way to Santiago de Compostela

Walking as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela

I think all of us have had a go at being a tourist. We go somewhere we haven’t been before, and there’s often a list of touristy things to do. In Christchurch it’s probably ride the tram, go to the Restart Mall, go on a punt. Tourists often do things that locals generally do not do. I’ve lived in Christchurch most of my life – I’ve never been on a punt on the Avon.

I think we all know what a tourist is – you know, visiting Europe 10 cities in 10 days; if it’s Tuesday then this must be Brussels.

A tourist often wants to be in a different place to home but have things similar or better than home. No weird foods please – my stomach might get upset. If it’s hot, travel in an air-conditioned bus and stay in an air-conditioned hotel. If it’s cold, put the heaters on in the bus; and in the hotel. It’s a bit like a TV programme about the place you are visiting, but wearing 3D glasses.

So I’ve been a tourist. I’d like to distinguish being a tourist from travelling. Travelling is quite different to being a tourist. You don’t try and insulate yourself from the local experiences; in fact you want to immerse yourself in the local reality as much as possible: speak their language, eat their food, live as much as you can like they live for the time you are there.

So there’s tourist, there’s traveller, and there’s being on a journey. The dictionary definition of being on a journey is “traveling from one place to another” and it adds “usually taking a rather long time”. So being on a journey is like travelling, but it adds a new component – a destination. You are going somewhere – from one place to another.

Travelling is focusing on where you are now, in fact trying to really experience where you are now (and that makes it different from tourism which much more tries to insulate you from where you are now). The journey is not losing the importance of really experiencing where you are now – but adds, as well, that you have an ultimate destination – your travel is going somewhere.

Alto del Perdón – The Mount of Forgiveness

Alto del Perdón – The Mount of Forgiveness

There’s tourism, travelling, journeying – and then there is pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is sacred journeying. I was a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela – it was a journey to a sacred destination. The pilgrimage was both about the destination and the daily experience – both were sacred. A pilgrim values, treasures, and treats with reverence every step and experience along the way, the pilgrim lives fully in the present, and has an ultimate destination in mind and heart.

And, once again, I hope you’ve noticed several levels here. In your life are you a tourist, trying to insulate yourself from what is actually happening, trying to distract yourself from reality? In your life are you a traveller – being fully present in the moment, in this moment? Is your life a journey – are you present this moment and also are you clearly headed somewhere? Is your life a pilgrimage – reverencing every moment, and with an ultimate sacred destination?

This is another post in the series on my walking the Camino.

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