So, my pilgrimage was over. I wanted to spend the day in Santiago then go to Finisterre the following day before leaving for Madrid and England and the long-awaited visit to my son and his family for ten days, before finally returning to my home in Brazil after a seven week absence.
The albergue I was staying in allowed pilgrims to remain for a second night, so I sorted my stuff out then left my rucksack on a bunk in order to reserve it. Not the one I´d slept in the previous night as the bunk next to mine had been a bit too close for comfort. After a coffee I walked into town, still limping but not quite as much since I was no longer carrying my rucksack. I went to the Camino Travel Centre run by Ivar, the same chap who runs the pilgrim forum I belong to, and sorted out my travel arrangements. Jan turned up there and also finalised his plans and by coincidence we actually ended up travelling to England together.
Then it was time for the pilgrim mass at the the cathedral where we met up with the rest of our little group. The service is held for the pilgrims every day at twelve, and I found it very moving. The number of pilgrims who´d arrived that day and their country of origin was mentioned and a nun sang beautifully. The cathedral was packed with pilgrims and other visitors and we´d been lucky to get seats. Unfortunately the "botafumeiro" did not swing that day. It is a massive incense burner hanging from the roof, swung like a pendulum clear across the aisles by six men. It is said to be an impressive sight.
After the mass I joined a queue to go up behind the altar and hug the figure of St James and murmur my thanks, and I also sneaked a quick touch of the Tree of Jesse, a pilgrim tradition down the centuries, although now there is a barrier and a security guard nearby. I took my chance when he was distracted by an elderly lady, a pilgrim I believe, who crawled through the barrier on her knees to touch her forehead against the base of the statue. Then off I went to the pilgrim office to get my Compostela - a certificate with my name in Latin stating I had completed the Camino. I had to produce my pilgrim passport as proof of my journey and I was proud to see how many stamps I had accumulated over the previous weeks.
After all this I had something to eat then a look around the old quarter, fascinating with its narrow streets and old buildings. I was very glad to bump into Kari and Sandi while I was doing this, as we managed a final goodbye. The city was full of pilgrims and I saw quite a few familiar faces, including Mike and his wife and managed to speak to some of them. I was feeling very tired by this time and my leg was hurting so I walked slowly back to the albergue in a very hot sun and spent the rest of the day writing my notes, doing washing and finally relaxing. I´d turned down an invitation to join the group again for dinner as I couldn´t face the long traipse in and back again. They´d all left the albergue to stay in places nearer the cathedral and were planning a meal out in the old quarter. We were meeting the next day to go to Finisterre by bus, anyway.
I felt that my pilgrimage ended in Santiago, but some pilgrims carry on to Finisterre (also known as Fisterra) on the coast, either walking the 89km or by bus. It is the furthest point west you can get, the "end of the world" in medieval times. I had decided to join the others as it would make a nice trip to round things off and also I could symbolically bathe my feet in the ocean. We met up at the bus station the next morning and after a couple of hours drive arrived in Finisterre, a small fishing village. Here the rest set off to the lighthouse and cliffs at the furthest point but since several kilometres of walking were involved I decided not to go. My leg was still quite swollen and painful and I was once again carrying my rucksack as I was going straight on to Madrid after. Also I was more interested in going to the beach which was nearby. It was a sunny day but there was a strong cold wind blowing so I had a brief look round the village then made my way down to the sandy beach. I took my sandals off and walked into the cold water and stood there while tears filled my eyes at the thought that it was all over. It was too chilly to stand there for long though, so I waded out and was shortly joined by the others. After a drink we were glad to get out of the wind and onto the bus back to Santiago. And that´s the end of it really...
Like many others I think I have come back from my Camino a different person. Living day-to-day with all your possessions reduced to an absolute minimum changes the way you look at things. You discover how little you need, how irrelevant some of your major preocupations are, how important people are. I dreamt vividly about my Camino every night for well over a month after I got home and still do so frequently. It is almost like an addiction and there are times when I really long to be there again.
This blog, which has helped me to re-live an amazing experience, was never meant to be an exciting or humorous tale of my adventures and misadventures. I am not a writer. I read several enjoyable and entertaining blogs during the months leading up to my journey, but I felt that sometimes I would have liked some more information. This was why I decided to write a factual account of my preparation and pilgrimage. I wanted to start from the very beginning and include all the training and preparation, telling it from the point of view of a first-time pilgrim, who didn´t know what to expect. I wanted to include all the daily details and facts of the journey so as to give a true picture of what it was like to walk 790km in 35 days through all temperatures and weathers with all your worldly goods on your back. I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings in such an unusual situation and try to give an accurate "warts and all" picture of what it was like for me, not just dwell on the highlights. My hope was that this blog would be of interest and use to some future pilgrims who may be reading it. I would like to reassure them that while there were good days and bad days, it was never so bad that I considered giving up. So if that is what you want to do then go for it - and BuenCamino to you. Although be warned, it can become addictive...the CaminoPortugues is beginning to beckon to me next...
