Tomorrow we leave Spain, a country that has been home for so long. A place that has welcomed us pilgrims in such unusual ways. A place with such good food.
Our last day in Finisterre was a complete one. The weather was perfect, hot and sunny during the day and warm and breezy in the evening, unlike many of these days during this unusuallt cold summer (but grrat for walking). We spent the day on the beach and soon, brother Alex arrived with Claudio. As promised, dear Alex stretched himself and walked all the way in three days instead of the planned four so that we could all have one more evening. That’s friendship. They were joined by Quique, a cheerful lawyer and economist from Madrid who has studied in the U.S.
Before climbing the lighthouse, we saw…Joe! We had been waiting to hear from this retiree from Arizona, and there he was, sharing his red wine and cheese with a teacher from Toronto. Joe had finished his Camino by bar hopping until 2:30 am. He can’t be any sweeter or younger than 70. Live Joe.
The way back down, along the dark highway
Instead of using a wind-up flashlight as a flashlight, this merry band of pilgrims – two Spainairds, three Italians, and two Americans – used it as radio to listen to the Italy-Spain football game…did we mention it was dark? But only here does something like that happen.
We headed back down for a final dinner at 11pm together, a heaping paella overflowing with fresh seafood. Football rivalry forgotten over food.
Fire and Rebirth
People rock. Really, they do. Sure, as humans, we screw up a lot (uh…London, what’s going on?), but here at the End of the World in Finisterre, it is a constant reminder that at the heart of it, we are all very simple and we are all enraptured by the same things.
B woke up this morning for a quick jog to welcome the morning sun. There is something incredibly refreshing about the first light; everything is renewed and the energy is strong and positive. Pilgrims crowded the bus stop, ready to head back to Santiago.
Kat and Z were stirring when she noisily entered the room. A quick breakfast of Nutella, we then headed to our favorite cafe for the cortados. It was so windy we took our time to head to the beach where Kat and Z purchased some gorgeous stone jewelry handmade by the artist who spends his summers here. We also had some fresh churros.
We learned from yesterday when we had collected pounds of sand everywhere and sat on the rocks…soaking in life and the sun and heat coming off the clear waters. We went to the restaurant there, walking across the silky sand, and savored the freshest razor clams, clams, hake, and sea bream.
Then it was off for a break before heading to the real End of the World, Cabo Fisterre, where the faro, or lighthouse, stands watch at the westernmost tip of Europe. It was here that the Spaniards thought the world ended, and that every night, the sea swallowed up the sun.
We found the highest rocks from which to perch and watch the sun set. (B tried to shout and see if her mom could hear her from Boston on the otger side of the ocean…). A man played the violin, faint music floating across the rocks as people from all over the world sat and watched this miracle that happens every day.
The sea swallowed the sun. Everyone clapped.
On the way back fron the lighthouse, where a small bronze pilgrim’s boot stands, we saw a bonfire started by fellow pilgrims. It is a tradition for pilgrims to burn their stinky clotges here. The pilgrims cheered as B and Kat threw the bandages that had so faithfully protected our feet for all across Spain into the fire.
Vamos a la Playa
Okay, we didn’t quite make it to the End of the World today. Today, we slept.
Angel to the End of the World
If anything, this journey has impressed upon us how fortunate we are to have experienced this. As others have a aided us, knowingly or unknowingly, we have an obligation to contribute to the universe.
Today was the first day in a long time, we did not have to wake up at pre-dawn. Nontheless, at 6:15, B headed out in the dark to see the Cathedral. The streets were empty, save for a still drunk partier heading home. As she wound through the streets, she hear her name.
It was Claudio. While B, Kat, Z, and Alex had to return to the albergue before midnight, Claudio was staying at a small pension without a curfew. He had just left the Italians we met last night at 5, realized he lost his key, and so was wandering the streets until morning.
B continued on the Cathedral, where the plaza stood empty. It was really quite a privilege to have this UNESCO World Heritage site all to herself, if only for a brief moment. She wandered into the Parador, the five-star hotel adjacent to the Cathedral known for offering the first 10 pilgrims that show up at 9, 12, and 7 a free meal. She pretended to be a guest (if anyone would like to put her up there, she will gladly accept), sitting in their plush salon.
