Why Did the Backpackers Cross the Spanish Countryside?

On Saturday as we walked our final day toward our ultimate destination we slowed our pace, postponing the inevitable end of an epic adventure. With fewer than 20 kilometers to go it began to dawn on us that the goal we had been walking toward for about 5 weeks was finally within our reach and we didn’t really want to reach it just yet. We were a little bit sad but Thad’s company kept our spirits high as we strolled into Santiago de Compostela (later than most pilgrims, as usual) and made our way toward the pilgrims’ office.

There we presented our credentials (small accordion-fold pamphlets in which we had acquired stamps at every stop along the Camino), stated our motivations for walking and vowed that we had indeed walked the whole way from our starting points. We were then each presented with a compostela, a fancy document written in Latin stating our completion of the Camino de Santiago. Despite the formal feel of this process, the questioning and the serious faces of our interrogators the whole thing seemed a little anticlimactic.

We spent two nights in Santiago (which was far more metropolitan and touristy than any of the cities we’d visited thus far) and even attended Sunday mass in the cathedral – complete with a gigantic silver incense pendulum – just to round off the experience. The inflated prices and souvenir shops highlighted how much we missed all the tiny, sweet, old-person-filled, horse-paddocked, stone-piled villages we had passed through daily for the last 5 weeks. We bid farewell to our wonderful travel partner and wished Thad could have continued on with us.

Reflecting on the previous weeks of walking, we seemed to be propelled forward with a sense of purpose. Though the purpose was often unclear we trusted that the meaning of this strange endeavor of walking 500 miles for no good reason would emerge at some point. Despite being unclear of our purpose we found our experience on the Camino to be special and spiritual, though surprisingly not at the moment of arriving at our destination as we had (maybe unconsciously) hoped. That seems to be the reason we felt confused and significantly underwhelmed in Santiago. When we received our compostelas we were not filled with pride or awe at what we had achieved. Instead, we now recognize that what is special about our experience was having had the opportunity to have had the experience in the first place – passing on foot through village after village, having a simple mission and purpose to our days that were shared with thousands of other travelers simultaneously walking the Camino, being part of something thousands of years old (and likely older into pre-Christian history) and being able to share our experience with all of you, our friends and family who we care about and who care about us.

Right now we are in the Madrid Barajas Airport preparing for a flight to Norway! We have arrived 2 hours prior to our flight to leave time for any possible mishaps, visa concerns or bribery of airport officials. (Note: please refer here for a previous account of airport earliness on Austin’s travel blog.) If all goes well and the gods smile upon us we will land this afternoon in Scandinavia.

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20130627-141447.jpgOne last coffee before leaving Santiago.

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4 thoughts on “Why Did the Backpackers Cross the Spanish Countryside?

  1. Another lesson in being present to the moment! You know, the journey, not the destination, being the reason. You have expressed the notion so beautifully. What an experience.
    Austin, I miss you and David, you as well.
    Love, Tomme

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