The thought of my anticipated last moment walking the Camino has been lingering in my mind since day one. Naturally, we all looked ahead now and again when we realized what we were traveling towards. Or better put, what we thought we were traveling towards. In the beginning, it was just a cathedral in our minds. A historic building that has been walked upon by pilgrims for centuries. As we developed friendships and experienced breakthroughs, it became a new beginning. The end of the Camino de Santiago began representing a lot more than any of us believed from the start. Still, the questions circled. Who would we be linking arms with as we took those final steps? What thoughts would be repeating in our brains? Would the moment live up to all we had dreamed? None of these could truly be answered nor should they. I wanted to keep all those doors wide open for possibility. Having expectations never seemed like the way to go.
The evening before the last 15km was just as exciting as the night before Christmas has ever been. I found myself lying awake far longer than I should with the early morning rise ahead. It all seemed to have sped up over the last few days. I can’t explain how time works when you’re walking for weeks on end. The moments are savoured with more depth and you don’t have the real world to distract you. Things seem to pass by slower in a beautiful way, in a way life should be lived. Every week had me feeling like I had been walking for years. Looking back on it now, I couldn’t tell you where the time went. Didn’t I take my first steps only yesterday? My very first early morning steps of this incredible Way
My mind sifted through the people I met and the lessons I had learned. These were things I never wanted to let go of. They had shaped me. I didn’t realize the extent of it all until I let my mind take me back through the days. All thirty-three of them took me further physically and let me soar forward mentally. I had a new way of looking at things now. I appreciated the smaller moments even more than I believed I did when I started. My mind seemed permanently stuck on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. This whole journey has you focusing on the basic human needs your body craves to keep you going. Will it feed me? Eat it. Do I need rest? Sleep. Bandage your feet, drink at least 2 litres of water per day, strap on your life in a pack and walk. It keeps you grounded to say the least. I hope more than anything I can take back the lesson of necessity.
The things I thought I needed to let go of the most took care of themselves within the first three days. Whatever followed was unexpected and conquered with a full heart and good friends. The ways in which the Camino shaped me into who I am now cannot be explained, only shown. I couldn’t be more excited to share them with the people I love back home.
I found myself waiting at 5am for three lovely ladies from Germany that wanted to make it to Santiago in time for the famous mass. I really, truly thought that I had learned all that I could but the lessons kept on showing themselves up until the very last second. Here I was, walking on the final day with people I didn’t expect to share it with. I guess you can say I learned one of the most important lessons of all.
Always follow your own path.It’s easy to get caught up in the desires of others. When you’ve spent so long around a group of people, you begin to sway yourself in the direction of what they want to do and forget that this is your journey and no one else’s. Thinking back to my very first day, I remembered somebody telling me, “it’s not your Camino if you follow somebody else’s rules.” Up until then, it hadn’t hindered me. I walked at my own pace and we all happened to match up. Suddenly I was placed at a crossroad and the tables had turned. The mass honouring the pilgrims, the swinging of the Botafumeiro…those were all important to me and I was so close to sacrificing my final moments to do what I was comfortable with and lead out the ending I counted on. I don’t know where the initial instinct came from but I was glad that the attitude I know I normally embody took over. This was going to be a special moment no matter who I was walking it with. These three girls were just as excited as I was to be reaching the end. The moment was going to be mine regardless of the circumstances. Looking back years, days or weeks from now, I knew I would feel wonderful about making that decision. Camino, you never fail to provide insight at just the right moment.
Don’t let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace – Dalai Lama
We all experienced the jitters while we walked. The butterflies didn’t stop flapping their wings the entire way. I talked with Lena most of the trip there and we shared our favourite moments of discovery. Simultaniously, we agreed that “the Camino provides” never stopped showing itself. Didn’t the people you meet always come back exactly when you needed them to? Didn’t cheesecake show up at the precise moment you were craving it? Maybe that’s something we need to take back into our everyday lives. We need to be able to count on the world a little bit more. It takes a lot of strength but sending things out to the Universe works if you believe in it hard enough. Maybe it’s just about having a sense of hope that things are going to work out in the way they’re supposed to. That way of thinking really keeps you going.
