Friday, May 20, 2011

Update from Santiago: The End and the Epilogue


It's all old news by now, but I found my update from Santiago that Blogger never posted.  Connection is too slow for the pictures though... (one day there will be pictures on my blog again!). 

Coffee shops have a special place in my heart. After downing untold numbers of cafe con leches in Spanish bars and cafes over the last month and a half I somehow have found myself in a trendy coffee shop in Santiago to pass the rest of the morning. I'm sitting at a table by the window watching pilgrims hurry by on their way to the cathedral (and saw 4 of my pilgrim old friends!) and catching up on a little wifi. The real miracle of it is that they are playing all my favorite songs: Old school Jack Johnson, The Swell Season, Damien Rice, some indie bands and Coldplay--remixed with Latin beats. It's a good place to sit by myself a bit and plan my next few steps. Because honestly, it's been a while since I really had to plan anything. 

One of the many beautiful things of the Camino de Santiago is that for however long it takes you to get to Santiago you really don't have to make many daily decisions. You wake up and you walk. When you get tired you look for an albergue and stop. For a person like me, who is horrible with decisions, it's bliss. Somehow it clears you mind to make decisions about big things in your life when you aren't weighed down with the little ones. 

Anyway, I am in Santiago now (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). So it is time to start up with the decisions and travel plans again. I had been thinking about walking to Finisterre (Latin for The End of the World) for most of my Camino, or at least after it started to look like I would arrive in Santiago well before my flight date. The last week or so of walking though, I started to change my mind. Although its only (!) 89 kilometers more, I could feel myself winding down. My last big walking day ended with pain in both ankles and two new blisters. I decided Santiago was the completion of the Camino de Santiago for me. 

I stayed in Monte do Gozo the night before my arrival where you can see the cathedral of Santiago in the distance. Spotting the destination of my 700km+ journey for the first time was thrilling. I spent the night reflecting and celebrating with fellow pilgrims (and eating the fantastic Galician beef) and then we woke up early to make our triumphal entry to the city. I walked in the final 5 kilometers with two of my absolutely favorite people of my Camino and we took the plaza by storm--banging our walking sticks, blowing whistles and hugging in celebration. It was a feeling like no other--a feeling of huge accomplishment, joy, relief, peace...and even a bit of the sadness that comes at the end of a journey mixed in. 

We did all the pilgrim rituals and requirements--we "hugged" the statue of St. James (Santiago) in the alter of the cathedral, attended pilgrim mass, received our Compostela (ancient latin document stating our indulgence, or forgiveness of sins) complete with our names written in latin and then last night took part of another ancient tradition--eating in the Dos Reyes Parador (the fanciest of Spain's hotels which are all in converted historical buildings) for free! Originally a pilgrims hospital, they have been providing food to pilgrims for something like 600 years. Now that the Parador has taken over the building they still keep the tradition alive by giving a free meal to 10 pilgrims every day. 

I spent the rest of my time poking around in churches and monasteries and just taking in the accomplishment with good friends. I ended the day yesterday like I have so many others over the last month--siting in the plaza, taking in the last rays of sunshine and thinking over my Camino. It's been a long, varied, sometimes painful but incredibly beautiful journey. I'm not sure I'll ever really be able to describe the experience, but I know that it has changed me. 

In fact, it has changed me so much that after two days of rest I woke up in the albergue this morning and decided that I wanted to walk to Finisterre. It's only 89 km after all. 

So after walking west for so long, tomorrow I'll strap on my backpack again, continue to reflect for a few more days and then conclude my pilgrimage in perhaps the best way possible--by watching the sun set at the end of the world. 

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