As the sky began to lighten, she slowly wandered back, once again meeting several familiar faces heading for the final 100 km to Finisterre. She did a final load of laundry so we would all have clean clothes before the rest woke up.
We threw our “bedsheets” away and headed off to meet Mar, the feisty Spanish professor we had met after Leon, the same time we had met Alex and Claudio. We shared stories ober a delicious breakfast of rosca gallega, a brioche-like sweet bread at the Cafe Casino, opened in 1873 with its expansive charm intact.
So strange how some people you don’t need much time together but still have a strong connection and others you spend cointless hours and never get to really see their souls. Mar is one of the former.
She, like the majority of the pilgrims we met prior to Sarria (the turning point), commented on how different the last 100km was. After Sarria, there were less “Buen Camino!” and less real talk and more courtesy nods or no nods at all. Previous to that existed a level of trust and camaraderie unlike anything experienced before (sort of like a hard-core summer camp). She told us how in La Faba, she was with a group of eight other pilgrims at a special mass by a priest who had each one tell of a special moment on the Camino. Stories started flowing, as did the tears. The tall, stoic German man emotionally shared his story, tears rolling down his cheeks. One girl said she had been waiting for an experience with God, and she had found it in that moment. Then each pilgrim washed another’s feet.
Those are not experiences likely to be found later on the Camino. Yet it was these moments that allowed each of us to feel that someone or something was always looking out for us. For us, it was people like Mar or Alex (who unlike anyone else on the Camino, has become one of our own). For whatever reason, we entered into each other’s lives.
Mar was generous with her spirit and advice, and we were able to secure a ride with the Angel to Finisterre, the End of the World. We said farewell, and wandered around, buying souvenirs, savoring chocolate at Mora Xocolat Concept, sitting inside the Cathedral, and napping in the lobby of the Parador.
We met up with Alex, Claudio, and Gemma, who are walking to Finisterre. is walking with Claudio and Gemma. It is about 85 km from Santiago, but we had decided long ago to enjoy some down time not walking and savor the coastal areas.
Alex has promised to meet us for breakfast the morning we leave. Saying farewell to these three, especially to Alex, was not easy. However, Alex is family and we know that he isn’t ever going to be too far (poor thing, he hadn’t realized what he was getting himself into – three nosy older sisters).
We hopped into Angel’s car (weird to be IN a car) and drove towards Finisterre. To the soundtrack of Ennio Morricone’s majestic The Mission, we watched the End of the World appear on the horizon. Indeed, Finisterre is the westernmost coast of the European landmass and on the other side of the Atlantic is the coastline of Boston, B’s home. The courage it took for a few crazy explorers to look at the End of the World and say, I’m going to go beyond that, certainly shows a strong faith that someone or something would look after them.
The physical part of the Camino is over, affecting us in different ways. Kat is nursing an impending cold and her feet and Z’s knees are quite sore. Yet the spiritual and emotional journey is far from over, and it will no doubt take much more time, even after the aches have ended, to gain a fuller comprehension. Perhaps tomorrow, when we walk to the End of the World, someone or something will continue to guide us safely along the way.
It started in the fog over the Pyrenees and ended in the fog over the Cathedral. 33 days, 790 kilometers (give or take 75 – those signs are all off), a billion churches, a trillion bocadillos, and two zillion Coca-Colas later, we have made it.
Last night, we were fortunate to have our own rooms, and we all had a restful night without snorers. B the Impatient woke up at 4:30 per usual to the sounds of pouring rain and chilly air. By 5:30, the rest woke up. Kat the Rational, who was fighting another tickle in the throat, suggested waiting for the sky to get at least a bit lighter. The albergue in Santiago did not open until 1:30, so Z the Wise noted there was no point waiting in the raining in Santiago, so we might as well leave later, have breakfast, and wait in the dry indoors.
B played by herself with her Galaxy tablet, while the rest fell back asleep for two more hours, when the sky got little lighter, though just as wet.
