From Last Time: “This time, we were sure we would see one another again. So, we didn’t say, “goodbye.”
”Happiness, / Not in another place / But this place… / Not for another / Hour, but this hour.”Walt Whitman
We were closer to Santiago than expected. I looked at the map the night before and we had decided to sleep in, skip breakfast, and head out a little later than usual. The extra hour of rest was luxurious.
My legs had finally adjusted. It was the last day of my Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, but the first day I awoke feeling like I could keep going. I rose from my bed and the pain in my ankles had disappeared. My heels no longer felt like I was standing on a spike. I was ready for the day.
The weather was gloomy. It was cool and misty. We had fallen asleep with the window open and the room was cool and damp. The traffic outside our Albergue was minimal, but consistent. My father and I discussed the day ahead; the tear of each tire, through the rain-soaked streets, elongated the pauses in our conversation.
“How are your knees?” I asked him.
“You know, it’s funny…they feel great.” He said as he packed. Another car passed by outside the open window. “Sounds wet out there.” He said.
“Yup, rained most of the night, but I think it’s mostly passed. At least it’s not as cold as the other day.” I chuckled remembering the mix of misery and joy that accompanied us on that day.
“Well, if you’re not in a rush, I’m gonna shower before we go.” He said.
“Sounds good. I’ve got nowhere to be.” I pulled out my journal and opened it to last night’s entry:
Some Thoughts From this Journey:
- I have had to learn to approach people with the hope that I can communicate with them but the expectation that it might not be easy. Could this be useful in other areas?
- Long walks clear my head. It’s like the ugly thoughts fall out of my feet.
- A long walk teaches one how to approach life. There is a goal, in the distance. There are stops along the way. There are ups. There are downs. There is fun and challenge, but no matter what, you have to keep going.
- Friendly people are everywhere; just waiting for an introduction.
- Know what you want, but make sure you know what you don’t want first.
- There is no substitute for silence.
- Take pictures. Take notes. The world passes by so fast it will blow away your memories.
- I should never again worry about where to eat or when I’ll arrive.
- Make friends when you can. You’re sure to run into people over and over again and it makes life more interesting to know them when you run into them.
- Be ready to share your perspective…Be just as ready to hear another’s…Be willing to change yours.
The Final Push
We departed the albergue about ten in the morning and walked through city streets following the scallop shells embedded in the pavement. Eventually we came to a fence and watched as a jumbo jet passed just above the treetops. We were at the airport where we had arrived just a few days earlier. It was like we had returned to where we began.
When I was walking with George Greenia—on the first day of my pilgrimage—he and I had talked about how most pilgrimages in the Middle Ages were only half complete when the pilgrims reached Santiago. “The really difficult part of their journey,” he told me, “was the return to their old place with a new perspective.” I had been mulling that thought over for the last several days. How would this trip change me? How would I return to my, “old place with a new perspective.”
My mind wandered through this thought and stumbled upon another: my pilgrimage, started in Santiago. I traveled to Sarria, but returned to Santiago. Perhaps, now I was coming home. Perhaps, my pilgrimage was to Sarria, not Santiago. Perhaps, my pilgrimage was to neither; perhaps my pilgrimage, like any pilgrimage was a journey outside of my life and self to a place beyond both, where I could find truths I didn’t know, and bring them back to a life that I did.
I can’t tell you where a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago begins. No one knows. I also can’t tell you where one ends, because it never does. That is the secret that few pilgrims take the time to understand. It’s also–I believe–why so many pilgrims return to the Camino de Santiago many times in their lives. There is truly something magical about the Way and it is impossible to take it all in one go.
Our last day on the Camino was our loneliest. We didn’t see anyone as we walked. The Way was deep in the city now and we finally passed over a freeway. On the other side, we stopped to take a picture. We had arrived in Santiago.
We walked up a hill and on the other side, we could see the cathedral in the distance. It is a massive stone structure. It is ornate and beautiful, but unlike so many of this world’s “sights” is look like it belongs; like the scene wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t there.
We made our way to the old city and began searching for the Pilgrim’s Reception Office, where we would wait in line for our Compostela. We walked around the walls of the cathedral gawking at it’s immensity, when we heard a familiar voice.
“Matt and Paul! I was hoping I would see you here.” Phillip was coming out of a doorway with a big smile and open arms. We all embraced.
“We got a late start this morning. How about you?” I asked.
“We left early. I walked here with Jill and Helen. They are heading to Finisterre today then they are off to the airport tomorrow morning. They asked me to say, ‘goodbye’ to you two.”
“I’m sorry we missed them.” I truly was.
