the return

Adventure, Central America, Nomadism

How to Return when there is No Turning Back

The plane lands. The boat docks. The train whistles as it arrives at the station.

You step off. Pause. Look around.

Friends and loved ones wait with brilliant smiles and open arms to welcome your return. They look just like the pictures you carried in your mind, and yet… The station looks just like your memory of your departure, and yet…

Is this home? The place you left? It feels different, but you know it has not changed. No, you have changed. Or rather, you have become more yourself, and you do not yet know how to share this new, deeper you-ness with these specters of an earlier time.

You have crossed oceans, scaled mountains, fought dragons, and befriended shadows. You have faced challenges you could not imagine, and you have learned your strength.

But this. This seems insurmountable. How can you possibly carry your lessons back? How do you return?

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Reintegration. Maybe this is the hardest part of the journey. The return.

I know this. We all do. It’s archetypal stuff. Gather so much beauty, so much wisdom, so much knowing—but then, how to bring it home, into the body, into the mind, into the world?

The heart opening, horizon shattering, mind growing is the first step, not the end of the road. For every obstacle we overcome, there is a higher one around the bend. For every road we walk, there is a longer one still to travel. For every difficult journey we complete, there are yet more turbulent waters to navigate up ahead:

The return.

Everything that follows.

We come back from our journeys changed. More sombre, or more joyful. Heavy with nostalgia, or lighter with all the baggage we have dropped along the way. Wiser, or more innocent—or both.

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We live more lifetimes than we could hope. We die small deaths, traverse dark nights, emerge at dawn with new perspective. None of it matters, and yet—I go on, we go on, because the sun still shines. Because the leaves still whisper. The birds still call. The guitar strings still vibrate.

Just as they have always done.

And so we still follow rules of time, of dress, of conduct. We still shine, speak, sing, dance, play—just as we have always done. But we feel like crying and laughing both, because we won’t be the same. We will never be the same.

the return, cape town, toby israel, beach

We have traveled far. We have met dragons. We have shed the layers of ourselves, and now we put them back on. Now we return, full of questions.

We have said hello to the unknown and moved beyond it. We have touched secrets and tasted their blessings on our tongues, our skin, our hearts.

One thing is certain. There is no turning back.


Beach Photos Used with Permission from A Different Story Studio

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Adventure, Europe

Welcome to the World: First Post-Camino Reflections and Impressions.

Sunrise over Bolibar, Basque Country, after an accidental four a.m. start time.
High heels tap-tapping on the pavement. SALE signs in every storefront. The familiar turning on sound of my shiny laptop that I haven’t heard in a month. 
Not one single “hola, peregrina!”* as I pass crowds of strangers in the streets.
Walking through central London is quite the “welcome” to the world. But arriving in London town on this beautiful July day, that’s just what I’ve done, scallop shell hanging from my backpack, dusty shoes on my feet and cool breeze on my face.
While many reflections are sure to follow, here are the first thoughts I’ve had since officially “returning” from my journey:

I’m damn proud of what I’ve just done.
Estimates vary from 795 to 863 kilometers (San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela), but whichever way you hang it, that’s a long walk. I’m proud of these legs that have put up with unplanned 35-kilometer days, these feet that have weathered blisters and mysterious swelling without (much) complaint, this brain that has learned passable Spanish in four weeks. While part of me was underwhelmed by my accomplishment and tempted to understate it, another part of me felt like turning around in the street and shouting, “Look what I did!”
I really want others to know that they can do it too.
Over the past month, I have heard of or personally encountered pilgrims on horseback, bicycle (“bicigrinos”) and wheelchairs; overweight men, non-athletic girls and heavy smokers; young children, women in their seventies and everything—everything—in between. Think you can’t do the Camino? I think you can.
Being a pilgrim is a privileged way to experience another place—maybe the most privileged.
Never have I been so utterly accepted in my travels, nor my purpose and my role so completely understood. As a pilgrim (as opposed to a traveler/tourist/visiter/all the other things I have been), I found local people exceptionally welcoming, caring, understanding and accommodating. The people of Northern Spain have happily put up with my (and thousands of other pilgrims’) poor language skills, smelly clothes, abysmal navigation and overall cluelessness as we passed through their homes. It was a privilege to be received so kindly.
I’ll miss it.
Backpack, staff, sturdy shoes and scallop shell. The trappings of the modern day pilgrim are different from those of our predecessors, but nonetheless unmistakeable. On a daily basis I received unsolicited directions and support from passerby. From farmers in their fields, cyclists whizzing by and cars on the road, shouts of “Hola, peregrina!” and “Buen Camino!” were common and comforting. To be so firmly rooted in a fixed purpose, and to have that role understood and supported by the community, infrastructure and even landscape around you is a rare gift. Though difficult to describe, pilgrimage as a state of being was an unparalleled experience, and I will miss it.
I definitely don’t know what I’ve learned yet.
Deep thoughts? Rare. More common: “My feet hurt.” “I’m hungry.” “Why is the sky still spitting at me?” “Ooohhh, that’s a pretty mountain.” “Cows are funny.” “Goats are funny.” “Hehe, sheep are really, really funny.” “Ooohhh, pretty horses.” “Hmm, my feet still hurt.”
You get the idea. Even more common: “…  …  …” Clear mind. That was the best part. So, I don’t know yet what the big lessons were—but I’m sure they’re in there.
But everything was perfect and exactly how it needed to be.
There’s no “right” way to do the Camino. Everyone will walk at different paces, stop different places and learn different lessons. And that’s exactly as it should be. I’m still entirely in the processing phase of my return, but I know one thing for certain about my journey: It was perfect.

*Peregrino(a) is the Spanish word for “pilgrim.”

Some bonus awesomeness: Check out my friend and fellow pilgrim, Margaret’s inspiring campaign, WALKING FOR WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER IN TIMOR-LESTE – HALIKU.


I expect to be writing a fair bit in the coming weeks and months about the Camino, so if there’s anything in particular you want to hear about, please let me know!

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