The 5km mark was Monte de Gozo, home of the 800+ person albergue and where, from the monument to Pope John Paul II, you are supposed to see the Cathedral in the distant. But just as we could not see the Pyrenees in a clear sky, neither could we see the Cathedral clearly. Nonetheless, it was simply amazing to stand all the hill together, look down at the Santiago skyline, and know that we have just walked across a country together.
We continued the last 5km together, the rain finally tapering off. Z the Wise was right.
The Cathedral, where St. James, Apostle, friend, and likely relative of Jesus, is buried, sits on an open square buzzing with happy pilgrims and tour groups. We took a while to soak it all in.
We entered the Cathedral for mass at noon, and the entire place began to fill. The service was nice, with one of the priests reading aloud the 23 different nationalities of the pilgrims that arrived the day before. A nun sang, her clear voice dancing over the crowd, leading the entire cathedral in hymns.
A few of the younger studies wore yellow and blue, like the arrows that had guided our way.
Finally, eight men in brown robes came out and got the giant botafumeiro swinging in the Cathedral. This huge silver incense burner, thought to be the largest in the world, filled the altar with smoke (it used to help with the rather odiforous crowd of unwashed pilgrims). It was an incredible sight.
After mass, we headed to the charming streets filled with pilgrims who looked all glowing, clean, and satisfied. Everyone looked relaxed and fulfilled. We stopped at a cafe on the recommendation of Sean and Melody, the adorable couple from California, who both were glowing. The seafood soup was perfectly soothing, the salmon was beyond fresh, and veal tender.
We then headed to the Pilgrim Office to receive our Compostelas, certificates of completion. We had heard that they gave some people a hard time about not getting stamps twice a uYday, but as we started in St. Jean, they did not give us a hard time. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait at all. We received the tradional one for people who do it for religious or spiritual reasons, rather than the tourist one. This was, after all, quite a spiritual journey.
We then went to the Seminario Menor, a huge, 300+ person albergue with wonderful views of the city. Kat had reserved ahead of time, which was good because the place had already filled up, turning away many tired pilgrims. Except for the limited laundry service, the place was open and airy. We were fortunate to have a room at the end with five beds (no bunk beds), so the four of us were pretty much in our own room.
Alex went off to take photos, while Kat and Z took a nap. B was (again) left alone to entertain herself on her Galaxy tablet. We met our fifth roommate, Anne Catherine, from Denmark who had also started in St. Jean and commented how her last few days walking was less enjoyable because of how the pilgrims now are comprised of 80% tourists. Still, she found the experience overwhelming.
We showered, and wandered around, wanting to pick up a few souvenirs at the multiple shops, we ran into friendly faces: Claudio, the Italian who saw us on the train in St. Jean, the Australian we met going down the Pyrenees, the Czech couple, Mar. What should be a big city of strangers is an intimate gathering place of fellows.
It is also a good place for food, as lunch had already intimated. While many folks say they lose weight on this trip, we may have actually gained weight (how is that possible after walking every day for hours)? Could it be the fries? The Lay’s? The cookies that B keeps in her pack at all times?
Who cares? Almost every meal we have had has been shared with fellow pilgrims or strangers eating at the next table who quickly become friends, just like the three Italians (why are we meeting more Italians in Spain) who are now calling us for another drink.
A long way to come and many friends made. A road to fellowship, to living life, to humanity. A road to Santiago.
A Spell is Cast
The Camino is a Catholic pilgrimmage, though it seems the majority here are doing it for other reasons. It is nonetheless possible to go to mass everyday, and we have met a few pilgrims carrying big, heavy Bibles (isn’t the pocket edition okay?). Regardless of which faith one ascribes to, however, it is hard not to respect the Catholic traditions all around or turn down a pilgrim’s blessing for protection.
Still, there are pagan traditions (i.e., stones on the cross) that exist, and in Galicia, figures of witches are everywhere. When one asks a Galician if he believes in witches, he says, no, of course not, but….
