Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 33 - slept in O Pedrouzo - July 30

Woke up at 8am, out of the hotel by 9am, Dee was anxious to get going. I, on the other hand, had washed all of my socks and underwear the night before (why didn't I keep one pair out!) and they were still wet so in addition to my usual morning routine, I had to deal with that, and with her. I slowly made it down and met her outside for coffee, tea and pastries where she mentioned the trek today would be mostly downhill. I had on wet underwear and no socks, it was shaping up to be one of those mornings. She was in her own world and so was I when we set off. I put on my music for the third (and final) time on the Camino. This time I listened to the fun playlist I usually use to work out so that when I'd hear these songs at home, I could remember being out here too. Optimist.

Arzua was the last major center of population before we entered Santiago. Some of the towns along here are modern and the waymarking is difficult to find. We stopped for a rest at a cafe and noticed a herd of cows coming down the Camino so we bolted out to get ahead of them. Eventually we lost track of each other pretty early on, she having the faster pace now, and I proceeded to make my way through tiny hamlets and quaint villages, dozens of them. The arrows were faded and the markers hidden and I realized the Camino is funny that way: there would be a fork in the road with no sign and so I finally figured out that you had to make a choice and go forth one way or another and then there would be the sign. If you went the wrong way, you knew it because you'd walk a little way and no sign so you'd turn around, go the other way and then there is the sign. Many people could not figure this out and they would stand paralyzed, unable to go forth, unable to make a decision.

The trek was supposed to be downhill today but downhill my ass! It was that slow, gentle, uphill, steady incline that I dislike so much. What is it about that angle, I don't know, but it makes me pant much quicker and my heart rate immediately increases. I had to pull over. Good feeling gone. My underwear was still wet, my socks on the back of my pack were still wet, and I was suddenly on my last nerve. I sat there trying to catch my breath and realized that my nerves had been stretched taut to the border of panic for so many mornings now, that the relief of finally making it this close to Santiago made me feel weak in the knees. I knew I could make it but it still wasn't a sure thing.

I got up and kept going and realized again the metaphor of the Camino and life. You have to go forth and make decisions and look at the after effects and gauge if you're on the right track; you have take action to move things forward in order to reach a desired outcome. And you have to do it, nobody else is going to do it for you. If your life is complicated, that's because you make it that way. It's true, everyone is basically living in their own reality and that is manifested in the world around them. The Camino was like a magnified version of life.

I kept steadily climbing and had to stop, realizing how much pain I was in again. Throat thickening, difficult to swallow. At this rate between the physical exertion and the mental fatigue, I'd have heart failure or a mental breakdown before lunch. I took several deep breaths, exhaling slowly until I was in control again and then realized I had lost my beloved water bottle holder (abandoned item 26)! Good grief, the narrow path above the hillside stretched west for nearly 8 kilometers before it faded into a thin line and disappeared behind the tip of the mountain. I still had a long way to go.

I had to stop several times along The Way to rest and in one particular town, it was so peaceful I filmed a short video of the rhythm of village life so I could always remember it!

After 19 kilometers I came across a tourist office and wandered in aimlessly looking at everything and nothing at the same time. They weren't helpful so I just headed over and found the nicest pamphlet that said O Pedrouzo and I left. When I looked at it outside, if was for a private alberge and it looked nice so I decided that's where I'm going. I hobbled into town and there was Dee, at the first "chairs and umbrellas" and I was glad to be there.

We ate and drank and then Raphael walked up. We said "Hola" and he said he was heading to such-and-such alberge and I said that was the same one on the brochure that I was heading to so we vowed to see each other this time. Dee was dealing with her guy friend who had just arrived in Santiago and she decided to bus it in from there. I happily checked into my private room in the alberge and ate what was probably going to be my last pilgrim menu. Just as I finished on the terrace, Raphael showed up and we had a nice long talk over a final bottle of wine. I was teary because it was all going to come to an end tomorrow.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” 
– Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 34 - slept in Santiago - July 31

Up at 8am, out of the alberge by 9am, it was my last morning as a pilgrim! Destination: Santiago de Compostela, 20 kilometers. I had my lovely cup of morning tea with a pastry at the cafe on the outskirts of town. While heading out on a beautiful wooded path, I decided to dedicate the last leg of the journey to my Mom, my biggest cheerleader. The first part of the stage was through tall eucalyptus trees and their smell and their shade felt refreshing and peaceful. It took me back to the eucalyptus smell in our "blue houses" growing up; Mom always had eucalyptus at home. It felt good to know that I was still out here "fighting the good fight." I had a feeling this may be the last bastion of peace.

