I arrived in Santiago de Compostela late Tuesday evening. My original intent, from the slowness and pain I experienced on Monday, was to taxi or bus from Padron to Santiago in the morning and meet my friend when he arrived.
Thinking about it later, I realized that much of my discomfort was mostly trying to figure out how to work out the logistics with my friend and that emotional toil was trumping up how my body was feeling. Stress is a great curtain for blocking a view of success. My shortcut commuting plan immediately followed when I learned that when I arrived in Padron later than my friend, and found him absent from the albergue , that he’d already seen all the sites listed in our guidebooks . I’m learning this while at the same time removing a plaster/bandaid that took the blistered top layer of skin off my entire pinky toe.
My friend woke me up at 5:30 on Tuesday saying he was starting to walk and that he’d left food in the kitchen for me to cook. I got up shortly after and went to the toilet and then the kitchen. I ate some fruit. I had no desire to cook, but left the food for other pilgrims that might want more fortification than they’d prepared for. I found myself packing fruit and the bread and cheese – for a taxi ride?
I’d dragged all my items and pack down from the sleeping area to the kitchen. I thought it best to put my boots on rather than to carry them separately. They didn’t hurt as I expected them to. I took my time gathering and packing and eating. Finally, all packed, I set out to find the bus station or taxi stand. I toyed with the idea of walking for a while, knowing Joop had a full day of walking ahead of him and that with wheels I could be there in a few minutes. I followed the arrows, consulted my directions, lost the arrows, asked questions and found myself at an empty taxi stand. The bus station was nowhere to be found, although I know I was very close to it. I didn’t pursue it. I gave myself a minute to collect my thoughts - I wasn’t ready to end my journey, I really wanted to walk for a bit. All the options were firing around in my head. I stepped off the main walkways, took a deep breath and asked God “what’s the plan for today?” As warm as a sunbeam and gentle as a breeze, the response was “walk”. So I did. I figured I’d find wheels the next town.
A few of the group that we’d met along the way passed me. They said “hello” and proceeded on.
I walked, alone with my thoughts. Since I now I knew I’d be walking alone, I immediately switched to my practice of thinking about the people in my life. I’d not had a chance to do this yet, this trip. It was so cathartic last time and I’d been longing for the solitude to do so again. I thought about each of my lovely daughters, my son in law and then my grandchildren. One by one, everyone got my full attention. Next came my present and “lost” friends, my lost loves, Robert, my precious sister in laws, my mother in law and each of my Camino friends. I spent time thinking of my relatives and friends who had died. This long list of angels took me out of Padron and into the countryside.
I walked through many breathtaking hamlets and eucalyptus forests. I saw roses and horreos everywhere I looked. My feet hurt but I was smiling. I cried from the velocity of happiness coursing through me. I was walking in magnificent Galicia AGAIN! The air was cool, the sky bright! I wished my friend could appreciate the joy I was feeling. I took pictures of snails and hawks, fall leaves and the ever-changing geography of the Camino. I felt so free.
The hamlets and villages offered me no bus services and nary a taxi was to be spotted.
I hobbled along and to the Teo albergue. I really didn’t want to call it a day and I wanted to get to Santiago to meet Joop. I was proud I’d made it that far, but thought I should stop. I could take the last “little” bit the next day. I had time. I could still see Joop before he went home. Not exactly according to plan, but doable. I’d sent my friend a text saying I’d probably stay there.
The albergue was empty. I found an unlocked door. A radio was playing. I knew at some point a hospitalero would come by, but I didn’t know when. I used the toilet, refilled my water bottle. Still no one. I rested a bit and then started working on my feet. I debated whether to press on or hunker down. Chances were, so close to Santiago, with so few pilgrims on the road and knowing every one of my “regulars” were ahead of me there wouldn’t be any other pilgrims staying there. I did not want to stay in an unlocked albergue, in an isolated area, in a foreign country, alone. I sent another text saying I wasn’t sure what I’d do next.
Maybe I could find a taxi in town. There was no town per se. On the other side of Teo, there was a man and his grandchild out walking. I asked him to call a taxi for me. He declined.
I began my cranky dialog to God. “I recognize this feeling of agony and defeat. I felt it before. And here I am again. I did this why? I’m tired. My feet hurt. I’m on vacation this time, not a real pilgrimage. I just ate the last of my food, and yeah I just saw the Cathedral and it’s all the way past that valley. Yeah, I know I’ve chanted a thousand times that if I can see it I can make it, even to other pilgrims to help them, but you know what, maybe I don’t wanna this time. “ He’d already talked to me once this day….and I expected him to respond to that tirade?