B and Alex left Arzua early, walking up and down through the woods in the dark. They split up on an incline, and B followed a bright yellow pack with a strong headlamp. It was Judith, a pulminologist from Hungary, and for the next 18km, they walked together. She had also started in St. Jean, doing 40km a day (47km the first day over the Pyrenees) and finishing today, under 22km. She spoke of the Jerusalem Syndrome, which occurs during that pilgrimmage when people’s mental instabilities come to light. They spoke about a few pilgrims on the Camino who have become infamous – the Polish man who asks people for money and gets drunk outside albergues, the Italian man who gets drunk and fights with a Mexican priest (sounds like a bad joke), the schizophrenic Dutchman who is not taking his meds and now the police is looking for him.
Spending that much time alone walking, one cannot use the distractions of television and cars (alcohol, yes), but must rely on one’s mind. The Camino can cast its magic and either bring clarity to confusion or clamor to the chaos.
Sometimes, the Camino casts a long spell. B had met a Swiss man walking the opposite way, the seventh time he had walked from Switzerland to Finisterre and back. He didn’t seem to want to leave the magic of the Camino. Nor did the man who has hid away in his paradise home for the last two years.
The Camino casted a spell over Alex today, causing him to take a wrong turn in the dark forest. Kat and Z left a bit later to drop their packs off with the transportation company, enjoying the same forest, though for them, it was encased in luminous light through the clouds that threatened rain.
B arrived in Arca (Pedrouza) early, finding herself first in line at the albergue again. She met up with the sweet Italian couple, Antonio and Emmanuelle, the 71-year old Frenchwoman with the stamina of one twenty years younger, and the spunky Spaniards. She waited another hour for Alex to arrive, when it started to rain.
It seems that the witches of Galicia decided to open the sky for a while, and 45 min. later, Kat and Z showed up in their ponchos. The witches then turned off the rain and cleared the sky as we discussed what to do next. It seems that in the downpour, Kat and Z were tempted by the magic and suggested walking the 19-20-18 km (no one really knows how far we are any more, the witches have turned all the numbers upside down) rest of the way to Santiago. Alex’s feet were hurting, and he wanted to see Santiago on the horizon at dawn, so we settled on staying at the infamously depressing albergue at Monte de Gorza. It was supposed to be only 8km away, but the 8km somehow changed into 15km…yet Kat and Z agreed to it. Some spell must have been cast!
B and Alex started off ahead, B promising to stay with Alex in case they found a place to stay before Monte de Gorzo and avoid the 400+ person albergue. Kat and Z stayed for some lunch before collecting their packs.
Alex’s feet began to hurt more, so slowly they went before finding Lavacolla, a small hamlet 5km shy of Monte de Gorza. They found a pension for four and decided to stay. Meanwhile, the spell cast on Kat and Z began to wear off a bit as they began to wonder why they had suggested to walk 15km more on an already long day.
But in Lavacolla we all found ourselves, an important stop on the Camino where pilgrims would stop in the river for their first wash of their pilgrimmage - can you imagine the smell? – before reaching Santiago. The river is now more of a…small stream.
Waiting to have a pilgrim menu for dinner, e realized that this was the perfect stop the evening before heading into Santiago. It is hard to believe that we have 10 (or 11 or 9, depending on who you talk to) km left. Whatever spell has been cast over us, it seems we have all made some seemingly crazy decisions that end up just fine on this Camino.
Perhaps the witches of Galicia are trying to teach us to trust that things work out in the end, the way they are supposed to, and that we might as well enjoy, and not fight, the journey. Perhaps this spell will be long with us even after we leave the physical road, and never be broken.
Each a Different Drummer
Believe it or not, we are less than 39 km away from Santiago. We slowed it down to arrive in Santiago on Saturday, so today was a short jaunt to Arzua, famous for its soft cheese.
Kat did not get much sleep with a rather loud and ardent snorer next to her. Even her earplugs did not work. B got up at 4:30 and tried really hard to go back to sleep. It didn’t quite work. It’s a good thing that one of the best people watching pasttimes is observing the packing habits of bleary-eyed pilgrims.
Everyone has their own quirks and habits, and this is evident in how we pack, walk, and settle in for the night. Some folks roll up each item of their clothing, carefully placing them in a pre-ordained order. Others shove their belongings in as tight a space as possible.
