Hiking across northern Spain on the Camino del Norte and the Gran Recorrido

Hiking across northern Spain on the Camino del Norte and the Gran Recorrido

Why Dan Quixote?

My 1964 version of Don Quixote

My 1964 version of Don Quixote

As mentioned on the About page, I usually work as a wilderness guide and an international/experiential educator, and sometimes as a writer and an editor in textbook publishing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I love literature. In particular, I draw inspiration from Don Quixote, the classic work of Spanish literature by Miguel de Cervantes. Since I first learned about him, I have related to Don Quixote, the protagonist of Cervantes’ novels (which were published in two parts, in 1604 and 1614). For though he is foolish, and often brings harm on himself (and sometimes on others), he lives by the highest ideals and refuses to compromise on these. The passage below, from the first chapter of Part I, describes how he comes to live by these ideals:

“He thought it fit and proper, both in order to increase his renown and to serve the state, to turn knight errant and travel through the world with horse and armour in search of adventures, following in every way the practice of the knights errant he had read of, redressing all manner of wrongs, and exposing himself to changes and dangers, by the overcoming of which he might win eternal honour and renown.”

And while the people Don Quixote encounters often ridicule him, in the end they are usually drawn into his vision and his determined, though often hapless, fight to better the world.

Emulating Don Quixote exactly does not strike me as a wise life plan or even a good way to contribute to society. The character himself denounces his foray into knighthood and its accompanying lifestyle just before dying at the end of Part II. There are, however, important lessons to be learned from the characters and plot of Don Quixote. After all, who would argue that fighting for justice, standing up for your values, and believing in your ability to achieve are negative traits? Don Quixote does all these things, and in the face of extreme scrutiny and insurmountable odds.

In the end he fails, and admits he has been foolish in his efforts to be the perfect knight errant. But even as he does, his loyal squire Sancho begs him to continue with his mission:

“Then, turning to Sancho, he [DQ] said: ‘Pardon me, friend, that I caused you to appear mad, like me, making you fall into the same sort of error as myself, the belief that there were and still are knights errant in the world.’

‘Oh, don’t die, dear master!’ answered Sancho in tears.

‘Take my advice and live many years. For the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die just like that, without anybody killing him, but just finished off by his own melancholy. Don’t be lazy, look you, but get out of bed, and let’s go out into the fields dressed as shepherds, as we decided to. Perhaps we shall find the lady Dulcinea behind some hedge, disenchanted and as pretty as a picture. If it’s from grief at being beaten you’re dying, put the blame on me and say you were tumbled off because I girthed Rocinante badly. For your worship must have seen in your books of chivalries that it’s a common thing for one knight to overthrow another, and the one that’s conquered to-day may be the conqueror to-morrow.’”

And though Sancho and the other characters don’t believe Don Quixote was sane when he was running around attacking windmills, I think they are drawn into his world because they long for a sense of purpose, and they see that his sense of purpose is what fuels him to exceed his own abilities.

I, on the other hand, did not declare myself a knight errant and wander the Spanish countryside righting all manner of wrongs. But I did use this experience as an opportunity to focus on things that are important to me–learning about other cultures, challenging myself physically, mentally, and emotionally–and to embark on some personal development that helped me move forward toward a sense of purpose. Ultimately, for me at least, that meant dedicating myself to causes that make the world a better place, in one way or another.

Encouraging cultural exchange is a fundamental way to do this. That is why I travel, why I write about travel, and why I help others use travel and cultural exchange as a way to grow and develop.

Over the course of my four visits to Spain, I have seen much of the country, from Cádiz on the southwestern coast all the way to Hondarribia, in the northeast corner. I have been to 14 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities.

That's me, full of energy on the first day hiking

That’s me, full of energy on the first day of my hike

There is great value in returning to places you have been and further developing relationships with people you already know, but on this trip I also wanted to visit new parts of Spain, a country with so many distinct cultures, languages, geographies, climates… That is why, in addition to visiting friends in places I had already been, I planned this Itinerary, through Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. Even though I covered a lot of ground, there will always be more to see in Spain!