El Camino de Santiago: The Final Chapter

Well, we made it. That’s right, we actually went ahead and walked 790-some kilometres from France to Santiago de Compostela while carrying all our possessions on our back and (mostly) sleeping in creaky bunk beds surrounded by many other less-than-fresh Camino pilgrims. For fun. Or so we told ourselves. No, actually we really enjoyed it, certain moments here and there excepted, and in the scheme of things we had really good weather. Even though it predictably began raining about an hour after I posted that last fate-tempting blog entry going on and on about how rough it was that we went and bought all that rain gear only to have it continue on frustratingly dry and sunny all the time after that. Guess we had that coming. So our last four or five days were spent glumly trudging through steady drizzle and intermittent downpours alternately dreaming of a not so distant future which would see us indoors or travelling by (gasp) vehicle like normal people, and vaguely dreading the looming spectre of a life of decisions, unfamiliar situations and dry feet.

Symbolic

Symbolic

With the end in sight we finally felt a sense of urgency while at the same time wondering just how we were going to break the habit of eating five meals and three desserts per day once we were no longer hiking for eight hours. We embarked on a few longer days in hopes of making up some of the time lost “resting” and “recuperating” earlier this month, creating both a growing sense of urgency and stubbornly persisting leg, foot and enthusiasm soreness. Our clothes were starting to grow things and my shoes were hanging on by a thread – literally, in the case of my nearly completely torn lace, and figuratively, in the case of soles that were worn clean through in places, making puddle jumping less fun than oblivious children make it out to be and leading to me using highly unrecommended volumes of super-glue as both a standard adhesive and, it turns out, a highly ineffective form of waterproof caulking.

Nonetheless, we successfully completed our chosen route, strolling up to the Santiago cathedral, reputed resting place of St. James’ dusty old bones, giddy and triumphant 35 days after setting out into the darkness of the French-Spanish border apprehensive and clean. In fact, everything fell into place almost like a Hollywood script, the elusive sun making a brief but invigorating appearance just in time for the arrival of our ecstatic group of seven who had all travelled together at different times throughout but that morning only found ourselves gathered rather coincidentally along the way via fortuitous open windows, conveniently shared head lamps and strictly enforced cohabitation.

Autumn is upon us...

Autumn is upon us…

As people were always fond of saying (at least when they weren’t struggling with foot pain, forcing down practically inedible bread or squeezing their head with a pillow to drown out nearby snoring) “the Camino provides” and we saw enough examples to believe there was at least some truth to that. Or that when people need things they go find them, and pay for them with a universally accepted form of currency, often at borderline extortionate rates. But a fine example took place late last week, when I spent a number of days boring anyone who would listen (a rapidly dwindling number I found) with talk of the big Arsenal-Manchester United game on Saturday, and how I would really love to see it, and that despite having encountered basically no “sports bars” in the small towns in northern Spain, and exactly zero English Premier Leagues games, that I would just need to stop off for lunch at a pub that had the game on. Ha ha, people laughed at first. Ha ha, in a more fake manner, they laughed later. Hmph, they grunted by Friday. Then there we were, sitting in this tiny rural bar in a tiny rural village nowhere near anything except excitable dogs and cow shit, only in that particular one at all because we bypassed the first to see if one of our friends was in the second, which she wasn’t, but still, we had to eat, you know, and there I am, just choking down the last remnants of a rather greasy and appalling cheese and breakfast sausage bocadillo, completely at a loss as to why the first 44 times in 5 weeks that I ordered a salami and cheese bocadillo they were terrific, and now the 45thtime I suddenly ended up with this abomination, when suddenly I overhear the word “Arsenal”, I look up and lo and behold, the game is about to start.

Morning Moon Over O Cebreiro

Morning Moon Over O Cebreiro

Right there, on the wall, directly in front of my table, in, um, honestly I cannot even remember the name of the town. I think it started with an E and had some unusually placed j’s. Either way, the result was that I got to watch the game, Laynni and Madeline ditched me, Arsenal got thoroughly manhandled, I drank an inadvisable number of beers and the last hour of hiking simply flew by in a dizzying array of weird thoughts and drunken mumbling. The Camino provides, indeed.

Anyway, back to our big entrance. We arrived at the Cathedral, took a bunch of weird photos, laughed a lot, hugged each other a lot for no discernible reason, went and got our Compostelas at the Pilgrim Office (an official certificate stating we had completed it and were now entitled to all sorts of spiritual perks, like half off our time in purgatory, priority enlistment at Catholic schools in the greater Santiago area and thirty seconds alone to do anything you want to the strangely lifelike statue of St. James inside the Cathedral), then attended Pilgrim’s Mass, an otherwise normal Catholic mass, the difference being that they announce the nationalities of arriving pilgrims and where they started, and that the pews were randomly littered with filthy backpacks and the musty odour of damp merino wool, where we revelled in our accomplishment for about 5 minutes and struggled to keep our eyes open for the next 40. After that it was a night of debauchery, pasta and draft beer, a foggy and confusing route home through the maze-like streets of the old town, a wonderful chance to sleep in past 8 am, then emerging into the world groggy and disconcerted by our sudden lack of purpose, and the fact I was finally had more than 2 pair of underwear to choose from. Periodic bouts of moaning, some errands, a bit more moaning, some Ibuprofen, a long string of sad goodbyes, one last moan, some hair of the dog, escalating spirits, another great sleep in a real hotel and voila, here we are in Porto, Portugal, afraid to leave the room and feeling really weird about ignoring my hiking shoes all day.

