Maarten is a Dutch army veteran who walked Camino del Norte in 2018 and Camino Primitivo in 2021. Breaking his shoulder during the first week didn’t stop him. Walking the camino has helped him cope with the loss of his father and process traumatic experiences as a UN soldier.
Why did you walk the camino?
In 2018, I walked the Camino del Norte from Bordeaux. I needed time and space for myself because things were not going well in several areas of my life. I needed space to process the loss of my father. By his death, I came more in contact with my feelings. This also brought up several traumatic events that I experienced as a UN soldier in 1995 in the former Yugoslavia. In particular, a mission to Sarajevo affected me deeply. The city was constantly bombarded, and the civilians who lived in the city were suffering. For me, the worst moment was the mortar attack on our compound, where I escaped death. The feeling of powerlessness to do anything against all this came on top. I suppressed this experience and was not aware of it for a long time. It is remarkable how many years we can suppress things and leave them unprocessed. But it continues to haunt us, and sooner or later, it comes to the surface.
Around that same time, I quit my job, which I had been unhappy with for some time. So a lot was going on at the same time. All these things that I had to process and give meaning to. That was confusing. When I started the camino, I had several questionsI wanted to answer: How can I deal with the various complex events in my life? But also: How is it to be all alone, and what happens when I leave the rat race behind? Later on, I discovered that not only these questions were answered. I also got answers to the questions I didn’t ask!
“Already after the first week, I broke my shoulder. For me, it was a certainty that I would continue on the Camino.”
What is the most valuable insight you would like to share?
During the first week on the Camino del Norte, I learned that I possess strength and perseverance. I also learned about and experienced the power of vulnerability. I broke my shoulder during a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. For me, it was a certainty that I would continue on the Camino. But to do so, I had to accept that I didn’t have to do everything myself and let others help me. It involved the simplest things; putting on my backpack, grabbing my water bottle, and tying my shoelaces. I had to learn that others are happy to help you, that it’s my own pride that gets in the way. Life is so much easier when you allow others to help you.
“If you dare to have faith, a solution will come your way when you need it.”
For me personally, the camino is a way to get in touch with the spiritual and my heart and intuition, apart from the beautiful nature, the peace, being outside, and the memorable encounters. I have had experiences along the way that you don’t have in everyday life or that take years to get to. For example, I learned that providence exists. If you dare to have faith, a solution will come your way when you need it: a place to sleep; someone with the right advice, a ride. As hikers, we make our own path, and we are guided. This is true on both the camino and life after the camino.
In 2021 I walked the camino for the second time. This time Camino Primitivo. Now I had fewer questions, but this time I knew the camino would give me exactly what I needed then. And so it did. The camino provides.
Carla (36, The Netherlands): Recovering from burnout while walking the camino
Sofia’s (54, Brazil) camino story: ‘At Cruz de Ferro came the sadness’
Nagela Alexa’s Camino Story: ‘The Camino changes your life if you allow it.’
Fabrice (38, France): ‘I realized that walking the camino itself was self-imposed pressure’
Andre’s story (58, Belgium): ‘On the camino, I had to face the hard fact of how horribly I treat myself.’
Emma’s story: ‘I learned to say goodbye on the camino (and in life)’
Maarten’s story: The power of vulnerability
Agne-Henrik’s story: ‘The camino changed my life’