People also have different walking styles and paces. Some walk with two poles (click, click), some with a long staff, some with free, swinging arms. Although we may speed up a bit or slow down a bit when chatting with a companion, it is ever critical to be comfortable in one’s own skin and one’s own pace.
If anything, the Camino reminds us to remain flexible and learn, but not change for someone else or risk injury to “keep up with the Joneses.” Because we each have a natural gait, we risk injury if we try to speed up slow down beyond our own paces. This is an important reminder for us in the “real world” to not feel pressured to stress ourselves out by trying to outdo someone else or hold ourselves back from our true potential.
We all walk to a different beat. And we face different challenges. Z is extremely comfortable walking to her own beat and has already shown ridiculous guts and physical strength on this trip. If you try and give her attitude, this undercover hardcore lady with the best pedicure on the Camino will bring you down a notch. Kat is the ever organized, observant walker, making sure we have places to sleep, figuring out our route and kilometers (If it was left to B, we would be in Portugal or Germany…left/right, what’s the difference?), and translating those complex Spanish sentences. Between her little toe blistering through blisters, spazzing back, and armful of mosquito bites, she has not lost her Italian sensibilities and is sure to take a cortado break (or two…or three). B is comfortable walking on her own, getting up at pre-dawn and finishing by mid-morning, enjoying the search-for-the-arrow game, and being the first in line at the albergue. It seems her favorite walking companions are 20-something year old, 6-foot young men (and Juan, the teacher from the Canary Islands). Alex, our brother, aka Rocky (who but an Italian man brings a terry-cloth robe on the Camino?), walks with these funky shoes that are not quite for trekking. He definitely walks to his own beat.
Thank goodness, we were there earlier as the 46 places filled up quickly. How strange it will be to sleep in a non-bunk bed and shower with a door. The albergue municipal, for 5€, is airy and clean, with funky stone walls and high ceilings The snorer is here. And he has the bunk beneath Kat tonight. Poor Kat.
While we each have our own walks, we all like to eat and to share meals. We found a fantastic restaurant – the food gets better and better. Huge cauldrons of warm lentil soup on this chilly, rainy day, jamon serrano, and the famous Queso de Arzua.
While we walk together, we walk alone. While we walk alone, we walk together.
No Time Like the Present
When do you want to eat dinner?
A little later.
That is how time is measured here on the Camino. The only times you really look at a clock is in the morning (why are we waking up at 4:30?), when you arrive at your destination (5 hours, 23km, yeah!), and before bedtime (how long will I sleep before snorer #3 wakes me up?).
How far is it?
How far is it?
Not too far.
This is how distance is measured here on the Camino. According to Kat’s iPhone app, it may be 25km, her guidebook 28km. The Canadian guidebook may be 30km, the Italian 24 km. No one really knows, even the “official” Spanish guide is different from the signs on the Way.
Today we woke up really early and walked for a very long time, had breakfast kinda early in the lovely town of Palas de Rei, a key stop on the Camino. For Americans, eating doughnuts with a knife and fork is so…civilized.
It was a beautiful walk through little hamlets, passing gorgeous little churches, and greeting families on their holiday. B arrived in Melide in great anticipation, not just because of archaelogical evidence that people have lived here for 4,000 yeats, but because this place is famous for its pulperias…octopus.
B put her pack down at the Albergue Municipal, happy to be near the front, space assured. She waited at the nearby bar for Kat and Z’s packs that were being delivered (no bar hopping in search of them like the last time, but with Kat’s back giving her some trouble, this was a good solution). Of course, being Camino time, the bag weren’t there yet. Vans of packs would arrive…
Is this from Ligonde?
Do you know what time the bags will arrive?
Kat and Z had been chatting it up with familiar faces and joined B and Alex who were waiting for the albergue to open. As usual, we checked in, showered in our open showers, and went off in search of food.
We went to the famous Pulperia Ezekiel for a plate of their pulpo, gambas de ajillos (shrimp in garlic and olive oil), and the most amazing langostinos). The place is also famous for its wine served in ceramic cups. Of course, we had to wait for a very, very
Long time to even have our tables cleared.
