My Camino: Day 31 – The End of the Road

Well here we are – at the end of the road for this pilgrim. Two years ago I watched a stupid movie and the next thing you know I’m telling folks I’m going to walk across Spain just like Martin Sheen did in “The Way.”

His way was nothing like my way, but that’s Hollywood for you.

I woke up this morning a jumble of nerves – not knowing if I was excited, resigned, or proud. I really couldn’t define my feelings.

And then I got on the road – The Way of St James – for the last 22 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela.

And I gotta tell you it was like a carnival and I loved it!

The path was packed – at times three and four people across. Seems the tour buses were letting people out so they could experience being a pilgrim! Yep, a five euro bus fare, a quick stroll, no blisters, and you too can waltz into town all high and mighty….. But you know me – I’m not one to judge!

I savored every step, pinching myself that this was it – at long last my fucking Spanish Schlep was coming to an end.

The walk to the end of all ends – the Cathedral in Santiago- is anything but spectacular.

I’ve walked across this entire country and there’s not a bronze shell or yellow arrow to mark the way that I could have missed. There’s no way Stevie Wonder could have missed the markings up to this point. But the minute we get to the Santiago- sorry pilgrim, you’re on your own. I guess it was the final bitch slap we get for thinking we’ve got this thing down.

And then I saw them – the spirals reaching high and higher – up, up, up into this picture perfect blue sky – and I knew I was close.

Snaking my way through the old town, I had to ask several people where was the Cathedral, they all pointed “that way” and so I went until I got there. And there to greet us – bagpipes and scaffolding!!!

Ok not what I imagined, but I was overwhelmed with emotion, I started balling, that heaving, ugly “break up” girl cry – yep bubbling snot and all – just like in the movies.

And I didn’t care one shit. As I looked around, everyone else was having their own ugly cries too – even those who just caught the bus and schlepped 10 kms.

I sat my skinnier ass down and ordered me a Kalimotxo and toasted myself. I must have radiated pride because I heard a woman say in that classic Irish brogue, “So, did you just finish the walk yourself?”

“Yes”

“Ahhh, and there’s no one here to hug you….

“Not yet, my husband is driving, but he’s lost”

“Ahhh dearie, that won’t do, let me give you a hug right now!”

And so while my husband was desperately trying to drive his way into the old town, my surrogate cheerleader, Mary from Mayo County, gave me a congratulations hug.

And I cried again.

Shortly thereafter my husband arrived and we celebrated with more wine and lunch.

A couple of hours later, I was standing in line for two hours at the pilgrim office to get my Compostela aka the “Well Done” certificate.

Yeah only on the Camino do they make you stand in line for hours to get a certificate to certify that you walked the walk.

But here it is – all in Latin, so hopefully it says I’m an official pilgrim.

I splurged the whole two extra Euros to get another fancy piece of paper – something in Spanish that hopefully says I walked from France to Santiago.

Certificates in hand I ran to the cathedral for the 7:30pm pilgrims’ mass to witness the swinging of the Botafumerio.

The Botafumeiro, or as I like to call it, the Joey Buttafucco, is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome of the ancient church and about eight priests pull on ropes to make this giant burning incensed-filled urn swing back and forth over the heads of all us sinners.

They announce multiple times – in multiple languages – not to take photos or videos during the service, but I think the photo will prove, no one listens to anyone anymore.

And so what …. It truly was awe-inspiring and a tad humbling…. even for me!

The mass was in Spanish so I had plenty of time to reflect on my purpose for doing this Camino – besides, you know, Martin Sheen made it look so easy and so fun.

I didn’t know it at the beginning, but now I know why I’ve marched across Spain – It’s for my girls – the loves of my life.

They’re now off to college, their worlds are getting bigger, and more exciting, and further away from me. And that is as it should be.

I was there when they each took their first steps, but I won’t be an eyewitness to their next big steps. The ones that will take them into adulthood.

There will be their first real jobs, their first true romances, marriages and possibly children.

There will be happy times, hardships and heartaches, and hopefully I will be there to give them comfort and support, but who knows.

