Camino de Santiago Day Thirty-Three: Santa Irene to Santiago de Compostela-Humility

3 05 2018

The group at Santa Irene was so small that we made a pact regarding what time we’d turn on the lights. It made it much easier to gather our things and pack knowing we could be loud and we’d all be ok with that. We had a great breakfast, very good toast and butter, local cheese and membrillo (quince paste), coffee and juice so we felt fueled up for the last day. We would have liked to curl up on the couch next to the wood stove all day but we were really excited to get to Santiago. Only about 21 km away.

It looked like rain so we geared up and started walking. Quickly the light drizzle went away and we shed layers once again so as not to get too hot. We were in good spirits, amazed that today was the day we were going to make it. Incredible really how sting our bodies have become and how my feet have healed themselves and we have learned how to hike.

The trails were easy, a good deal of eucalyptus again which was very soothing in the wet damp air, it seemed to magnify the aroma. Our footsteps fell softly on the packed dirt path and we breathed in and out that magical air. And then it started like a low rumble. We thought it must have been a large group of pilgrims (new ones) walking together their voices a little too loud because no doubt they were excited to be approaching Santiago. As it grew we saw the first group easily overtake our steady and brisk pace. It was about 10 fifteen year old kids.

As they passed I was struck by their clean flowing hair, the bright pink or white sneakers and some without even socks! The smell of Woolite from their clean clean clothes drowned out the peaceful eucalyptus notes and their loud clamor further disrupted our zen moment.

We shrugged, a school trip no doubt. It was ok to let them pass, we had all day to get to Santiago. Then another pod of teens came along, and more and more and more. Must have been at least one hundred kids! We finally had to step to the side of the road to let them pass. We wondered if their teachers had told them to take note of the pilgrims they encountered. Suzy’s eye was tired so she had a leather patch over it to rest it, and looked like a pirate but in a flowing white poncho. I am not sure what I looked like to them. A girl in a John Deere hat weathered by sun and wind in clothes and boots that were filthy, skin tanned but only on one side. My hair is scraggly, I haven’t used my real hair products for a month and it shows (I left them accidentally the third or fourth day in). No matter how much or little I shower I don’t smell very good for long. Triage for the cleaner puffy jacket for the special occasion this morning may have helped, but this is a pilgrim’s life. And I’ve basically become united with these two poles on my arm, my best friends they guide my every step.

We got really excited when we saw the kids stopping for a bathroom break and then came across this sign saying we were in he vicinity of Santiago. We smoked the kids and walked on towards the Santiago airport. We had to make a pit stop for the restroom and grabbed a juice. I was itching to go faster but we did need a rest. While we regrouped it started to drizzle and the kids lapped us again. We set out behind them. We thought of Heino today back in Germany, it’s his birthday. What a celebration it would have been if we could have walked in together.

The walk, this walk that I had been on for thirty three days soon ceased to be interesting. We walked through towns and suburbs but no more forest. We saw a few last cows but then nothing. There were hills that were challenging but on asphalt. There were a lot of pilgrims even without the group. Then we walked alongside and industrial park. I was annoyed frankly, my energy was drained and this scenery wasn’t helping. I periodically checked our progress and was stunned to see we still had two hours to go.

I started to get sad. This walk was going to be over soon, but I could not move past this scenery quickly enough. It was super foggy but not raining. It reminded me of San Francisco and when I opened up Facebook to pass the time, a cryptic post from my friend in the SF cocktail scene was the first thing I saw and my heart sank. I knew right away that San Francisco and we had lost one of our treasured friends. I didn’t know Daniel that well, but he was always so so gracious to me and was always a friend to everyone he met. I remember always being so happy to be around him and honored that he was always so present. He was very very young. Although I knew in my heart he was gone it had yet to be officially confirmed so I sent my friend a note to ask if my suspicion was accurate but then turned to airplane mode.

We plodded on, my mood not much improved. We crossed the huge highway and the train tracks and went on through the outskirts of the town and on and on. There were many pilgrims around but the kids were off at a museum.

We got caught behind some smokers and so we sped up past them. It was raining a bit and the streets were slick. We wove up and around cafes and souvenir shops and on into the town. The shell markers were surprisingly hard to keep track of. Some were missing. A woman had to point us in the right direction. A restaurant owner yelled at us for walking in the street when we were trying to pass a woman chatting on her phone and hogging the sidewalk. It was gray and drizzly.

