A very special vacation

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What a summer this has been! Caught in a whiff of passion, the lightest nudge, a bold self-invitation and a lifetime experience.

Pounced on a good deal by Air France – two cities for the price of one, packed for two weeks and travelled around for two months. Walked the Camino, a pilgrimage I’ve only learned about last month;  stayed with Irene and Tony whom I’ve only known for one day.

So glad I came. Glad I took the chance. If I had done the practical thing by staying home, I would not have experienced the long walks and drives, the warm Spanish hugs, the many French kisses, the little tiffs about going left or right, the joy of reaching a new destination every day, the freshness of home grown vegetables and fruits, the toiling and tilling of earth, starlit nights and crispy mornings, the fullness of country living, and the pride of putting Singapore in the Camino map.

Thank you Irene and Tony, for being so gracious to open your home and hearts to me. We bade farewell this morning but the memories shared together will stay with me forever.

Till we meet again, some captured moments.

Joan Yap

At Maury for Tour de France

At Maury for Tour de France

Sending us to Lourdes to start the Camino. I still didn't know what I was in for that morning.

To Lourdes to start the Camino. Still didn’t know what I was in for that morning.

Putting Singapore in the Camino world map

Putting Singapore in the Camino world map

Start of a new day of walking

Start of a new day of walking

Camino chicas

Camino chicas

Irache wine fountain for a drink and more

Irache wine fountain for a drink and more



Fixing John Deree

Fixing John Deree

Simply irresistible!

Simply irresistible!

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!






There is a place about eight km away from Berdot that Tony brought me to on a sunset drive around the neighbourhood. I was immediately drawn to this quaint tiny town with its packed houses all huddled together as if to keep warm against the harsh winters of a bygone era.

Another one of the many charming medieval villages on top of rolling hills in this part of France, Carla-Bayle was once the centre of Protestant activity and now a magnet for artists and dreamers. Didn’t get to see much during the drive, a fleeting visit that only made me yearn to come back for more.

So I persuaded Irene to join me for another walk before I return to Singapore. It took us 2.5 hours across farms through country sights and smells, ploughing in action, composting and dumping, making hay while the sun was shining, sunflowers brown and droopy waiting to be harvested, dogs barking behind fences, a murdered woman’s lodge now being renovated by new owners, and the occasional car and truck on their way to wherever.

Some climbing up the road, not as bad as the ones we did in the Camino but still needed effort. But that’s what makes the arrival so satisfying when you take in the awesome scenery before you with the deep big lungful of air. Simply breath-taking, as one would say.

Here in the small commune of no more than 800 people according to Wiki, are more art galleries and studios per person than any place I know.


Barefoot artists in handmade clothes, flowing shirts, felt hats, smoking drinking chatting in the gentle breeze of the old square. Somewhere someone was frying onions, faint conversations along the alleys and above in apartments windows all laced up lined with flower pots, a sculptor working on wood, the church bell ringing on the hour, an old lady knitting on the steps of church with friend by her side, a cat in a studio looking like a an artwork, a sleeping dog like a rug.


A certain creative hallucinating atmosphere hanging calmly over the place frozen in time except for ideas and imaginations, philosophical thinking and expressiveness, seeking the past, reaching into the future, never here nor there, tangible and profound – like the art pieces on the walls hoping to touch someone’s raw emotions to desire and possess.

C’est ici qu’on vit le mieux. Wouldn’t it be nice to be an artist here?

 Joan Yap


The priest who missed mass


Berdot (built 1623)

 It happened most likely on a Sunday 300 years ago. A certain priest stepped out of the bastide of Saint Ybars and descended towards the valley village of Sainte Suzanne an hour’s walk away.

There was a congregation waiting, the priest deep in thought and probably worn out by the burden of serving two churches in the midst of wars and farmers’ woes.

Up on a hillock a farmhouse stood, cattle and horses grazing under apple trees. The priest decided to make a detour for a short rest and perhaps a welcoming drink. The heavy day weighed him down, the spirit drowned him and he fell into a deep sleep.

Meanwhile the congregation was waiting. In their best suits and behaviours, they waited but no priest came.

“Enough waiting!” some said, “We know the mass well to carry on without a priest from Saint Ybars”. Some others were determined to continue waiting. There was much debate that day and eventually two distinct groups were formed. And so it started one of the longest countryside revolution from the 17th century to 1948 when Sainte Suzanne was finally granted independence from Saint Ybars. 