I was 40 when they were delivered, so chances are I’ll be slowing down as their lives ramp up.

I have this awful movie that plays out in my mind way too often – it’s of their childhood, and it’s set on fast forward. I so wish I could press pause or even the rewind button and go back, relive each and every one of those days – they were the best days of my life and they’re gone.

I’m not a moron I know there are many great days – hell, great years to come – but they’ll be different.

Now I have to share them – with their lovers, their school, their work, their friends, and their busy lives – and I’ve never been good at sharing.

It seems funny that I feel so close to them here in Spain thousands of miles away from them, but I do.

I listen to their favorite songs and I remember the concerts, car rides, or just the background music playing in our kitchen when we were all living at home together.

I now know why this Spanish Schlep was important for me to complete.

I will not always be there for my girls but I want them to know that no matter what life hands them – they can move forward, move ahead, and get to where they want to be, get to be where they need to be – by just taking one step at a time. And I know no matter where their lives take them – I will always be with them – in person or in their hearts – encouraging them every fucking step of the way.

My stats

13 Miles walked today

(Arca/O Pedrozo – Santiago de Compostela)

505.8 Miles traveled

Countless Miles to go on my next adventure

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

(Note: 3 “Stages” Skipped – Over the entire course, I’m guessing I didn’t walk about 35-40 miles)

1 Bus ride

1 Taxi ride

1 Emergency Ride with my darling husband

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My Camino: Day 30 – It’s Almost Over

This time tomorrow – barring a catastrophe – I should be strutting my big ass (well not as big as it was) into Santiago de Compostela having walked some 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France.

Yep, I’m thissssss close to the end of my Spanish Schlep. And I gotta tell you, I can’t wait for it to be over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a blast, but seriously I’m DONE!

I’m tired. I’m sore. I stink. My hair sucks. I miss makeup. I’m sick of sore feet. I’m sick of washing my panties every night. And I’m sick of being terrified that I’ll have to answer nature’s call when I’m out in the middle of nature.

They say walking the Camino is life changing, well I dunno about that. I have a pretty good life and I don’t really want it to change, but I do know a couple more things now than when I first started, and I have some great memories to last a lifetime.

Like walking over the Pyrenees in the rain – that feeling of accomplishment and euphoria when I reached my hotel room after seven hours of hard hiking will be hard to top.

Being in the right place at the right time – Pamplona may be famous for its bull run, but the night I was there, the city through a Giant’s Festival. They say it’s a festival for the kids, and I truly felt like a kid joining in on the fun.

Being in the right place at the right time, part deux! Stumbling into a sleepy hill top town that was all closed up so they could have their own running of the bulls. All the roads and paths were closed so I was forced to sit down, chill, and cheer for those idiots who tried to outrun angry beasts with horns.

Meeting fabulous people from all walks of life; rich, poor, hopeful, hopeless, lost, in love, or out of love.

One of the most fascinating people I met was Tomas, a man from Uruguay, who travels on an Italian passport, who has worked for almost a decade in China, and who was schleping a bottle of red for miles and miles in his backpack. Now keep in mind most people will shed bars of soap because they don’t want to haul the extra weight. But for Tomas, that red was worth its weight in gold. That’s a man who knows his priorities!

My priority right now as I’m just hours from my grand finale – Who do I share the honors with – my hiking boots or my sandals?

My hiking boots have been with me since this whole nonsense began; training in the Rockies, they got me here, got me over the Pyrenees and gave me blisters. I know they’re very sorry about that and really it was the insoles, not the boots, so there’s that…

My sandals took over when my feet were so swollen they couldn’t fit into my boots – heck there were times when I had to walk without the straps even attached. But I dunno, can you really strut into Santiago wearing Velcro?

Ugh

Another Camino challenge they never tell you about in the guidebooks.

My Camino: Day 29 – This Is Making Me Sick

Well this sucks to high heaven.

There I was enjoying my little stroll here on the Camino Frances about 30 miles from Santiago de Compostela, enjoying a great conversation with George and Mark, a couple from Cape Cod, when all of a sudden I needed alone time.

