Camino Day 8, part 2 – the end of the beginning

Camino day 8 – Part 2

And on I walked.  The numbers on the wayside markers went down and down and the view was still awe inspiring at times.  I passed fields of wildflowers and groves of silver birch, oak, pine and eucalyptus.  The way went through a tunnel of green that went on for maybe 100m.  Perhaps the trail was carved by hand out of the ground, or maybe the feet of thousands of pilgrim wore away at the earth over time and this is the result.  Who knows, but I like to think it is the latter.
 After that I passed some dead shoes on a waymarker, they had been someone’s faithful companions for hundreds of kilometres and had walked as many steps as they could.
 I really wanted to take a photo of the 13km marker (I can’t remember why) but at around 13.5km the markers stop saying how far there is to go just as you get to the freeway near Lavacolla.  I later discovered that this is because the way was changed to go around the airport – so my book was right all along, not 4km or so out as I had thought.  This meant that my already tough walk of 18.5km was going to be 22.5 (or whatever) but the thought didn’t really hit home, I was on a roll and wouldn’t be stopping.

My feet and legs ached and I cried intermittently, overcome by the magnitude of what I was achieving and the significance of the day.  And the finally, there was Santiago in the distance with only Monte de Gozo in the way.  Not a particularly inspiring first impression but it was the end of the road and that was enough.

The end went on forever, twisting and turning.  First Santiago was to the left, then in front, then to the right, then to the front, then – ah you get the idea.  Finally I got to the bottom of Monte de Gozo and the end was in sight – well, the freeway sign marking the start of Santiago was in sight.  Now all I had to do was get to the cathedral.

At the other end of the freeway overpass I met up with a couple of girls I had met at Arzua (one hot American mama and one sexy Spanish senorita) walking with a (gorgeous german) girl I had met earlier in the day.  I joined them and we walked (or rather hobbled) through the streets of Santiago following the Camino as it twisted and turned on its way to the cathedral.  It seemed to take forever and we were all sore and going slowly – there was no need to hurry, we were in Santiago, we would make it to the end.

And then, finally, we were there!

The cathedral was huge with a magnificent carved stone facade towering above the plaza where the tents of the protesters were set up on the stone ground.  Inside we were surrounded by stone pillars and tourists, some were pilgrims, some not.  We dumped our packs in an alcove and sat, absorbing the atmosphere and reflecting on our journey’s and what had brought us to the Camino.  Hiking boots were swapped for comfortable sandals and we sat in companionable silence for quite a while.  We decided to go and rest in our respective hotels and meet up again for dinner, we thought the chances of finding the band were very slim as there were many plazas in Santiago and we had no idea what time to look.  So we collected our things and walked outside to find – the band!

We greeted them for the last time and listened for a while – there were plenty of hugs and photos.  My walking companion and her injured friend showed up after a little while – apparently the delightful Italian and Southern American lad had finished today as well and had only just passed through the plaza while we were in the Cathedral.  After saying goodbye for the final time the girls and I headed off to get our compostela’s – well, to join the incredibly long line to get out compostela’s and then off to our hotels for some much needed rest before meeting up for tapas later on.

It is easy to spot fellow pilgrims in the streets even without poles, packs and boots.  They usually have sandals with socks, not overly fashionable but practical clothes and often walking slowly and stiffly/sorely with a shuffle or hobble.  Many stop to say congratulations or share a smile as we pass like we know a secret that the other people in the street don’t know.

Today I made a decision.  If/when I am accepted to study medicine, when I finish I will walk the Camino again but this time it will be the whole thing from St Jean, all 800km of it.  The Camino takes a lot, every day you have to give it everything you have and in return it can give you exactly what you need (if not necessarily what you want).  So this time I have walked in hope, next time I walk with thanks.
Just to prove I was really there!

And I will go on to Finisterre, because for me that is the end of the journey.  I wont do it on foot, when I got to my hotel after leaving the cathedral I discovered a blister the size of Mars on my toe that means I will lose my toenail now, not to mention all the rest of the pain my poor body is producing!  Yes, it’s a bus for me – Onwards to the end of the world!!


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