We powered through 10km with only a quick stop here and there to get our pilgrim passports stamped for the last few times. When we saw the 4.7km sign to the cathedral, my heart rate picked up and we all skipped down the hill. It had rained pretty hard over the last few days and as we looked out on the distant city of Santiago, a rainbow was shining down to welcome us in. It seemed to take ages to walk through that city but before we knew it, we were just mere steps away. The four of us linked arms and Sarah played the final countdown on her phone a few minutes before arriving. A stone tunnel led us in and the cathedral that seemed so far away at first became bigger and brighter as we took steps closer.
All of a sudden, there it was. The intricate and ancient beauty of this building towered over us all. A lump formed in my throat and tears filled my eyes. We screamed and hugged and took it all in. This was it. This is what we had been walking towards for over a month. The feeling overwhelmed me as I looked around and saw other pilgrims experiencing the same sense of pure joy and accomplishment. There were tears, big hugs and heartfelt phone calls surrounding me. I felt pride and emotion take over as I watched the moments unfold. I don’t think there was a happier place we could be. Out of nowhere, people from the beginning of my journey came to greet me. I saw two amazing ladies from Canada who I hadn’t run into for weeks. We hugged and celebrated the success. Michelle, the photographer and documentary maker who I had been searching for since the second day greeted me unexpectedly. I was shocked and extremely excited to see her again as we sceamed hellos and hugged tightly. Her brother and Brittany followed and I could see the pride in their eyes even days after finishing.
For some reason, I was gung-ho on getting a photo of me jumping outside of the cathedral. I don’t know how I mustered up enough energy to jump several times in order to get the shot but as I took the first leap, something really amazing happened. Nicola had given me a bracelet during one of my down days. It was a series of amethyst stones that were said to represent a cleansing of the aura and become a bringer of new energy. As I jumped high, the bracelet flew off my wrist and sailed across the square, shattering into a million pieces. Perhaps I’m digging into it too deeply but it was as if I didn’t need them anymore. My energy had been restored, my spirits lifted and my aura cleansed. I felt free and completely at peace. It was unforgettable and almost indescribable, that feeling. It will sit with me as a constant reminder for years to come.
With tears still stinging my cheeks and my heart racing, I walked the route to pick up my certificate and receive the last stamp. I continued to see people from all different legs of my journey. They greeted me with hugs and high fives the whole way. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t think my final day would actually be like this. Maybe I had daydreamed some unfathomable scenario in my head but even though this whole experience has been almost unreal, I had no idea it would come full circle. I wouldn’t really be walking the end alone or saying goodbye to the people I loved at all! Each of them would be there to meet me at the finish line and we would all celebrate this accomplishment together as these people we had helped each other grow into.
When I rounded the corner, Nicola and Michelle were there to meet me. The two of them ran at me with full speed and Nicola wrapped me in a hug that filled my whole body with happiness and love. I giggled the whole way to mass and as we took our seats, I spotted Gustavo waving with a smile spread across his face. I ran at him and screeched a congratulations. It was endearing to see someone from my initial crew who I had chatted with about my final moments in Santiago. It was even more endearing when he leaned over and whispered to me, “you and I spent the first and the last Camino mass together.” That’s what this Way is all about. It’s about the community of people that surround you and never stop being a part of your path. It’s incredible.A gentle and sweet nun stood at the alter which was covered in gold and taught us how to sing a Spanish hymn in harmony. Several faces amongst the crowded seats sent waves and blew kisses my way. Silent congratulations escaped their lips causing me to break out into an even bigger smile. Gustavo translated what he could and I beamed as they read out the number of Canadians who had walked from St. Jean. That was me they were talking about. I had done it…
I was so lucky to have come on a day where they were swinging the Botafumeiro. The Botafumeiro is a beautiful thurible (a fancy word for metal container) that incloses incense and hangs on a rope high above in the cathedral ceiling. It takes eight Tiraboleiros (men of the service in red robes) to lift the thurible up and swing it back and forth over the heads of the attenders. Long ago it was said to cleanse the air caused by unwashed pilgrims who had just finished their journey. I was at a loss for words when it began swinging and the soft soprano voice of the nun filled the room. Back and forth it went and the little hairs on my arm stood on end. I was caught in a trance of amazement and absolute gratitude. I was thankful that this mass happened every single day. I was thankful that the Camino is a part of our world. There’s a trail that leads through a country and guides people with a common ground. We’re all searching for ourselves and together we become a part of each others journey because we help to influence one another. There’s a place in this world where people find peace, self love and eternal friendship and it’s been walked and celebrated for hundreds of years. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? All of these thoughts circled my mind as I watched this beautiful piece of history swing high and low.