Like now!

Like, not to be rude, but I need you to leave me alone right now because …..

Barffff

Right there on the holiest of holy trails.

Yep, I puked my brains out on The Way.

Lucky for me, my wonderful husband is here along for the adventure IN A CAR!!!!

“Lou, I need you to find me on Find Friends, and get me right now, I’m really sick!”

“Be there in a flash.”

And he was. As he always is! He’s always there for me. He’s always there for our family – and I couldn’t be happier.

Lou has become a bit of a celebrity here on the Camino. When I introduce myself to people, invariably I’m asked, “Oh, is your husband the one who’s driving the Camino?”

Figures, I’m walking the walk and he’s cruising the trail in a Mercedes, and he’s the talk of the walk.

And I’m so glad he’s here.

Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t come to my rescue. Within minutes he picked me up, got me to a hotel, and I was in bed – sleeping off a case of food poisoning, or a 24-hour Camino bug. I’m sure it was one of things in life that happen just to keep me from getting too cocky and too excited that I’m sooooo flippin close to the end.

My Camino: Day 28 – It’s Getting Crowded

I just couldn’t write yesterday – the news from Las Vegas was too upsetting.

I left the town of Sarria this morning, still saddened by the Vegas news, and the news of the death of Tom Petty.

There I was an American Girl, feeling alone and sad in Spain in a town that is full of energy, known to be extremely crowded with eager new pilgrims starting their walk to Santiago.

You see Sarria is about 100kms from the end, and for thousands and thousands, 100kms is all they can –or want to do.

They arrive by train twice a day by the hundreds, – all bleary eyed from their travels, all with that fresh face of excitement, and all looking for an official store where they can get their “pilgrim’s passport.”

The “pilgrim’s passport” is a document that identifies us as a pilgrim, and provides proof that we have walked, cycled or ridden on horseback, the required distance to gain yet another document, the “Compostela” or certificate of completion – the Holy Grail for those of us on this holy trail.

As we pilgrims travel the Way of St James, we get our passports stamped from albergues, hotels, churches, bars, and restaurants. The stamps are pretty cool and these passports get us discounts and along the route.

The whole reason we get these stamps is to prove to the folks working in the Pilgrims Office at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela that we actually did walk the walk. Or biked the walk. Or horseback rode the walk. Yep, you can ride a horse on the Camino – but no scooters or electric bikes. And no, I don’t know if the horses get one or only those who rode them.

There are two types of compostela certificates: one is in Latin, and is issued to pilgrims who declare that they did the camino for religious or spiritual purposes.

The second certificate is for those who did it for cultural or historical purposes. This one is written in Spanish.

Ok, you still with me here, cuz here is where it gets interesting.

To receive a compostela, you must have completed the last 100 kms of the camino if you are walking or on horseback, or the last 200 km if you rode a bicycle.

That’s right, folks who show up in Sarria and walk just 100 kilometers – that’s just 62 miles – get the same certificate as those of us who have walked 500 miles.

Sorry, but I think that’s just whacked. Some dude shows up and strolls into town and gets the same piece of paper as those of us who walked 500, 400, 300, and 200miles, got blisters, wind burns, sun burns, colds, sprained ankles, diarrhea, and hangovers?

I gotta tell you – I’m kind of pissed.

I know, I know, not very Christian of me, but there I said it. I mean, it’s like they’re handing out ribbons just for showing up!

When I first arrived in Sarria, the town that officially marks the 100kms distance, I was getting all high and mighty and throwing shade at all the new arrivals. All these new pilgrims with their matchy-match t-shirts and enormous backpacks, all smelling fresh and clean.

But this morning – that high mightiness melted away. There was something in the air – besides the fresh smell of soap, shampoo, hair gel, and perfume…. these people were full of excitement, and they were a bundle of nerves.

Just like me when I started!

