Author Archives: Pieter Stok

About Pieter Stok

I am passionate about faith, marriage and family. My interests include reading, video editing, travel and Lego. Also I find the older I get the more reflective I become. Whereas once I had answers for everything and everyone, now I have more questions.

A Day Off

Today was our day off, so here are some photos of our adventures which included 28000 steps according to my Fitbit.

The Puente La Reina – Queens Bridge, built in the 11thC for pilgrims to cross the Arga River

A left handed door knocker In puente La Reina

The Bimbo bread van in Puente La Reina

Santa Marie de Eunate an 8 sided Romanesque church built in the 12thC

A detail

Mason’s marks

The Portico

Asparagus growing and a church on the hill near Obanos

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Nations Pass our Door

One of the joys of volunteering at an albergue is meeting people from all walks of life and so many different countries. Tonight’s meal table had people from Belgium, France, Brazil, Spain and Ireland. There were teachers, lab techs, a man who called himself an impresario, a person recovering from a stroke assisted by his wife and daughter, and more. I think we had about 18 pilgrims altogether.

There is one constant, every story is unique. Every person comes with their own unique history and set of experiences. For some the walk is about exercise, for others a search for meaning and others still have no idea why they are doing it but they have found themselves here.

Our aim at the albergue is to show love to these people for the short time they are passing through and if they wish to speak about the deeper issues of life we are here to listen and give guidance. On the whole I have found the pilgrims amazingly open which is in large part due to the nature of the Camino but also because it is clear that the albergue is run by Christians. My main handicap is my limited language ability although most people have a ‘leetle eenglish’ which is usually quite impressive and far outstrips any knowledge I have of their language.

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Secundo, and the Church Bell: Two More Glimpses


There are two albergues in our small village and ours requires a bit more walking and is not easily seen from the pilgrimage route. But we have a secret weapon – Secundo. Secundo was born in this village and is in his 70s. Moreover, he has taken a liking to the family that runs the albergue I am volunteering in. So he has made it his task to greet pilgrims as they come into Villamayor and direct them to, what he considers to be, the better albergue.

We have heard pilgrims say, as they enter our albergue, that an old man told them to come here. Secundo enjoys talking with the pilgrims, in fact, anyone at the albergue. I am learning the art of ‘Google Translate’ on the run when conversing with Secundo.

The Church Bell

The church bell in Villamayor sounds like small boys throwing rocks at a 44 gallon drum. It still strikes the number of bells for the hour and one every half hour – 24 hours a day. Being hot, the windows are open, so just when you have fallen asleep at night one is unceremoniously awakened by, what seems like, a gang of small boys throwing rocks at a drum. The locals must be used to it but I am still learning to adjust.

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Appreciating the small things

After a long walk …

One of the small things that the volunteers do at the Oasis Trails Albergue is to give arriving pilgrims a footbath with Epsom salts. This small act, which only requires us to walk down to the tap(faucet) with a blue bucket, sprinkle in some salt and give pilgrims a towel, is hugely appreciated. If they want us to we will even help them to take their shoes off.

It is a small act of mercy – of simple love, but it makes me think of all the small acts of mercy that I don’t show, which, with open eyes I could have shown.

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A Servant Heart

“You mean, you can do the camino on a bike?”

Nobody would accuse me of having a servant heart. I am more likely to tell people to do something than do it. However, being in an albergue requires me to have a totally different mindset. I am here to serve, to care and to be supportive. No longer can I say, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”

Washing and hanging up sheets, sweeping, mopping, serving meals, being welcoming, ensuring that no one has introduced unwelcome guests (bed bugs – otherwise known as ‘bunnies’, so named so as not to scare anyone. Although being known as bunny killers is not good for the image either) is all in a day’s work.

It has also meant being ordered around by my wife who has been an expert in these duties for a long time. It is very humbling to think that people (primarily my wife) have been doing these things for me for a long time and I have, far too rarely, been appreciative of this.

So currently I am in the process of being humbled. Many who know me too well are probably saying under their breath, “About time!”

Stairs to mop

Preparing beds

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Art, Giants and Big Heads

I was going to write today about my lack of a servant heart and how it needs to be trained. However, today we went to the town of Los Arcos for the festival which centred on the Assumption of Mary – a national holiday in Spain. It included giants and big heads – Gigantes y Cabezudos .We missed out on the running of the bulls. Rather than write about it I have included some photos. I will leave the servant heart musings for another time.

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Too Much Information

Festival Patronales in Estella, Spain

Hetty and I went into Estella for our day off. Hetty had noticed a week earlier that men dressed like men on horseback were going around chasing and hitting children with white bags that looked like slightly elongated balloons. While in a craft/leather shop in Estella we noticed that they were for sale. We inquired what they were made of. Was it leather or plastic? The shop keeper nodded ‘no’ quite vigorously and grasped his groin area dramatically. Looking both aghast and puzzled we wondered what he was on about. Then he added the word ‘toro’. The realisation hit us that these white ‘bags’ were made from bull scrotums (what is the plural?). There was some nervous hilarity as we left the shop. The remnants of running with the bulls I suppose.

All this is part of the Patronales festival which involves, bulls, dancing, giants and big heads – go figure.

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Glimpses of an albergue.

Hetty and I are volunteering in an albergue – a hostel on the Camino to Santiago in Spain. I hope, in time, to give readers an idea of what that involves. At the moment I am still learning about all the expectations myself.