Well, this was it, my final day of walking. I had very mixed feelings as I set off, but mostly I was concerned about how my leg was going to bear up. I applied gel, took tablets and had breakfast with friends before leaving Arca. It was very misty and nice and cool in the thick pine woods during the first part of the walk. The path was good underfoot, occasionally joining quiet side roads and at one point going round the end of the runway for Santiago airport.
I walked slowly in order to savour my last day and also to try and spare my leg. The pain was bearable although the swelling was worse, and I couldn´t help limping despite my stick. The path went through several small villages and I stopped for coffee breaks in a couple of them where once again I kept bumping into my fellow struggling pilgrim, the Danish lady. There were a lot of people on the Camino now, including a large group of very noisy students which it took a while to get away from.
As the morning went on the mist cleared and it became another very hot day. There were some long steep climbs up towards Monte delGozo, tiring in the sun as the woods were left behind. At Monte delGozo (Mount of Joy), 5km from Santiago, there is a little chapel where many pilgrims give thanks and I sat in there quietly for a while, as did my Danish friend. This spot was celebrated as the place from which pilgrims caught their first glimpse of the towers of the Cathdral but now the view is obscured by trees. I knew that nothing could stop me now and although I felt relieved it was nearly over I also felt very sad that I was coming to the end of such a special experience.
After a welcome rest I set off on the last stretch, which like many approaches to large cities included dual carriageways and suburbs, a bit of a letdown. I found my albergue down a very long flight of stone steps on the outskirts and dumped my stuff before climbing up the wretched steps again to visit the cathedral. It was a long hot walk into town, much further than I expected. If I´d realised I might have tried to find somewhere nearer. I saw my Danish friend on the way in, lost and looking for her guest house in the old quarter near the cathedral so I took her with me and we arrived together.
The cathedral is very large and very impressive, inside and out. I sat there in the cool and quiet and gave thanks for my safe arrival with a lump in my throat. There were quite a number of pilgrims sitting there and we were a motley crew, but part of a long line that stretched back over a thousand years. I was proud to be one of them.
Afterwards I did some shopping and went back to the albergue as I was very tired and my leg was pretty sore, even without my rucksack. While I was resting on my bunk Jan and the group turned up, an unexpected pleasure as I thought they were staying nearer the centre. We arranged to go out to dinner together and that really rounded the day off nicely. An excellent meal with good company on my last day´s walking. The restaurant was in the old quarter and by the time we´d walked back from town again my leg was pretty bad, but by then it didn´t really matter because I´d made it!
I was off nice and early in a very misty morning. I stopped for my first coffee in Arzua after a gentle climb and then followed the path through attractive pine forests. There were a series of hamlets along the way and I stopped in several to give my leg a rest as it was getting steadily more painful and a swelling had appeared halfway up my shin. The day was also getting hotter and hotter as the mist cleared, although in the shady forests it was pleasant. Luckily there were only three shallow river valleys to cross, so there was a bit less up and downhill to put added strain on my leg. Thank goodness I had my pilgrim´s staff to lean on, it really did make a difference.
Also hobbling along was my Danish pilgrim with the poorly knees (unfortunately I never knew her name). We tried to encourage each other to keep going, motivated by the fact that Santiago was only a couple of days away. My biggest fear was that I would be unable to complete my pilgrimage. Having to stop two days before Santiago after having walked 750km didn´t bear thinking about. I was determined to get there under my own steam even if I had to crawl. I was having to stop fairly frequently by now, even if there was nowhere to sit just standing still with most of my weight on the other leg helped a little.
By the time I´d covered about 15km I was limping badly and wondering if I´d make it to the next village, let alone the next albergue a further 5km away. I sat on a bench by the road and rubbed more gel on my swollen leg and took some paracetamol to try and ease the pain. I had wanted to reach Arca that day but now would have been happy to have made it to a small private refuge in the nearer Sta Irene. After a rest it felt a little better and I managed to struggle into the next village where I sat in the shade outside a bar and wondered what to do next. I was joined by my Danish friend and we sat there taking it easy for quite a while. She had also decided to stop at Sta Irene, and when a bakers van came to make a delivery we tried, half seriously, to cadge a lift in the back, but to no avail.
When I set off again the long rest had helped and I think the paracetamol had kicked in as I managed to get along fairly well and even changed my mind about the detour to Sta Irene. By the time I reached Arca though I was really struggling again and headed for the municipal albergue regardless of the open mixed showers. There I was told they only had upper bunks available and since I knew it would be very difficult to climb up and down in my present state I decided to carry on slowly to a private albergue further on. Good choice! It was very nice and modern, even having a water feature in one area, and I got a bottom bunk. A nice surprise was that my friend Jan was also staying there.
I was very hot, perspiring, tired and in pain when I arrived but after a refreshing shower and a rest with my leg up I felt able to do my usual chores. Jan was now part of a little group which included a nurse. She said I had tendinitis and gave me some ibuprofen to take for a couple of days. Ideally I should have taken time out as well, but that was out of the question at this point. I later went out for a nice pilgrim dinner with the group and kept my leg up as much as possible the rest of the time. Tomorrow was to be the BIG day when I would hopefully make it to Santiago. Unsurprisingly I had taken no photographs during the day so all I have to record my last-but-one day´s walking is a group photo taken at dinner.