The restaurants here are never in a rush, even with a crowd of people. Servers rush around all day, but you have to be patient. On the other hand, you are not rushed, and you can really take your time to enjoy and socialize. No one shoves a bill under your nose, trying to get the tables turned.
Not focusing on numbers (great for B, who everyone knows now cannot count) is a lesson that keeps repeating itself on the Camino. Yes, there are bills to be paid and birthdays to celebrate; one cannot and should not escape from the responsibilities of life (do we not have a responsibility to contribute to society if we have the ability?), but at the end of the day, no one is counting.
How have you lived?
Pretty darn good.
Dancing in the Dark
It’s funny how you get used to the dark on the Camino. The sun actually doesn’t go down until 10pm when it’s lights off at the albergue. Then people’s headlamps go on in a futile attempt to read a few pages before nodding off. You will likely wake a few times during the night by someone’s snore or shuffle.
Then the first plastic bag begins to shuffle around 4am. A headlamp searches among the sleeping pilgrims. By 4:30, folks begin to leave. We pack in the dark, almost by memory now: roll up sleeping bag, toiletries, towels. We bandage our feet in the dark. We eat our breakfast in the dark. We walk in the dark.
Given the tremendous amount of people, we woke up even earlier today and left ten before six. Pitch black except for our little headlamps illuminating a few feet ahead of us, the dark obscuring the steepness of the initial climb. Even the puppet shadows were fleeting, as were the white lights on passing trees and rocks. All we could see were other little lights dancing in the dark.
Walking alone in the dark, one cannot help but to think of Beauty in the forest or Little Red Riding Hood (not the Disney versions). How did they not freak out? The sounds of wakening birds punctured the silence, and you wonder…just for a moment: are there wild animals? A wolf? (B keeps wishing a Brontosaurus will rear its friendly head among the hills and give us a ride. No luck so far).
But it’s quiet. Just you and the dark, and you can walk it in trepidation, worried about what’s coming next or tripping over an unsuspecting rock. Or you can forge on, putting faith over fear that you and that tiny light will guide you through. Soon the dark becomes a source of comfort, protecting you in a nest of trees and sleeping animals.
We had planned a shorter day today to slow it down and break a bit from the crowd. Shortly before arriving in Ligronde, B caught up with Fabrizio and Nacho who had stayed 8km ahead with Johann and Sebastian the previous night. It was good to have the chance to say a proper farewell, as Fabrizio was moving up several stages to make it to Santiago in time and Nacho was moving to the next town.
Today is one of those sad days where we had to say farewell to so many wonderful friends (though we are talking about a reunion in the Canary Islands with the little family, right???) B was then joined by Juan, then Kat and Z, and we breakfasted on fantastic tortilla bocadillas at the only bar in town while waiting for our brother Alex. Alex and Juan shared one last beer before Juan took off so he has time to pick up his son from tennis camp. Alex joined us at the quaint, clean albergue. With only twenty spaces, this was a far cry from the influx of pilgrims at the larger municipal albergues. We met up with Sara, a spirited professor of education from California, and her friend Martha, both of whom are also enjoying the quiet.
There are large tour groups that take people from town to town, allowing for a few kilometers of walking a day. Several companies offer backpack delivery for 3€. Families enjoy a few days of the Camino experience, as do school and camp groups. People drive cars to stop for their pilgrim stamps and drive away.
The Camino has a distinctly different feel to it now. Sean, a pastor, and his wife Melody, a lovely young couple from California, noted that these days seem like a reintroduction to society for us. From quiet reflection to almost frenetic commercialization, we are slowly being plopped back into our daily, normal lives.
Perhaps the test will be how to face the “real world” when we return. Will we go right back to the rat race? Can’t handle it and escape into a hermit’s life? Or bring the Camino with us in daily life, maintaining a zenlike approach while watching the rest of the world whirls by in a hurried frenzy for…something?
As we were getting ready for bed, the sounds of a guitar playing and young voices singing “We Are the World” flowed through the albergue. It was the group of young German pilgrims on a confirmation trip. Sara sat with them, singing as they ran through “Hotel California.” A local farmer came up the path with his pitchfork, smiling and clapping to their rendition of “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
With the strum of a guitar and earnest voices, on a day we had to bid adieu to some dear friends until next time, the meaning of the Camino becomes quite clear. Whether a tourist by car or pilgrim by foot, for religious, spiritual, or tourist reasons, the Camino, at least for first timers, is learning to trust a lot of the unknown. Who knows what lies ahead, be that every day or every kilometer.
