July 4th - the walk into Santiago
I wake up many times during the night - too excited - finally get out of bed - I take a morning shower - the only time I have done so on the trip. Morning showers are not allowed in the Albergues and severely frowned upon in the hostels - we pilgrims shower at night - if at all.
Today is different though - I need to be at my best for my final stage - I even comb my beard.
I pack up my back pack and get dressed in my quick dry Icebreaker t shirt, quick dry SAXX underwear (the perfect hiking underwear- special compartment stopped chaffing), quick dry North Face shorts and Mund all natural fabric socks. All over overpriced but well worth it - I lace up my Lowa renegade brown hiking boots for the last time - as tight as possible.
I head to the bar (I like saying that) with my gear in tow and get a cafe con leche grande ( I will miss them - I wonder if Bridgehead makes them) and a giant
croissant as well - another treat - I deserve it - I take my time savouring every bite and every sip - I check my emails for the last time - the weather network - it follows me - predicting rain.
I put on my turtle green Tilley mash up hat - I tilt it slightly to the right - I strap on on my Black Diamond extendable steel gray hiking poles and hoist on my 6 litre Osprey dark blue back pack - all of these final actions I savour as well - I take my time - I leave my last pilgrim refuge and head onto the Camino - my Camino for the last time.
I have a chat with my feet - " no ibuprofen today boys - I want you to be fully aware of these last steps - fully in tune with and feeling every stone, pebble and bump - every "natural pathway " - between you and I kind reader it is also my small way of extracting a little revenge for their major role in my early departure.
The 10k will be a mixed
bag today - some climbs and descents - natural for about 5k and then a 5k walk into the outskirts of Santiago and on into the city centre. I will try to take in every view - hear every sound.
I come across one last snail - I ask her to say goodbye to and thank everyone/ everything for me - the stunning variety and beauty of the birds, insects, animals and fauna along the Camino have been a very pleasant surprise - the snails especially along the path have provided me with much bemusement - so many varieties, sizes, shapes and colours - so many. She says she will be happy to do so - with the exception of the cows - they step on and kill thousands of her brothers and sisters weekly - she has no use for them at all - I say I understand and that in fact I too have a few bones to pick with them as well. I ask her if I can take her picture - she says ok if I get her left side - her good side. I do. Picture attached.
first 5k I see no other pilgrims - I am starting to think I took an alternative route by mistake. I keep stopping and checking my trusty John Brierley's "a pilgrim's guide to the Camino de Santiago" to insure I am on the right path. I am - I think. I should have taken a guide book 101 course.
It is threatening rain - if it does I will not even pull out my Sail "on sale special" smurf blue raincoat or Sea to Summit orange/black backpack rain cover. I am defiant - COME ON RAIN - LET ME HAVE IT - GIVE ME YOUR BEST SHOT - It doesn't even try.
Out of nowhere I see three large animals prowling at the top of the next hill. Are these the last of the famous pilgrim eating wild dogs? Really - now - of all times - I can't be late - can't go back. My heart races as I plan my escape route - none - I could not outrun my dear snail friends if I had to let alone three wild dogs - I keep walking slowly - the dogs approach -
I keep my head down and don't look at them - I try to act calm - I have my trek poles in a death grip ready for action - I hope they can not smell fear. They sniff a bit and then leave - only big strays - thank God - she has come through again.
I carry on. I pass the outskirts of the airport. I can hear the planes - can't see any. I pass some huge tv studio lots - both are mentioned in the guide book - I am on the right path.
I walk into Monte del Gozo and past the huge monument erected commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II - it is huge - I hope he left them a substantial thank you gift - I do not stop - I do not take a picture - I have more important business.
I carry onto a series of old wooden slatted bridges only 5 feet wide -old metal hand railings- hovering 40 feet over massive highways and rail tracks - are you serious Camino - trucks/cars and trains wizz by underneath vibrating
the slats under my feet - my heart beats at dangerous levels ( actually I think they are all dangerous at my age) as I hear the slats squeak under my weight - there are even a few missing slats - I do not look down - I can't use my trek poles as I fear one will fall through - I pray no more slats break as I cross over - now would not be a good time to have to be heli-rescued- I carry on and over - WHAT FEAR OF HEIGHTS - IS THIS THE BEST YOU GOT - I regret yelling this instantly.
I walk on and all of a sudden there it is - the city sign SANTIAGO on the outskirts of town - it is across a busy highway on a small island of land surrounded by other highways - inaccessible.
My eyes start to well up - I wipe away the tears.
