The peace of yesterday morning stayed with me all day. For me, yesterday felt like a big project, brought so lose to completion, that it’s success was nearly a sure thing. There is such a release knowing the hard work is done and a joy in realizing the final steps would feel relatively easy. I don’t know if the steps will feel easy today or not. However, lying just 12 miles away, Santiago de Compostela now feels very close indeed.
Yesterday’s walk began in the rain as we climbed up a steep hill from Ribadiso and headed toward Arzua – a larger town just 3km away. Nothing was open for breakfast where we stayed so our first mission was to find a cafe. Cafe con leche, orange juice, a tortilla for Sally, and sandwich with eggs, tomato, bacon, and mayo for me. Each of us seemed relaxed this morning and we took our time at the cafe.
We talked about being so close to Santiago and the completion of our journey. Oxana shared that getting to Santiago was never the goal for her; she undertook the Way for the time to herself during the long journey. She and her husband had actually spent a week-end in Santiago at some point so the city itself was something she had already seen. I had to agree. Santiago is the destination and completion of the Camino for us but we always knew it was about far more than just arriving. With that said, there is still something very magical about arriving.
Oxana told us of a video documentary she had seen before undertaking the Camino. In it, the film crew followed six unrelated peregrinos through their journey. At one point, a middle-aged American woman who had been struggling greatly along the way ran across a French family (also being followed in the documentary) cooking sausages over an open fire on the side of the road. As she came upon them and smelled the meal being prepared, she commented that their ability to cook well must be making the difficulties of the Camino more tolerable. The man responded that cooking well was not important; it was their intention to live well that brought meaning to their Camino.
I have not searched for that video yet but I think the message is truly profound. Thriving is about finding ways to live well even when things are incredibly difficult. This is high art with which all of us struggle. We almost always feel that life is lessened when we struggle and that we will find joy again when we get past the difficulties. When we find a way to live well in the midst of our suffering, we have unlocked the secret to joyful living – under any circumstances.
Midway through our day, we came across Michelle and she walked with us for the remainder of the day. She is a feisty personality and entertaining. The dynamics do shift a bit when another person joins the club but she blends pretty well with our trio. We had moments of sunshine throughout the day and actually finished our walk with ponchos off and sunglasses on. For me, it was a “live well” kind of day and not even the rain dampened may spirits.
Arriving in Pedrouso, we headed to our pensions to get checked-in and agreed to meet later. We stayed at Pension Maribel, a small Hostal with a kind hospitalero named Maribel. The initials P M are embroidered on the towels and table cloths. She spoke little English but we managed and she gave us two bottled ciders and a bag of snacks for our journey the next day. Nice touches.
We met Oxana for a glass of wine and potato chips (it is always hit or miss on what will be available in the “off” hours when the kitchens are closed) before dinner. She told us that the man running her pension asked her where she started the Camino. When she told him St. Jean, he smiled and said, “Ahh, a real peregrino. So many you will see now are just walking the final stages of the Camino. We call them “tourinos” because they are simply tourists.” This made us all smile and certainly appealed to our more prideful sides. Thank goodness someone else recognizes how much more we’ve gone through to get here! Of course, this is the wrong way to look at it but also the completely human way to look at it. Their shorter pilgrimages take nothing away from what we’ve gained on our journey. However, being recognized as true peregrinos because we undertook the entire journey brings much satisfaction.
I realize there is no point in comparing the experiences; even pilgrims completing the full journey in 7-10 day segments over 2 years do not receive the full impact of immersing yourself in the Camino for 30+ straight days over 800km. We may all receive the same “Compostela” (certificate of completion) from the Cathedral de Santiago, however, there is only one way to feel the full impact of the time and distance. There are no shortcuts. Just like life, someone might tell you everything you will see along the Way but there is only one way to experience it. And it is only through experience that we gain wisdom. I can’t say yet if I am wiser for my walk along the Camino de Santiago. However, I can say that the experience has added richness to the texture of my life. Perhaps with time and perspective, the wisdom will come.
Michelle joined Oxana, Sally, and me for dinner at Galaicos, a restaurant recommended to us. We enjoyed wine from Rioja (a region through which we walked and my favorite Spanish wine), pulpo de Galega, and various other dishes. Oxana is determined that we will walk away having experienced as much local cuisine as possible. We have told her about our son Kellen’s love of exotic foods so she always encourages us to take photos to share with him. Through the evening, we laughed and told stories – some about the Camino and some about our lives at home.
For the first time in a couple of weeks, I find myself in less of a hurry to arrive. The walk has consumed our thoughts and our time for so many days. Even before we started, planning for it and thinking about were a fixed part of our daily routines. Coming to the end of it is bittersweet. Here, at the end, I begin to understand its power. It does not lessen my desire to get home to my family and the life I love. I just want to hold this edge for a bit longer.
At 8:30am this morning, we’ll meet Oxana for breakfast and then begin walking the final 12 miles to Santiago. We are staying at the Parador in Santiago – an old renovated pilgrim hospital built in 1499 that faces the plaza of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. We have a dinner reservation for 8pm tonight and travel plans for next week. Life goes on. However, we will all try to live well these last few miles and moments on the Camino de Santiago.