- If a man without a shirt on offends you or makes you otherwise ill, do not look at this set of photos.
- This post is likely to be a bit longer than the others, so best you go and make a cup of tea, or just skim over everything and go to the photos…see disclaimer 1.
I’ve held off writing this post for a week or so because I wanted to give myself a little time. Firstly just to digest the events of the last months, and perhaps more so to make sure that I wasn’t writing from an overabundance of emotion, low blood sugar, excessive fatigue or walker’s withdrawal.
So let’s get started. There are three sections. Firstly the last 100Km into Santiago, secondly about Santiago itself and finally about Finesterre and the end of my walk.
The final 100Km into Santiago was a fascinating experience, I was wrong about there being better services. In fact on two occasions I was left with the option of walking 15Km for the day or 40Km, there were no alburgues in between. I was also wrong about it being more crowded. From before Sarria and into Santiago there are markers every kilometre. For me these had a combined effect of building the tension while at the same time creating the pedestrian equivalent of clock watching. For the final 50Km or so the trail is filled with a combination of Eucalyptus and Oak trees, utterly similar to walking in the Dandenong Ranges (the mountains behind Melbourne, where I live). It was odd to be smelling the eucalyptus and seeing the leaf litter on the trail, whilst at the same time being fully aware that I am on the other side of the planet from my home.
I intentionally stopped early the night before I entered Santiago. I stayed at a hostel at Monte de Gozo (translated, the Mount of Ecstasy), this is about 4Km out of Santiago and is so named because of the feeling of elation a pilgrim would feel as they came to the top of this hill and could see the city of Santiago for the first time. I stayed here because I wanted to be really deliberate and have room and energy for reflection when I was entering Santiago. I also felt a little trepidation, I can’t really tell you why, maybe because this was the end of the first part of my journey.
A number of blogs I have read have talked about the sense of anticlimax and “what now” feeling upon finishing this quest. This was not the case for me. There really was a deep sense of joy, fulfilment, and anticipation for the future as I came into the city. It was for me a strong and beautiful set of emotions that I experienced. Unlike anything that I had experienced before.
Santiago really is a beautiful city and to get to the cathedral you get to walk through ancient streets. The cathedral is on one side of the town square, the Paradore hotel borders another side. This Paradore claims to be the oldest and most luxurious hotel in the world. It was once the hospital (can also mean accommodation), for the pilgrims coming to Santiago. I stayed in it a couple of nights, and you will see in the photos a couple of shots of the cathedral taken from my bedroom window.
I went to the Pilgrim’s mass a couple of times. It really felt like an authentic pilgrim experience to attend a mass where I had NO idea what was going on and it was all in a language of which I have a very limited understanding. Possibly not unlike Latin would have been back when.
Walking around the city for the next few days was amazing and intense, I would often come across people I had met as I was walking. It was especially beautiful to see them walking in for the first time. When you see each other, there is a sense that you have both “survived” and there are lots of big embraces going on all the time. You can certainly feel the love. There were lots of tears (not me of course, I’m a man), and an amazing plethora of emotions.
I waited a few days in Santiago for my friends to come and it really was beautiful to see them again. While I was still in Santiago I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with some other fabulous pilgrims. Lots of great conversations, debriefing, hugs, poetry slamdowns. It was an amazing time.
I’m currently in Finesterre, in fact I am writing this from a terrace looking out over the harbour (you’ll see the view from here in one of the photos). Walking here was a quite different experience, I met fewer people and it feels like quite a different quest. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed the ocean, until I rounded a corner and saw the sea for the first time in two months and it literally took my breath away. The final walk into Finesterre is alongside the water. The smell of the sea air, the sounds of the waves crashing, the view of my final destination off in the distance. I must say that my heart felt full to burst.
I’ve stayed here a few days, been swimming, watched the sunsets, done a lot of reflecting and sitting with my thoughts and feelings. LOVED it. Of course I went skinny dipping on the western most beach, not alone I might add. It seems that this is a bit of a tradition here. Another tradition is to burn one’s clothes at the cape. I have seen a few people doing this.
In a couple of days I will go back to Paris, for a month or so, I might then have to head to Shanghai and back to Melbourne to tie off some work commitments before I come back and begin the motorcycle part of my trek. We’ll see I guess.
So was the Camino worth it? Absolutely! A thousand times yes. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, what I can accomplish, what I can handle, how I am when I’m tired or have low blood sugar. That I can do without, appreciate “small” things (they’re big when you don’t have them), that when I think I absolutely do not have anything left to climb another hill….I’m wrong. That the noise in my head keeps me awake more than the noise around me, that I am capable of more.
But perhaps most importantly. I feel like so much that was unresolved has found an easy abode, that many things that were troubling me are troubling me no more. I have some exciting ideas that have been birthed on this trip and I can’t wait to get them going when I get home. That I am where I’m meant to be in life, that I trust God with stuff. That while there is still work required, I actually quite like myself and am comfortable in my own skin. That I am genuinely excited about the future and can’t wait to see what it brings.
I feel like my heart is genuinely open and unafraid. In fact I can confidently say that I am happier and more deeply content than I have ever been.
Questions. Will this translate into the future? Who knows, but I’m not afraid to find out. Is it all because of the Camino or because I was ready to be in this place already? Who knows. Could I have found this in my living room? Maybe, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my living room without this happening. Maybe I was just ready for it. Is this all a bubble experience and it will all come crashing down afterward? Who knows, but I will be honest with you if it does, after all you’ve been on the journey with me so far. But even if it is temporary (I kind of hope and suspect that it isn’t), I am grateful for what I have right now. This is a gift which I will never forget.
I am utterly the same as when I started, and totally different.