At the end of the Camino, I think everyone who walks the way (or at least walks the way for a significant amount of time), experiences the same thing: an unsettled, restless, confused feeling of "what now?" We're here now! We celebrate, we rejoice, we put our feet up!
But suddenly, everything changes ... we no longer have to walk! People leave. Santiago changes everyday, and suddenly our pilgrimage community is different. Rachel and I both felt almost immediately that our time was done, and we were ready to go. Almost like we NEEDED to go, like Santiago was no longer where we were supposed to be. The problem? We walked much faster than we had anticipated (thanks to our ultra-motivated friends), and arrived in Santiago five days before our flight! Whoops. (This wasn't just us, actually -- two other groups who kind of melded with ours at the end had also been, on their own, keeping pace with us -- and we all completed the Camino in 31 days.) To break for a day would have been to lose them, and we all seemed to just keep moving -- making shorter or longer days accordingly, but always moving.
The second day of our Santiago stay I woke up at (get ready for this) -- 8:00! WOW! That's like three hours of walking and around 15k, people (because we now measure time in increments of distance). It felt SO GOOD. This day we took it easy. A group of us went to eat breakfast and to get our Pilgrim Credentials; people napped; Robert and Tina and I wandered around the city and to some tacky tourist shops ... but mostly we sat at cafes. We would walk one street, and find a cafe and sit for an hour. Then we would wander a few more streets, and find a new cafe. At the end we realized how ridiculous we were -- we started from a cafe, where we had been sitting for at least an hour and a half, back to our albergue (about one kilometer away), and didn't even make it all the way before we stopped at a street market, bought some fresh strawberries and chocolate muffins, and sat down on a ledge in a park.
We're tired, people.
The next day we all split -- the beginning of the Camigos parting. After a last breakfast all together, Tina and Robert took off to walk to Finisterre, the "other" end of the Camino, on the coast of Spain. About 90 kilometers further, Finisterre is about a 3 days walk Camino style, and is popular with more committed pilgrims, who enjoy again the quieter, more peaceful way, ending at a point where the land literally ends (hence the name, Finnes - end and Terre - land). Mary and Sanne took off shortly after them to walk the same way, though slower, planning to arrive one day later. Rachel and I went back to the cathedral to hug the statue of St. James above the altar (this tradition is more popular than venerating his relics directly below the altar for reasons I do not understand), and thus, for the first time in my life (I think), I hugged a statue.
"Thanks, James!" Rachel said, bear hugging the statue, and then we both started laughing and had to leave.
Rachel then took off for Finisterre by bus, and Julia and I stayed behind for one more day in Santiago.
The next day we both took the bus to the sea in Finisterre -- and oh, was I ready! To suddenly be on the coast is a wonderful thing, especially after being overwhelmed for days coming from the Camino into a bustling city. Rachel met us at then bus station and escorted us to a room she had booked in an albergue, and then up to the lighthouse -- the final 2.2 kilometers of land contained in the Camino. Up and up we went, to the lighthouse at the top, and a place where you can climb down the cliff toward the water, and where people traditionally (and illegally) burn items they have walked with. Around this point I was consumed by hunger and had to go back down with some other friends, or else fall on my face.
A word about hunger. If I could sum up in one word how I have felt on the Camino, the first word (at least describing my physical state) would be HUNGRY. Like, I'm about to try to eat grass kind of hungry. Those who know me will vouch that I have a really high metabolism rate -- but as my body adjusted to walking 30 kilometers a day it also started wanting FOOD ALL THE TIME. Like, men on the Camino were laughing about how much I could eat. Which was more than they could. I rest my case.
This night was probably the most impressive that my metabolism has yet surprised me with, as (I had not had lunch), I ate a steak dinner and felt like I had only eaten a light snack. I later accompanied my friends to their dinner at a seafood restaurant, and ended up eating another meal. That was, truly, the second night in the whole Camino that I felt not hungry after. What a wonderful feeling! I hope this stops, or else my grocery bill is going to be awful, but this has been a very real suffering of my Camino, as well as something that has made it very real. It has also served to make me much more grateful for all that I have!
On another note, Fisterra (the town is Fisterra and the cliff on the end where the Camino ends is called Finisterre as far as I could make out) is a gorgeous little coastal town. We explored, walked a little, went to a small beach, ate together, and enjoyed the sights.
The next day ... we did nothing. We were all amazed, but what happened was this. We woke up at 10 AM (that's the time by which we should have walked 20 kilometers). We slowly got ready, and walked down the street to find a breakfast cafe, which we sat at for over an hour. We walked back to our room and climbed into our beds, and read and napped. Around 4 PM I left, summoned by Robert calling that they had arrived, to find Robert and Tina and show them to our hotel where we had reservations for them. I walked once to the grocery store, one block away, to get dinner.
Rachel and I were supposed to take off at 7 PM back to Santiago in anticipation for our flight the next day, but as Tina said. "No! That's stupid. Why would you do that?" We had to agree! It was silly. So we stayed one last night with our friends, and celebrated our great victory, the five of us, in our hotel room, laughing and talking until late at night.
The next morning our friends walked Rachel and I to the bus station and bade us a final farewell -- as we unknowingly climbed onto the SLOW BUS. It has taken one and a half hours to get to Fisterra, so we anticipated the same. Two hours later we saw a sign that said Santiago was still 40 kilometers away, and we began to panic. Our flight! We leaped off the bus at the next town, grabbed our packs, and hailed a taxi, who got us to the airport in time to stand in a really long stressful line ...
But as we were standing we noticed people we knew. Mario, an Italian professor of English literature who speaks with a posh British accent, and who once told me very firmly that it was James Joyce who was the master of the English language, and not Virginia Woolf. Razan, a Palestinian girl a little older than us, who lives in Dubai, and who we both had connected with deeply early on in the Camino. We soon joined together, along with Razan's Italian boyfriend, and an Italian girl none of us had met on the way, but who has also just finished her walk. We found our flight together and discovered ... we were delayed for three hours. At least.
And so, the Camino continued, as we sat and talked and processed our walk with one another for hours, before we finally took off for Rome.
When we landed, Rachel and I suddenly realized we had to say goodbye to one another as well - how strange! Until now she has been my other half, my walking partner, my closely bonded buddy. Though we have mostly walked separately in our group (just naturally having very different paces), we have been together since the start. She was picked up by friends in Rome and headed up to a friend's wedding in a small town north of Rome.
I headed into the city, to await the arrival of my friend Caitlin (from high school at St. Mary's Academy!) and her friend Meaghan, who happen to be arriving in Rome the morning after me, and spending the same number of days as me! Providence, I tell you what. Their main goal of this trip is to relax, eat delicious food, unwind, spend time de-stressing, and be rejuvenated -- which is perfect, as I have tendinitis, have been hungry for five weeks, and have a lot to process. What better place than Rome?? I mean, really!