The End of the Road

It’s so hard to comprehend that it is over. I’m sitting here on my flight back to New York, and feeling quite dumbfounded that any of this even happened. Did I really leave seven weeks ago, putting everything in my life on hold, to walk across the entire country of Spain? What exactly was I trying to accomplish, other than surviving each day and completing the entire walk? Was I hoping for a life-changing moment to hit me in the face? For a miracle revealed to me personally by God? I’m still not sure what resolutions were made, and I expect to take some time in digesting it all before I can decide whether or not I found what I was looking for.

But to catch you up, I did manage to finish the walk to Finisterre. I last left you feeling hopeful and recovered after a pretty bad stomach flu that hit me like a ton of bricks hours after landing in Santiago on Day 33. Yeah… so maybe when you are just recovering from norovirus it’s not the best idea to walk 32 kilometers and eat a pilgrim’s dinner of a greasy pork steak with fries along with a half bottle of vino tinto. I think I posted that last blog around 10:30pm my time, and around 1am I was back to square one, rendering me almost useless for the next several days. Not much sleep, no ability to retain fluids (YAY, RIGHT?!), little energy and zero appetite. I had to make some tough decisions about what I was capable of doing and managed to bargain with my Dad a bit in what I wanted to accomplish. Understandably, he was super worried about me and suggested staying a second night in the albergue and then reducing our next travel day to half what we had planned. The original plan was to wake up early that morning and walk the final 28km to Finisterre, completing the final 29km Muxia the following day. Obviously this would not be happening.

So I did my very best. It was the toughest couple of days I had on the Camino. Harder than the bed bugs. Tougher than the first ascent into the Pyrenees Mountains. More challenging than my marathon day. My body struggled with every step. I had to stop frequently, and I was nearly in a constant state of tears. “I ruined this for you!” I kept feeling so guilty that my Dad had to deal with a very sick daughter and I could see how painful it was for him to watch me endure the struggle between physical pain and my bull-headed pride. But about 15km later, we made it to the seaside fishing town of Cee and checked into a hotel.

A HOTEL!

It’s the life of luxury on the Camino when you’re sicker than you’ve been in years and your parent is there to look after you. (Side note: I would NOT recommend walking like this when you are that sick. It was awful.) The manager at the hotel called ahead to a nearby restaurant to see if they could prepare for me some simple rice for dinner, then Dad hit up the market and the pharmacy to get me more meds and more hydration drinks. We made it to the restaurant for dinner and I ended up with more of a paella than the plain white rice I was expecting, but it was DELISH! It didn’t stay where it was supposed to in my stomach, but I tried. The next day, I assured my Dad that I could make it the last 13km to Finisterre – I had to get there by that Sunday, I couldn’t comprehend delaying it any further. So we set off in a misty rain along the coast and through winding roads and trails to Finisterre.

A bit of background on this part of the Camino. (From my memory, so excuse any mistakes that I will fix once I have internet and my laptop to double check.) Saint James (Santiago) specifically came to this part of Galicia to preach to the Pagan people who lived here and practiced their own spiritual rituals. Apparently there were ceremonial gatherings at sunset on the rocky bluffs on the Cape of Finisterre, where they believed the sun would die every night as it set due West on the horizon, and in this moment, the worlds of the living and the dead temporarily collided. So after Saint James was beheaded, his followers worked to painstakingly retrieve his body and try to bring it back to Finisterre as prophets such as James would often be laid to rest in the areas where they had tried to spread the gospel. Unfortunately they were not able to make it all the way to Finisterre, and centuries later, the relics of Saint James were discovered in a Roman-era tomb in the forest about 90km from Finisterre. The man who came upon the tomb was said to have been following strange stars in the night sky that led him to this place. After the relics were uncovered and confirmed to be Saint James, the Roman Catholic Church, in great need of a miracle, set up a monastery here, setting the building blocks of Santiago de Compostela. Then the pilgrims began to arrive, the cathedral was started (and destroyed and built many times), the city expanded, was threatened and yet managed to flourish into the modern pilgrim destination that it is today. So this final stretch of the Camino, from Santiago to Finisterre, is commonly completed by pilgrims. Partially for the significance Finisterre holds regarding Saint James, and maybe just because freaks like me like the satisfaction of walking across the entire country of Spain, from the French border in the Pyrenees all the way to the sea.

So. I had to make it to Finisterre. You understand a little bit better now, right? In the final couple of kilometers along the beach to our apartment for the night, I searched the low tide for my souvenir of the Camino, a new scallop shell. And, mere seconds after I found my adorable pink and white flattened scallop shell, my stomach fell, I started to sweat profusely, stripped off layers of clothes and my poncho, felt my legs weakening and began to see stars. Even though it was raining and cold, I was burning up. I just continued along the beach with my eyes on the map of where we were headed, and asked my Dad to drape my poncho over my bag so my rice cakes wouldn’t melt (precious food!). I kept repeating to myself this mantra that I was so strong and I had come so far. We finally got to the apartment, me crying of course about being sorry that we were so late to meet our host, and after dropping my things on the ground I basically collapsed onto the couch. Doctor Dad was the super smart guy through this all and had the foresight to buy some white rice while we were in the larger city of Cee. Good thing, since everything was closed in Finisterre on Sunday. So I made myself some plain white rice, took a shower and rested on the couch for the rest of the day. There was no way I could walk the final 7km round trip journey to the Cape to see the sunset. I was so devastated it wasn’t going to happen, but it was pouring rain and I was exhausted. I told my Dad I wanted instead to hike to the Cape the next morning and see the sunrise, then skip Muxia and go straight back to Santiago and try to make it to Porto that night.

