Day 32 – 11th November 2016, A Picarana to Santiago de Compostela.
We woke up not dead from hypothermia in our bed at Pension Pivadal. The heater worked overtime during the night and we had draped various items of damp clothing around the room to dry out.
We got up in the dark and packed up quickly ready for the off. Today, marked the end of our Camino, because, in a few hours time after a walk of a mere 17.5 km, we would reach Santiago de Compostela.
Once again I experienced a mix of emotions – excitement, elation and dread.
Where horses scream.
Brett and I got a bit lost when the Camino trail went away from the main road in Farmella and off into the countryside. There was a fork in the road, it was pitch dark and we veered off and wandered into some kind of horse market or fayre of some kind that was being set up.
We walked by several horse trailers and into a clearing where some women were setting up some churro stands. We naturally assumed there would be coffee to accompany the churros. We approached one of the ladies to ask if it was possible to buy one. Unfortunately not, she pointed in a vague direction along the lane. A little further on we came to a group of men standing in a loose group, silhouetted in the glare of headlights of various 4 by 4s. In their midst stood a magnificent horse, its coat glistening in the headlamp glow and clouds of breath visible in the crisp morning air. The horse appeared somewhat unsettled and reared onto its hind legs.
We hurried on, feeling as though we had stumbled upon a scene, we were not supposed to witness. Suddenly a terrible bloodcurdling scream pierced the cool, clammy atmosphere. The horse’s neighs sent chills up and down my spine. Brett whispered to me that he thought perhaps the horse was about to be killed and the horse was scared.
Of course, we didn’t know this for certain and neither of us felt like retracing our steps to check it out, but the sound was truly haunting and I had an uneasy feeling in my spirit. Was this some kind of omen?
On the path of understanding.
Thankfully, a kind soul pointed to where we could pick up the Camino trail proper and we soon found our path. We were glad to get out of there! We paused in a cafe by the side of the main road for coffee and a pastry, a very quick first breakfast for us! While there, news headlines on the TV, in the far corner of the room punctured our thoughts and confirmed our disquiet that Donald Trump had indeed been elected by the US public to be the next President of the USA. Gobsmacked, we couldn’t really believe it. What had America done?
Brett and I began to argue along the walk about the repercussions of the US election. I remained hopeful that it wouldn’t be so bad, after all the USA was far away and to tell you the truth I was more worried about the impact Brexit would have on the UK, than anything Donald Trump would get up to (or so I thought at that time…).
Brett, on the other hand, painted a more grim picture, not only about the likely impact the new President’s policies would have on the citizens of the US, especially regarding health care and also on neighbouring Canada, where Brett is from and other countries of the world.
At that moment, I felt sad. I was at a loss. I wanted to savour every last moment of this special journey with Brett and not dwell on the news headlines. Then the light slowly dawned on me. The Camino itself has its rough and smooth pathways. Furthermore, it has a canny knack for revealing issues that we need to face like a small pebble inside a trail shoe, persistently rubbing the tender part of the sole of a pilgrim’s foot.
I pondered that perhaps this moment in time sought to bring us right back to the reality of what would confront us when we flew home to ‘normal’ life. The panic and fear that often seeps into mainstream media, whipping up the public into a frenzy of strong opinions, and equally strong actions that come from that place of fear, had oozed into our companionship on the way after we watched the headlines.
Meanwhile, our present reality, the Camino as a metaphor for life, which was clearly demonstrated in the microcosm of humanity I mentioned before, continued to embrace us wholeheartedly. I took solace in the fact that we were still intimately connected to the ‘ecosystem of hope’ with every footfall. One foot in front of the other.
More lessons learned on the Camino.
What a painful juxtaposition! I decided I would listen to Brett’s point of view and try to understand where he was coming from and why he was so worried.
I pondered on this for the remainder of my walk, side by side with my husband on the way to Santiago and concluded that two more lessons I learned on this Camino were that:
- It was good and important that Brett and I talked about these things, especially as Brett has a passion for politics and loves to engage people to take action at political levels to fulfil our civic duties, instead of my usual response, which was to avoid or deflect these political discussions;
- We could take back the ‘essence of the Camino spirit’ back with us, wherever we went to try to live out the ‘ecosystem of hope’ we could tell people about the Camino and its transformative power, not only on an individual level but on a wider level, that brings people together from all different backgrounds, countries, cultures, faiths and no faith, and, in part this is what I have been trying to do in this blog.
Meanwhile, on another Camino route, the Camino Frances, my good Uni friend Alan, who I have known for nearly 30 years, also walked the remaining kilometres of his journey to Santiago. Alan had graciously put up with my foibles when he kindly accompanied me on the first half of my Camino Frances in 2015 and therefore completed his first half of his Camino then.
Sadly, Alan’s mother had passed away in the intervening months and so he decided to walk the second half of his Camino this year to honour and remember his wonderful mum, not only for himself but also on behalf of his siblings – a great act of courage, dedication, love and compassion. We hoped to meet each other in Santiago, share in our celebrations and I was looking forward to introducing him to Brett. I wondered whether Alan had reached Monte Gozo yet, the last hill climb before entering the city.
On the Camino Portugues, Brett and I strolled onwards, through the countryside to the new suburb of Milladoiro. I stopped to enter the small chapel called Capela de Maria Magdalena on the right-hand side of the route.