I started off walking through a valley and then another ancient hamlet with more spectacular chicken coops, before I arrived in Lavacolla (which literally means "wash ass"). It was known as the place where pilgrims could clean themselves (lavar) before making the final trek into the great Cathedral in Santiago. It reminded me of when I'd go camping with Rossana and she'd call it "monkey butt." It was cracking me up. Dee had texted me saying she got us a hotel room for the night and so I texted her back "Thanks, I'm in Lavacolla washing my ass with some vino blanco, see you soon!"

Once I got nearer to the city, it became asphalt and crowds and busloads of city pilgrims who join the route for this one-day trek into Santiago. I had learned many things along The Way and one of them is to be more tolerant of people. I put on my air of compassionate detachment and prepared to achieve my dream of actually completing the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

Once I crossed over the Monte del Gozo, which holds the large sculpture above and means Mount of Joy, I could see Santiago in the distance. One of the cool things about being a pilgrim is that everyone says "Hola" to you. And when you walk into a town, other pilgrims immediately greet you. It's like you're in this special club and we're all in it together. Like when you go to Disneyland, everyone there has a ticket and it's everyone's special day. I feel like that at airports too, once you get behind the security it's like this special club where everyone there has a ticket to fly. That's how it feels to be a pilgrim, magnified.

Walking towards the namesake city was like walking towards the other cities, long and miserable. There was traffic and I had to cross over the freeway on this rickety old wooden bridge that I swear some of those beams could've broken through any second. I was actually scared again and then I remembered that quote that I don't like anymore. No, don't do something scary everyday, this kind of fear is meaningless. It doesn't challenge you in an uplifting way, it is repressive. Grateful to have made it to the other side I reminded myself that I still have to be careful, many injuries occur in cities.

The entrance to Santiago had many peregrino monuments and statues and I followed the signs to the Ciudad Centro (city center).  It was here I made a near fatal mistake: I saw road sign with the name of the hotel that Dee reserved for us and it was leading to a different road than the city center. I decided to follow it, big mistake! Basically I was on the city ring road with cars flying by me and I ended up walking two kilometers out of the way! By the time I realized I was outskirting the town, I went into a cafe and asked for directions. He motioned further down and then way up, so that's what I did, went further down and then up. On the way up I almost had my first heart attack and had to sit down on a park bench. It was hot, the hill was steep, and I was tired. "I can't die yet" I thought, "I have to get to the Cathedral at least" so I waited a full ten minutes to make sure I was in control of my heart again and headed up. Another short while later and I thought I was going to have my second heart attack. I decided to forgo the hotel for now and stop in at a cafe to try and regain my composure. Fortunately I was right around the corner from the hotel so when I took the next 50 steps, I was done. I checked in and collapsed.

Once I freshened up, I headed into the city center, which was right across the street. The streets were absolutely beautiful and the Cathedral incredibly glorious. I knew I was going to get my certificate (compostela) and tour the cathedral tomorrow, so tonight I took pictures, met up with Dee and a bunch of others, then headed off on my own for some tasty paella. As I sat in the sidewalk cafe watching all the locals and pilgrims walk by, for the first time I took great personal satisfaction in knowing I had done it.

I thought about the metaphor of the Camino and life again and realized that the first third of The Way is like youth and your young adulthood and all you want to do is get away from your friends and family; the second stretch through the Meseta is life as an adult where you are really out on your own; and the third and final leg is like old age, suddenly you don't recognize the world around you and you want to see friends and family again.

I felt good in the sense that I had gained confidence without realizing it. I had found my voice again too. I had engaged in some social comparison theory along The Way and reaffirmed that I am happy with who I am. I felt cleansed too, somehow the act of it all was purifying. I feel spiritually cleansed. And grounded. I feel more grounded and in touch with myself than before. I was clear, I was a channel, and I was vibrating. As I headed back to the hotel alone, I realized I will be forever changed by this incredibly unique experience.

"Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands." 
- Linda Hogan

Friday, June 28, 2013

Post-departure on the Camino

I slept in to my heart's content. No more morning rituals. No more angst about the unknown. I had successfully completed the Camino and was no longer a pilgrim. I lingered in bed and booked my flight from Madrid back to the States and got ready, then headed into town. Dee and I said goodbye. She was going on to Finnisterre and I wished her all the best!

First stop, the Pilgrim Office where I stood in line with a bunch of us, and received my certificate. It's in Latin and it talks about the sacrifices I made doing it on foot from St. Jean to Santiago. I will frame it next to my other degrees. I have yet to meet someone who has done the Camino (other than all of us here) but if/when I do, that person will have my highest regard. I am proud to be part of this club!

Second stop, down the rua de San Pedro to the famous Gate of The Way (Porta do Camino) which gives access to the wonderful old medieval city and on to the Praza Obradoiro and Cathedral. There were many candles and flowers outside and the flags were still at half mast. As I entered the Cathedral I was immediately grateful for my safe arrival. There was a pilgrim mass going on and so I stood and listened for awhile and then walked around slowly looking at everything. It is no longer permitted to put your hand in the Tree of Jesse but I saw it behind the barrier, where millions of pilgrims over the centuries have worn finger holes in the solid marble as a mark of gratitude for their safe arrival.  I went underneath and saw the coffin that contains the relics of St. James and then I wandered towards the back and just as I was leaving I saw Raphael! We hugged each other, gave kisses on the cheeks and were smiling so big that no words were needed. All those times I wondered if I'd see him again and here he was at the last place, in the last space, on the last day, in the Cathedral. He was going on to Finnisterre so I wished him a happy life. I went to have lunch at the same place I had dinner last night, before I had to catch my train to Madrid.

While I was sitting at the sidewalk cafe enjoying the last of my Tinto de Veranas, I looked up and saw Lauren from Washington! We were so happy to see each other again (picture), we caught up for a few minutes and then she rambled on, still with the German girl she met at San Bol. They had traveled together the rest of The Way and they were headed to Finnisterre so I wished them the best and waved goodbye. I also saw Helen and Lawrence from Ireland and like with everyone, we hugged while we said goodbye. And right around the corner came Brian from Ireland, I couldn't believe it! We were so happy to see each other again too. He sat down for a few minutes but had to run to catch a flight to Madrid. He was so happy I think he was crying. I made my way down the cobblestone streets towards the train station. An hour later the train started and it passed by the very curve where the accident had happened. It had all been cleaned up but the Spanish people on board were all a flurry and knew exactly where it was. I had 6 hours to go to Madrid. I settled into my chair and began reading for the first time the guidebook everyone had. Once I arrived in Madrid, I checked into the first hotel I saw, took a bath and ate dinner in my room. I had all day tomorrow to explore Madrid and now I was happy to have arrived again somewhere safely and to have a quiet night on my own.

The next morning, Fri Aug 2nd, I took a cab to the Calle Mayor of Madrid. I had no idea if Madrid even had a Calle Mayor but since every other town in Spain seemed to have one I reasoned Madrid must too. Sure enough, there it was (picture above), a lovely reminder that I'm still in Europe. I had lunch and then found the "red double decker tour bus" and hopped on and spent the afternoon seeing the sights of Madrid. I headed back to my room in time to see the last Spanish sunset before I boarded a plane tomorrow morning. On Sat Aug 3rd, I got on board a westbound 747. Five weeks later from the day I left, I had another day of 19 hours worth of travel. By the time I got through customs in Newark, New Jersey thanks to my Global Entry card, and then survived a layover in Houston, Texas, I finally arrived around midnight in Omaha, Nebraska where Ellen picked me up and we drove three hours north to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where I'm staying for awhile. My historic journey was done and even though I was tired, I felt physically strong, emotionally cleansed, intellectually stimulated, and spiritually revived! When I was out there I thought "I've done this now, I don't need to do it again," but I'm pretty sure, I'll do it again.

I bid farewell with Abba's song I Have a Dream: "I have a dream, a song to sing - To help me cope, with anything - If you see the wonder, of a fairy tale - You can take the future, even if you fail - I believe in angels - Something good in everything I see - I believe in angels - When I know the time is right for me - I'll cross the stream, I have a dream."

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 
– Marcel Proust