The Final Leg

The Final Leg

Now to wrap up with a brief list of things we learned along the Way, things there were more of than we expected, others that were less prevalent than we’d assumed and some of those rare things that met our expectations just perfectly.

More

Blisters

Fewer

Travel beards

Just the right amount of

Bed bugs, meaning almost everyone but us

More

Bocadillos (with gum cutting bread technology) and ice cream

Fewer

Snickers

Just the right amount of

Beer

Galicia

Galicia


More

Camino romances (surprising considering the logistics of dorm life, almost constant pain and highly questionable hygiene)

Less

Farting in the night (a dietary thing?)

Just the right amount of

Camino romance pregnancy rumours (i.e. one)


More

Lisping Spanish c’s (as in much-ath gra-thi-uth)

Fewer

People that spoke even a semblance of Spanish

Just the right amount of

Me pretending to understand things I clearly did not

The Hunchback of Santiago

The Hunchback of Santiago

More

Social interaction

Fewer

Religious pilgrims

Just the right amount of

French children (any less you’d lose that background hum, any more and you’d have to let some of them out of the basement)


More

Communal

Fewer

Sleepless nights

Just the right amount of

Snoring (fun to complain about but not so bad you couldn’t sleep)

Clinging to a tiny bit of my own space

Clinging to a tiny bit of my own space


More

Germans

Fewer

Israelis (the Catholic slant may make this one seem obvious but, on the other hand, the logistics of the route – affordable lodging, dodgy bunk beds, plenty of places to cook up cheap pasta dishes – meant we couldn’t rule it out)

Just the right amount of

Spaniards in lewd hiking tights


More

Physically challenging

Less

Backtracking and getting lost

Just the right amount of

Self-righteousness

Some small timing issues

Some small timing issues


More

Complaining about the Brierly guidebook

Fewer

People actually deviating from the Brierly guidebook

Just the right amount of

People deriding the guidebook then borrowing one


More

Variety of hiking terrain

Fewer

Photos of Laynni pointing at stuff

Just the right amount of

Quaint little churches

See, a quaint little church

See, a quaint little church


More

Cows / cow shit / people whose lives revolve around cows

Fewer

People in the towns (especially during siesta)

Just the right amount of

Sexually deviant Irishmen


More

Women carrying makeup

Fewer

Hangovers

Just the right amount of

Injuries (sympathetic but not incapacitating, funny to talk about but not side splitting like shots to the groin)

Two Peas in a Forest

Two Peas in a Forest


More

Below freezing mornings

Fewer

Jackets owned by me that are, in fact, waterproof

Just the right amount of

Rain (5 or 6 days) and snow (none)


More

Mosquitoes (considering temperatures toward the end ranged from 0 to 10 celsius)

Fewer

Cockroaches (just the one Melinda was carrying around in her fanny pack)

Just the right amount of

Dead salamanders (you’d think they’d see winter coming and get the hell inside)

One Frosty Morn

One Frosty Morn


More

Dramatic mood swings

Less

Actual quitting

Just the right amount of

People abusing their backpacks in deep-seated hatred


More

Disgusting tissues discarded near bushes by ecologically insensitive female urinators

Fewer

Timer-operated bathroom lights that actually stayed on long enough for you to finish

Just the right amount of

Discarded tampons on the trail (at least for me, one was enough)

Well, don't you all look jaunty?

Well, don’t you all look jaunty?

 

More

Seriously taken siestas

Fewer

Naps (the long days toward the end messed with our whole routine)

Just the right amount of

Erotic yawning


More

Good friendships

Fewer

Sheens and Estevezes

Just the right amount of

Bitter enemies (really just the guy who smelled like old salami, and the Brazilians)

All right then, it appears to be THAT way

All right then, it appears to be THAT way

 

More

Hugging

Less

Spitting

Just the right amount of

Scratching


More

Older women

Fewer

Super-Hikers

Just the right amount of

Old perverts (on the other hand, I don’t know, is 40 really so old?)

A-hiking we will go, a-hiking we will go

A-hiking we will go, a-hiking we will go


More

Time spent barefoot in restaurants

Less

Time watching CSI Miami open with a scene resembling soft core porn

Just the right amount of

Time spent administering to blisters

So there you have it. El Camino de Santiago – in the books! I think the hardest part is going to be walking away from all the great people we met, hiked with, drank with, slept with (well, near), celebrated with and commiserated with for the past month plus. Gonna miss you all, but I’m also looking forward to regaining a little mystery regarding things such as the condition of your feet, how you react to bug bites or the way your breathing sounds at night after a few too many… Good luck to all!

We are now looking forward to some serious relaxation on Madeira and a point sometime in the future when our feet will finally decide to forgive us.

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