This was a peaceful and moving oasis in the midst of busy urbanisation. I said a few prayers for my parents, no longer on this earthly plane and my auntie and a surge of emotion welled up inside my heart. I felt the tears fall onto my cheeks. We are all connected across time and space.
We did not walk up Monte Gozo as the Camino routes had not yet joined. Instead, our last climb before descending into Santiago was up Agro dos Monteiros at 260m, which was fairly easy and we were rewarded with a view of Santiago below us and the familiar spires of the Cathedral. Not far to go now!
Wow, how quickly our journey seemed to have passed by in the last 30 days or so and yet the experience for me has been full of joy, physical pain in parts and sheer wonderment at the beauty of nature, the heart of the pilgrims or hospitaleros we met en route as well as my loving husband, who encouraged me every step of the way. Indeed, I had lived every moment!
We descended the hill and picked up speed, determined to arrive at the Cathedral in time for the pilgrim mass at noon. A narrow, burbling brook accompanied us on the trail, the last remnant of being immersed in nature in all her glory before we turned off and headed into the urban jungle.
Gosh, it was a long schlepp into the old part of the city and, like on my first Camino journey, time slowed right down and my weary feet dragged along. I caught the familiar tears, now and again stinging my cheeks as the sheer emotion of reaching our destination overcame me.
Ultreia! We walked through the cobbled streets, with a sense of urgency now, down the Rua Franco and into Rua Fonseca into the Praza Praterias in front of the majestic Cathedral, which towered above us. Fatigued and joyful at the same time, we climbed the steps to the south door, where traditionally pilgrims from Portugal entered the Cathedral.
Before we got there, two friendly Spanish journalists from ABC Galicia intercepted us and politely asked if they could interview us about our journey as they were writing an article about El Camino de Santiago for the jubilee year. We agreed and answered their questions.
All in the nick of times, Brett and I sat down in a pew reserved for pilgrims just as the angelic voice of a nun, who led the worship, coaxed those assembled to practice some of the chants before the priests welcomed everyone. We had arrived! We did it! Walked 723.54 km from Lisbon. Relief and almost disbelief, that our Camino Portugues journey had ended washed over me.
The pilgrim mass flashed by in a blur and we were soon outside in the square again. We headed out past the Parador, Hostal Reyes Catolicos scuttled down the steps at the end and turned right onto Rúa Carretas, where the new pilgrim office stood to join the colourful and chatty line of pilgrims waiting to pick up their Compostelas. The collective joy and celebration were tangible.
Famished, we strode across the street to a quirky, friendly and welcoming cafe called Canadu and demolished their tasty speciality burgers.
We sat by the window so I could keep an eye out for Alan and sure enough a few minutes later a flash of bright yellow caught my attention. I bolted out of the door and ran down the street to catch up with him, we hugged and I congratulated him on his epic walk.
After introductions, Brett and I walked with Alan to the pilgrim office and waited, while he picked up his Compostela and then we all wended our way back towards the Cathedral and through the narrow cobbled streets to SCQ, another cafe to while away a couple of hours comparing our experiences and sharing stories from our respective pilgrimages.
A few hours later, we parted ways to find our accommodation and arranged to meet up again for the evening pilgrim mass at 7pm Brett and I checked into Hotel Real B and B, where I had stayed last year and it felt like a home from home.
The Cathedral was already packed out with hundreds of pilgrims, many in their outdoor walking gear and visitors when Brett and I entered. Fortunately, we found Alan and stood side by side at the back as there we no more seats left but we had a comprehensive view of the altar, priests and nuns leading the service, and fellow pilgrims.
The ‘ecosystem of hope’ was very much alive and well during the pilgrim mass, particularly at the moment during the service when we were all invited to share the peace with each other…a few seconds of warm human contact through handshakes or hugs and smiles cemented our connections as family – pilgrim family – human family – global family and One.
The dramatic swinging of the Botafumerio, the large, heavy and ornate incense burner, heralded the poignant closing of the mass and we filed out with all the others into the November night air.
What left was there to do but go and enjoy a wonderful, delicious celebratory meal at Malak, a vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the old city. Brett, Alan and I savoured babaganoush for starters, followed by veggie curry, falafel skewers and rounded off with silky smooth ice cream. Yum! Not that it was all about food. No, more Camino stories provided the salt and pepper to our evening meal on our table and adjacent tables where other pilgrim families were gathered, before we dispersed to our respective lodgings late in the evening.
The next day or two Brett and I met up with Alan a few times, in between periods of exploration. However, words do not really do justice to the special atmosphere, history and culture that makes Santiago de Compostela the remarkable place that it is, so I will leave you to ponder on this slideshow gallery instead.
I mentioned before, on my first Camino that the end is only the beginning. As we closed the door to Hotel Real B & B and walked to the plaza where we would catch the bus to the airport, Brett and I looked forward to stepping out into our future together, taking with us our precious memories and lessons we have learned on the Camino Portugues firmly packed in the backpack of our hearts. We remained connected with the Camino and the ecosystem of hope with every footfall. One foot in front of the other….
Distance walked today = 17.5 km
Cumulative distance walked over the whole Camino Portugues = 723.54 km
Peace, love and light,
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