Walking the el Camino de Santiago in Modern Times

For centuries, the Camino de Santiago has drawn religious pilgrims to northern Spain. It’s something I’ve long wanted to do. Previous pilgrims never did it with walkie-talkies, GPS, taxis, and Wonder Bread, like the author of this piece for The Morning News. It sounds like the technology defeats the entire purpose of the pilgrimage, but it’s a great read nonetheless.

But, like Quixote, I was to be dis-enchanted. A few miles before Santiago, we came across a triangular sign hooked to a long extension cord snaking out of sight into the woods. The metal triangle was a motion detector, and as we passed, it said in one of those mechanical voices one expects to hear at the Atlanta airport, “Hola. We wish you a good Camino.”

Not even Quixote could defeat such wizards. In 10 years the Camino might have neon yellow arrows flashing on and off, golf carts, and Taco Bell stands, the tacos sculpted into scallop shells. Such possibilities might give some of my students reason to return.

Reaching the cathedral was similarly anticlimactic. We came to the city outskirts and crossed highways and street corners for half an hour before we finally entered the plaza. A tent city has been set up there, mostly filled with young Spaniards who were protesting the 45-percent unemployment in the country for people between the ages of 16 and 35. My students, some of them as unaffected by the protesting as they had been by the Camino, slumped onto the steps, no hugs or cheers or high fives.

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