Race to the End of the World

Tuesday: Santiago to Vilaserio, 35k
Wednesday: Vilaserio to Cee, 40k
Thursday: Cee to Fisterra, 15k, plus 10k to lighthouse and beach
Friday: Fisterra to Madrid, 690k! (Via Bus, plane, and Metro!)

Another long post, apologies, and with no pictures, as I didn’t have my camera. (Though hopefully some will be emailed to me shortly and I can add them). No one is under any obligation to actually read it!

I woke up on Tuesday much more glum than I ought to have been after successfully having walked the 750 kilometers or so to Santiago. Apparently runners commonly experience temporary depression after completing a marathon- I believe something similar happens to modern pilgrims once they arrive at Santiago. All of a sudden, the goal we have been working towards for over a month is complete. Instead, we have to say goodbye to the new incredible friends we made, and no one is really sure if we’ll ever see each other again. Most likely we wont ; But that knowledge is in part what helped our relationships on the Camino blossom to their fullest potential. We ask eachother and ourselves, now what? Some pilgrims have a more clear answer than others.

I was not really sure why I was walking to the sea. I was all alone; no one was making me. I could really do whatever I pleased with the rest of the week. My feet were tired and felt done with walking. But my ego wouldn’t allow me to stop. I knew my pride would eventually be bruised by prolonging my loafing in Santiago. I had told everyone I was going to the sea, so come hell or high water, I was going to stick my toe in the ocean.

On the way to Vilaserio, I only saw 2 other pilgrims on foot, and neither spoke English. (I did, however, see my first snake on the Camino. Unwelcome company.) Before departing, I was certain I would be ecstatic to have time to myself to process what I had just accomplished. Instead, I was surprised by how lonely it felt. I pushed past the usual stopping place at the 20k mark because I knew I had to gain mileage in the first two days if I wanted to make it to Fisterra with any time to enjoy myself. I was confident I could complete the first 35k day, but skeptical I could do two such long days in a row. I ended up dragging into Vilaserio around 5 pm, after a much needed ice cream break at a deserted cafe with a kind bartender, and stayed in a small private albergue with a few other pilgrims who spoke English, but no one I recognized.

I left the next morning at 6:45 am, determined to make it all the way to the seaside village of Cee. I fortunately still had 600 mg aspirin leftover from my injuries around Estella and Logrono to premeptively numb any brewing pains and soothe my aching feet. No stars shone down on me as I walked alone, indicating cloudy skies and imminent rain. I had to rely heavily on my headlamp to mark out a 10 foot diameter in front of me so I could see the rocky path underfoot and pray to make out the waymarks ahead. I recall thinking that the only way I was going to make it all the way to Cee was if I could find walking companions to motivate me. It had only been a day, but already I was done with being alone- a shocking revelation, as I typically consider myself an introvert.

After walking in the dark for over an hour, I realized that I had not seen a yellow arrow for some time. I consulted my guidebook, and it was apparent I had somehow missed a turn in the dark. Cursing, I began to retrace my steps. I had only gone about 1k off the route, but it was enough to shake off any remnants of optimism I had started to cling to and plummet my mood. Immediately my thoughts shifted to deciding whether or not I would stop at the village only 20k from where I started, and have less time in Fisterra the next day, or, investigate bus time tables – a new low. At around 9 am, only about 7k from my starting point in Vilaserio, I sat alone in a bar that served no toast and bad coffee to continue with my pity party and contemplate my options, when an overly-energetic pair of pilgrims entered. They immediately introduced themselves as Andrew from England and Ardes from Germany. They had just met the day before and had plans to book it the sea as fast possible, since Andrew had a bus to catch the following evening. I decided they were far too chipper to suit my mood and waited for them to leave before I continued on my way. However, I caught up to them only 50 meters or so from the bar because they had stopped to put their pack covers on – it was starting to rain. Social awkwardess ensued, and I had no choice but to join them in walking. We ran through the typical pilgrim small talk; where we’re from, when we started, what we do when we’re not walking. Soon, their positive spirits began to lift my own. It turns out they are both delightful people. It took me longer than it should have for me to realize that my earliest wishes of the morning for company had been fulfilled, and if I hadn’t gotten lost, I would have not been graced with their companionship. Even though they clearly wanted to walk a little faster than my body would allow, they would wait and refused to leave me behind. Ardes, who spoke English as a second language, had the endearing habit of asking each of us, “Are you fine?”. She wanted to make sure we were okay both physically and emotionally before we continued each phase of our journey. With their positive spirits and a shot of liquid spirits (Andrew’s suggestion) I was able to walk 40k in pouring rain with squelching boots and a smile. The Camino always provides!

