Friday: Palas de Rei to Ribadiso, 26k
Saturday: Ribadiso to Arca do Pink, 22k
Sunday: Arca do Pino to SANTIAGO, 20k
This past weekend seems like a blur of excitement, anticipation, and feet aches. The energy on the Camino shifted to a mix of energetic yet blister-ridden daypackers who began their journey in Sarria, and tired but optimistic longhaulers looking forward to the end of the journey while achieving various levels of success in swallowing their judgements towards the newer arrivals.
I have ended my journey with a different cast of characters than when we began. Belgium Scott, Impulsive Julia, and Irish Jim are long gone. However, new faces have very successfully filled in the void, and a select few pilgrims have already managed reemerge from the past in Santiago, such as South African Tasha. I look forward to spending time in the square this afternoon welcoming new arrivals and finding familiar faces. We did it!
These new faces I have fallen in with include Canadian Darcy and Irish Daniel, two pairs of German girls whose names I struggle to remember, English Chris and Liz, Australian Alister and Anthony, and, of course, Lotus, the Canadian homeopath. Additionally, since Tricastela, I have been consistently encountering a new friend – American Rob, not Welshmen Rob. Rob lives in Asheville and in Wilderness Therapy after getting his degree from University of Georgia and a past military career. (Side: Wilderness therapy sounds phenomenonal and should I fail to get into graduate school, I fully intend on applying for wilderness guide positions before I reapply for a doctorate). Since meeting him, he has shared with us infectious positivity and a great sense of humor.
In Arca do Pino, Rob, Melissa, Mandie and I had a joyful dinner of pizza and beer with several other pilgrims from the gang after checking in what we have deemed “The Nicest Albergue Ever” that played tranquil music and let you pick your own bed. (Rob and I claimed the bunk right next to the indoor zen garden!).
We departed early the next morning to finish out the last 20k. However, because we weren’t rushing to make the noon mass or planning on stopping at the 500 person municipal albergue 5k outside the city, we were blessed with a near-deserted stretch of the Camino while we waited for the sun (the sun, not the rain!!) to fully light our way. Just as the sun was finished rising, we also ran back into Rob, who completed the final stretch with us. We took to bursts of singing songs like 500 Miles and a unique rendition of Taylor Swift which involving walking to Santiago instead of breaking up with her boyfriend in order to pass the time and capture our enthusiasm. The first glimpse of the cathedral spires distant through city streets (below) further propelled our excitement; we had already decided we would go straight the cathedral, even though the albergue where we could dump our packs was about 1k before.
As we approached the cathedral, we all joined hands (even Rob joined us at the end!) and ran like school children to the center of the square, weaving throughout crowds of tourists and enjoying the sounds of bagpipes playing in the background. It was wonderful. We only had a few moments to take in the visual of the cathedral and embrace before we were swooped in by other pilgrims who had beat us in on the way, ready to congratulate us. In the excitement, we were greeted by Esmeralda (not her real name), who had spent several days walking with Rob early on, and after a few pictures, she lead us to the convent/albergue with 177 beds we could stay in, situated on the top of a hill a 10 minute walk from the Cathedral (below). By the universe’s magic, we ended up in the beds right next to hers. (And they’re not bunk beds!!!).
After a rest, we returned to the streets of Santiago to retrieve our compostelas from the pilgrims office, shop for gifts, and fully explore the Cathedral. Unlike other cathedrals in Northern Spain, Santiago’s has very little stained glass, but its beauty lies in the empty spaces of simplicity, which allows the elaborate alter to shine.
We waited in cue to hug the center Statue of Saint James, and then went below to pay respects at his resting place, as hundreds of thousands have done before us. Today (Monday) we will finish the last pilgrims ritual by attending the pilgrims mass we missed yesterday.
Esmerelda, Rob, Melissa, Mandie and I found an authentic Galician dinner of octopus and seaweed rice with red wine. We then immediate bought an entire Tarta de Santiago, a delicious almond cake I’ve become addicted to, pictured below with Esmeralda, and brought it to a different bar to enjoy with Sangria.
As we were eating, Canadian Darcy appeared and joined us, and Kirsten and Ky from Seattle happened to walk by just in time for a photograph (below) and a contact information exchange. I wonder what other friends I will run into today!
Tomorrow, I will depart for the end of the world, Finnisterra. It will take me 3 days to walk to the 90k to the sea. I am looking forward to it as a time for final reflection on my journey, even though I am now eagerly awaiting getting to meet my mom in Madrid on Saturday to enjoy Southern Spain for 10 days before finally coming home. I have decided I am going to give my smartphone to Melissa and Mandie to hold onto while I go to Finnisterra, so that I can resist the temptation to stay plugged in the final stretch. I will still keep my global phone in case of emergency and to let my family know I am all right.
A few nights ago, a friend was messaging me from home and asked me, “Do you feel changed?”. I answered that I think that will be impossible to tell until I get back home in my old environment and process, but I definitely am feeling more empowered than before I left. I can walk 500 miles across Northern Spain with only a backpack and trust that the universe will provide everything I need and more. What else can I do?!