed in the last 8 days wherever I went have been sprouting. Cosmos Daydream seeds. A resilient plant with a beautiful name that doesn’t need much care, thrives in difficult circumstances (heat and little water, soil with little nutriants) and flowers beautifully. Or maybe the length of the walk today, only 7 kilometers, made me stand still more often to see what it was I saw moving. Black and yellow swallowtail butterflies, finches, a medium sized bird with a yellow back which I’d never seen before but was too fast for me to identify properly, are there Orioles around here? The swift movements of swallows, a few birds of prey far away, a giant dragonfly with a metallic green glistening body and delicate yellowish wings. Big eyes. They see the world in ultra-multicolour: where we humans have tri-chromatic vision (we see colours as a combination of red, blue and green), dragonflies have a minimum of 11 (and up to 30) light sensitive proteins in their eyes. They can see ultraviolet for example. Until today I never wondered what I looked like in a dragonfly’s eyes.

My thoughts went flying as well, back and forth, back to Núria and Gósol and the mountains Picasso crossed with a mule and the ravines that matched Caracremada’s desired burial place, back and forth inbetween then and now, not going foreward, or whatever direction it is to where the future lies in waiting. Nine days, a small eternity …. does that exist? I guess it does. Because I just walked it.

Walking makes time disappear.

Today I walked from Lladurs to Solsona. And in case you are wondering what happened yesterday: the report isn’t written yet but present in notes and in my memory: somehow I always underestimate how much has to be done (and seen and listened to and waited for and not to be forgotten: walked) in a day and sometimes when I am ready to start writing my story, there is nothing of the day left. It will come. I am trying to stay in the day as much as possible so yesterday has disappeared already and will pop up in words here at some moment.

I lingered in Lladures for a bit in the morning. I enjoyed the energy of the place and it had been wonderful to camp in nature and not in an official place. The pleasure of opening your tent in the morning and not having to think about time has been a rare one: the walks so far have been long and not the easiest ones. Some people would pack and start asap anyway, to have the walking part over with, but I don’t really see a difference between walking and waiting, dreaming and seeing, moving and standing still. Walking can be many things and many things can be walking.

Furthermore Solsona was in the well-connected world again and Lladurs, even though these days easily reachable by car, was connected a bit more to the quiet world it had existed in for centuries.

It was hot already when I finally started walking. But my way was downhill, through farmland and woods, nothing to worry about. And I had fresh water from the fountain in front of Lladurs’ church.
I passed the ruins of the castle about which I had heard a most wonderful story. I am not sure if I got all the details right because it was told to me in Catalan but even if it isn’t historically correct (with or without my possible misinterpretation) it is a great story. Apparently during the Carlist War in the 19th century, some soldiers went up to the castle to kill the commander and he escaped by jumping off the cliff with a big sheperd’s umbrella. That must have been quite a spectacle.

The path followed the road closely but there was hardly any traffic. The birds produced the loudest sounds, taking turns with the wind that got quite strong around midday.

The historic walls of Sonsola came as a surprise. Although small, it is a proper city with city rights and many historic remains of its rich past. I walked around and drank water from an old fountain at the Placa Sant Joan. I hesitated in front of the cathedral, but I didn’t enter. I felt too small for a building so big with next to it its equally impressive brother, the Bishop’s Palace, one the most important examples of Catalan neo-classical design. It is a museum these days and I did enter there, but mainly because I was curious about the salt sculptures: a priest who lived in Cardona in the 19th century devoted himself to making scale models of castles and other buildings, carving busts and statues and reproductions of objects out of rock salt. When he died, the collection (including works from other artists) was auctioned and brought to Solsona. Salt has been on my agenda as a material to work with somehow (or maybe I do already, sometimes photographing the salt stains in my black shirts after long walks) for a while.

I didn’t last long. I’ll come back one day to pay it a proper visit. Sonsola’s historical buildings deserve the right attention. But mine right now needed to be unfocused. Floating around on some old Plaça in the shadow, looking at people passing by, maybe doing some writing.

And my wishes were fullfilled.

Dreaming = holding seeds before they fly.