The weirdness of walking a backwards Camino

Everyone’s a comic.

“How are you going to see behind you as you walk?” (does a backwards-walking demonstration)

“Yeah, you’re going to wear a rear-view mirror on your hat, right?”

“You need one of those backup beepers like trucks have.”

Guffaw, guffaw. Yes, you’re hilarious.

Even if it’s getting a little old, I still remember my astonishment when an east-bound pilgrim approached me in 2013. I stood stock still to gape at her, bouche bée. She looked tired and weary, uttering only “Camino?” with raised eyebrows. I pointed the way, and she passed us with a nod.

I wanted to ask her. “You’re walking backwards?” Despite it being so obvious. “Why?!”

She got me thinking. I mean, isn’t Santiago the destination? Isn’t getting there the whole point? As if walking 500 miles wasn’t hard enough, why on earth would anyone willingly turn around and walk back?

My incredulity at encountering that brave Frenchwoman and the myriad jokes of my friends makes me think about the word backward. It’s a mild insult that implies slow, behind the times, and incorrect. Bass-ack-wards, my family says playfully.

It’s curious. If backwards is bad, is the past not valuable? Do we think what’s behind us is less important? It would seem if we’ve already “been there—done that,” the only way to live is to move forward. We have science and technology to thank for that inclination, but perhaps there’s also a cost.

Now that I’ll the one on the receiving end of stares and incredulous questions (and, according to another reverse pilgrim, the refrain “You’re going the wrong way!”), I’m rather excited! There I’ll be, causing countless pilgrims to question the point of walking to Santiago. Or even the point of striving at all. What if it’s all part a larger journey? What if where you are is perfect? Wouldn’t that be great!

That’s partly why I decided to make little question cards to give to pilgrims I meet. (Not everyone, of course. I can’t handle the pack weight!) I made a hundred or so with questions on them and quotes that make people think.

What is calling you?

I anticipate feeling so grateful for good directions, for meaningful connection, for inclusion in Camino families, I just wanted a little something to say thank you.

Making these cards was so fun and satisfying, I decided to make sets of them for friends and clients (here’s info if you want some too). And although my intention isn’t to make people think differently about doing things backwards, maybe the practice of being reflective can heal a tiny bit of what is happening in our world. Or explore the value of our past. In my small way, maybe I can use this pilgrimage to give back and contribute, not just walk. This feels really good to me.

So, as I’ve already said, I’m getting excited about this journey. I wonder who I’m going to meet. So many possibilities lie ahead of me—and perhaps behind me, too!

8 thoughts on “The weirdness of walking a backwards Camino

  1. Ha!
    Re: going the wrong way…that phrase always strikes me as odd (and presumptuous) because how can anyone know where it is you are trying to go, or get to?
    You’re doing this your way, Jen. The popular way isn’t the only way, so how lovely to be reminded that there are other options available if we will be so brave to consider them.
    Buen Camino, my friend. I’m sure the way will be revealed to you with each step.

    1. Thanks, FF! I want to belt out Sinatra, but I think you’re right.

      I’ve also been thinking of witty responses to “you’re going the wrong way” comments. 🙂

  2. Santiago is the destination, yes. But going back means going home… (even if it will be a symbolic home) Isn’t it as important ?
    Being home again was quite difficult after my short camino. And now, when friends prepare a big travel, I always advise them to mentally prepare the returning home as well as the travel itself.
    You do great by going that way. And I am sure your “returning home” will be peaceful.

    1. What a good point, Muriel! Je vais chez moi! It’s the most important place in the world to me. ❤

  3. And if I’m not mistaken, true pilgrims used to walk to Santiago AND home again. They got their scallop shell when they arrived in Santiago and wore it home.

    1. Hi Kelownagirl! 🙂 Although the term “true pilgrims” elicits all kinds of responses in people (have you seen The Way?), 🙂 but you are right. Santiago was only half the way for ancient pilgrims. Today, planes and trains make it possible to speed up the return journey, but I’m not sure if this is good for the soul. Perhaps that’s why so many yearn to come back and walk again–to complete the journey. I’ll try not to feel smug as they all walk by. 🙂 Buen camino!

  4. You have been to Santiago and gained your compostela already, so I wouldn’t feel “weird”, quite the opposite as you have the chance to walk under the same stars. On my last Camino, I met quite a few pilgrims walking the opposite direction so it’s turning out to be a popular thing to do – not as popular as walking westward however 🙂 I look forward to your posts while you are on the Camino! 🙂 Buen Camino!

    1. Thanks! Really, I shouldn’t say it will be anything at all (including weird) since I am not yet walking it! Only time will tell, right? 🙂 Thanks for the good wishes!

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