Nevertheless, even though some of us start in the dark and others wait until the assurance of daylight, we are all heading to the same place.
“So kiss me and smile for me,
Tell me that you’ll wait for me…
‘Cuz I’m leaving on a jet plane,
I don’t know when I’ll be back again…”
The Forest of Enchantment
When little kids wake up, they cannot wait to start the day. Everything is a new adventure and everything is exciting. They explore, explore, explore, and open themselves to new experiences. They stop when they tire, sleep, and look forward to the next day again.
Somewhere along the line, many adults begin to lose this sense of wonder and excitement, dreading waking up and starting “yet another day.” They forget what it’s like to walk through the Enchanted Forest, where beauty and magic lie around us.
The Camino is often like the Enchanted Forest, both figuratively and literally. We climbed (again) through the winding trees, and it is hard to ignore the beauty around.
The Camino is getting crowded, with many people coming for the last 100km, which we now have reached. It is rather a sight to see shiny boots and clean-smelling packs, along with scout troops wearing matching shirts. The noise also gets louder.
B went ahead and walked with Peter, a young Dutchman, who walked the Camino the first time at the tender age of 16 when he needed a way to alter his life a bit away from getting caught in the mischief of adolescence. A mature university student, he hopes to join the army one day. It is clear he will make a fine man. They chatted about everything, from crime and punishment to the U.S. debt crisis. Peter mentioned that he has noted a difference betwen Americans and Spanairds. He said that at first, Americans will say they are doing fine. The next time he talks to them, they begin to reveal how in pain they are, lost, and unsure of who they are,what thy’re doing, or where they are going. He said he has only met two who has not seem to be dissatisfied in one way or another.
Finally, B entered Porto Marin and settled in, seeing familiar faces telling her that even well before noon, places were being booked up. The Camino has decidedly taken a different turn. The ambiance is no longer the same. There are many, many tourists here who are doing this for a few days to get the Compostela, carrying tiny backpacks. There is a definitely more commercial feel to things now, and our little family agrees it is simply not as pleasant.
Kat showed up 45 min later, and she and B went to wait in line at the municipal albergue. Z was having a tougher time, so Kat went back to get her. Like a comedy of farces, B went too and ran into Fabrizio and Nacho, who hadn’t seen Z. They tried to call Kat, but no answer.
B continued, back down the hill, over the bridge, about three-quarters of a kilometer. At the bottom of a massive hill, she ran into Alex and Juan. She reached Kat on their mobile and learned that she had found Z a while ago – guess they took another way to the albergue. Humph. So back went B up the hill, across the bridge, up the steep stairs.
The great thing was, though, that we knew we had friends on the Way who would watch out for each other. It’s people like Alex, who is one of the sweetest people ever (he makes balloon animals for kids undergoing chemotherapy) who make these moments worth all the while. It’s seeing two cows “chat.”
Speaking with our little family - Juan, Alex, Nacho, Fabrizio – and new old friends – Andrea and Gemma – it seems everyone was having a tougher time with this influx of tourist-pilgrims who seem to be doing this for the Compostela. Kat and Gemma found this to be the toughest day mentally. Kat’s saving grace was her two cortados.
We are having a tough time finding places to sleep, as the albergues and hotels are getting pricier and fuller. Tourist-pilgrims with their shiny walking sticks and tiny bags are making reservations ahead of time, some traveling via bus for part of the Way. It seems the Camino for some have become a trendy thing, rather than an enchanting journey with oneself and friends.
Those of us who have been walking with each other one way or another – including the young Spanish Englishman with tendinitis who has decided to do the final 100km after some rest days – have a bit of history together and nostalgia for the days when the magic was clearly evident. We also have to remember that everyone’s Camino is different, whether people have 3 days or 30 days, it is the intention and the spirit with which they walk, not the length of time or toughness of the calluses.