A young couple headed toward me and passed me. They stopped to ask a woman which of the two ways offered was the quickest. One was quicker and harder, the other longer but easier. The longer part didn’t appeal to me nor did the harder. When I asked which way would get me a taxi, they all said “noooooo”, not now”! We all chose the longer way and the couple offered to walk with me, but I was in the step by step mode now. I told them to go on even though I was a bit worried about walking through a dark forest with dusk approaching.
I received a reward immediately. A little crackling sound brought a tiny vole from the underbrush. He ambled toward my boot and stopped. I reached for my camera. He waited. I took his picture, thanked him for his presence and carefully stepped over him and went on my way.
I still had a couple of cities to maneuver before I would get to the Cathedral. My math had said it would be 8 or 8:30 before I made it. My friend had arrived hours earlier. I sent another text. I’d been expecting the waiting final arrival text from him or maybe a note asking me how I was faring.
Once in Santiago, the streets become very busy and the arrows are harder to keep track of. Post siesta, it gets very congested with commuters leaving and the locals convening. The closer one gets to the Cathedral, the harder it due to the ancient streets following the natural geography. You know the cathedral is “up”. Which “up” is the right “up”?
I had been advised after the park and crossing the street, the street in front of me would lead me directly to the Cathedral. I crossed the street and found I had three choices in front of me, two which were more likely candidates, but still no spires. The warm evening and multiple restaurants with outside seating had the evening party crowds packing into the area. I asked a gentleman which way I needed to go. He proceeded to lead me, stopping every few seconds allowing me to squeeze myself and my securely attached pack, through the throngs of people. After a bit he pointed at the illuminated spire. I thanked him, hugged him and with tears in my eyes, and I swear, jet propulsion out the bottom of my pack, headed up the hill. I was sobbing. I had done what I had no faith in being able to do.
A woman shop owner was standing outside smoking. She grabbed me smiling, laughing and crying too. Kissed me on the forehead, stared into my eyes, hugged me fiercely, twirled me around and have me a push to start me back up the hill.
I was now one of those stumbling, smiling, bawling pilgrims. I’d done over 27 km that day when I didn’t believe I had it in me to do a single step.
Knowing the rest of the way like the back of my hand, gallimped my way to the plaza, down the stairs, around the back to view the magnificent lighted Cathedral from the front. I was there just a tiny bit after eight. I wanted to see Joop and hear about his arrival and tell him about my magnificent day. One of the gals that I’d seen every day during our walk caught me as I entered the big plaza. She saw me crying and commented on my late arrival. “You walked all of it?!” “You did it!” And then she led me to the group we’d been crisscrossing with all week.
I figured Joop was with them. He wasn’t, but they had seen him after he’d arrived. He’d told them I was coming by bus. I tried calling him and messaged him again. The group began undoing my pack and relieving me of all things I’d been carrying. They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner. We had a wonderful celebration meal. Still no message from Joop.
Joop and I had planned to share the cost of lodging once we arrived in Santiago. I didn’t know where he was and there were literally hundreds of places surrounding the Cathedral commercial and private, where he might be. I wasn’t sure what to do next. My friends were worried for me.
Thomas, the you-take-my-breath-way handsome Austrian, said he had two beds in his place, to please consider staying with him. Which I did. And the answer to the question I know you’re all dying to ask out loud is, no, he didn’t snore.
We slept until it was full daylight, shared a coffee con leche and then headed off to do our own things. I headed to the Pilgrim’s Mass. This time I was free to accept Communion (I wasn’t on my last journey) – it was very special for me. Joop found me in the Church and greeted me with a fierce hug.
After Mass I headed to the line/queue for hugging the Saint James statue that resides on the alter and for viewing his tomb. This was a holy year due to his Saint’s Day falling on a Sunday (July 25) and they had opened the special Holy door on January 1. The queue/line snaked around the plaza and I chose to wait it out. I had arrived so late the day before, the entrance had already closed. I still needed to visit the Pilgrim’s office for my official Cathedral sello/stamp in my Pilgrim’s credential. Joop stood with me for awhile, but decided to run some errands instead of going in. He’d, unsurprisingly, done all the “rituals” upon his own arrival the preceding day.
He briefly asked if I’d found a place to stay the night before. He’d stayed at the albergue. I never thought of looking for him there as that was the one place he said he wouldn’t stay in Santiago. He hadn’t received my messages because he hadn’t looked for them. He’d gone off with a local friend for the evening before and was preparing to do so again. Hasta lavista baby.
I made reservations for my own place, retrieved my pack, thanked Thomas and the others and made my way back to the “hill” to drink in as much of Santiago de Compostela as this Pilgrim could possibly do.