Currently the helpers in the albergue come from the US, Germany, Holland and Australia. They may stay for a few weeks or some, months. The tasks include cleaning rooms, washing sheets, feeding pilgrims and the team, registering arrivals and catering to the pilgrims needs as best we can.

Last night around the dining table we had people from France, Ireland and Italy. I am told many nations of the world pass through this little hostel. Most take part in the home cooked meal and enjoy the community atmosphere. If last night was representative, the conversation is lively.

Pilgrims are also invited to a meditation time to reflect on the journey they are taking. Most avail themselves of this as walking gives people a lot of time to think.

The hostel we are in is in a small village just outside Estella. There are about 50 people in this village with very few amenities so our albergue has to cater for quite a few needs the pilgrims may have, most of whom are very far from home.

I have included a few photos to give you an impression of the environs:

The albergue with the castle in the background

A medieval bath just before pilgrims arrive in the village

The local church

The medieval bath

The environs

The path

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A senorita, a Scot and a sheila

The day started early. I was wide awake at 3 am and listened to the church bells strike the quarter hours. By 6am I had had breakfast, packed my bags and was ready to roll. I then made my way through a crowd of young people recovering from the night before. Is there no school or work in Spain? School returns in 4 weeks my informant tells me.

The metro plan had been worked out: how to put money on the Metro card, which station ,which direction, where to change… I got to my first leg of the journey when to my dismay there was a sign over my first changeover indicating that the station was closed for a makeover.

A travel card

Then an attractive young lady came over and indicated (spoke no English but was a whizz with Google translate) that she wanted to assist. When we had worked out a solution she asked where I came from. When I replied, I got a very English response, via Google Translate, “What about all the dangerous animals and insects?”

I assured her that as an expert surfer, crocodile hunter and bushman, I had never had a dangerous encounter. Finally, she was agog that man so young could have six daughters – all older than her. At that point I left the train.

The landscape north of Madrid is so reminiscent of Oz with its wheat fields and dryness. Bailed hay lies waiting in the fields. In the bus everybody was glued to their devices and nobody sat next to the old bloke so I had to entertain myself. We went over the Moron river which gave me some lame ideas for puns.

Just south of Logrono the scenery is quite rugged. Hills, valleys and forests predominate and every now and then you spy a herd of cattle in a little clearing. Closer to Logrono the rock formations and towering cliffs are especially spectacular and the bus took particular care around the numerous hairpin bends.

In Logrono I caught another bus for Urbiola, the closest bus stop to my final destination – Villamayor de Monjardin. On this journey I met a Scot who lives in France and had just finished a portion of the Camino. We spoke about Brexit, Boris and faith and he said that he was optimistic about the last, especially with the end of “Christendom”.

The view from my bedroom

At the bus stop my beloved was there to greet me and once again all was right with, my world, at least.

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Travel, time shifts, posterior and insides

I love travel. I even like being in an aluminium tube 10 kilometres up in the air squashed in with 300 other people. But there are drawbacks. Airport security is one: intimate searches after which the only thing missing is a proposal of marriage. Then there is sitting on your derrière for 24 hours and not knowing which cheek to rest, the loss of sleep and time zone changes which lead to, I imagine, the closest I will ever get to a drug trip or drunkenness, and I shouldn’t forget the indescribable rumblings that airline food causes in one’s innards. But it beats 5 weeks of boredom on a crowded migrant ship in the 1950s.

If there are any tendencies toward depression it should be noted that leaving at 4pm from Melbourne has its dangers. You find that you are flying into the night and the night stays with you for the whole trip. The sun set over WA and resurfaced as we arrived at Madrid. It was a very long night.

The sun setting over Western Australia

Twenty four hours of discomfort and tiredness to be in my favourite country. Not a sacrifice!

Flying overseas without my wife, for the first time ever, I had interesting fellow passengers to cautiously sound out. (That could have been phrased better). The first was a young lady from the Ukraine who had spent 2 years studying in Box Hill. I didn’t know Box Hill could be so riveting. Anyway she loved her time in Oz and now had to travel back via Paris. The second leg had me next to two Spaniards from Burgos. One of our favourite cities so we hit it off. The lady had walked the Camino 9 times and they wanted to visit Australia. I didn’t mention the freezing temperatures Victoria had when I left.

As I am writing this at a cafe table in Madrid, the church bells are ringing but nobody bothers to listen to its invitation. Including me.

When I got off the plane I heeded my wife’s instructions re: the Metro but then I had to navigate the Sunday timetable. A fellow traveller, of Mexican appearance, also seemed puzzled. So we teamed up to confuse each other. In our adventures I learned many things. He comes from California and his dad was an immigrant to the US as a young man who later fought in Korea. He is a writer and teacher who has a book in the pipeline. His eyes lit up when I mentioned Steinbeck, because he did his major on him at Uni, and even spent time at UC Davis where my oldest daughter had also worked at as a post doc. We got to Sol in the centre of Madrid and I was sorry we had to part ways. I think we had discussed half of Steinbeck’s works by this stage! I did leave him with a question; how would Steinbeck have written about Trump’s America?

The Spanish are city wanderers. It is not unusual to see families, married couples and lovers wander the streets, particularly in the afternoon through to late evening, but Sunday must be peak wandering time.

Observing wanderers over a cafe americano and a croissant

Anyway, my hotel is about be ready for me and all I want is a shower and a sleep. Maybe later this afternoon I will continue to observe the Spanish wandering tradition.

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