Suzy noticed the cathedral spires first, a lump grew in my throat.

We eventually entered the old town but it was still hard to find our way. Crazy that we might almost lose our way after so many days following arrows. Occasionally pilgrims would veer off and it was hard to tell if they were on the way to finish their Camino or just heading to an Albergue.

We came in along the side of the church and entered a tunnel where a man was playing bagpipes, then a left and we had arrived. The square was huge and filled with people many taking photos and hugging, others just milling about. It was exactly 2pm. The bells rang.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. We took a few selfies and I said, “We made it.”

We knew next we should get our Compostela, the stamp and document that says you did it. We saw signs for the tourist office and went there. We got a map but kept getting lost. Pilgrims we asked didn’t seem to speak English. We were cold, tired and starving and luckily out of nowhere appeared our Italian friends from the last few nights! They’d ditched their bags already and knew where to go so we headed to the office. The line went around the courtyard and wove through the building. They told us the usual wait is 1 hour. We waited over 2 hours. I was too tired to talk, I didn’t even know what emotion I was feeling. Suzy kept up a conversation with the Italians, in French. Our feet were sore, I still had my pack on as it was easier than removing it. As we got closer to the front the group became friendlier. The group in front of us was from many different states in Mexico. Some people asked us how far we’d walked and were astonished to hear our grand total (according to my iPhone) 829.12 km or 518.2 miles.

We reached the desk where they asked for our information and took our booklets. We got a final stamp and the official Compostela (free) and we each bought the document saying how far we’d walked… their official number is 799. Just like our daily struggle with the guidebooks and maps none of the distances really add up at the end of the day. Later we found that it was a holiday in Spain so the wait was longer than normal, 1304 pilgrims entered Santiago yesterday.

We took another photo with the Italians and set out to get “lunch” we hadn’t eaten since 7:30am. It was almost 5.

We’d seen a cute yet nondescript lunch counter type of place and we located it again. The wife owner was eating her lunch at a table and watching old Westerns dubbed in Spanish. The lights were out. We walked in and asked if they were open, she asked what we wanted and we said everything! Her husband had been in the bathroom but came out and suggested padron peppers, navajas (razor clams) and berberechos (cockles). We said sure. He offered us some mussels in a red sauce and we got a bottle of white Ribeiro wine outed into small soup cups. We began to become human again. We devoured the food and then ordered empanadas is bacalao and langostinas. Manuel the chef and his wife Manuela have owned the place for 27 years.

We spoke a bit about the Camino and we spoke about our evening accommodations. I opted for a little time alone, I just needed to peel away, so I booked two nights at a hotel San Martin Pinario. They have a limited number pilgrim rooms on one floor of what is otherwise a swank hotel in a great location next to the cathedral for 25 Euros including a buffet breakfast. Suzy had booked a room at an Airbnb. Manuela commented that she knew Suzy’s place and the woman who ran it and literally three minutes later the woman was walking past the restaurant, saw Suzy and came in to say hi. “You’re my guest Suzy! Your bag is in your room.” She had recognized Suzy from her profile photo. She told her to hang out a little more as she had to grab her daughter from around the block. Incredible coincidences still continue. As we finished up they gave us a complimentary glass of the herbal Orujo. Suzy headed out and I finished up talking to the couple and headed out.

Pack on and poles under my arm I was done, so tired so ready to rest. I found the square where my hotel was located. I wasn’t quite clear as the name on the banner didn’t exactly match so I asked at the Monastery museum and thy confirmed that my hotel was in the same building, just the opposite door. I couldn’t wait to finally be able to set down the pack and the poles, my burden to carry the entire way. As I rounded the corner to the entry my foot hit a metal sewer cover wet with rain and my poles under my left arm were not engaged as I slammed down into the hard stone on my right knee and hand. I totally bit the dust, so badly that a bystander horrified asked if I was ok. I checked my phone and it wasn’t cracked miraculously and I said yes as i gingerly got up.

