Camino de Santiago – finally made it!

So I made it to Santiago!  Just me and my little ding-bat mascot.

110km, 7 days, 7 blisters, 2 aching feet and one rather tired body – quite an effort for someone whose ability to get on the aeroplane to Paris was under question a few weeks ago.  It has been tough and I have a feeling the most difficult bit is still to come as my body is slowly winding down from the excitement and battering it has taken and is falling into a warm, comfortable haze of fatigue and a bit of pain from the feet.  I ended up having a rest day in Melide and that lead me to discover that the blister on the ball of my left foot was infected – fun times!  Salt baths and antibiotic cream for me.

The next day in Arzua I met a Puerto Rican band and their friends who were making their way along the Camino, also from Sarria, walking during the day and then playing in town plaza´s of an evening.  I made some wonderful friends and was gifted with a spanish/English copy of the new testament – you don´t have to be religious to appreciate the gesture and even though it was extra weight and I will probably never read it I couldn´t bring myself to leave it behind.

The camino has a funny way of throwing people together, it is Camino destiny.  You are meant to meet all the people you meet and only the Camino knows if you will see them again and if you do, it will be when you least expect it.  On the way to Arzua I met Daniel,  an American who was completely carefree and had an amazing zest for life.  Later  that night in Arzua I met Domenico, a larger than life Italian also walking by himself.  We struck up a conversation whilst puzzling over the significance of a fountain in the town square depicting children hugging cows.  The next morning I walked with one of the girls traveling with the band, named Ruth.  We walked 19km from Arzua to Arca.  It was my biggest day so far and it rained for most of it.  We made our soggy way through the Galician countryside, slipping on cow poo and inhaling the scent of wet Eucalyptus.  I was exhausted and shuffling by the time we crossed paths with Daniel and he was not much better having acquired a bit of tendonitis.  We shuffled into town and went our separate ways, me to a hotel and them to their respective Albergues and pensione´s.  That night I followed the music to the Plaza and found all the girls with the band including Ruth and also Domenico.  Daniel showed up shortly after parading around with a palm frond he had picked up somewhere.  There was dancing and general hilarity and afterwards, hot chocolate!  Hot chocolate in Spain is something else and has to be tried to be believed.  It is so thick and rich you almost need a spoon!  I plan to ditch any unnecessary items from my pack and fit as much as I can on the way back to paris.

Everyone was going to walk to Santiago the next day, apart from Domenico who was only going to walk part of the way.  It would be 18.5km, slightly shorter than Arzua-Arca, or so I thought.  I slept in and ended up booking my hotel in Santiago as I thought there might not be much left by the time I arrived.  Here´s where everything changed for me.

The last road is, I suppose, the one you remember the most but this one was memorable for many reasons.  I left Arca in the light drizzle and the path immediately entered a forest, a gorgeous mix of oak and eucalyptus.  The smell of damp leaf litter and eucalyptus filled the air and it was gorgeous.  The scenery was beautiful and I was in a fantastic mood – it was the last day, I had come so far and there was only a short way to go.  I had nearly accomplished what I had set out to accomplish.  A feat that had resulted in tears, pain, fear and anxiety before I even left the country.  I was listening to my iPod, I can´t tell you the song because I dont remember but suddenly as I was walking I was assaulted by an overpowering feeling of love and protection that stopped me in my tracks.  Then by itself the thought popped into my head as if planted there by something else, “everything is going to be ok”.  Wow, just wow.  Nothing like that has ever happened to me before.  I don´t know who or what was respoinsible, nobody claimed responsibility for it but it was undeniably there.  The magic of the Camino was alive in me and I knew that everything indeed was going to be ok.  Now I don´t know what specifically is going to be ok, whether I can now be well, whether I will get into medicine, whether I will find love and happiness, whether I will die of old age with a large and loving family around me having made a difference to the world – I don´t know, all I know is that whatever happens it will be ok, I will be ok.  And if it took me flying half way around the world and walking 110km to find it then it was all worth it.  Worth the pain and the sweat and the tears and the blisters.

