(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

Twenty-nine days before, a train pulled into St. Jean Pied de Port, France, and I stepped from it filled with fear and anticipation. The crisp air and the late night blizzard welcomed me with the hint of what was to come. Now, with more than 525 miles on my feet, it was hard to imagine that my journey was over, and I was heading home. Outside my hotel, I stared at the cobblestones winding their pathways through Santiago. I nodded in gratitude to the power and history, to my safe arrival, to my accomplishment; then I turned and walked away, perhaps never to return.

SantiagoIn the bus depot, I bought an English-language Newsweek thinking it might help pass the time—8 hours to Madrid. I flipped through pages that were filled with glossy photos, the likes of which I’d not seen for one long, otherworldly month. And the nature of them, at once so normal and commonplace, was now oddly pornographic. There was an in-your-face, desire-building aspect to them that repelled me—sickened me even—and made me long for the boring vistas of the Camino I’d been so eager to leave.

I flipped to an article on new ways to pamper yourself: taking sleeping pills to help with jet lag and sending luggage through a service to avoid airport baggage. Slam. Suddenly, here was the world in all its glorious absurdity. Here were lines of people and all of their energies and personalities; here were sounds blasting from all directions; and here was pollution, both mental and environmental. No wonder I’d found bliss on the Camino. I didn’t have to contend with any of this. I didn’t compare myself to anyone. There was no emphasis on appearance. There was no sense of lack, at least for things outside of basic necessities. It was so simple. It was freedom—unencumbered freedom—a letting go that was more powerful and more profound than I had even realized.