Yesterday morning I woke up late, around 7am, packed my backpack for the 33rd time, walked up to the top of Monte del Gozo to eat an orange and watch the sun come up behind me, then meandered down toward Santiago, my long-anticipated final destination. The entire walk, I just kept thinking to myself how surreal it was that I had walked almost 500 miles with all my necessary belongings strapped to my back. That I had overcome my fears and doubts as to whether or not I could finish this thing. But most of all, it struck me as odd that the entire walk just felt so easy to me. All I really had to focus on, for these 33 days, was making sure my body was nourished, that I had shelter, and that the blisters on my feet weren’t preventing me from walking an average of 15 miles per day. That is actually pretty straightforward. I wasn’t worried about work, or dealing with MTA subway delays, or checking my makeup in the mirror before leaving to meet friends, or wondering if he would text me back. My only responsibility was basically to… survive. To wake up every day and willingly transport myself via my legs to the next place I would rest, eat and sleep, and start all over again. So those last five kilometers were, in a way, terrifying to me.
As if God, or the Camino, or the Universe or (insert your choice here) knew that I had self-doubts at this moment, an adorable young whiteish/gray cat joined me on the trail. He ran up to me and gave me a loud purr as he drifted around my legs and seemed to smile. I was a fan of his flea collar so I didn’t have to worry about any more bug bites. I pet him for a few moments and then knew it was time to go on my way, but he chose to join me for a few blocks. It was so adorable. This cat kept running ahead, then stretching on or scratching a tree, I would walk past him and then he’d run to catch up to me. An RV drove by me and honked as if to say, “Wow, you walked the Camino with your cat!?” It really did look like I was taking my cat for a walk. I got to the edge of the block and he held back, almost like he knew it was the edge of his neighborhood and that he was forbidden to continue with me. It was such a sweet moment that I needed. I started to meander closer into the city, and I went around a bend in the road and was greeted by the most spectacular rainbow that stretched from one end of the horizon to the other, a giant colorful arc over Santiago. For a split second, I could not believe this rainbow. The colors were so bright, in technicolor with little bits of a double rainbow at the edges. It felt too good to be true. Was the Camino just screwing with me? Was this my epiphany moment? In the movie version of my story, is this when the Hollywood starlet wipes a tear from her eye and the soundtrack swells and the audience loses it? Is this when my ex suddenly calls me and says, “I miss you. I was wrong to end it. I need you back in my life.”? Is this when I suddenly know how to fund a one million dollar sustainable brewery/cafe/ bakery/concert venue/community garden/educational center/hang out spot in Northern California? Maybe this is when I know how the heck to structure this book? Nope. None of the above. But I did cry pretty hard. Motherfucking rainbows.
I started to get closer into town and began to spot other pilgrims who were happily walking around, holding the little red cardboard tubes containing their “Compostelas,” the little certificate proclaiming that one has successfully completed their Camino. As I made my way into the old town, my breaths were getting shorter and shorter and I was almost unable to inhale when I saw my first glimpse of the Cathedral. Through a winding passageway and under a tunnel, and the sounds of a street busker’s hammered dulcimer almost set me into an emotional frenzy that I was unable to identify. Was I sad? Happy? No idea. When I finally walked into Praza do Obradoiro, where all the Caminos converge, I was almost emotionless. I just walked into the center of the plaza, took off my pack, sat down and stared up at the Cathedral. (Damn thing is covered in scaffolding by the way. Kind of like the Camino is laughing at you with that curveball.) I heard a few people shout my name across the plaza then come running over to give me hug. “You did it! Good job!” Weird that I couldn’t even really congratulate myself. I managed to force myself to take a photo but it still felt like a weird dream, like I couldn’t really be done with this yet.
So I wandered over to my hotel to check in, met up with Special K, and walked into the Cathedral about an hour before mass to get a good seat and to ask if I could sing Schubert’s Ave Maria. They already had a choir lined up for the main pilgrim’s mass at noon, but the service was lovely and we were able to see the Botafumeiro swinging frankincense back and forth across the crowded cathedral, powered by about 6 cloaked men. And after the service, a couple of the nuns were happy to confirm that I was to sing during communion of the 1:15pm mass. So I sang! That was crazy. I had the sheet music on my phone just to make sure I didn’t mess up any holy words, so I nestled the phone into my red Writer’s Work journal so it looked like a songbook. It felt amazing to use my full voice, with no microphone, and to hear it resonating throughout the cathedral. That was my version of worship to Saint James and to the Camino. It felt even better that this was not a pilgrim’s mass – I recognized only one other person in the Cathedral while I sang. It was a moment between me and God. Or the Camino or the Universe or (insert your choice here).
