5km to go. I stopped in a place called Monte Gozo and it’s a little bizarre. It’s like a huge, deserted complex for pilgrims. There are other pilgrims here, but it’s such a large and isolated campus that it feels empty and desolate. I’d heard from a few people who were here in the last few days that it’s a bit like a ghost town, and I think that description is accurate. Empty playgrounds. A boarded up supermercado.
I wasn’t sure how to approach these last few days of the Camino. When I stayed in Portomarin three nights ago, I decided that if possible, I wanted to try and stay in small albergues for the rest of the way. The crowds add such a different feeling to the Camino, and I wanted to avoid them as much as possible. That plan worked well two days ago, when I found a small, private albergue in a quaint village, where chickens and cows roamed the streets, and where I could sit for hours outside, drinking tinto de verano, eating potato chips, writing in my journal, and talking with other pilgrims.
Yesterday I met up with Adam in Arzua, where most other pilgrims stopped for the day. We decided to keep walking a few kilometers further, to try our luck with a smaller albergue. We walked a few kilometers, and then we walked a few more. And then a few more. There weren’t many accommodations and what we could find had no beds left.
At some point on the Camino, a bit before the 100 kilometer point, markers started appearing every half kilometer, counting down the distance to Santiago. And as Adam and I walked, I watched those markers tick past: 40 kilometers to go. 35. 30!! 25. 24.
We stopped in a town 24 kilometers outside of Santiago and I knew that I could easily do that distance in one day, but I wanted to stretch it into two. My plan- for as much as I can actually plan anything here- is to leave early tomorrow morning for a sunrise walk into Santiago, to get in with plenty of time to take photos and drink a cafe con leche and store my pack and go to mass at noon.
I feel very uncertain about the end of this experience. I’ve wanted to have ‘perfect’ Camino days as this experience is ending, but I can only control so much. The Camino is different with so many people walking; the scenery isn’t as beautiful and breathtaking as it was a few days ago; somehow, my body has decided that it’s about had it (wasn’t I just saying how strong I feel? I AM strong, but I’m also tired. I think because my mind knows that I’m almost done, it’s told my body to wind down).
All of that being said, I did manage to walk completely on my own today. It helped to have started about 12 kilometers away from the large groups of pilgrims, so for my last full day of walking, I had mostly peace and quiet. I tried to think big thoughts: all the stuff that you’re supposed to be thinking at the end of a pilgrimage. Things like- ‘What have I learned?’ ‘How have I changed and grown?’ ‘Where am I going next?’ ‘What meaning can I take from this?’ ‘How will I change when I get home?’
But instead, all I could focus on were the steps. One foot in front of the other. The pain in my right calf (day 30 and my leg started hurting, go figure). The small pebble in my shoe. The humid air and a hyper-awareness of my body odor. Did I put on deodorant this morning? Was the coffee I drank decaf? Why don’t I have more energy? Where in the world did I put the second pair of headphones, did I actually lose another pair? Can I reach my arm around my pack and find my banana without having to stop and take the pack off? Where can I stop for another cafe con leche? Can I pass those pilgrims ahead of me? I can definitely pass those pilgrims ahead of me.
The time for deep thoughts was not this morning. And I’m not sure it will be tomorrow morning either: I’ll only walk for about an hour, and I think the road will be crowded.
But it’s okay, I’ve had plenty of time to think on this walk, and I’ll have plenty of time to think about it after I’ve finished. And besides, it’s hard to fully process something while you’re still in it.
I think I’ve written about this a little already, but I heard it described so well a week or so ago that I want to write about it again: this idea of the Camino being divided into thirds. David, a man from Ireland, said two things. The first was that the Camino really begins after the walk ends, and it’s something that I’ve heard several times before. Then he talked about the three parts of this journey: the first 10 days or so are about the body, the second 10 days are about the heart, and the last 10 days are about the soul.
And I liked that, especially the third part. I’ve had so many deep and soulful encounters in the last part of this walk and I think it’s been an aspect of this trip that I’d been anticipating and waiting for. I’m not sure if I’ve sought out these connections and moments or if they’ve appeared because others are in this frame of mind as well. But they’ve been here, and they appear so quickly and effortlessly. First it was Masa-Hiro, a man of Japanese descent who was raised in Peru and has lived in Malaga for 13 years. I walked with him out of O’Cebreiro and we played the ‘animal game’, which sparked a conversation about what we are looking for, how others perceive us, who we really are.
I ran into him again a few days later, sitting on a bench outside of an old stone home of an Italian woman who’d been living in Spain and offering coffee and fruit to pilgrims as they walked past her house. There was a wooden table filled with juice and peaches and coffee cups, tattered Tibetan flags strung from a tree, and several small dogs lounging in the sun. As I approached and Masa-Hiro saw me, his face lit up and he rose to greet me. He introduced me to an Argentinian woman sitting next to him, and a few minutes later Eva walked up, a woman I had met in St Nicolas nearly two weeks before and hadn’t seen since. The 20 minutes I spent at that little outdoor oasis felt a bit mystical, and when I stood to leave, Masa-Hiro gave me a strong hug, and the other women embraced me as well.
Two nights ago I was eating dinner at the small albergue in the tiny, quaint village, and I had an amazing conversation with a woman from Montreal, Lucy. (And an amazing meal: a huge crock of chicken noodle soup, salad, pork, frittata made from the eggs of the chickens we’d seen running around an hour earlier, chocolate mousse). The conversation with Lucy felt so fitting for this stage of the journey: she talked about her story of why she was here, and the conversation evolved into a long talk about love and loss. At one point I sat with my chin in my hands and probably a far off look on my face and Lucy said, ‘Ahh, this conversation has made you sad.’ I thought for a moment and replied, ‘Yes, but the sadness is okay, because it’s part of my experience. But I have so, so much happiness too.’
And I do have a lot of happiness. I’ve been so happy on this trip, and so often I’ve felt like I’ve been too lucky to feel this happy. It’s the mark of a good Camino, I suppose.
5km to go. Time to end this long walk.