The last day has arrived. The run into Santiago and the finish line is here. I have mixed emotions about how to finish, go slow and enjoy the last day or speed walk the Camino and have more time in Santiago. Either way I am going to start at first light, not waiting for the "free" breakfast of stale toast, tea or coffee and sometimes cheese and ham. I am on the road walking at 6:15 am, still a bit dark, but I know it's on pavement, don't need much light. I thought an early start would help hold the crowd down. Wishful thinking on my part. The weather is thick cloud cover, light wind and in the high 50's. Nice for walking fast if I choose to. I am also using poles today, which have been packed away for weeks. I like them but they interfere with my Fitbit mileage counter because my arm movement is very different when I use poles. I like the Fitbit to keep track of the mileage, then I know how far I have gone and how much is left to go. The up side is I can double my pace using my arms and poles to push me along, especially uphill. As before there are already a steady stream of Pilgrims on the Camino. The Camino is mostly in woodlands and narrow pavement. It is not perfect but it's OK, based on the number of people I decide to push myself and opt to hall butt to Santiago.
It is quite a different experience now, more people, more places to get food and water, very different Pilgrims, outfits, equipment and attitudes. No judging just saying it is very different from the previous 33 days. The Camino is an up hill climb out of Rua, and then again at Mount do Gozo It is only 900ft and a pretty gentle slope. So many of the Pilgrims stop and rest going up these hills it becomes hard to maneuver around the resting Pilgrims. I am making good time and I am sure I can reach my goal today which is to Attend Pilgrims Mass @ 12pm in Santiago. I am seeing Santiago at 10AM almost 1 hour ahead of my goal. Santiago is much bigger that I had expected. It is another 45 minuets to the center of town where the church and my hotel are. I am at the church just before 11, plenty of time to enter the church and look around before mass. The town is packed with Pilgrims and Tourists. I see almost all of the people I have seen previously on the Camino.
When I see the church I am surprised by the rush of emotion that comes over me, I can really see the end, I will make it, and it feels really good. I am standing in front of the church trying to get my bearings on which side of the church am I on, it is so big you can't tell much by standing on one side. There are crowds of people everywhere, a guy taps my shoulder and asks if I had walked the Camino. I say yes, and he begins asking questions like, "Where did you start? When did you start? What was the hardest part? Where did you stay. Where is your big Backpack?". The usual questions. He is Dutch and with a large group. As I answer his questions, more people from his tour are listening and asking questions. I do my best to answer truthfully, but reliving the last 36 days is really brings out a lot of emotion. Being lost, wanting to quit, being injured, bad weather, poor trail condition, beautiful surrounding, unequaled silence, out of body experience walking alone with my thoughts, random local's interaction and so on. He tells me he is too old to try but would really love to do the Camino. I ask how old he is and he says 70, I tell him thats only 2 years older than I, and your never too old to try, I tell him. Any way is was an interesting exchange, he was very kind in his words as to his admiration for what I had accomplished on the Camino. It is interesting at the point to see, who is in town, size of their load, what they are wearing, most showing signs of injury's, limping, band aids, all kinds of knee and ankle wraps, the walking wounded arrive one by one.
Time for mass in this unbelievable church, its 11:30 and already no where to sit. I find some steps to sit on and wait. Mass is something new to me, not knowing when to stand, not knowing what the words are that are being spoken, not knowing about the group singing, but I truly enjoyed the singing, the attire of the priests, the beauty of the proceeding inside the ornate church, all very inspiring. After mass I head to the Pilgrims document center to get my certificate of Camino del Norte completion. It is a 2 hour wait, in a cold windy courtyard, a very inefficient process. I have heard it can be a 4 hour wait. I wait, get my Certificate and head to my hotel. The hotel is the Spatular Paradores de Compostela, what a building. Great room, hot bath and ready to really check out the town. It is now 5pm and I have had no food or water since yesterday at 2:00pm. So food is first on the agenda. Of course everything is closed, lunch is 1-4pm, dinner is 8-12PM. I am in between. The only restaurant serving food are called "cafeteria's," sandwiches, pizza, pasta very basic. No matter, I order a salad and a slice of pizza, not good but at least something. That done I explore the town. No way I can bring my wife here, shopping is everywhere. Camino everything, tee shirts, sweatshirts, key chains all manor of kick naks. I find a few things and head back to the Hotel to turn in early when I run into the 3 guys I met at the country inn. They are drinking and invite me to sit with them. Two of the guys are from the Ukraine and one guy from North Korea. All 20 years younger than I. We are comparing notes on how the Camino changed at Aruza. All three are exceptional walkers, the one Ukraine guy (Arne) looks like Mr. Clean, shaved head, solidly built and a bull of a walker. His partner is like James, the North Korean, small and wiry. We are drinking and yucking it up when the Girls from Slovakia walk by ( the one I gave the first aid kit to earlier), of course the Ukraine boys invite the girls to join. Next some group James knew walk past, they join. Before I knew what was happening we had 20 people in the group. It was a good way to end the Camino for me. I could see the group was headed for more drinking and music, my cue to head to the hotel. Lots of hugs, hand shaking and exchanging of e-mails, off to bed for me.
In the end, many people have asked me, what the Camino has ment to me. Most of my thoughts are personal and best kept to myself. What I can share is this.The Camino is a reflection of your journey in life, so.
1. It's your Camino, walk it your way, but do walk it.
2. Have a clear vision of your destination
3. Occasionally stop and check your direction, you may have inadvertently deviated from your destination.
4. Be open to new random opportunities be it with people or places.
5. Greet everyone you meet with an open heart.
6. Offer assistance to any who may need it.
7. Never be afraid to try.
8. Age is a state of mind
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