It’s been a few days since I last posted, I’ve completed the camino and am back in Barcelona having left Santiago this afternoon. The last few days have been an emotional roller coaster in so many ways that I’m sat here now totally unsure of how I feel or what to write! Why am I not on my way to Finisterre? Lets start at the beginning!
The walk from Boente to Santa Irene on Sunday continued to be wet and hilly although the day will be remembered for something else entirely. Clarisa, somewhere on this walk, developed an infection in one of her blisters that sent pain travelling up through her leg, she was struggling all day but it wasn’t until we got back to the albergue (the albergue in Santa Irena is beautiful by the way – above) that we discovered exactly how bad the situation was (below!).
So, on the final day before completing the camino, Clarisa could not walk the last 22k into the centre of Santiago de Compostella after walking 400kms from Burgos! Ouch! We decided she would get transport into the city and I would carry on by foot taking both our passports with us and obtaining the final stamps. I can only imagine how hard that was to deal with emotionally but she seemed to handle it well and accepted the situation for what it was. She still has the blister, we were able to get medication from the pharmacy and its healing up well now.
The last day then, and I walked alone from St Irene to Santiago and decided to push myself and see how quickly, without stopping, I could complete the remaining 22k, in the driving rain. Not very “grateful pilgrim” of me you’d think but walking alone and at a set, determined pace, with a repetitive motion is very relaxing and meditative. The walk was beautiful and a joy for all the senses with the first half of the trek through eucalyptus forest and then, the second half of the stage, with fervent anticipation as you make your way through the outskirts to the centre of Santiago. I’ve been to Santiago before, I knew what to expect, the whitewashed buildings and red terracotta roofs always reminded me of one of my favourite cities in Europe; Prague. However, I have bad memories of the city from a visit a couple of years back where I had my own nasty infection to fight, I wasn’t thrilled to be back in some ways and not just because of the infernal bagpipes. Seriously, who enjoys the sound of bagpipes?
How did I feel on entering Santiago and completing the camino? Well, not much. That may sound very disappointing but I feel I already completed by camino at O Cebreiro. The walk up the mountain is one of the toughest hikes on the camino and when you get to the top the town suddenly appears out of nowhere and on this day, nestled in the clouds. It was magical and combined a sense of achievement with glorious nature, something Santiago can not produce. That day I felt such a rush of joy in my heart, pure joy, something I haven’t felt for at least 10 years. To have completed the mountain and arrived at the town, with its understated yet perfect little church, knowing the rest of the camino was pretty smooth running (aside from infected blisters of course!), O Cebreiro was my Santiago.
We spent 48 hours in Santiago, the first night in the albergue, O Fogar, which was frightful, one shower and toilet between twenty people. The second night we spent at the hotel Virxe de Cerca, which was delightful and a bargain to boot just outside the old city walls. Here I could finally get a decent bath and get my head down for a sound nights kip. We didn’t leave the hotel room the entire time except to get a dirty Burger King, which, somehow, managed to treat our bodies worse even than the Pilgrim menus. The next day we checked out of the luxurious surroundings of the hotel to do one last tours of the city. And the sun finally came out. At 3pm we caught a flight back to Barcelona and now, here I am, typing my final blog post wondering just what I’ve learnt. Some things I know for sure, others, I guess, will dawn on me over the coming days.
You can’t run, or walk, from your head, feelings or problems!
Every town I got to, there they were again, I walked onto the next town, and guess what? The camino has this wonderful ability to boil down many of life’s lessons through its repetitive simplicity and obvious parallel; the camino is a journey as is life. I’ve walked away from many places, things and people that I wish dearly, with hindsight, I had stood for, expecting myself to be happier and the grass to be greener somewhere else and sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. I have deep regrets in doing that but one thing I hope I can stick with from my camino experience is to really understand this lesson fully and to accept where I am in life now, in all aspects of my life and from now on, build on this, quit the self sabotage and embrace the reality of where I live and what I have going on in my life and most of all, be grateful… oh, and BUILD! Did I say build already?
I like being with other people! (shock) And people like me (double shock)
OK, I’ve complained quite a bit about the alarm setters and snorers on this blog but the reality is that its the other pilgrims that make the walk special. If I had to complete the entire camino without meeting all the great, varied and interesting characters and walking partners I had, like the first three days, I do not believe I’d have finished it. I also found people were far more likely to smile and talk to me if I was wearing a hat compared to not; so, if you’re feeling lonely on your camino, put a sombrero on and you’ll be a smash hit in no time.
I don’t need much, but what I do need I don’t give myself!
I would NOT like to tot up how much money I’ve spent in restaurants, tat, booze, fast cars and loose pants over the last 20 years… so I won’t, but let’s just say its an obscene amount. I can cook better meals than I can get in restaurants, why do I keep paying for it? And the things I really need, great sleep, kind company, good healthy food, I deny myself. Yesterday I completed an info-graphic (scribble on hotel paper) of my needs complete with a score chart and happy-o-meter! I intend to pin it on a notice board in my home and see to it that my basic needs are being met daily. Then we can start on the serious stuff like purchasing puppies, releasing apps and walking the coast to coast.
I can achieve great things (one step at a time)
I had serious doubts I could complete the camino, I was not in great shape in many ways! However, it was simply a matter of patience and endurance, measuring for tension and friction (physical and mental) and ensuring my basic needs were not getting too far into the red!
And how does it feel to complete the camino? It feels like no great shakes! Friends and family have said that I should be proud or feel a great sense of achievement, but so far, I don’t feel either of those things. I remember around Logrono, having so many hard and painful days in my Merrills and even being in tears of agony at one point but there was never a true belief in my heart that I may not finish the camino, emotionally, I did not struggle. In fact, being on camino is much easier than my real, everyday life. There’s no pressure at all on camino. You eat, sleep and walk. Things I’ve been doing since at least 18 months every day of my life. Someone else cooks for you, there’s a clean bed at the end of every day and arrows point the way every 100 meters. Having something to follow has provided the most relaxing and anxiety lifting five weeks of my life. Walking the camino, for me at least, felt much more simple and natural than I expected, perhaps, then, I need something to follow here at home, whether that’s a set of life rules, daily exercise timetable, or deity, is not yet clear.