They were trying to figure out how to walk with their new hiking poles, how to carry their heavy backpacks (many fell, as those of us starting 500 miles ago did), where to eat, how to grab their water bottles from their packs – and how to correctly say the pilgrim greeting, “Buen Camino” which means “good way.” (((FYI it’s pronounced bwin Camino))

It was a good way for me to start the day. Despite the rain and mist that chilled me to the bone.

The newbies gave me a shot of much-needed adrenaline… which I needed to navigate thru the cow fields which just happen to share the official trail. Yep Holy Cows were seen, heard and smelled today.

I also met a holy man – a young man – 27 years old – from Canada here with his family. He’s a newly minted priest. He’s struggling with the walk, and I gave him some words of encouragement and advice – Drink plenty of water, add electrolytes, don’t get upset by all the kids having sex in the albergues, and yeah, it’s ok to pee along the road – just remember to raise your robe!

And then I left him and he blessed me.

A few minutes later I posed at the 100kms mile marker – the end is soooo close.

And you know what, I don’t care. Let the newbies have their certificate, so what if it’s exactly the same as mine, so what if they didn’t walk 500 miles – at least they’re here, they’re trying, and that’s ok in my book. And here on the Camino we’re all sinners, winners, and at times …. losers.

….Baby even the losers

Get lucky sometimes

Even the losers

Keep a little bit of pride

They get lucky sometimes….”

My Camino: Day 26 – Does This Add Up?

I like to pride myself on knowing a lot about very little. I get the big themes, but most of the time I can’t be bothered learning the minutiae.

Like the ‘stans. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan… I just say – Pickastan.

Or Celsius vs Fahrenheit. You gotta multiply by 1.8 (or 9/5) and add 32, put your right foot in, left foot out, do the hokey pokey and that’s what it’s all about.

And then there’s kilometers vs miles. One kilometer is equal to 0.62137119 miles: 1 km = (1/1.609344) miles = 0.62137119 miles.

I know, I know, it makes my head wanna explode, too.

So, this entire trip all 500ish miles has been a kilometer guessing game for me. I tell myself a kilometer is about a half a mile…… give or take…. and then I don’t think about it. I just walk until I get to where I’m supposed to be… No thinking, just doing.

But today as I crossed into Galicia the direction signs for us pilgrims to find our way to Santiago de Compostela changed….. and sent me in a tizzy.

You gotta understand, as I left this morning all the signs were indicating that it was going to be a glorious day.

The sun was coming up, there was a little bit of mist hovering at the top of the peeks where I was headed and my cold seemed to be under control.

I was in love with the countryside and couldn’t stop taking pictures. Fall was putting on a spectacular color show.

I was so enthralled by the beauty I didn’t notice the mist was dropping lower and lower, and droplets of rain were starting to fall, and before you could say, “Do you know the way to Santiago,” the mist has turned to dense fog.

I was climbing up, but I couldn’t see to where or for how far. I would have these moments of sheer terror (“Yep, this is how it ends, I walk off the side of the mountain”) and then I would full of joy (“OMG, this is the greatest adventure evah, as long as I don’t fall off this fucking mountain).

I stumbled into the tiny village of O Cebreiro who’s claim to fame is that THE Holy Grail is said to have been hidden here as late as the 13th century -AND- it is the birthplace of the priest who brought back and made popular the Camino de Santiago in the 20th century….. well at least I now know who to blame for this Spanish Schlep.

I was wet, out of breath and cold as ass, but the local bartender gave me a warm cup of tea and said, “It’s all downhill from here!”

Liar

I had to climb another pass up into another set of mountains and the fog was getting worse. I asked if it was safe to go on, and I got an emphatic nod yes.

So off I went, I mean if you can’t trust a bartender, who can you trust???

It was so foggy, I could have been standing right under the famed bronze statue of a pilgrim fighting against the bad weather at the peak of San Roque ….. and not even know it.

I plowed on, a tad disappointed because those fucking guidebooks had said that today was supposed to be full of glorious views, but whatchagonnado?

Soon I felt the sun and I was beginning to warm up, and then the fog lifted and I got to see some of the Galicia mountains – and – I was able to focus on things other than falling off a mountain…. Things like those new signs to Santiago.

