Part 23: El Camino de Santiago
Part 23 James’ Last Day on The Camino and Santiago Becomes a Reality
Camino â€“ Final Day
Buenos Dias los Amigos,
Today, or yesterday to be completely accurate, I finally arrived in Santiago after 23 days of walking and approximately 650 kms in the bag!
I deliberately did not write my final journal yesterday, allowing a gasped "we're f*****g here!" to my mother on the phone to suffice as my announcement to the world that the Camino had been conquered. This was largely due to the fact that I was completely and utterly shattered after the 40 kms from Arzua to Santiago, and also because I wanted to do justice to my final thoughts which would have been difficult yesterday - all I wanted to do was eat, wash and sleep!
In order to reach Santiago by yesterday evening, the final reckoning meant that we had to cover 40 kms, over difficult terrain, with bodies that frankly shouldn't have been asked to move further than the First Aid station down the road. The old mans heels had basically disintegrated and my left achilles, both feet and back were in no fit state to walk.
This was in addition to the fact that Larry's toe nails have started to fall out and Donald has been limping like a shot rabbit for the last 4 days!
Once again, we decided to walk on our own and, in a desperate attempt to make some early headway, I left in the dark alongside the Germans and the Spanish. This was an experience I will never forget and for the life of me I have no idea why they do it every morning. As I stumbled along in the pitch black, focusing all my energy on the small beam of light coming from the head of the person in front of me, I just could not imagine why they were happy to walk like this and then spend the best part of the day languishing in some stinking albergue. When I saw a Spanish guy reading the details on a marker stone with the light from his mobile phone screen I thought enough is enough now!
My plan, if you could call it that, was pretty simple. Blaze the first 20 kms in 3 hours - a feat way above any type of speed I had achieved so far, stop for an hour, pretend I had not walked yet that day, amble the next 10 kms and then pump my body full of the rest of my pain killers in order to float to Santiago on a fluffy white cloud of chemically induced holy rapture! All I can say is "the best laid plans of mice and men!" I trudged on for hours it seemed and, because I was afraid that if I stopped I would not get started again, I ended up walking the first 25 kms with no breaks and no food! All of this was set against a back drop of a far from ideal previous evenings preparation of 7 or 8 beers and eventually a reluctantly produced egg and chips at the bar. Basically this was pretty crap walking and not the triumphant last day of a righteous pilgrimage!
At about 11.00 am I thought I was dying - I am not even kidding you people, I really thought I was actually dying! One minute I was walking along in blazing sunshine and the next the sky started to go dark, then very dark and then finally, pretty much pitch black - this in the middle of the day! I stood there, terrified, listening to the dogs barking all around me and the owls hooting and thought "oh my g=God - this is it!" Then, through the gloom, I saw the grim reaper marching towards me, except instead of a dark cloak and a big scythe, this one was wearing a backpack and carrying a stick. As he came closer, a familiar voice shouted "Eclipse eh, is magnifique!!!"
Ok, now this was a bit more than I was bargaining on today, chomping along through the endless Spanish countryside and the big man in the sky decides to send an eclipse on my final day just to give me a kick in the ass! Low and behold, the sky began to get brighter, the dogs stopped howling and the world returned to normal. It may sound a little dramatic reading this now, but if you are tired, hungry, emotional and just looking to get finished, an unexpected natural event such as an eclipse can pretty much mess up your day in a big way! If you think I am making this up, check the Internet!
About 12 kms out from Santiago I stopped to wait for Larry and Donal and, when they caught up (I had left 2 hours before them) we walked together into Santiago. When I saw the city for the first time I should have been uplifted, elated and recharged. In reality, I really didn't care at that point! After 34 kms and the prospect of 6 more traipsing through a major city's suburbs, I just felt numb. My feet burned with the intensity of a large fire and I could see that Larry and Donal were in the same boat! In truth it was a stupid idea to try and walk this day and it was made worse by the fact that nobody had heard from the old man, who we all hoped had had the sense to get in a taxi!
We trudged on in silence as the old lady threw a few last hills at us, both up and down, just to see if we really wanted to get to Santiago or if we were just messing! By the time we got to the cathedral, we were spent. I am not talking about the "wow, I'm shattered, let’s go and get a beer and talk about the fat German chick who fell on her ass today" kind of tired! I am talking about the thousand yard stare kind of tired, the kind of tired that means that you have to manually tell your body how to move kind of tired. In truth, it was a bit of a let down as we had walked all this way to arrive in a place that nobody was interested and due to the overwhelming desire to find a bed and somewhere to eat. We got our certificates from the Bishops office, confirming for all the world that we were bloody fools for walking all that way from Roncesvalles, and then went off to find the hotel I had booked.
