Camino Debrief – The Final Third
Today I celebrate my two-year anniversary of walking into Santiago for the very first time. I remember that unique feeling of wanting so much to reach that goal of the cathedral…the goal that started nine months before, when I first said I’d walk the Camino…and, at the same time, the stronger pull for the walk to not end. I didn’t want it ever to end. You see, by then my body was strong, my mind was clear and the simplicity of waking, walking, shower, sleep and repeat was addicting.
They say that final third of the Camino is the spiritual portion. Having had the physical challenge of the initial third, then the mental challenge of that middle portion…it is now time to share what I learned in those steps of my own unique journey of that final third.
It’s funny. This section of the walk began with what Ron and I referred to as the “self check-in albergue” in Santa Catalina de Somoza. It was the only place where there was no one to greet you and stamp your book. Instead you sign in, select a bed, then head past the stork nests to the pub where they stamp your book for you. There was wi-fi in the playground outside our room, but only on one end of the bench. And somehow that feels appropriate as the beginning of the spiritual portion of the journey.
Next came an important stop at Cruz de Ferro. This is the place where pilgrims for years have been leaving stones or items to represent what they are releasing. People leave pictures of loved ones, rosaries, trinkets and stones. I had prepared my stone by selecting it prior to leaving Portland. It was one I had colored to represent spirituality for me. I also had invited friends at my going away party to share anything they too wanted me to leave for them at this special location…so Lori, Jen and Barbara’s own prayers and wishes for release where also placed there.
As I walked up the hill to the iron cross, I was overwhelmed by all the things people had left behind. Photos of those who have died brought sadness to my heart. Rocks of all sizes from all over the globe and some picked up just that morning had been left here in a heavy pile. But then I realized what an important place this is. How often in life do we consciously ask ourselves “what am I hanging onto?” “What from my past is a burden I haven’t let go of?” and most importantly, “What am I willing to let go of?”
I went through many things from my past and gave them away at Cruz de Ferro. A chronological walk down memory lane as new experiences came to mind…and then released. Scanning my entire life for what had been challenges, hard times, things I was ashamed of. But, then a surprise came. I also was led to let go of all the positive things I had held onto…the awards, accomplishments, fond memories, good times…as I knew they were no longer me. They too represented the past, and hanging onto them, only confined who I know myself to be. So there I left behind who I know myself to be, to allow myself the freedom to recreate myself!
As Ron and I walked away, I felt much lighter and laughter ensued as we began to see all these taxi ads on benches and such and we started shouting “taxi” which is not how it works. This isn’t New York. Here you have to dial them up. That night we choose to stay in Manjarin, partially because I was attracted to the lines about “simplicity” and “ecology” in the Brierley book and because we were tired and there is a very steep downhill after this spot.
Manjarin is run by Tomas who is a modern Knight’s Templar. We dined with him and two young priests in training, then slept on a very primitive mattress on the dusty floor. Temperatures got down into the high thirties that night as I slept with everything I owned on me only to have the door blow open once or twice sending chills down my spine. They have no running water and only an outhouse, so I slowed down on liquids to avoid that rather disgusting experience. Even though it was not ideal, I’m glad we stayed there. It got me in touch with what a primitive life is like. It made me appreciate a toilet, running water, and having more people around us.
Then came the long descent over a very rocky trail complete with little flies who hovered near my ears and mouth. Sort of sounds like purgatory or something…but at least it was short-lived. Next came Ponderrada where temperatures were in the mid nineties. Yes, 30’s one night and 90’s the next. Our sweet young roommates wanted to close the door to shut out the noise, while temps skyrocketed and I looked over to see Ron in a puddle of sweat leaving to find a cooler place to possibly get an hour or so of sleep.
The following night we stayed in Villafranca Del Bierzo and as we were leaving town, we got lost for the first time. We soon got found as we headed up the path that was the medium difficulty choice amongst three options…it went up, up, up and then down, down, down with the heat pounding down on us. We had to stop about every kilometer or two for a cold beverage as we headed towards our goal of vegetarian dinner in Herrerias. We almost thought we wouldn’t make it, but then we did. A cool creek, kind people and a wonderful meal refreshed us along with a good night’s sleep.
In Sarria we took a rest day, stayed in a hotel and had some fine dining experiences. This marks the 100 kilometer mark until Santiago. It’s also where you begin to see far more pilgrims along the path as anyone can get a compostella if they walk at least the final 100 kilometers, so many locals do this as part of their summer vacation. The first morning leaving Sarria, I am not exaggerating to say that near 100 people passed us in the initial hour. It was far less after that initial rush…but that surge brings on some anxiety. “Will I get a bed?” “Can all these people who just joined the trail with nearly no packs get a bed before me who’s carried my pack all the way from St. Jean?” Yes, those holier than thou type thoughts began to enter my mind.
Next was the beautiful town of Portomarin where we got a bunk bed in a room with 200 people. Surprisingly, no one snored that night! We ran into friends, Caroline and Jon from England, at dinner and it was a grand reunion. You realize, it’s the people who make the journey what it is. And most folks along the Camino are in good moods and spirits. Some are dealing with injuries and challenges too.
In Santa Irene I got a grande beer only to find they didn’t have the vegetarian pizza on their menu…drinking all that beer without any food I got a little drunk, but we laughed and had a good time.
On our final night of the Camino we stayed at Monte del Gozo and as we dined I noticed what had been me and 8 Aussies at our first night of the Camino was now Ron, the Aussie, and 8 American’s. We took time to dine, laugh, recall our journey and prepare to enter Santiago the next day.
Upon entering Santiago, you see the back of the cathedral begin to peek out of the hills and scenery. Could we really almost be there? What would be next? Is it no longer going to be wake, walk, shower, sleep and repeat? We arrived near 8 AM to the magnificence of the cathedral…this vision of the goal I had held tightly in my mind was now before me. On one hand it was a BIG deal, on the other…it was merely another step. We got a meal, then waited in line to get our credentials, that paper that says we have done this 500 mile walk, and we went to mass. The bufamero’s sour acrid incense wafted past us as songs were sung and tears were shed.
That night Ron and I went to Cedro’s Restaurant for a delicious vegetarian meal. I gave him a card thanking him for being such a good walking partner, for keeping me safe and making it fun. After dinner we said our goodbyes, had a brief hug and headed off to our separate accommodations as I would head out to Finnesterre in the morning and he would rest up a bit, then do the Camino Portuguese.
So all in one day I had made the goal, dinned with friends, then said goodbye to someone who had been there for me for the past month of walking. There was a huge sense of loss, which often is a part of the Camino. Another lesson in my journey.
Here is what the Camino taught me…
Life can be simple as wake, walk, shower, sleep and repeat.
You don’t need half of the stuff you think you need.
Don’t rush to arrive. Enjoy the journey!
Flexibility is good. Be open. Be vulnerable. Allow the angels of the Camino to guide you!
It’s the people who make the journey.
Trials and hardships are also the rich memories that carry us forward.
It takes climbing to have great views.
Life is full of hellos and goodbyes, do not get attached.
A journey of 500 miles begins with a single step and knowing I could do that, I now know I can do almost anything if I just take one step at a time.
The journey begins when you agree to walk the Camino. The lessons continue as long as you remain open.
So here’s to remaining open, to recreating who I know myself to be each day, and to this amazing experience I will never forget!
Buen Camino! Pilgrim Kathy