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