19.7 km / 12.2 miles
As with tradition, I just try to enjoy the arrival into Santiago and wait until the celebration and emotions of it have settled to write my last day of walking post. So much goes on when you arrive – the celebration with Camino friends and family – the Compostela – the celebration beers – checking into the hotel and showering – dinner with those that have become so important to you in a short amount of time. There’s just not time to sit down and write about it because you want to live it in that moment.
So on to the last day. Broes from Belgium, Blair from Texas and I had decided to leave at 7am. We probably left a few minutes earlier than that as the last day comes with lots of anticipation. You’re excited to reach the goal but also dealing with the emotions of reaching that goal and having to say goodbye to people who have made a major impact on your journey.
As we were leaving O Pedrouzo, we saw one of the three Pacos (Francisco) we’d met on the way – specifically the one we referred to as Whiskey Paco. I had dinner with him and Anne-Sophie on my second night. He didn’t speak English and we both didn’t speak Spanish, but we managed to enjoy our meal together. He later became Whiskey Paco when he bought a few of us some rather large shots of whiskey that we enjoyed together after a meal. Anyway, Blair decided to grab Paco so he could walk with us to Santiago. I was really happy to be walking with people who had been there for me since the early days.
As this part of the walk wasn’t new to me scenery wise, it was a new experience based on the company. In this last stretch you walk through beautiful eucalyptus forests and the walk around part of the Santiago airport. Today the path was packed full of pilgrims. We’d heard there was some sort of celebration day in regard to St. James, so I suspect that many of the Spanish pilgrims we passed had planned to finish their Camino on this day. We also learned that because of the day, the Botafumeiro would be swinging filled with its incense at the mass in the cathedral. This isn’t always a guarantee as normally someone or a group has to pay 500 euros to arrange for it to be part of the mass. I’ve gotten to experience it twice before and it’s well worth it to see.
We only took one break on the walk in to Santiago. We were all anxious to get to the zero mark outside the cathedral.
Arriving at the cathedral is always a special moment. You try or don’t try to hold back tears. You know a journey has come to an end and you know you’ve accomplished something special. It was neat to see our friend Tauri when we arrived in the square. We took our pictures and sat on the ground for a few moments to soak it all in.
As I’ve mentioned, this Camino didn’t go without challenges that tested me. It’s not supposed to be easy, but at times I felt lonely and defeated. This was a harder Camino to make connections on with fellow pilgrims – until it wasn’t. I feel like the last two days of walking and now the day and a half I’ve spent in Santiago with my Camino friends/family have been so incredibly special. I think part of what solidified those feelings and the closeness was the transition from us walking the Primitivo to joining the French route. We had a common bond that linked us among the hundreds/thousands of other pilgrims. We experienced the same mountains, the same weather, the same villages and albergues. Sure, I had made friends since day one – but the bonds were real and irreplaceable after the last few days of the walk.
Even with the challenges physically and mentally, I will look back at this experience with fond memories. I may not know the impact right away, but I know this will help define me in a positive way going forward.
I hope that I can cross paths with these folks that have made this journey as special as it has been. Yesterday and today I’ve sat at tables on the end of the Camino path to watch incoming pilgrims or in restaurants and have shared stories and laughs with some amazing people from all over the world. I know our friendship is something that is replicated on a daily basis on every Camino path. Our today’s stories and laughs shared will belong to the next group that arrives in Santiago tomorrow. My story can be every pilgrim’s story. One of courage, growth and friendship.
I leave tomorrow and already I’ve had thoughts of when I can try to be here again.