I look over again - I can now make out a huge canopy tent behind the sign- I didn't see that there originally ? - and there appear to be people under
it - could it be our 6 Irish angels from Cork - I try to see through my tears - I start to make out some faces..
I see my father, grandmother, brother David - they are cheering me on, I see Mo and Jeanne as well - It doesn't make sense. I see Anne - she is raising a glass of red wine - I see other friends, aunts and uncles, relatives long passed. I see Michelle - she is leading the chorus - everyone is cheering and telling me to finish it - you can do it!
I wipe more tears from my eyes. I look back - They are gone.
But wait - now I can make out Danielle. I see Tanya - she is waving one trek pole (our sign for everything is alright) & Shane - Zachary on his shoulders,James and Conita, Karin & Eric - I see Keidon climbing a bean stalk with Jack and Alexava sitting perched up on a Gruffalo's shoulder - their ok Grandpa she yells, really nice - and our Gabriella in a pink body suit doing a pirouette. Go grandpa
go I hear.
There are hundreds of people cheering - mom, Richard and Debbie, aunt Ruth other family & friends' familiar faces. Glen and Carla are yelling - St. Hubert's - Thursday ? I yell back - sure - Think I'll try the ribs.
I wipe away more tears and when I look back again they are all gone too - never there? There is no one there. No canopy. Just the city sign across the highway - cars zooming by.
I compose myself - give myself a shake - I realize there are in fact hundreds of Pilgrims walking by. I take a deep breath and start to follow. I get maybe 200 meters and stop. Someone is whispering in my ear - at first I don't recognize the voice and then it comes to me clearly. It is you kind reader - my constant companion. I now clearly hear what you have to say and realize you are correct.
I turn back and walk back 200 meters. I wait until I see no traffic and I hobble over to the island. I set up my iPad
and step back. I take the perfect selfie - the ultimate selfie - the selfie of all selfies - I finally did it - I'm the selfie King of the World.
And It is at that exact moment I realize My Camino is finished - complete - over. I made it to Santiago. I could not walk the entire 800 km - I did what I could - 500 will do just fine thanks. As my fellow pilgrims Mark and Debbie pointed out :
"The Camino has been there for a thousand years or more. It will still be there a few more years yet. This is supposed to be something we will cherish when we have lost our teeth and are sitting in a rocking chair talking to our great grandkids. Not something to do over a feeling of guilt or failure."
They are right - it will be there in the future if It calls me back - it will be there long after I am gone.
The Camino is different for everyone yet the same - I believe we each get what we need from
it - nothing more - nothing less. For the devout Catholic Christian the significance of the religious aspects of the walk must be overwhelming - quenching a great thirst for spiritual experience - this is not lost on me.
For me though the churches and other religious establishments take second stage to the Camino itself. The Camino gave me more than I could handle - all that I wanted - physically and emotionally - exactly what I needed - no more - no less.
I walk into Santiago following the yellow arrow and scallop shell way markers - I will miss them too.It is another 4km to the city centre - there are now hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims coming and going like ants on an anthill. I hear bagpipe music luring us into the square - I enter the square - very much like the beginning of my walk - there is no fanfare - I don't even think I walked past the live webcam - I hope none of you got up early.
There are over a thousand people mulling about. I feel lost / confused. Two young Asian
girls see my confusion and ask "pilgrim's office." I say yes and like so many other times on this trip two strangers go out of their way to guide me over to my destination - they smile, say congratulations and disappear.
I line up for over an hour- I am in line with other exhausted, bewildered Pilgrims from all over the world - guides speaking several languages move us along - it is my turn - I hand over my Pilgrim's passport and receive my Compostela - it's official - I pay the 2€ for the protective tube.
I leave you kind reader without the usual piss off, tip, blessing or funny event of the day.
I may write one more blog in a week or so - to tie up loose ends so to speak - or I may not.
I want to thank you kind reader for taking the time to read my blogs - I have enjoyed sharing my journey with you. I didn't hear you complain once - you never held me up - you
never criticized - you listened and guided when most needed - the best walking companion I could ask for.
My hope for you is that one day you experience your own Camino wherever and whatever it is - if you have not already done so. Half the fun is the planning / setting the goal - but just remember every Camino starts with that first simple step - take it.
and oh yes for the last time - Buen Camino
I leave you with these words of encouragement from William Ward (from Brierley's guide book):
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
To weep is to risk being called sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To try is to risk failure
But risk must be taken
Because the greatest risk in life
is to risk nothing
The people who risk nothing may avoid sufferings and sorrow
But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow or really live
Chained by their servitude they are slaves who have forfeited all freedom
Only a person who risks is truly free
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