I did it. I am in Santiago. 500 miles/800 kilometers walked over 33 days. It is so hard to describe this experience and really I think that you will never really understand it unless you do it but writing has been a very important part of my process and so although I know I cannot do it justice I will write out some thoughts.
This second attempt at the Camino has been tough. My feet are covered in blisters and one toe is almost completely numb. Walking with a limp has caused me to have knee problems in my right leg and my boots are heavy and painful. It has rained every day but one. It is colder. I jumped into an already established Camino family and had trouble finding my ¨way¨. I have been sitting around for 35 days in between each Camino and my muscles are weaker because of it.
It has also been good for me. I have learned that even when my body fails me, my perseverence continues. I feel that some of the social challenges I experienced more closely resembles ¨real¨life and each experience is an opportunity for personal growth. As time goes on, I feel I will continue to learn many lessons from the Camino.
I haven´t written for a few days and I´ve had some ups and downs. Two days ago I struggled internally very badly. I could not get out of my negative head space and it didn´t help that I didn´t see anyone on the trail that day. My feet really hurt but by the evening, I found a nice albergue. I also found I had… the dreaded bed bugs. I had bumps up and down one arm and was scared that everyone would react like I had the plague. People were incredibly kind – one person gave me an antihistamine, another medical cream, another a new towel so that mine could wash and the woman who ran the albergue started a load of laundry for me. I sprayed down my bag and other things but wore very little clothing because I wanted as much as possible to be in the wash. My hair was wet from the shower and there was no heat in the albergue and I was very cold and having back spasms. Even with all of this, I again felt revived from a nice pilgrim meal with fellow peregrinos. Conversation was easy and Paul from Ireland who is a phenomenal published poet said many inspirational things that I think will stay with me for years to come. Countries represented this evening were Sweden, Ireland, Australia and Germany.
The next day my Swedish friend and I decided to walk together and to try and walk farther than recommended in order to have a short walk into Santiago the following day and to make the 12pm mass. I had thought many times of taking a day off but when I thought of arriving in Santiago, a big city that many of my previous Caminoans had said was slightly disappointing, and not knowing anyone – it made me sad so I had decided to keep up the pace in order to see friendly pilgrim faces when I finished the Camino. I really enjoy my swedish friend. She is a very honest, deep and happy person and our conversation can flow from the very serious to the very light. We walked slowly and took many enjoyable breaks but as it got later and later, and my knee started to hurt and my blisters were at a very high pain level it became a major challenge. We started walking at 8:30am and found our way (we thought we passed the place to stay, went back and learned that no… we had not missed it) to a hotel at 7:30pm. We were exhausted. I was way past the point of being able to find the journey fun or funny. My feet ached like I have never known. We had an incredibly expensive but also incredibly enjoyable meal and went to sleep. One of the highlights of the day for me was when I told Carina the story of The Quiltmaker´s Gift (http://www.quiltmakersgift.com/) – my favorite children´s book. When I was finished I turned to look at her and she had tears streaming down her face and said that I just given her a very special gift. This made me very happy.
Today we only needed to walk 10 km to Santiago. My blisters and tight, heavy shoes made the walk very difficult. I went from feeling emotional and overjoyed knowing we were almost there to feeling short of breath from the pain, frustrated, and at times I lacked the ability to focus being distracted from the pain. As we turned the corner to see the cathedral we walked arm in arm and there were tears in our eyes and I felt great joy and a peaceful reverence for the journey´s end. We got our compostella where I had to define if I did this for religious reasons, spiritual or for sport. They explained that this determined what kind of compostella I would receive. I felt like saying I did this for sport really minimized my experience but I am not religious so at last I chose spiritual. We walked out and saw friends and sat down to have a coffee. I think people thought I was tired because I was very quiet and stared off into space but I was just overwhelmed by the experience. I can´t even say what I was feeling – if it was good or if it was bad even, just that I was sitting in a cafe full of people – many excited to have completed the Camino and I sat staring at nothing.
We all went to mass which was good because although I didn´t understand a word of it, it gave me a moment to be quiet and to sit in a room full of peregrinos which made me reflect and feel connected and grounded in the moment. The man to my right was Catholic and had a lovely voice and I enjoyed him singing as most people weren´t Catholic and weren´t participating in the service because they weren´t sure how to. At one point, we were to greet our neighbors and everyone gave big hugs or warm handshakes and I teared up and noticed others did as well. They unexpectedly had a botafumeiro ceremony during mass which generally only happens once a week but some anonymous donor had paid 300 Euros to have this added to todays service. We all felt very lucky and it was a beautiful way to honor such a momentous journey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botafumeiro
I thought of so many pilgrims from my previous journey and although I want to say I was in the present and just happy with who was there knowing it was destiny that brought us together at that moment – I missed my previous Camino family. As I walked I often would think…I wonder what Peter or Gail thought of this section or I bet Denise and Robert would´ve laughed at that sign or wouldn´t it be nice to have a hug from Dave, Bob or Daniele right now. I would think of Joanne who did not finish and get excited about what she will see when she goes back knowing which parts I think she will enjoy the most and albergues she will love.
I also had feelings of sadness that I had not completed the journey at one time wondering if this lessened the accomplishment. I was disappointed that this second part has been so tough physically for me wondering who this person is – this slower and weaker self. And also wondering who this very insecure person is but understanding her more than the physically weak one.
And even with those thoughts I also felt strong and powerful and proud and that word is so important to me right now. Proud. I am all of the things mentioned (weak, insecure, disappointed) but damn it – I am also proud, really proud. Even while writing this I am tearing up. How often are we proud of ourselves? I don´t think it is often and it feels amazing.
I am recognizing that my body is telling me to rest and that is what I will do tomorrow. I will stay in Santiago and honor my aching body. I also plan to sit quietly and journal and read – two things I have not done at all on this second part of my journey. I am staying in a pension with my swedish friend and meeting many pilgrims at 7pm for dinner and I am now sitting at an internet cafe with Paul, the poet I mentioned before. I hope to walk to Finisterra the following day. Many say this is the true ending of the Camino and it will add 89 kilometers to my journey. Crossing fingers that I am able to accomplish this. I think it will provide yet another valuable layer to an already full experience.
I am glad I will be in Spain until the 14th. The reason I chose to do this was in hopes of walking to Finisterra but either way, I feel I need time alone to process this experience. Yet… I miss my life and my tremendously supportive and inspiring friends. I am looking forward to re-connecting with old friends that I have let go by the wayside that are very important to me. I look forward to celebrating this journey with them and finding out what adventures they have had. I love my little cottage and amazing landlord-neighbor and I especially love my puppy, Wallingford Bigglesworth and cannot wait to see him. I love my city.
I will leave you with a poem from Paul: http://www.basilbuntingaward.co.uk/media/download_gallery/TheDrowned.pdf