The Final Kilometers of the Camino
It’s hard to believe that exactly a year has passed since I finished the Camino de Santiago and it has taken me that long to recap that anticipated moment of arrival. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to keep in touch with my Camino friends, and have even been reunited with a few— with Therese in December in Belgium, with Guy last week in San Francisco, with Daniel TODAY in Columbus, and of course with my dear Filippo. All five hundred miles hold lasting memories for me, beautiful scenes and, good-souled people. The following are excerpts from my Camino journal.
It was nice to get to town early and have a day to relax. Filippo and I did our daily laundry and as it dried on the line in the sun, we sat on the patio of the albergue snacking and sipping tinto de verano— the ultimate relaxation on this Santiago Eve.
After eating a full tortilla for dinner, I felt completely depleted of energy after the day’s strong sun and my persistent allergies. I felt I wasn’t being social enough and reflective enough on this evening before we reached Santiago. What a strange, empty feeling. So much had gone into where I was at this point— so much personal change and growth. Was it normal to suddenly feel as if all 800 kilometers were just a dream?
It had been a few days since we last saw some of our Camino family and I looked forward to being reunited even though they had only been just a few towns behind. I knew that these last days were about learning to walk with a man and I knew I had to sacrifice time with friends to grow in my relationship with Filippo.
Saturday, June 22, 2013- Santiago de Compostela
And of course the day arrived. After 32 days of walking, 12 and 20 days combined with almost 365 rest days and a year of growth and change in between, I was on my way to Santiago.
The emptiness of the prior night, like the thick fog that filled the towns we walked through that morning had not yet dissipated. I didn’t want the “last 100K crowds” crowding the final day of such a long journey, but I did want to be walking side-by-side with my “famino.”
But what have I learned? The Camino always provides. Ask and you shall receive. Within a few kilometers, Filippo and I crossed under a bridge to see a café just above. And who was there? Everyone! We hugged and embraced in the timeliest of reunions. That was all I needed to fill me up again on this final day of the Camino.
We walked together, stopped in a town for tortilla, and somehow we managed to fall back just enough from the crowds that when we set off from Monte de Gozo for our final 5k, our group was alone. A big pilgrim family walking to the cathedral. I should say we were not completely alone— a little dog followed us deep into the city until it at last sat down and watched us walk off. I felt the presence of passed loved ones in that pup, walking the final steps with me on this spiritual path.
At one point we ran into the Brazilians in their Camino arrow t-shirts, sitting all in a row, relaxing just minutes away from the cathedral. I admire how they made the Camino their own, down to the final 2k. The Brazilians, I learned knew how to truly live and enjoy the moment.
The streets soon transformed into the old part of town— cobblestone streets filled with families and pilgrims out in masses.
And there we were, next to the cathedral, the front still not yet visible, but I instantly swelled with emotion. Tears filled my eyes as I saw pilgrims we knew from The Way.
We took the steps down under a tunnel filled with the celtic sounds of Galicia. A slight turn to the left and there it was. We all just stared and smiled and let it sink in. Here we were— Santiago de Compostela.
We took photos and laid on the cobblestones, gazing up in fulfillment of our mental and physical efforts. This was an immense accomplishment. I thanked Santiago for all the blessings he bestowed upon me from the beginning of my pilgrimage in St. Jean Pied de Port. I prayed to St. James to find transforming friendship and love along The Way, and that is what I received.
Before settling into the Hopedería San Martin Pinario, an old monastery converted into a hotel, next to the cathedral, we entered the resting place of St. James and received our coveted compostela and final stamp in our credential signifying the official completion of our pilgrimage.
Pilgrim parties ensued for the following two days reuniting us with more of those we met along the way and many who were always just steps ahead or behind.
We went to the Pilgrim’s mass the next day, but sadly the botafumiero was done at the 10 a.m. mass and no one had paid the 300 euro to do it for our mass. The ritual includes a massive incense burner that regally swings across the width of the interior. It was a definite disappointment.
The celebrations continued well into the night, for it was Noche de San Juan, a fiesta with celtic origins, marking the beginning of summer. Bonfires lit the streets where the revelers danced to the music of bagpipes and sipped queimada, a drink made with orujo and spices in a caldron and lit on fire.
Everyone was in good spirits. Filippo did his best Irish dancing and together we did the signature jump over the fire, protecting us from evil spirits.
And just like that it was all over. The following day our friends left us as they continued their walk to Finisterre, and Filippo and I were left to do one last loop around town.
Filippo wanted to stop in at the cathedral once more before heading to the train station. A pilgrim mass was about halfway done, but what caught our eyes was the botafumiero set up. Could it be?! Yes, they were going to do it at the end of mass! And yet again, the Camino always provides. It was the perfect ending to our journey.
But as I wrote to Filippo in a card at our parting, ” The Camino never ends.” How true those words continue to be. It was only just the beginning….