“Are you going to the Pilgrim’s mass?” Phillip asked. “It is beginning soon. I want to see that big swinging thing, like in the movie.” Phillip was referring to the massive incense burner that is swung over the attendees of the mass. While it is now mostly for show, it once was used to try and clear the stench of the hundreds of pilgrims who would sleep in the cathedral after their journey.
“We’re going to get our certificate first, before they close.” My father said.
“Ahh, yes. That makes sense. Well…” Phillip stammered a little. “I guess I should go.” We all knew this was the actual “goodbye” and none of us were really ready for it.
“Can I email you when I return home?” I asked.
“Yes. Yes. Please.”
We exchanged email addresses. Shook hands, and departed in opposite directions. Three days earlier, I didn’t know Phillip existed, now I’d never forget him. It is strange how that happens.
The Longest Line of My Life
We found the Pilgrim’s Reception Office and entered the courtyard to wait in line. It didn’t look very long, but the Spanish have a way of hiding long lines. The courtyard was full of pilgrims and looking around, it was clear that the Camino de Santiago is the most inclusive place on the planet. There were young and old, gay and straight, men and women, every race, every creed. It was beautiful. In the corner, there was a pile of walking sticks. I knew that I had to leave mine there. So I did.S
“Why did you do that?” My father asked, “Don’t you want to take it home as a souvenir?”
“No, I want to leave a little bit of me here and that’s as close as I can get. I’ll just have to come back and get it on my next trip.” I winked at him and he laughed knowingly.
The line moved slowly and standing still for more than two hours, after walking for five, was difficult. We finally made it to the registrar, who asked us a few questions and then gave us our compostela. We had officially completed our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, but, in truth, it was far from over.
We came out of the office and back into the sunlight just in time to see Mary round the corner. She saw us and smiled wider than ever. “I just knew I would see you two again.” My father brought out some money to repay Mary for the money she loaned us a few days earlier. The two of them bickered back and forth about who would take the money. My father, thanked her profusely, but eventually won the battle and paid back his debt.
Mary’s group was leaving for a tour, so she had to depart, but not before giving us both a hug and once again wishing us, “Buen Camino.”
We found our hotel, got some food and immediately fell asleep. We had three more days to explore the area, beginning in the morning with Finisterre.
A car picked us up early. We drove for an hour or so to the seaside village of Finisterre, where we wound down from our trip by walking the beach, eating, and drinking. Words can hardly do Finisterre justice, so I took plenty of pictures.
We returned to Santiago the next evening and spent three days exploring the city. Each day, I found some time to sit and reflect on the journey we had just taken and the journey that lay ahead.
Roof Tops and Facades
I took a roof-top tour of the Cathedral one morning. I highly suggest it. Stop by the Tour Office there for tickets. As we stood on the roof, the tour guide showed us the many facades. The face of the building has been changed many times. From the ground, you cannot see any of the older parts. But, on the roof, there are gaps that allow you to see the intact facades.
I was struck with the realization that this church, like each pilgrim that journeys to it, is different now than when they began. When I decided to travel to the tomb of Saint James, I expected to find the building as it had been since it was first erected. But even as I stood in the courtyard looking at it, scaffolding was covering the Obradoiro Facade. The restoration taking place will change it. Yes, of course, they are trying to change it back to how it was, but we all know that really isn’t possible. Such is life. No?
On my last afternoon in Santiago, I walked around the city alone. I stopped to sit in a courtyard at the base of the Cathedral and sipped an americano while I journaled. It is impossible to sum up a pilgrimage in a way that fully encapsulates it. No one can say where a pilgrimage begins. No one can say where one ends. But, the following entry is as close as I could get…
“I’m sitting in a square where so many pilgrims have sat. They traveled here for so many reasons and left with new hope for a new life. The bell tower tolls now, like it must have then, for them. I realize that I too have come to cleanse my sins. To begin a new life…I am returning changed and I am convinced that there is magic in this place, but more: there is magic on the Way. One may only know that magic when s/he walks the Camino de Santiago.”Journal Entry from May 6, 2018
If you are considering a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, I would like to suggest the following resources. Please note that these are affiliate links. While you pay nothing additional, I receive a small commission on anything you purchase by using these links. That money helps me to maintain this website. All these suggestions are items that made my trip better and I would take them all again. Buen Camino!
-The best travel journals ever!
-Arc’teryx Beta SL, now the Zeta SL
–Darn Tough Light Hiker Socks (3 pair)
Read these before going and/or load them on your Kindle® for the trip.
–The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
–The Way with Martin Sheen