More than 500 miles. Up and down treacherous slopes of cobbles, rock and slate. And I get tripped up literally steps from my hotel. It was the message I’d been sent from the universe or God. Each moment of life is your Camino. It hasn’t ended, you’ll always be walking it. You walked it before and you’ll walk it until you kneel before your maker at your death. I was literally on my hands and knees at my destination and served this message.

The Camino, for me, was a way of reminding myself that I have a greater purpose. I must be vigilant with every step, my Camino will never be “over”. I must use the last 33 days as my reminder and inspiration for the rest of my life, to conquer my fear, be open and when you fall get back up and keep walking.

After I stood up and checked my hands for cuts and burst into tears, all the emotion of the last five weeks releasing. I hobbled into the hotel which thankfully is and old monastery so it has a middle courtyard surrounded by a stone cloister so I was able to enter the courtyard for a minute to regain my composure. I was given room 423, 23 of course is my number.

I went to my room sobbing hysterically and saw a big bruise and scrape on my knee. I wasn’t crying for the pain of the fall but rather for the message I was given. Just a very emotion filled journey all culminating at once, and once more where I least expected it, not there in front of the iconic church. I couldn’t really stop crying.

Soon it was almost 7:30, time for the pilgrim mass. I got a text from my friend confirming that Daniel had passed away. I headed into the cathedral and stumbled upon the crypt where St. James is buried. I left two of the things I’d carried the whole way, a prayer card from our beloved and missed Tomas Bermejo and the photo of Laura Super. I cried as I placed them inside the bars of the crypt and knelt, on the good knee to say a prayer. Mass was nice and I received communion, there were lots of people there. Again I was all emotion tears falling onto my pants and the floor, unable to control it.

After mass a woman appeared to my bleary eyes asking “Why are you crying?'” As she embraced me I realized it was Sina, she and Friedrich were there with us once more! They met Suzy for some dinner and I went to a second mass just for pilgrims.

The pastor said this was the first of the year, these special pilgrim sessions only start in May. There were some readings related to el Camino and then he asked us to share an experience if we wanted to. I was the first to speak and told my story about falling. He translated it for everyone into Spanish. We then had a tour of the crypt, he said that St. James was given the privilege of sharing Jesus’ message to humanity and he and the other apostles were given that privilege by Jesus himself. That’s been passed along for generations and he said that the bishop had granted him the same authority. He blessed us all and said for us to ask St. James for the peace we need. It was very special.

I met up with the crew and we hit a bar for some boquerones and gambas al ajillo and some beers and then had some wine together. It will be sad to leave the Germans not knowing if we’d ever see them again. They’re going to Finisterre, being ambitious they’re going to try to do it in less than 3 days. As I headed to my hotel I crossed paths with our other German friend whose name we never caught and we hugged like long lifetime friends. This Camino breeds camaraderie.

The priest said something very interesting. He says he sees people doing the Camino over and over, they lose the feel of it and lose the lessons. They forget how to feel those same feelings they did out on the path… peace, love, magic, inspiration, simplicity, gratefulness. He said, “It’s not that we don’t want to see you back here, but we want you to take these lessons with you in your daily life.”

This is what I was reminded of when I fell. I’m humbled. I’m so grateful that I was chosen to make this journey, that my soul, heart and mind conspired against this physical shell I live in and taught it how to put one foot ahead of the other. I’m humbled by the beauty of the world and the kindness of all I encountered along the way. I’m humbled by the encouragement I’ve received from people I knew and those I didn’t. I’m humbled because I still live in complete amazement of how the universe creates miracles daily if we are only open enough to witness them and to acknowledge that they are real. I’m humbled by the friendship and support of Suzy my partner in this journey, so well matched. I’m humbled hearing people are proud of my accomplishment.

A few of you have noted that you will miss the blog posts. I would miss writing them, I was sad about that, but of course the journey is never really over right? So I’ll continue to write, not sure if it will be daily, or all about the Camino, but I hope you’ll continue to check in. I’m hoping to enjoy Santiago tomorrow and go to Finisterre by bus Friday. And I’m sure “reentry” into my “normal” life, which is so far from normal by the way, will be full of interesting anecdotes. I also hope to do some top ten lists of places to stay, eat, gear reviews etc. so let’s not say goodbye yet. Much love and prayers for you from Santiago de Compostela.

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