The Palacio Del Carmen is a 5 star hotel and the difference between that and the refugios is so enormous that we just stood in the lobby like people staring at the first alien landing! The rooms, for 2 people, were as big as some of the dormitories that had held 40 people and, when I saw the swimming pool, I just took my boots off and fell in fully clothed.
I don't speak Spanish so I was quite happy to let the irate Spanish pool attendant shout at me from the side as I floated about in my soiled attire. The only negative side to this moment of bliss was that we had still not heard anything from the old man and I was getting concerned and feeling not just a little guilty. "Come out and do 100 kms in 5 days Dad, it'll be easy as there are no hills now!" Instead we had done 110 kms in 4 days, over rough terrain, which had pretty much broken the fit people who were walking, let alone someone who barely gets up to walk the dog! When he finally arrived, much to the relief of me and my mother, my father was not looking his personal best.
In true Dad fashion, the old man had decided that he was buggered if he was going to take a taxi and let the side down - so he walked the whole way. Along the way he ran out of water, met a couple of nuns, witnessed the eclipse in the same manner as me and near as damn it broke himself. In a particularly strong gust of wind he was unfortunate enough to be standing under a chestnut tree and got pelted by the viciously spiky fruits plummeting to earth! All I can say is that I am impressed, we all were, by the way he carried on and finished.
The doctor, who we called to his room to look at his wounds, was horrified that he had walked on those heels and prescribed all sorts of medication which the old man will, no doubt, refuse to take! There is nothing else to say except well done Dad, well done!
The Camino for me has been an amazing experience, and one that I will never forget. It has been hard for me, both mentally and physically, and it will take a little time to recover from my wounds on my feet - clients will have to get used to me in flip-flops for a while! I know that my excess weight had a lot to do with the physical hardships I have suffered - to put it into perspective, Donal, Larry and both their bags weigh only 2 KILOGRAMS more than myself and my bag. I know I have nobody but myself to blame for this, but it has made the challenges of hauling my carcass around the old ladies pathways greater than they are for some.
Mentally it has also been difficult to adapt from the "champagne" lifestyle to sleeping in flea infested dormitories with 100 other snoring, unwashed bodies. That having been said, I wouldn't have changed it for all the world as I feel a massive sense of satisfaction and achievement as I sit here right now. My intention is to come and do the Camino again next year, including the Burgos to Leon section, and I would like to invite anyone who has been interested in these journals to talk to me about joining the party.
My other plan for next year, in conjunction with Larry, Alain, Donal and Dominique, is to do Kilimanjaro (not sure about the spelling there) - I think I may have caught the adventure bug!
I would recommend the Camino to anyone who is looking to spend time away from their normal lives to reflect and contemplate on who they are and what they are doing. I know that when I return to England on Wednesday I will be a more focused and hopefully more balanced person for having done this.
To all the people who have supported me I would like to say a huge thank you. All the e-mails and messages have been really appreciated and have helped me to get through some of the days when I just wanted to quit.
And so, for the last time....
Adios Los Amigos and Buen Camino.
The next morning Donal and I lounged around as usual and left at 8:30. When I went in to see if James was up and ready to go, at about 8:00, I found they were already gone. We passed a supermercado that was open and breakfast, a peach, banana, chocolate bar and water, was devoured on the walk. Our information showed Santiago 40K, about 10 more than my feet really liked.
That day the Camino would have felt like a roller coaster, if we’d been able to go fast enough. It was up hills and down the other side, then up again, followed by another down all the way to to the outskirts of Santiago. At one point Donal and I caught up with a man from Belgium, not the same one we’d seen a few days earlier. He was the only walker we found who could handle the pace for more than an hour or so. He walked the rest of the way to Santiago with us.
He told me that he had to get on the plane the next morning to return home and then go to work the day after. He’d been on the Camino for months and had something around 2400K behind him. He had almost run out of money and was 40 euro short for his return airplane ticket. He said he was going to panhandle when he got to Santiago so he could fly home. I told him we’d probably be able to work something out. When we got to Santiago we each gave him 10 euro. His ticket was now a reality, if he wanted to eat before leaving town, that was another story.
