I’d thought that my Camino had ended in Santiago. I was continuing on to Finisterre with a friend, but when I last wrote from ‘the road’, on the first day’s walk out of Santiago, I said that I felt like I was on a long walk to the beach with a friend, and no longer on the Camino.
Oh, famous last words. If the Camino could laugh, it was laughing at me then. She thinks I am finished with her? Has she not learned anything on this walk?
After that first day, walking from Santiago to Negreira, I felt like it was a sort of ‘in-between’ experience: I was still a pilgrim, and it was a Camino of sorts, but very separate from the journey I had just been on. My pilgrimage was done.
But things started to change on the second day. Sonal and I walked to Olveiroa and met so many other pilgrims on the way. It reminded me of the beginning of my Camino, that first week out of St Jean when everyone was new and eager and forming friendships and connections. Maybe it was because we were new to each other, and there weren’t many of us on the road. But suddenly it felt easy, once again, to meet people and to make connections.
We stopped at a quirky place for a second breakfast: a family’s home, the patio and grounds opened up for pilgrims to stop and have a drink or a bite to eat. Hammocks were stretched out between trees, picnic tables and multicolored adirondack chairs were scattered across the lawn. I was excited to find this place: a Camino gem. But just before Sonal and I arrived a group of loud Spanish pilgrims, probably in their early 20’s, had descended on the place. We’d been trying to move away from their group for the past two days but they always seemed to show up wherever we were. We hesitated outside as the Spanish group took over, and just as we decided to leave, an older woman came out of the house. She gestured over, motioning for us to come inside.
We did, and settled into cushioned chairs in a quiet room off of the kitchen. High, wooden beamed ceilings, antique furniture, old musty books, black and white photographs on the walls. I couldn’t figure out what this place was: a family’s home, it seemed, but also an establishment for pilgrims. The mother was bustling around the kitchen, a daughter came out to take our order. Our coffee was served with little orange flavored pastries, and our tortilla was warm and fluffy, with a basket of soft, crusty bread. When we finished I signed the guestbook, and I wrote that it was like a small paradise: unexpected and magical.
And unexpected and magical are the words that I would use to describe the rest of my experience on the Camino.
After a long day’s walk we arrived in Olveiroa, and as I walked through the bar to find the hospitalero to check in for the night, I noticed Richard, a British guy we’d met earlier in the day. I stopped to say hi and sitting with him was someone I’d known from my “real” Camino (as I thought of it at the time). Since I’d started walking to Finisterre nearly a week after arriving in Santiago, all of the people I knew had already moved on, or gone home. “Everyone from my Camino is gone,” I kept saying. So to run into a familiar face, even if it was someone I didn’t know well, felt a bit mystical. I was walking to Finisterre, he was returning from Finisterre. We greeted each other with a strong hug, and later, stayed up late into the night- each of us, I think, clinging to our last Camino moments.
And that night Sonal and I made a new friend, Emma. She had walked the Camino Frances six years ago, ending in Santiago, and vowed that she would return one day to complete the walk to Finisterre. She kept her promise and had started out from Santiago the same day as Sonal and I did. We talked with her that night, sitting around a long table outside of the albergue’s bar, as the stars came out and the air grew cool. People kept joining our table, sliding up chairs, laughing at jokes, pouring shots of hierbas from a tall bottle. We toasted, all of us. I looked around the table and marveled at the combination of people sitting with me: a pilgrim who had left St Jean on the same day that I did, but who I hadn’t talked to until the very end of my journey. New pilgrims I had just met that day. A pilgrim who had walked six years ago and had just returned to complete the journey. And my friend from home, a brand new pilgrim two days into her walk, but someone I’d known for 20 years.
So many different connections: so unexpected, so magical.
As I drifted off to sleep that night- top bunk, muffled snoring from the corner of the room- I realized that my Camino hadn’t ended after all.
“What’s next, Camino?” I asked. “What comes next?”