I also realised that I didn´t have to walk any more, once I got to Santiago that would be the end for me.  I didn´t need to walk on to Finisterre or Muxia.  A little further down the road, in the middle of nowhere I met a man.  An elderly Spanish man with no top teeth wearing an old woollen jumper and carrying an umbrella.  We had a 15 minute conversation, him in Spanish and me in English and confusion.  I love language barriers in Spain, it doesn´t seem to matter, they try and talk anyway! from what I can tell the conversation went like this;  “You going to Santiago? ah yes, not so far now, only 16km now and there is one small hill and one big hill to go to Santiago.  Where did you start? ah Sarria, is long way, very good.  Travelling by yourself? you are very happy/fit/fat/beautiful/brave” – not too sure about the last bit there were a few different words and gestures but yeah, that was the gist of it.

I walked on, for what seemed like forever.  Throughout the day I was periodically overwhelmed by my earlier expereince and the thought that I was going to make it and what that meant to me.  The waymarkers counted down the kilometres and people had begun leaving more messages on them and the occasional pair or ruined shoes.  The last sign said 12km then they stopped showing the distance.  The way kept going and going, surely it had been nearly 10km by now!  Then I heard that the way was actually 4km longer to accommodate for the airport – I was furious! but there was nothing I could do about it, it was the Camino throwing me a final challenge and I would rise to it.

I caught up with a bunch of Japanese walkers, tripping along happily with their cameras, walking poles, white gloves and borad brimmed hats, waving at anything that went past – including cars that were really trying to get past them not have a pilgrim encounter!  On to Monte de Gozo and the first view of Santiago, nearly there!  Down the bottom of the hill and across the highway overpass, the entrance to Santiago is less than inspiring after such a beautiful and spiritually significant experience but it is Santiago nonetheless.  I caught up with 3 girls I had met previously, one from Spain and one from California whom I had met two nights previous in an Albergue in Arzua and a german girl I had met earlier on in the day.  We walked (or rather hobbled and shuffled) our way throught the neverending streets of Santiago to the cathedral which seemed to be running away from us.  By the time we got there it was 4:30, we collapsed in the cathedral too tired to move and way too tired to look for the band that was supposed to be playing at either 5 or 6 in a plaza somewhere in Santiago.  We stayed in the cathedral for around 40 minutes, looking around in silence and taking in the atmosphere.  It is a beautiful cathedral, high arches that have very little decoration, the altar stands out as everythign that can be carved and gilded has been.

After our sit we decided to get our compostela´s and wandered outside, only to find the band playing right outside the cathedral!  We listened, danced and too photos.  Apparently Domenico had made it to Santiago after all and so had Daniel.  I missed them but that is ok.  Afterwards we went to our hotels to rest and refresh in anticipation of what was sure to be an epic night.

I wandered through the streets of  Santiago to find the tapas bar the girls were at and who should I run into at another bar?  Zie Germans!  They were only one day ahead of me after all, if I hadn´t had my day off in Melide I would have finished with them.  What an end to an epic journey, everything tying together perfectly.  After that we met some local guys and went tapas and bar crawling – I got rather drunk (we all did), some time during the evening someone decided tequila was a good idea, I´m not sure why, tequila is never a good idea!  It was a memorable night, made more so by the hangover I had the next day.

Today I am at Finisterre, I arrived yesterday in the sunshine for a spectacular sunset but that will have to wait for the next post, this one is long enough.  I will leave you with some things I have learned from the Camino;

A Bacon, cheese, lettuice and tomato toasted sandwhich tastes like heaven after walking all day in the rain.
A bath is one of the best things in the world
People come into your life as needed and go, they leave you a better person for having known them and you don´t need to hold on to them to make it special, just remember the times you had
Sometimes the best and most impressionable encounters last only an hour but touch you for a lifetime
Santiago will always be there – there is no need to rush, go at your own pace, do what you have to do
Listen to your body, you need it
The Camino is life and fate condensed
Living with very little makes you realise you don´t need much to get by if you have to but also makes you really appreciate things you do have – like nailpolish remover when your toenail is about to come off and looks dreadful

till next time

Hasta Luego!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. una
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 05:48:22

    well done sheila haha…what a great achievement, enjoy the moment.

    Reply

  2. Heather Urie
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 21:20:06

    Beautiful Claire. Am so glad you found joy, peace and gratitude in your journey….one that’s never ending. Look forward to seeing you. Love Heath

    Reply

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