Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day Twelve: SANTIAGO !!!

Okay -- let us start at the beginning. 

Day Eleven: We started our morning in Caldas de Reis; if you remember, the evening before we had gone to the hot springs and ate dinner with our usual pilgrim clan and then went back to our albergue to get some sleep, because the next day we were pushing to do about 28 kilometers (17.5 ish miles) so that the next day we would only be about fifteen kilometers from Santiago. Which should have been today. Should have been ... 

As planned, we got up early and started walking. Collie joined us, and in no time at all we were six kilometers in and eating breakfast. (Ronni, Itamal, and Katia were staying in Padron, only 18 kilometers, so they left a little later). Collie is such a quick walker; CJ and I prefer a steady pace -- it isn't a race, and we like to take in the sites; so within a few kilometers of breakfast, Collie was out of site. We figured we would see him in Teo (our destination for the night) and didn't worry too much. 

By a little after noon we were in Padron, a total of eighteen kilometers so far. As we were entering the city, maybe about a kilometer away, we were passing a big gymnasium looking building when we heard musical instruments tuning ... and then they began to play -- "I've paid my dues ... time after time ... I've paid my sentence, but committed no crime ..." That's right; we entered the city to Queen's We Are the Champions. I think every city should play theme music as the pilgrims enter! haha When we arrived in Padron went into the church to pray for a while before getting lunch; they were getting ready to start a baptism, so we didn't have a lot of time. Sometimes I forget that these beautiful churches are not only places for pilgrims to come and worship, but also functioning parishes that many call their faith home. By this time it was about one; we told ourselves we could have an hour for lunch and then had to get moving: for one it was another almost eleven kilometers to go, and for two it was starting to look like it might storm. 

We had a really wonderful walk; I like walking with other pilgrims, but sometimes it is nice to just walk without the pressure of conversation. CJ and I talk quite a bit as we walk, but we also enjoy each other in silence. The trails were a little hilly, but nothing that we couldn't handle. Most of the trails today were forest paths, which are my favorite -- lots of lush green paths with tree trunks and boulders covered in moss, the dirt damp and fragrant, the water running down in little streams off the mountain into bigger streams leading to the river; just beautiful. We happened across a lot of animals today: sheep and goats and horses, chickens and baby ducks, and a beagle farm. Everything was really wonderful. 

About five kilometers from Teo, it began to drizzle. And then sprinkle. And then downpour. Dripping and squishing, we continued on. I have no idea why, but it is much easier to climb hills in the rain (probably because instead of thinking about the hill you are thinking about the water pelting your face). It was a little before Teo that I started to get a feeling that something wasn't right. The town wasn't as big as the guidebook made it seem. And there weren't two public albergues, there was one private and one public albergue -- the difference being that the private albergues allow reservations. We knew we were ahead of many pilgrims, because we had passed them on the trail and chatted with them as we went ... but many of them told us they had reservations at a private place. I figured we would be fine because there were two public albergues. But there weren't. And we were not fine. 

When we arrived at the public albergue, dripping and tired, at a little after four, we were met with sad faces from fellow pilgrims. The albergue was full; they wouldn't allow bed sharing (which many pilgrims offered to us) and they wouldn't allow us to sleep on the floor. All they could suggest is that we take a taxi to Santiago fifteen kilometers away and find accommodation there. 

A taxi? A TAXI?! We didn't walk over 250 kilometers to spend the last fifteen in a stupid taxi! As we contemplated our options, another pilgrim arrived: Josie from Germany. She too had started in Caldas de Reis that morning and was just as wet and tired as we; and her face was just as broken when she found out the albergue was full. Though we had many options, there was only one option in our minds: we would walk to Santiago. 

Collie tried to talk us out of it -- but once I have a goal, I'm a little stubborn. Of course if I had for a moment thought anything other than our feet were in danger or that the storm would turn into something more sinister or the temperatures would drop I would have conceded, but this was not a time to give up; it was a time to step up. And so we did. A little reluctantly at first, but in the end just as determined as we, we pulled Josie up with us. Before leaving Teo we had cafe con leche and dinner with Collie (who had a bed in the albergue for the night). Equipped with our rain gear, the number for the taxi (just in case) and more determination than ever before, we set out for Santiago. 