The scenery wasn’t anything to write home about, even though I did. Not much to see except eucalyptus trees. I ran out of water twice, later Graham said he’d run out of water too. My first experience was remedied with finding water in a bar down a side road from the Camino and buying a bottle. James’ dad’s experience was somewhat different. He went into a bar where he met a couple of very plump nuns who were walking the Camino; only the last day to Santiago. They weren’t dressed or shod for the occasion. When he saw them they were about 1/2 way to Santiago, were beat and thinking about taking a bus. After having something to drink and getting some water, he left. My second experience was, walking the last 8K without anything to drink. I could have gotten some water from Donal or James but it was my responsibility, not theirs.
We caught up with James who was sitting in a covered arbor in the front of an older, well kept farmhouse. The lady was brining him a coke and some figs when we walked up. The 3 of us, including the man from Belgium, ate figs, drank Coke and took a break with James. After a few minutes, the 4 of us headed toward the west and Santiago. James had been there for some time, I think it was his 2nd Coke and bowl of figs, and we would probably have been hard pressed to catch him if he hadn’t waited.
It appeared that within a radius of about 10K of Santiago, the lady where James had stopped was beyond that distance, everyone went to town to get what they needed. We didn’t see any places in the last 10K to get water, food, etc. It also seemed that within that radius the people were tourist saturated. They weren’t very friendly and seemed annoyed when asked directions.
Donal and I had passed Graham a long time before we saw James, and Graham looked like he might not make the distance. When we came up from behind he was limping along. I wondered if taking the bandages off a few nights before had been a good idea, but we all have to make those decisions for ourselves.
Inside the 10K radius we passed by the airport, which seemed to take a very long time. Maybe it was just the noise of planes that made it seem that way. When we entered Santiago at 15:00, it took even longer to get to the place where they stamped your book and gave you a certificate showing you’d completed the walk. During our search for the church, I mentioned more than once that maybe it didn’t really exist.
The walk through town was not only long, it was an exercise in staying alive. Traffic was crazy, the streets were crowded with expressionless faces and pedestrians were moving targets in a big moving game. A game, in part, to see who could raise the blood pressure of the other the most, the driver or the pedestrian. There were a few yellow arrows to tell one which direction to go and, if my memory is correct, most were where there was no crosswalk. Crosswalks didn’t seem to matter to the local pedestrians but being a statistic before I got to my destination wasn’t what I wanted to be.
Some of the drivers were more determined to make it a bad hair day for any 2 legged thing that passed in front of them, one lady in particular. She wanted the crosswalk when she arrived, no matter that the walk sign was on. She bumped right into a couple of people in front of me and when I gave her a startled look she flipped me off and drove right on by. It’s hard to argue with a 3000# car and too easy to be dead right.
We found when we got to the check-in room that if you started before Leon you got one kind certificate and if you started at Leon or after you got another. If you checked the form in the box ” religious journey”, you got a different one than if you checked one of the other boxes. I got the long haul form but I’m not sure what other box I checked and I don’t know because James took my certificate to London. When I went to London we were always somewhere else when I thought about the certificate, James had it somewhere at work. My dark glasses are in Paris and my certificate is in London, at least my lost and found has an international flavor to it.
Since we didn’t know where we were going after getting our certificates, we took a taxi to the hotel where James had reserved 2 rooms. We went down side streets, made a few pedestrians jump, ran a couple of yellow to red lights and after about 15 minutes pulled up in front of the hotel. I told James I, for one, was glad we’d taken a taxi because I hadn’t wanted to walk that far. Later we found it’s only about 5 blocks from check-in to the hotel if you don’t have a meter running. It was a good idea to make reservations on the internet because we looked like less than what most people are used to seeing in the lobby of a 5 star hotel.
Some time prior, 2 nights before we had gotten to Burgos, we had made friends with a Catholic priest who was doing the Camino. When we were sitting in the plaza in Burgos Father Tony joined us at our table. In the conversation he told us that he had called around Burgos and found hotels with vacancies. When he went to check in to 3 of the hotels in person, as soon as they saw that he was carrying a backpack and obviously on the Camino, they turned him down. He reserved the 4th over the phone and checked in while they looked down their noses at him but couldn’t do anything about it.
In Santiago we didn’t have that problem at the hotel but would see it in action later that evening.
Tags: Camino , Spain , Trekking , Pilgrimage , Hiking
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