An afternoon, evening and night’s rest did a world of good for me and I felt well enough to set out in the morning for the Cape. And we received quite a miracle with perfectly clear blue skies and a gorgeous sunrise. So instead of seeing the sun die, I suppose we saw it born. Maybe that was the point? Was this the divine message I was looking for? Who knows. But we made it. It was such an awesome thing to finish, and my Dad got a great photo of me falling lifelessly onto the “0 km” signpost. It was great to make it the whole way, and especially moving to be there with my father, the man who taught me the joy in hiking, backpacking and connecting with my natural surroundings. (At some point I will share with you the delicate art of rockrolling – which, don’t worry, we didn’t do at any point on the Camino.) I sat on the bluffs of the Cape by myself for some time, reflecting on this insane thing I had just done. And now I was finished. What next? I guess… vacation?

The bus ride back to Santiago was meant to take two hours according to the schedule, but lasted just over three. I had forgotten how carsick I get. Bear in mind I also had not ridden in any kind of vehicle for forty days! (Okay, there was this one time I did get into someone’s car who took me up a hill in the pouring rain to my albergue after dinner one night. That was a funny experience.) So yep, I was still not well, I was carsick, and the lady sitting in front of us was YELLING into her cellphone which was on speaker for some reason. And her voice. Oh god. I have this weird thing that even sounds can make me nasceous. And her loud, nasal, gritty voice was the aural equivalent of diarrhea and vomit and bloody coughs to me. It was awful. But we made it. Another stop at the pharmacy, this time to get Dramamine. Geez, what a sickly pain in the ass I was that last week. A quick stop at the Cathedral where I insisted my Dad go in to visit Santiago, and then we headed to the Pilgrim’s office to check in and get our certificate for completing the Finisterre Camino. Except… when we got there we found out we were supposed to get them in… Finisterre. Oops. No Compostela for that walk, then. Neither my Dad or I cared too much about getting the certificate, so we headed straight for the bus station and boarded a second bus to take us to the lovely city of Porto, Portugal.

Wow, Porto. Wow. Amazing architecture, friendly people, delicious food, incredible wines (obviously), brilliant Fado music. Such a lovely and lively place to relax for three days. I won’t get into it all here because that is not the focus of this website, but I highly recommend finding the time to decompress in a place like Porto when you finish something as mentally and physically fatiguing as the Camino. Better yet, walk the Camino Portugues! (I bought a book on it from the famous bookstore in Porto that apparently inspired J.K. Rowling while formulating her plans for Harry Potter as a resident of Porto.) Our three days in Porto were succeeded by another few days in gorgeous Barcelona, and here I am on my way back to New York City.

Seven weeks ago, on a Sunday, I boarded a plane at JFK and was bound for France to start this adventure. The next Sunday I was in Estella, drinking too much wine with new friends and eating cheesy pizza. The following Sunday I was in Burgos, comforting my friend who had just received the news of the unexpected passing of his Grandfather. Another Sunday later I was in Mansilla de Las Mulas, realizing that I needed to stop being too judgmental or short-tempered with certain people as I sat having dinner with a person who had initially rubbed me the wrong way, but then my eyes opened up to his vulnerabilities and humanity. The next Sunday I walked over 26 miles and ended up in a tiny town in the mountains, where the waitress told my table that dinner was “ribs” and the vegetarians seated with me were shaking in fear, pleading with me to help them order. “I speak as much Spanish as you!” I hangrily retorted to these kids, and asked the waitress to bring them plates of fried potatoes instead. The following Sunday I marched into Santiago, bleary-eyed and shocked by the completion of my 800 kilometer pilgrimage, then even more astounded that the nuns in the Sacristy of the Cathedral of Santiago agreed to let me sing “Ave Maria” during the communion of the mass. One week later, on a rainy and fatiguing Sunday, I finally arrived to Finisterre, the final stop on my Camino. And this morning, one final week later, I attended the Sunday mass in the breath-taking and unfathomable cathedral of the the Sagrada Famiglia designed by Gaudí. And before midnight tonight, on this extra long Sunday, I will be back in my apartment in Queens. I guess Sundays have been a special day of the week for me throughout this adventure. I never quite rested on the Sabbath, but I always kept it holy.

So this is me, signing off for now. I plan to write another blog at some point about my gear and packing list, and probably some post-digestive thoughts, along with updates on my work on the story and how I plan to move forward with The 33 Project. Oh, also I had a new sponsor this week! Thank you so much to the amazing Carol and Chris P. for their very generous sponsorship. I want to thank all of you, my supporters, readers, family and friends, for the nuggets of power you provided me with – from the sponsorships to the text messages to the emails to your prayers along the way. In the particularly low moments on the Camino, this is what propelled me forward. Thank you from the bottom of my scallop shell heart. And remember, always follow the yellow arrows.

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