I remember arriving at Monte de Gojo – the hill of joy – and getting a glimpse of the cathedral towers five miles away. I was flooded with emotion, tears springing to my eyes.
“It exists!” I thought to myself. “Santiago really exists!”
I’d hardly thought of the city this entire journey. Now that I could see it, I felt stunned, elated, and overwhelmed with joy. This is how the hill earned its name.
While I could recount the day, I’d rather share the rambling, joyful reflections I made on the eve before walking into Santiago, right from the pages of my journal.
What a day. 21 miles/34.4km in one go. It was amazing. I made a decision to have a positive attitude and it worked. The frequent stops and snacks helped. The beautiful weather helped. The gorgeous stretches of aromatic eucalyptus forest, the dense oak trees darkening the path, the warm breeze, and low-stress company… all of it made a difference. And we got here. I’m mostly pain-free. No heel pain today. A little squishy left knee, but nothing a few days in Santiago won’t solve.
I marveled all day as I watched the mile markers click by, announcing the distance from Santiago, from the mid-30s (km) down to the single digits. I can’t believe that six weeks of walking has gotten me here. I can’t believe that those glistening buildings in the distance are Santiago. I can’t believe I’ve gotten here under my own power, step by step, since France. All those conversations. All those decisions. All those albergues. All those yellow arrows, painted on every surface, sign, and building. All the decorative scallop shells I’ve seen in every town along the path, guiding the way. I realized today that I’ve walked so far, I couldn’t see back to my starting point. It’s behind me around the curve of the earth. That’s a long way.
I feel more powerful than ever before in my life. I can tackle a long, steep hill and climb it for 10 minutes or more, without stopping to catch my breath. I can do it in the hot sun. I can navigate loose gravel on a steep downgrade without falling. I can walk like a four-legged with my poles, powering myself forward with strength. I can set my own pace and stick with it, or adapt as my surroundings do. I can think of at least six ways to kill or seriously maim someone with my poles if needed. I can manage my mental state so that my body performs even better.
I can establish boundaries and take the space I need. I’m completely clear about my introversion and 100% okay with not being the life of the party. I’m okay with being excluded without taking it personally. I can be in company with others without merging with them or their drama. I trust they they are doing what they need to do and can take care of their own experience. I trust that it’s okay to do what I need to do.
I learned that part of being an introvert means that others might not know when to be close to me. It’s okay to ask for help, to accept help, to be grateful when others offer. That when I’m open, delightful people and events come into my life that touch me, reach my heart, nourish the part of me that craves connection. In the past, I’ve tried to keep people at arm’s length, but the Camino forces people together – at meals, in bunks, on the trail. It has given me ample opportunity to receive praise (for music, language, hair, etc.) because I’m really visible. I’m showing up. I’m liked as I am – in my imperfect growing-ness – rather than some contrived image. I’ve more been myself every day. Some people will love me and others won’t. And that is just as it should be.
I’ve trusted my intuition this trip – about people, cities, restaurants, direction… And I am wiser than I realize. I am proud of who I am – and who I’ve become on this Camino, on my way to Santiago. I look forward to what’s next.