These signs have a countdown in them, letting us know how far we have to go before this whole stupid thing is over. I couldn’t believe the numbers – unlike miles, these signs were in kilometers and I was totally confused.

So I took out iPhone, checked my KM to Miles app and what the friggin hell – I’ve only got like 91 MILES to go.

Those stupid kms robbed me of a major milestone- but I don’t fucking care – this Spanish Schlep is almost terminado! Done! Finito! Fini!

91 fucking miles – Hallafuckinlooyah!

I was a new woman, I was so full of euphoria, I nearly floated down the mountains.

I may not know Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, or how to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit — OR how to measure kilometers, but this I know …..

I’m going to arrive in Santiago on Friday, and somebody better warn the pious that this girl is going celebrate; and it’s gonna get loud, and there will be tears, and a whole lotta ugly cry face.

My stats

18 Miles walked today

(Herrerias – Triacastela)

422.6 Miles traveled so far

83.2 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 25 – Cats, Cocks, and Catastrophes

Well this just sucks!

I should have known that I was going to need to be on my guard today when, at predawn, I first stepped out of my hotel.

My trusted headlamp wouldn’t turn on, then from out of the shadows three guys who I had seen yesterday, and who I overheard saying about me, “She’s going to kill herself if she keeps up this pace,” nearly tackled me to the ground. It was pitch dark and these knuckleheads were lost – asking “me” for directions. Lucky for them AND for me, I had scouted out the route the night before.

Yes, I am that damn good.

The sun is rising later and later it seems, and here in the valley between two mountain ranges, it takes longer for its rays to light our way here on the Camino de Santiago.

It also takes longer to heat up. I’ve got a cold, and the chills. Doesn’t that just suck!!? I want to lie in bed, but I can’t – the fucking hotels act like they’re hotels – they’ve booked my room to someone else.

So out the door I went at Zero Dark 30 along with the other pilgrims. Today our walk is rated as “easy” by the guidebooks – but someone forgot to tell us that.

Nearly an hour in, I saw a small group hanging out in the middle of the road – never a good sign. As I approached I saw a woman on the ground covered in blood. She had fallen, tripped over her own hiking sticks (would have been funny if it hadn’t been for all the blood and the fact that she had broken her ankle and scraped the shit out of her face). The ambulance raced to the scene to take her to the local hospital.

I was telling this story over coffee to a fellow pilgrim about 10 minutes later when he said another person had taken a really bad fall, and then pointed to the sky saying, “Look, that’s the helicopter taking him to the hospital.”

Jesus people it’s just walking.

But it’s not, not really.

For most of us, it’s been nearly a month of walking about 15 miles a day – everyday. I dunno, maybe people are zoning out as we inch closer and closer to Santiago de Compostela.

Maybe we’re so focused on the end that we’re losing our focus on what’s in front of us right now.

I told my feverish self to chill, pay attention, and be the fuck careful.

I ordered a second cafe con leche and watched the local cats beg for morsels – they got a pat or two, but no milk.

Further up the road, I saw a local farmer pulling off the leaves of tree limbs, prepping some fresh switches to lead his flock from field to field.

His littlest lamb even pulled a Madonna for me – Strike A Pose!

And in the cra cra town of Vega de Valcarce the roosters, hens, and geese were all a gaggle about the local gossip. They wouldn’t share it with me, sorry to report.

But I’m sure if these hens could talk, they would explain the goings on – like, why isn’t the house that’s sheared in half condemned, or sealed off, or curtained off?

I mean look at this photo – the tv is still in the bedroom, the beds are made, and the wardrobes still have clothes in them. What the fucking fuck happened here and why doesn’t anyone except for me seem to think this is not normal?

Oh well.

The rural part of Spain is beautiful, but it’s also in shambles. Whether it was Franco, Hitler or neglect, so many buildings are close to collapsing and no one seems to mind. I quicken my pace and hope for the best when I have to walk under these leaning structures. Seriously, one good windstorm and they’re kaput.

But today’s real catastrophe: Love on the Rocks!