The afternoon was punctuated with a steak shared with Special K, some tapas and some Belgian beer. (I have had enough Spanish lager and vino tinto.) To bed early because I’m still a peregrina and can’t quite get on Spanish social time just yet.
And then this morning. Oof.
What is it like to wake up for the first day in 34 days with nothing to do, no responsibilities, nowhere to walk to? For me, not good. I woke up extremely depressed, felt shaky, sick, overwhelmed, purposeless. Special K was leaving for Finisterre, so we met for breakfast and I walked the first kilometer or so with him. I made my way back to my hotel by way of the beautiful park here in Santiago, but I just felt so… off. I came back and crawled into bed and felt a fever taking over me, the stomach queasy and nothing really feeling right. I suppose my body was just allowing itself to fold after being powered by adrenaline for the last 33 days. Not good. I managed to get out for a coffee with an acquaintance from NYC who now lives here and it was awesome to chat with her and get a few tips about the city. But back to my hotel and back to feeling like shit. I hope that I can shake this by tomorrow because I’m not liking this whatsoever.
I can see how people can get lost in doing the various Caminos over and over again. I have met so many people along the way who told me that they had done one and just keep going. That they retired and just sold all their crap and were just Camino-ing on repeat. I heard of one guy who was walking his thirteenth Camino and hoping he would “find a wife” by the end. And then I remembered an old man I had spotted on day six or seven who was walking with his donkey – and I was told by some others that he had been doing the Camino for decades. Is this what happens? Did all these Camino junkies wake up depressed after their first Camino, as I did today, and then decide to just keep walking? Are they all going to realize one day, years from now, in a sudden lucid moment, that they have become that old man with the donkey? I am completely aware that these last 33 days of walking, while physically and mentally demanding, have also been a total escape from my real life fears, ambitions, concerns, wants, joys, friends and family. And I want to go back to that. But it scares the shit out of me. So be gentle with me.
My Dad was due to arrive tonight to Santiago so we could explore the city together tomorrow and leave on Wednesday morning for our five day walk to the coast (Finisterre and Muxia), but his flight was “delayed” by two days and so he now arrives Wednesday morning. The plan is to still leave that day for our first day of walking – I just hope he gets enough rest on the way to Spain to feel good enough for 20 kilometers. So I am stuck with myself for two more nights. I am just hoping this sickness/anxiety/depression will get out of me by tomorrow morning so I can feel a little more positive. I have still not really processed that I completed the Camino Francés, and I could use a bit of confidence and pride right now. In the meantime, I have Spanish dubbed Spongebob Squarepants, a cozy blanket, and the space heater that the hotel owner rolled into my room when I told her I was freezing. Fever? Not sure. Okay, wish me luck.
Thank you so much to my Day 33 sponsors! Kyle H. of Big Alice picked 33 as it was also a special year for him. Kyle has been a huge help in boosting my brewing confidence. I’m thankful for his help as a mentor and for his support on the Camino! And thank you to William F., a friend of my Dad’s, for his support of this day!
And thanks to… probably my biggest supporter, biggest hero, biggest influence and loudest cheerleader: my Mom, Linda H. Mom, I could not have even begun to contemplate doing this if I hadn’t called you that Wednesday morning with tears in my eyes, hiding in an empty office at work, telling you that I had this crazy idea to fly to Paris and walk the Camino de Santiago a few days later. It felt like the dumbest thing in the world to say to you. What kind of rational person suffering from mild depression who has just been dumped by someone she really really likes thinks it is a good idea to do an extreme hike across Spain with no training or properly waterproofed hiking boots? I was pretty sure you would say that it was a rash, silly idea. But you reminded me that if I wrote every day and documented my emotions and thoughts and feelings, to apply them to something positive and to chose to change my life, that you would support me 100%. And you have. You and Dad have been the most incredible parents a girl with a wild idea could dream of. Thank you from the bottom of heart.