To Finisterre: Onwards and Upwards.

To say that the few days after I finished my Camino in Santiago were a “bummer” would be an understatement.

I don’t know about you, but extreme nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loneliness, lack of purpose, and your Dad’s flight being delayed by 56 hours (let’s face it, Norwegian Air, that’s a cancellation) is more than a bummer. I felt severely depressed. Like, what the hell was I thinking trying to do this Camino thing start a blog thing write a book depressed. At one point, in between desperate attempts to do basic tasks like laundry and buying Bimbo ‘tostas’ (the only food I could stomach), I thought about writing a blog about how badly I felt… but quickly I shunned myself for the thought. How could I deprive my blogosphere audience of the effortlessly effervescent, consistently positive and adventurous Ashley? The girl who so bravely left all commitments to walk 500 miles? How could that girl feel down in the dumps? She is supposed to lift us up out of our mundane Friday afternoon as we watch the minutes tick off the clock so we can rush home to pour a glass of wine and watch Stranger Things 2! (Ugh, so good, right?)

Guess what. You already know. Everybody feels down, sad, bad, shitty, awful sometimes. Downright depressed and hopeless at times. And I couldn’t believe it, but I felt AWFUL for three days. Part of me was feeling so lost and bewildered that my Camino from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela was completed… and part of me was just sick as a dog, with no one to provide any sense of care. At one point, I was in line at the market in town, desperately waiting my turn to pay for soda, a banana, rice cakes, jam packets and tostas (my best attempt at “BRAT”, as recommended by my brother, Kyle), and I realized suddenly that I might pass out. I had a thought that quickly came through me, “Ashley, don’t be dramatic. Don’t pass out in line in front of all these hard-working Spaniards at the tail-end of their Siesta.” Seriously, I told myself not to be dramatic. But I realized it was beyond my control, and I grabbed onto the side of the register with cold clammy hands, hunched over as the Abuela in front of me slowly counted her coins to pay. I could hardly bear anything and was moments away from falling down, or throwing up, or shitting my pants, or running out of the store into the cool air. Instead I repeated in my head, “Don’t be dramatic.” And I barely heard the cashier (whose name-tag I weirdly remember reading as “Elizabeth”) ask me if I was sick. At least, that’s what I think she said – I heard ‘something something male’ – and I nodded, cold sweat dripping off of me as I removed articles of clothing that I had accumulated during an afternoon of being freezing cold. “Si. Yes. Male.” I could barely lift my head, and held out a fistful of coins with a crumpled five euro note. She took the money out of my hand and I ran out of the store, into the plaza, plopping down on the side of the fountain and cracking open a limón Fanta. I don’t think I had eaten anything in a day and a half and suddenly my body was unable to function. Funny how that happens.

So yeah. It’s pretty easy for your depression to spin into all out desperate loneliness when you feel like you’re on the verge of passing out and you become aware that it’s pretty visibly distressing to strangers, and yet.. no one tries to help you. That felt pretty shitty.

It’s no surprise that I was anxious for my Dad to arrive so we could begin the walk to the Coast. I was also so ready for the stomach bug I had to pass over me so I could get back to walking around without fainting and eating like a normal human again. Those few days in Santiago were tough, to say the least. I felt totally out of my element, hoping that things would normalize. I finally woke up on Wednesday morning feeling almost whole again. And I had word that my Dad’s flight was on time to Barcelona and he stood to make his connecting flight to Santiago with no trouble. Everything would be a-okay!

I managed to find a restaurant that served an overpriced vegetable soup and kept it down without trouble. Progress! Dad called me from Barcelona and advised he was at his second gate and everything would be perfect. Hooray! I found a scallop shell for my Dad’s backpack at a local souvenir shop and picked out matching Camino bracelets hand carved out of local olive wood. Thoughtfulness! And a mere couple hours later, I felt like a real girl again when I was finally able to hug my Dad and rejoice that we would be departing for our Camino to Finisterre and Muxia the next day.

So after a good night’s sleep, we explored the cathedral and procured a pilgrim’s passport for my Dad, and made our way out of Santiago under a misty shroud of clouds and rain. It was so comforting to be walking again. Strangely wonderful to have the old familiar weight of my pack on my hips and shoulders (though heavier than normal as I was carrying a bottle of beer I hadn’t yet consumed that I bought upon my arrival into Santiago). The first day of walking was lovely and it was so nice to be with my Dad. He was doing great, I was a little weak – we were both ready to stop at our end destination of Negreira, about 22 kilometers from Santiago. Randy was able to enjoy his first pilgrim’s meal (which was less than enjoyable) then we had a good night’s rest at a nice albergue in town. I let him sleep until 8am. Jet lag is hard.

So today was a later start, but we both felt great. We made it to our destination but agreed that we should keep going, and made it an additional 13 kilometers. He was pretty proud today to make it past 50,000 steps today (which may or may not have been achieved with 1,500 steps back and forth across the albergue parking lot). So today we advanced all the way to the town of Olveiroa, a total walk of 32 or so kilometers. We will actually make it all the way to Finisterre tomorrow, a day early! The following day we will walk up the coast to Muxia, just under 30 kilometers.

So Dad is totally killing it, or “crushing K,” as we say. And I feel tremendously better. I think this cold/flu/bug had a real effect on me emotionally. It was devastating to feel so helpless and so lost. I think it was honestly a reminder though, that even if you do something as “tremendous” as finishing the 500 mile walk along the Camino Frances, your brain and emotions are still magnificently delicate, and it’s unreasonable to think that any “thing” will make you happy. It is okay to be sad. Being sad is just one side of the compass, which helps you to distinguish when you’re elated and joyful. We need the valleys to appreciate the peaks, right?

Tomorrow we leave early and make our way to Finisterre, or “the end of the earth,” where pagans believed the sun died and this magical place connected the worlds of the living and the dead. (These pagans were the main reason that Saint James – Santiago – came to this area to preach! And why his remains were brought back to this region along this Camino after his beheading!) Our plan is to approach the Cape of Finisterre from the beach and pick up some shells on the way and share a bottle of wine at sunset. This has been an unbelievable journey so far and I cannot wait (or can I?) for the conclusion.

Also. My Dad brought me Tapatio packets. YAY!!!

5 thoughts on “To Finisterre: Onwards and Upwards.

  1. Love to both of you. So happy you are feeling better, Ashley. I especially liked your insight in the next to last paragraph. It’s OK to be down after forcing yourself to be up for the past month and more. A beautiful picture heading this post. Love, Grandma

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  2. I have no words to express how i feel about you, and all you’ve accomplished. I think recognizing that the downs have a purpose is very insightful. so proud of you (and Dad now too) Yes, you guys totally crushed today! Love love love you.

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  3. I think we all go through a grieving process when things end, even if we think we it should be a joyful experience. Take care of your incredible body that’s taken you this far. Looks like a blast with your dad!

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  4. Ashley,
    You are an amazing woman! Not many would undertake a solo trek of this magnitude. That in itself says so much about you. I cannot imagine how crapped out you were with illness, loneliness, and depression to boot. But I do believe you will be stronger for the the journey. Stay strong

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