Yep, here we are sooooo close to the end and I’m seeing the end of some of my favorite road romances.

Argentina and Mexico couple – over!

Boomer couple – estranged!

You can see the uncoupling of the Camino couples.

Where once these lovebirds were attached at the backpacks, now they’re walking solo. Or eating solo. Or drinking solo.

When I ask about the whereabouts of their pilgrim partner, I get a shrug and a noncommittal “I dunno, he was in a hurry to get to Santiago.”

“Tell me more, tell me more….”

Just like Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson in “Grease,” summer lovin happened so fast, but ohhh those Camino nights – I guess romancing on the holy trail eventually had to come to an end.

The Galicia mountains tower over me.

I’m heading up there tomorrow, and according to the guidebooks, it’s supposed to be a “difficult” day of climbing, so I’m resting now, drinking some Spanish cold concoction with high hopes that I’ll be my bitchy-ass self tomorrow and will conquer those hills… with or without a ladder

But don’t worry about me coach, I’ll be alright.

I’m going to add some wine to my cold concoction and take in this view from my room.

My stats

12.75 Miles walked today

(Villafranca- Herrerias)

386.38 Miles traveled so far

119.42 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 24 – The Days of Wine and Roses!

Fall is definitely in the air here in Spain.

There’s a chill in the morning, and the countryside is alive with the colors of red, orange, yellow, and green.

Nearing the end of my trek across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I’m now in the Bierzo region, a valley between two mountain ranges – one I’ve scaled, the other, the mountains of Galicia loom ahead, taunting me. I’ll be climbing them tomorrow, but today it felt like those last hazy, crazy days of summer.

After setting off on my Spanish Schlep September 6, I am absolutely astonished and a tad sad to realize I’ll be done with this nonsense in just …. wait for it….. Eight Days!

I can’t believe I’m in single digits – eight days. And it feels like that back to school countdown (for the kids, not the parents – two very distinctly different sets of emotions).

Climbing up the mountains of Bierzo I’ve noticed a change in my fellow pilgrims – gone are the days of those Herculean hikes; instead, all of us seem to be slowing down, breathing it all in, holding on because we all know, it’s going to come to an end very soon.

I noticed it first this morning, a woman pulled over from the trail, napping.

A few minutes later, another woman off in a cherry tree grove, reading a book.

Then at lunch, more pilgrims were lingering over their food and drinking it all in- the sun, the warmth, the beer.

You can feel the urgency to just slow down and to make every moment count. There’s more time now to just sit, paint something in a journal, take in the view.

And these hills are working with – not against our bodies. Yes, we are stronger but these hills, these views can leave you breathless – the colors are simply divine. The vineyards that cover them aren’t as well kept as those in the Rioja regions – and their wines aren’t as famous, but from the countryside to the villages you can smell them and you want to devour it all.

As I was walking through Cacabelos (easy to remember, rhymes with Taco Bell-ohs) I actually thought they had to be pouring wine in the streets – the scent was so prevalent. But no.

I came to a house with the garage door open and there were three guys making home brew.

I stopped and watched them press and sample the latest vintage. It must have been ok since the chief sommelier didn’t spit anything out.

Just like back to school season – there’s the shopping here on the Camino. Pilgrims are starting to load up on souvenirs; I can see a new walking stick here and there, or a new pin, even new patches adorn backpacks.

The churches here are smaller, simpler but grand in their own way. A nun welcomed me in to visit her small church complete with a fresco on the ceiling – not quite the Sistine Chapel, but what is.

I find myself thinking back about the miles I’ve covered and how close I am to the end – and just like every child staring down the calendar as a new year of a school fast approaches, I’m full of dread and excitement – I want my life back but I don’t want to give up the magic that can only happen in the summer or on the Camino.

Bonus: I walked through these fields for what seemed like an hour and all I could think of was “Monty Python”

“Someday son all of this will be yours…”

“What, the curtains?????”

I crack myself up!

My stats

15 Miles walked today

373.63 Miles traveled so far

(Ponferrada – Villafranca del Bierzo)

132.17 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain