This is the last leg of our Camino, not the last of our journey though.
This is another of those moments of nervous anticipation when something important in your life is about to happen. As I write this post nearly two weeks after the event my butterflies are back and my heart aches.
I haven’t left it for two weeks deliberately, being back at work has sucked some of the warmth in my heart for our journey. That’s not so say I wouldn’t rather be there now, walking with my friends. No, the part of my life which is work makes me miss the Camino all the more.
I have found being back at work I haven’t really wanted to share too much with my colleagues. I can’t explain it really but it’s almost like they are a reminder of what I now am missing and I want to keep them separate from the great part of what I have done. I want to share but I don’t, does that make sense?
Anyway, I will share with all those people who have followed my blog and those who have just started to read it. I hope the new followers have patience with my writing as I am a novice who seems to love this writing lark. It’s not that difficult, I just write the stuff that makes me cry first, then the stuff that makes me laugh, then I use the stuff that really warms my heart about the humanity and throw in some stuff about the wonderful people I’ve met and, before I know it, I’m pouring my heart out to total strangers, family and friends.
So, we’re in O Pedrouzo, it’s 7:00 am and we’re walking out of the pension we were staying at. Closing the door, leaving our rucksack to be picked up to be taken on to our final stop in Santiago. We check we have got everything using my particular OCD method – check, re-check and check that we have checked. OK, it’s safe to close the door – we can’t get back in again if we have forgotten anything.
We set off to the edge of the town to find our trail, the road to San Anton, it’s still dark so we have to use my head-torch once we get off the main road. Other specks of light begin to appear as we approach the main camino path. Our pension was off the main camino in the main street of the town.
We linked in with the other starlights walking along the twisting tree lined path. Our world was good, we were walking with a definite spring in our steps this time.
We stopped for breakfast at a little café at the foot of a small hill leading out of Cimadevila. This was to keep us going to lunchtime at a planned stop at Camping San Marcos.
We left the café and soon got into our uphill pace, this hill was no problem to walkers like us. Biff! One climb defeated by our steady rhythmic step. Bash! Another incline left behind in our wake. This was easy. I think we agreed that the adrenaline had kicked in and nothing was going to stop us now. This was one of the most enjoyable walks we had been on for the ease of the walking.
As we climbed the hills, through the forests we still commented on how much like home this place was, the only difference being the Sweet Chestnut trees casting off their tribble-like casings. In case no-one knows what a tribble is, they were little balls of fur animals which took over the Enterprise in the original Star Trek – long time ago. The other difference was the abundance of Eucalyptus trees, arrow-straight, tall and with the strong smell that was heady in the morning’s crisp air.
Bosh! Another kilometre down, this was a slaughter.
As if someone had decided the peregrinos were just a nuisance we came across a perfect 90 degree right-hand turn. It was the fence surrounding the airfield of Lavacolla Aeropuerto. This airport was set on the heights overlooking Santiago and was adding extra distance to our walk. This wasn’t particularly attractive in walking terms but it did mean we were getting close.
A taxi driver in Santiago explained that Lavacolla was the place where the pilgrims would wash themselves in preparation of entering Santiago. There are other theories but I liked this one so this is the one which I will stick to and pass on to you.
As we came to the fence at the end of the runway we saw that people had put little crosses of twigs in the fence, hundreds of them. Not sure what the significance of this was but I had seen it before in a fence around a wood-chipping plant at the beginning of my walk.
Coffee and C&L were nipping at our thoughts and, when we came across a little café at Villamajor we took the opportunity to have a quick 5 minute break. Coffee, C&L taken, dry tee-shirt on and we were off again.
I would have to say there was definitely something in the adrenaline theory about our last walk because we were not for stopping.
After walking past TVG, the TV station of Galicia, we came to a horrible, huge site at Camping San Marcos, still I stopped at their shop to buy a lemon ice-lolly, really refreshing at this stage.
As we walked on we were both surprised to come across Monte do Gozo. We had expected more of a climb but no, we found ourselves walking through the village to the huge monument which commemorated the visit in 1989 of Pope John Paul II. There was a huge albergue here which holds 500 people. This was the mountain where the first pilgrims got their first view of the cathedral spires of Santiago. To us it was the place where another hurdle was put in our way.
As we came to the monument car-park we saw hundreds of yellow-capped Spanish people dis-embark from coaches and gather right across our path. It was a charity walk from here into Santiago. I told AM to keep her head down, follow me and just keep saying “perdóname” – excuse me. We had to push our way through and, as they had already started to make their way down the hill, had to physically fight our way past the throng to ensure we weren’t caught up in their slow, lumbering walk.
I’m afraid on more than one occasion I was so engrossed in weaving through them that I might have lost AM who was probably not being as rude as I was. Honestly though if you have ever been in an airport with me you would understand, queues and the rush for the gate are a bit of a warped pleasure of mine. I believe you were given elbows for a reason. No really though this charity walk could have held us back for an hour or more and I was not going to get lost in this movement down the hill into Santiago with the flow and colour of custard.
We powered through and, before we knew it, there was the bridge into Santiago. Here we go again. As I got onto the bridge I wasn’t the only person who had tears rolling down my cheeks. I will take this opportunity to fully apologise to AM. I was only concentrating on myself as I stepped towards the final goal. My head was spinning with every emotion that I had in me.
I had joy and sadness in equal amounts in those tears. I had fear and yet, at the same time, I was the calmest I had been for a long time. My heart was turning somersaults. What was going to happen next? How was I going to use this experience? Would it affect my life? Had I done ALL I could? Would I be able to make it across the bridge?
I’ll write more about this later, for now let’s get back to the actual walk.
We got across the bridge and, as in most cities, as I have said before, you don’t actually get to the centre for a long time. In our case it was going to be close to an hour before we would even see the spires of the cathedral. We were walking through the not so pretty parts, everywhere has these types of areas. You know, where the real people live. Unattractive blocks with not too many amenities close at hand.
If you are doing the Portuguese Way apparently you come into the city from another direction which takes you through the old city giving you views of the cathedral spires for most of the way. For us it was like walking in a maze. Following the roads skirting the old town area like they were teasing you. Keeping the views hidden behind concrete and steel until, finally, you start to see the stonework and buildings that tell you that you’re almost there. Hold out, just a little longer.
Boom! You’re first peek of a spire sends your heart racing. It was just down that narrow street, round this corner, across this square and …….. there it is. The feelings are coming back as I sit here and write. The ache comes to my heart. The tears are making it hard to type.
We arrived at about 11:50 am. The mid-day mass in the cathedral was just about to start. Like they were waiting for just me.
As we went to the doors to go in we had to leave our rucksacks outside and, as peregrinos, we could go in for free without queueing.
As I have said before, I am not religious but I do understand people’s need for belief. I have beliefs, not in gods or religions but my beliefs are as strong as any religion and they are mine. I don’t feel the need to share them too much. If you ask enough I might explain to you but, like the Camino, in the telling you change, you re-evaluate, you strengthen. My beliefs have become stronger because of the Camino.
As we enter the cathedral I felt a bit in awe of it all, although it looked a bit commercial as the other people stood outside queueing to pay to get in. Even though there were hundreds inside it was really quiet. The mass started and, as I stood looking around at the splendour of the building I broke down again. I felt so drained. I couldn’t take it all in. I had no thought of the people around me watching me cry. It wasn’t embarrassing. It wasn’t planned. It was enough that I had come to this place and got to this point. We didn’t stay for the full mass. We were exhausted, we had just walked 22 km, were really thirsty and, as the mass was not part of our plan, had done what we had planned to do.
We had 4 days of relaxation in this beautiful city. Tell you all about it next time.