Before leaving, I lit a few candles in honour of loved ones and lined up to hug the statue of St. James which had been so worn down from the embracing he’s felt over the years. Walking away from that service left me feeling complete about my Camino. I realized right then that I didn’t need to walk anymore. I had no reason to. Although my original plan was to continue on to Finisterre, the end of the known world, I didn’t feel like I truly needed the physical and mental experience it would continue to take me through. I had trampled through walls and barriers and discovered direction. I developed opinions and an unbreakable confidence in my art. I had let go, embraced and learned. My time on the Camino had no need to continue on here in Spain. I was ready to put it into action in my life outside of all this.
The relaxing, drinking and eating didn’t stop in Santiago. The community didn’t disappear either. A lot of my fellow pilgrims decided to spend a few days in this buzzing and lively city. What I loved the most about my time here was being able to walk down the street and wave to people I knew. I felt like I had lived there all my life with each hello to a passing friend. It touched me to watch pilgrims I didn’t know but felt like I still had such a connection with as they walked with pride down the street that lead them to the cathedral. You could see the smiles on their faces as they linked arms or tightly squeezed the hands of their friends. I knew how they were feeling and I almost relived it all over again whenever I was there to see it happen. Santiago was a city of vibrant energy and celebration. I could have stayed there much longer but before leaving, I needed to see Finisterre. I still wanted to experience its magic so we hopped on a bus and took the three hour drive out to the end of the Earth.
I carried with me a piece of my walking stick, the stones from my amethyst bracelet and a lined piece of paper filled with the last stragglers of thoughts I needed to let fly in the breeze. Nicola had joined me and the second we walked off of that bus, each of us ran into somebody we had met on the very first day of the trail and had barely seen since. Actually, the entire city was filled with people we knew. I should have expected it. I was running into friends left right and centre who I hadn’t seen since the first few days. The beauty of the Camino continued on and on. I was excited to see the ocean after being away from it for such a long time. The rain fell down around us and there was a dark sky above but I kind of liked the grey light it cast. This was a harbour town and it added to the feeling of it all. It was one of those rain days that doesn’t upset you because it inspires hot tea and cake in a cosy room. We enjoyed exactly that before heading up the hill for the 3km walk to the lighthouse.
We each took our time alone and headed as far to the edge of the cliff as possible. I discovered an empty patch at the bottom of a very rocky hill and made my way down with careful steps. Buried amongst the rocks I could see the articles of clothing, shoes and sentimental items that others had left here over the years. Some of them had letters attached in small, plastic bags and a few had burnt to charcoal following the symbolic tradition. It reminded me of Cruce de Ferro in so many ways as a place of love and release at the true end of the journey. I noticed a man standing at the edge of the cliff, his hair blowing in the wind and deep in thought. I wondered what he was thinking just then and if he had found what he was looking for. When I reached the edge, I too stared out onto the horizon that was barely visible in the distance. It looked like someone had smudged the skies line into the pale ocean.
I took off my shoes and sat cross legged on the rock, holding onto my paper and items tightly. The wind was strong and the waves below me crashed rapidly and with purpose. I don’t know how long I stayed sitting there just letting my mind relax. I thought about how beautiful this moment was and how lucky I was to be a part of it. I thought about the last month and how much had been reached and accomplished. Then, seconds before I let go of my items, I thought about what they meant to me and why they belonged in the ocean instead.
I let my paper fly. It flew from my unclutched hand and blew away until I couldn’t see it anymore. My rocks and walking stick followed behind and landed with the crashing waves. With a sigh and a smile I stood up and walked back up the hill.
The Camino de Frances was finished. The walking was completed and my mind was where it needed to be. I knew that this was the end of my time here but the future holds so many possibilities. I’m still taking steps forward but there won’t be any yellow arrows to guide me this time. I’ll be in charge of that.