At around kilometer 32, we caught our first glimpse of the sea, wedged in between two mountains. I am sorry I did not have my phone with me to capture any pictures. Seeing the ocean for the first time was far more powerful for me than seeing the top of the towers of the Compostela. That vision alone made all the struggles to get there worth it.

I thanked them for their help and let Andrew and Ardes continue to walk on without me, enjoying a quiet night in Cee in an albergue with 42 beds and 5 pilgrims. I ate dinner alone in a small mall with a kind waiter who jokingly made fun of my Spanish. In the mall, there was an escalator! I felt for certain that I was cheating by using it but there were no available stairs.

My walk into Fisterra was in an entirely different mindset than when I had left Santiago. I was filled with joy everytime I saw, smelled, heard the sea, and took my time to savor my last 15k. With great fortune, it was sunny again. I had a snack perched on a large rock lapped by waves on an isolated beach to myself. When I reached the final 2k stretch into Fisterra, I walked barefoot on the beach and collected sea shells in my empty boots. I was alone, but I was happy. I was almost at the end of the world!

And then, like a mirage in the distance, I saw two figures ahead also collecting shells. I was not expecting to encounter anyone I knew in Fisterra since I had taken such a direct route. But, there was Simone and Carlos! I screamed, we hugged, we made plans to send me on towards their albergue and meet after siesta. Perfect.

I filled the rest of my time collecting my certification of completion, avoiding rain in a hippie cafe with a vegetarian menu, journaling, and watching other pilgrims excitedly greet eachother. To my amazement, I once again ran into my beloved German school children and their staff, who shouted my name from across the central square and offered me bus rides to Madrid should my transportation not work out. When the rain cleared, I walked 2k down to another beach with less shells but terrific (and dangerous) waves and drew designs in the sand until it was time to meet Simone and Carlos. Carlos does not speak English, so Simone was often forced to translate between us as he lead is the 3.5k to the lighthouse at the mythical end of the world. It is tradition to burn an item of clothing here to symbolize renewal, so I added my baggie, torn underwear to the fire before crawling down on a far rock by myself so that no other person was in my sight as I watched the sunset over the somewhat cloudy horizon . My Camino was complete.

Ardes, who has completed 2 other caminos already, claims that I will continue to process all the lessons I have learned over time. It is said you gain a year of wisdom for each day you walk the Camino, but I certainly don’t feel 42 years wiser – I had let myself get drawn into negativity only 2 days ago! But there are a few musings I ought to remember, so forgive me while I list some in a nonsensical fashion. I might return to this portion later as the clarity develops.

– Live in the present moment.
– What we tend carry with us in life, physically and emotionally, is usually more than what we need, and it burdens us. Learn to let go.
– The Camino, as well as the universe, will always provide exactly what you need, even if it means you have to get lost first. (Alternatively, remember to receive, not just give).
– Be open with people. Be you. One of the many great conversations I had with Rob was about how since pilgrims tend to not have goals of dating or hooking up with eachother at the end of the night, there is no reason to be anyone other than yourself. The genuineness is incredible and I hope to successfully carry it home with me.
– For me, the pilgrimage has reminded me of the importance of balance. Be happy, be sad. Acknowledge that both emotions are occurring when they do. Be ok alone, be ok surrounded by people. Be ok walking, be okay resting. Pray, drink. Be human. Know that at all times, all is well.
– Perhaps the most important lesson – BE GRATEFUL, always!

I have been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to walk the Camino. I have met absolutely amazing people who have had more impact on me than they might know. I have more confidence in the beauty of my future (and my present) now than ever before.
I am so very grateful to all the support I have gotten from friends and family back home and to the readers of this blog, which now has over 675 views – insane! Im shocked so many people have cared to put up with my self-indulgent musings. For now, this is the end.

Thank you, I love you all.


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