If I told you the walk was easy I would be lying. The rain was coming down in buckets, and it was chilly. It was already nearly six in the evening when we started out, and we had already walked a total of thirty one kilometers. We stopped twice: once in a covered bus stop to check the guidebook and make sure we're were in the right track, and once at a cafe to get some warm drinks and use the bathrooms. For the last five kilometer or so, all the kilometer marker stones among the path had the kilometers removed; so though they pointed us in the right direction, we didn't know how close we were. (The saying from TEC: "don't anticipate, participate" came into mind here -- don't count down the kilometers; live through each one and appreciate it for what it is.) 

Just a little shy of one kilometer before the cathedral, within the city of Santiago, we saw a tall hotel that read "Pilgrim's Hotel" -- like a beacon drawing us in. Soaked, shivering, and bending under the weight of our packs, at 11:15 pm, we marched into the lobby of the hotel; and all the pilgrims sitting within stood and applauded. I could have cried. We did it. Forty six kilometers (that's 66,744 steps, 28.6 miles) in the rain, in the mud, in the dark, we did it. I could not have been prouder of us. Any of us. Crazy pilgrims? Maybe. But Santiago never looked so beautiful. 

And that is how instead of walking fifteen kilometers into Santiago this morning we walked all of one kilometer straight to the square of the cathedral and rejoiced in our arrival. The lady in the pilgrim office who gave me my Compostela asked me if I had traveled alone -- with my fianc√©, I told her. Her face lit up: oh, she said; if the two of you can survive a Camino together, I think your marriage will withstand anything. And I know she is right. My first Camino was about finding myself; this Camino was about finding ourselves. It was about learning to look at life as a we instead of a me; about learning how we work as a team and how to comfort and encourage each other when we are struggling; about figuring out how to compromise and bring out the best in each other. I really don't know what I did to deserve the blessings I've received, but I am forever grateful. 

After we did our victory dance in front of the cathedral, we went to find a place to stay for the night (even though it was barely ten o'clock -- we were taking zero chances). Though the hostel we chose was a little pricy (25 euros / night) we think we earned it. We dropped off our packs, ate a quick breakfast, and headed to the main event: the pilgrims mass. 

The cathedral is always packed for the pilgrim mass, so CJ and I were super lucky to find a seat. The readings at mass this morning could not have been more perfect: "and we boast in the hope of the glory of God; not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" Only the pilgrims glory in our sufferings; and it fills us with hope and perseverance -- and a whole lot of character! At the end of mass comes the moment that all pilgrims await: the swinging of the Thurber. The pipe organ blares and the aroma of the incense fills the cathedral. The Thurber swings slowly at first, then it jumps to life and falls into a steady, rather large arcing swing throughout the rafters of the cathedral. It is an event that is not done justice by words; you must experience it in person. 

After mass was over, we met Collie in the square and went down to the pilgrim office to get our Compostelas. Lunch and a little look around the souvenir shops came next; and then finally the last three of our little pilgrim posse arrived in Santiago (remember they had walked the twenty five kilometers from Padron this morning). Hugs and pictures followed -- and then everyone went back to their designated hostel for a much needed nap. We all met for dinner around ten pm and celebrated our journey, friendship, and arrival. 

And now it is after one am and I am completely exhausted. But good exhausted. Content exhausted. I'd be lying if I said my feet weren't sore. Or that I wasn't nursing a wicked cold. But my heart is so happy that nothing else matters. 

A few picture ... 

I know I shares this one yesterday, but it is worth repeating: cold and wet and triumphant. 

We made it!!! Our first photo at the cathedral, still in our packs. I love that we have this memory to share. 

Our Spanish friend made it, too! 

Waiting for mass to start -- we look a little rough, but hey: we're pilgrims! 

Ahhhhhhh!!!! We did it!!! Compostelas at the pilgrim office. Also: they gave us our credentials for our next Camino. That's right; there will be a next. ❤️

Happy feet!! 

The gang's all here!! Representing Portugal, Ireland, Israel, and the United States. 

More pictures to come tomorrow of the cathedral and Santiago -- but for now it is time to sleep the restful, blissful sleep of a pilgrim who has completed her pilgrimage. 

Buen Camino. 

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