The farmhouse where the priest fell asleep is Berdot, the present home of Irene and Tony and where I’ve been staying for the past six weeks. I must admit I exercised a bit of creative license telling the story. The facts are with Tony and the Foix archives.

Nevertheless, it’s such an interesting story that I decided on tracing the priest’s journey to Berdot this cold and wet morning.

Down from the old bastide which has lost all its fortified walls, the winding road gleaming from last night’s rain, past a broken house with its abandoned garden, an old Roman water fountain with its pump handle intact, the avenue of trees leading to two silent fields separated by a gurgling brook.

The original carriageway hard and turfless with wild flowers on both sides, a pair of eagles winging above, the sky turning luminous blue, the grey clouds a memory away and Berdot appeared just around the corner.

It was quite a climb up to the house. When I arrived, Irene was just getting lunch ready and I can rest as long as I like here. Unlike the priest, I won’t be starting a revolution but just to relive the tradition of Berdot’s hospitality.

Joan Yap


Church of Saint Ybars (13th century)


Sainte Suzanne

Sainte Suzanne







After Thoughts

 IMAG1978The Camino is like a good book that we want to read over and over again, each time finding new meanings and surprising connections in the story, never getting tired of it even though we know more or less what the next page brings. Or maybe we do forget the story but remember it was a good one and want to be seduced again by the freedom away from all attachments.

Some say the Camino is a drug, an addiction that somehow gets us up at 5am, start walking in the dark or fog or rain whatever the day brings, stop at the furthest inn that our legs can take us, rest for the night and start all over again the next day.

Walking forward to the villages in the distance, arriving, passing through, moving on. Every day is like walking into a postcard scenery in picturesque countryside.

Sometimes we were so deep in thought that we forget to look back – to the landscape we were part of a moment ago, the people and places we’ve left behind, and at the most beautiful sunrises in the world.

Our part of the Camino is over for Irene and I this year but our friends are still walking towards Santiago. Our thoughts are with them every stage of the way.

Buen Camino Amigos! Don’t forget to look back at the sunrise each day.

Joan Yap



Your own Camino


A Dutch lady told me at the start of the Camino that I can only lose weight after the 6th day. That wasn’t what I had hoped for. It’s been 11 days now and weight loss is the last thing on my mind.

We met a Korean man who walks barefoot, an English lady who has been walking for over 80 days and no intention to stop, 2 young Belgium girls who choose the Camino instead of a beach vacation, a family who cycled with their toddler and preschooler, and many more amazingly interesting people.

Everyone has their own reasons. It’s our own Camino we are walking. We meet people along the way, some walk with us part of the way, we may meet again at the end of the day, we eat together, share sleeping quarters, and the next morning they may leave us, but we still have to move on, keep walking forward until we reach our own destinations.

Buen Camino!

Joan Yap

The Spanish Way


Hundreds of pilgrims from all walks of life, of different ages stayed the night at Roncesvalles to start the Camino. 

It’s surprisingly well organized and pilgrims are openly welcomed every where we go.

We met a Portuguese pilgrim who walked various routes every year for the past 15 years. He walked with us, first lighting up the path in the dark foggy morning and encouraging us all day such that we cover over 30km, a personal record for both of us.

At an unplanned stop in a small church albergue in Zabaldica, we were greeted by a friendly community of volunteers who clean and feed us without asking for any payment. Everything is voluntary, including donations.

The highlight of the stay here is ringing the church bell and every pilgrim is encouraged to do so to announce our arrival.

At the end of the night, we pray together for safe and purposeful journey onward.

Joan Yap


Back to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port


Tony wasn’t joking when he pointed to the mountain range after I bought the scallop that I’ll be crossing those heights. That was two weeks ago when we driving to Berdot after lunch at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Yesterday I passed the pilgrim gate tired but proud to have done the walk with Irene. Tourists were looking and smiling and wishing the pilgrims who have arrived or leaving. 

Only then after seven days did I realize how special the Camino is. It has not been easy all the way but strangely I never thought of giving up, just pushing on so I can keep up with Irene.

The walk in Basque was tough with endless climbing, soggy tracks, parts with no signs for long distances, threatening weather, and a wrongly marked map to add to the fun. 

Its a test of physical, mental and spiritual endurance. Fortunately Irene and I worked well together even though we’ve only known each other for a 15 days.

Tony has been a great help, pushing, encouraging, guiding, checking, advising us all the way.

So Tony, this is for you. Without your idea about this walk, I would not have come so far.

Today we will start walking the Spanish way. Stay with us. 

Joan Yap