Of Pilgrims and Dogs


Pet portrait by Carin Steen
Saartje aka Cookie, acrylics on paper, 20 x 26cm (© Carin Steen)

I have no idea how exactly we got in touch, never met the man, but somehow Rokus Loopik and I have been friends on Facebook for a few years now and I have been following his posts with interest. Rokus is a psychiatric nurse, has worked with homeless people in Amsterdam and set up the Living Museum in Holland, an inspiring place without rules where people with mental health issues can create and exhibit. When I saw that he was planning to ride his bicycle from Amsterdam all the way to Santiago de Compostela (as a fundraiser for the Dutch Socialrun Foundation, promoting social acceptance of psychologically vulnerable people), following the pilgrims’ route that basically passes by my house in Asturias, Spain, I sent him a message that he’d be welcome to stay at my place. He promptly replied that he’d be delighted. A few days later he asked me if I could paint a portrait of his dog as a surprise gift for his wife who was also heading towards Santiago de Compostela, walking, from Porto in Portugal. On July 5th the couple would meet up again after almost a month and thousands of kilometers apart.

On the 27th of June, Rokus made it to Llanes. Perfect timing, now I could watch the (disastrous) match Holland- Chech Republic together with a fellow Dutch football fan! Rokus arrived shortly after noon, just when the Spanish gather at bars and restaurants for their aperativo. So we too would meet up at one of the local bars in my tiny village.
It was a Sunday, the bars and the street in between were packed as usual during summer weekends, but I immediately picked Rokus out of the crowd. I called his name and just as we walked toward each other, there was a bit of a scuffle: Rokus’ shins got viciously attacked by tow Yorkshire terriers who were tethered in a corner. The owners came running, the dogs were pulled back. Rokus was very calm and waved it off, reassuring the owner it was nothing. We sat down, had a beer and it was then we noticed his leg was still bleeding. I went inside to ask for a first aid kit. Nobody could remember exactly where the first aid kit was, but a waiter did find a bit of gauze and some iodine. In the next hour or so, half the clients and all of the staff were fuzzing about Rokus and his leg, while the man drank his beer. I felt sorry for him, but to be honest, it was pretty funny. Quite the entrance!

The restaurant's chef cleaning the gaping wound

The culprits!

Back to the dog. I very much enjoyed painting the portrait of Saartje aka Cookie and anging out with Rokus. What an inspiring guy! After two full days in Llanes, my roommate Argi and I said goodbye to a new friend, with a healed dog bite on his shin. By now, Rokus, his wife and dog have been reunited and are enjoying a much-deserved vacation in their camper without walking or cycling.  

Rokus in Santiago de Compostela

Rokus' love Marie-Anne arriving in Santiago, welcomed by a very happy dog!

Saartje aka Cookie, detail, acrylics on paper, 20 x 26cm (© Carin Steen)