On May 26, 2013 I walked into Santiago to complete a journey more than two years in the making.
The cool, clear morning air around us crackled with the anticipation of our final departure. As Scott and I waited for the café to open, I listened to birds singing in the treetops and frogs chanting in nearby ponds. I watched the sun slowly rise over the distant hills, casting long shadows and making the grass glisten.
When you mix long, determined hours of walking with with funny, thoughtful company, the miles just fly by – 18.6 of them, to be precise. For the second day in a row, I blew by my longest distance (30km) on the Camino and felt amazing.
And now began the part of my Camino where I just flat out walked.
Oh, I still enjoyed the journey, but The Guys were serious walkers and I felt determined to keep up without being a squeaky wheel. I’m proud to say that I did 25km/15.5 mi that day – my longest distance to that point – and I didn’t whinge or whine once.
A lot of pilgrims share that in their last days before arriving in Santiago, they look around themselves and realize that the people they’re with will probably be the ones to share this momentous life accomplishment with them.
When I looked around me that morning as I left Sarria, five-days’ walk from Santiago, I was alone. I felt physically weak and emotionally weary, especially because of the morning’s punishing hills, but what I didn’t know was how many blessings the Universe had planned for me today, packed in, up to the gills.
Sometimes, but not always, I paused at the end of the day to write on my map in the guidebook to describe what I saw. Some would say this is a sacrilege, but I found it helpful to jog my memory later. Today my scribbles included: “gorgeous views, cows ♥”, “beautiful” and “magical forest”.
After a month on the Camino, I discovered that a day of walking, for me, is divided into three chapters. During the first third of the day, I feel enchanted by everything – the scenery, the flowers and birdsong, the exact shade of the blue sky. The second part of the walk, I’m focused. I turn inward and think. I look at my maps carefully to consider lunch options and distance. The final third of the walk, I hate my life. I hate my feet and I especially hate the Camino and wonder why on earth I’m doing it.
These three chapters repeated themselves so consistently that I began to find their predictability hilarious. What a crazy place the mind is! So little changes around me, yet my inner experiences vary widely.
Suddenly, after five days of illness, moping, and a serious case of the grouchies, life took an abrupt turn for the better.
The morning walk to O’Cebreiro was brightened with the company of my sweet friend, Louise from London, and our meaningful conversations about life, career paths, body, and spirit. It was lightened by sun peeking out from behind the clouds and fresh snowfall. It was literally elevated, in part, by being the highest point I walked to on the entire Camino.
You might have been led to believe that my Camino was a blissful walk with miracles at every turn. Maybe I’ve been telling it that way, but it wasn’t.
Though I kept waiting for a good turn of events, I had now been sickly and exhausted for five consecutive days. The antibiotics seemed to have begun working, but I still felt weary. For the first time since I began this pilgrimage, I thought to myself, “I’m ready to be done with this.”
During the night, the man in the room next to me talked on his phone until after 1am. If I spoke better Spanish, I would have understood every word. I tossed and turned, sweating under the synthetic comforter.
In the morning, I was not feeling tremendously better, and the coughing and congestion persisted. My ears seemed to be less painful, even if still stuffy. I was dreading the day’s forecast of rain, feeling concerned about the effects of more moisture on my health.