I could see the trail winding upwards, almost vertical. To add to the difficulty, it was a muddy mess. The trail was so narrow in places that I had to duck under branches while I looked for a foothold. I gave up and started using branches on the side to pull my way up. I was tired and it was getting darker, but Ol kept pushing.
“Come on we only need to do 42 kilometers today” he said.
My legs began cramping. Just when I thought that I couldn’t go on Ol reached down to pull me up onto a castle wall. He leaned down and lit a heavy torch and handed it to me. He handed me the torch and my arm dropped under it’s weight.
Thats when I woke up.
My legs were apparently cramping in my sleep. The pain woke me. I could feel the fine linen sheets comfortably wrapped around me. I rolled over and Ol was fast asleep. We were safely ensconced in the luxurious Parador Hotel in Santiago, The Hostal de Reyes. Thankfully it was all just a nightmare. The trail was behind us, today we didn’t have to go anywhere. The only thing on my agenda was to lounge in bed all day and bask in our accomplishment.
My legs and feet were still in pain from our last few days on the Camino. We had walked just over 100 kilometers in the final three days and I was now feeling the effects.
Ol’s leg was doing much better and we now think that it was probably tendonitis and not a stress fracture. I am still amazed he that walked for ten days on crutches. I feel terrible whenever I look at his poor calloused hands.
Our final week on the trail was especially beautiful. It seems that the closer we got to Santiago the villages and towns were quainter and the cities more beautiful.
We enjoyed the Galicia region in Spain, the food was excellent and reminiscent of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There was an abundance of fish and shellfish. Finally, food with spices and garlic! Some of the hot sauces on the table were actually spicy.
Ol and I were both ready for our Camino journey to come to an end. That is why on the last day when we reached the 10 kilometer mark to Santiago my tears caught me by surprise. I had to stop, I was overwhelmed with emotion. They were happy tears. I was proud of us, we had walked over 1,500 trail kilometers not including what we walked playing tourists.
It was probably a combination of the change in the weather and the trailside memorials of pilgrims who perished along the way, but Ol and I really had some deep conversations along the way.
I shared with Ol how the Camino was really a microcosm for life. We never know what is around the next corner or over the horizon. We are rewarded with days of beauty and joy. There are days filled with laughter, friends, and wine.
There are also setbacks. There are days of pain, and times when we are so tired we just don’t want to get out of bed.
There are days when we offer comfort, encouragement, and support to others, and days when we need to be on the receiving end.
On the Camino there is the blessing of time which can be used to reflect on the past and time to dream and plan for the future.
We never know what each new day will bring. We simply know that we must get up and keep going forward.
One of the more beautiful rituals on the trail is to carry a rock, which symbolizes the worries, regrets, sins, or things that may be weighing us down. Near the end of the Camino, the rock is placed at the base of a cross which is located at one of the highest peaks on the trail. We leave the rock behind, symbolically ridding ourselves of our burdens.
Often, I reflect upon the simple rituals of the trail. We get up, dress, eat, pack up, and then walk. At the end of the day we find a place for the night, wash our clothes, shower, eat, drink, and sleep. The next morning we repeat the same process over again.
Life is less complicated and I have discovered that we need very few material things to be happy. This is reinforced on the trail as we walk through villages and cities and see the people living lives that seem both beautiful and at the same time simpler. It is almost like a different time. Their days are filled with just enough work to provide for themselves and their families. Daily at mealtimes they are immersed in the fellowship of friends and family. There are no cell phones constantly in hand or at the table.
On the Camino we can truly live in the moment and be present. We notice the little things that make life so beautiful; a cat or dog curled up in the sun taking a nap, flowers, birds, and clouds, the shop windows filled with beautiful pastries and art, the sunlight on a mountain, or freshly plowed pasture, the change of season in the landscape.
On the Camino the sounds that fill the air are magnified, from laughter of children in a school yard, to the crow of a rooster, the moo of a cow, leaves crunching underfoot, or just beautiful blessed peaceful silence.
On the Camino the scents around us can be intoxicating or pungent; lavender, pine, eucalyptus, or even the smoke from a fire, the smell of fresh rain, even manure, and the sweet smell of compost.
We have walked through so many different regions in France and Spain that we don’t need road signs to know that we are somewhere new. We recognize the subtle differences in landscapes, architecture, food, and people.
When we entered Santiago and followed the path of scallop shells lining the way, a trail forged by so many before us, I was surprised to find that my walk was actually quickening. Usually when we get close to the end of the trail my feet have a mind of their own and want to slow down.
Santiago is unique on the Camino in that the cathedral and it’s spires are not visible when entering the city on foot. A hill, turns into another hill and then around a corner it appears; the Cathedral of Saint James.
Our long journey had finally come to an end. We stopped, hugged, and kissed one another. Of course, I cried again! As we made our way inside the cathedral I was taken aback by it’s beauty. It did not disappoint.
We had walked sixty-five days and had only taken seven days of rest. We carried our bags (with the exception of Ol’s bag for ten days). We walked the entire way. We didn’t take trains, buses or cabs. I still couldn’t believe we had walked over one thousand miles!
We had finally arrived. We entered the church, approached the altar, and offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
It was bittersweet that our two month journey on the Camino de Santiago was at its end. For us this was time well spent, as the Camino left it’s mark on us and we are so thankful for it’s blessings.