Today I joined the Camino Frances, and even though this was a route that I walked just last year, even though I loved it, I don’t want to be here. I want to be back on the Norte or the Primitivo, where there aren’t too many pilgrims, where things are a little less “Camino-esque”, where you can walk alone and see your friends in the evenings.
I’m in Arzua and I’ve lost everyone I know. I last saw people in Melide, about 12 kilometers back: Christine and Nicolas, and a few others I met yesterday. Everyone planned to continue on to Ribadiso, 10 kilometers away, and we all left Melide at different times. Christine was either just ahead of me or just behind, and Nicolas stayed back for awhile with his friends. But somehow between then and now, I’ve lost them.
This was another long walking day, 40km. I started a little later than I wanted- a bit after 7- because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the albergue. I’d woken up before 6 and Christine had made coffee for us, so I slowly got myself ready and sat outside on a low stone wall with the warm cup in my hands. A few others got up as well but the morning was quiet: I could hear the birds, the quiet rustling of wind through tree branches, Nicolas singing softly as he took a shower. So I sat and didn’t rush to leave, and accepted a second cup of coffee from Nicolas. I knew I had to walk a lot that day but I felt so peaceful, so content, and I just wanted to soak up that feeling.
Despite the late start, the day’s walk wasn’t too difficult and I reached Ribadiso in the late afternoon feeling good… only to find out that the two albergues were completo (between the two, there were 136 beds, so that speaks to the crowds on the route just before Santiago!). I had no choice but to continue another 2 kilometers to Arzua, and I was amazed to find that I was feeling great. 42 kilometers in a hot sun, 5:00pm and I felt like I could keep going. In fact, when the kilometer markers dipped below 40km to Santiago (I think I’m about 38 away, now), I was tempted to just keep going. All the way to Santiago! 80km in a day! Ha, I’ve been maybe a bit crazy on this Camino, but I’m not that crazy. Besides, I would arrive in the city after midnight and I don’t like walking in the dark.
In any case, I wandered through Arzua, vaguely remembering the town from last year. On the Frances, I just passed through, but I remember this section being the only time I had difficulties finding a bed. I passed albergue after albergue, and many of them were full. As I walked through the main square, I saw a tired looking pilgrim coming towards me from the other direction. He had a pack on and was limping a bit, and he approached me looking just a bit desperate.
He asked if I was looking for a place to sleep- or, I asked him- and the conversation was a bit tricky since his English wasn’t too good. But I learned that he was Andrea from Italy, and that he wasn’t sure where to go. So I told him to come along with me even though I wasn’t really sure where I was going either, and together we found an albergue- a private one, a little past the town center and it still had free beds. It had a small kitchen and a pilgrim who recognized Andrea told me that I could put my clothes in with their load for the washing machine.
The evening has been strange, different, again, from everything else: there are so, so many pilgrims in this town, but I don’t recognize a soul. It’s so strange to be in this situation, to have been walking for nearly 4 weeks and to have met so many people, but to be so close to Santiago and not know anyone.
But in a way it’s kind of nice. I’ve spent the past four days around people I know, and despite my alone time while I walk, I haven’t gotten much other time to myself. I feel a little behind on things: needing to find an ATM, needing to pay a bill, wanting to check email and publish some blog posts. I mean, all of that stuff can wait, but really, it feels like it’s been so long since I’ve sat in a bar with a glass of wine to write something. I’ve missed it. I got a lot of time to do this on the Norte, but it’s been almost impossible on the Primitivo. And it’s okay- I’ve met some great people and have been so grateful to spend time with them- but this feels good, too. A little time for reflection before this big walk ends.
And I don’t know how I feel about reaching Santiago tomorrow (just under 40km, which makes three really long days in a row but I think I’m holding up well). Last year I was really anticipating reaching Santiago and ending my pilgrimage, but this year, I haven’t given it much thought. Last year, the destination WAS Santiago; this year, it’s been a long walk. Not so much of a pilgrimage, not how it was for me last year… and it’s almost like I forget that I’m walking to Santiago, that I will be in the same place where I was last year, that I will be confronted with all of those memories.
When I joined the Frances today, I searched for familiar things, but struggled to find anything. I kept asking myself, “Did I really walk this same path just last year?” It felt very different, and I’m not sure why. I passed a bar where I had stopped last year for french fries and a coke, but even that felt different. And I wonder, will Santiago feel different, too? Will the memories come back or will the city seem foreign? Will I feel like I want to celebrate, or will I want to just continue to walk?
I have a feeling the answer is: continue to walk. I’m not sure what the next few days are going to look like, but I have a few possibilities. Since it looks like I’ll reach Santiago in only 28 days (what?? I think that was an awfully fast pace, and not entirely typical), I have three extra days to work with. This gives me just enough time to walk to Muxia, though I may have to bus back to Santiago the day I arrive in Muxia if I want to make my flight on Monday morning. That’s not ideal, but I think it would be okay. The walk to either Muxia or Finisterre is about 80 kilometers and done in three days… but given my crazy mind and crazy legs, I’m toying with doing it in two days. And then walking from Muxia to Finisterre, which is something I really want to do (or, vice versa, walking from Finisterre to Muxia).
I could take it easy and hang out in Santiago, take a bus to Finisterre, and take one day to walk to Muxia (which is about 30km), and that would be the smart plan, considering all the walking I’ve done in this last month. But the thing is, I feel fine. I don’t even really feel that tired, and that’s different than how I felt last year as I approached Santiago. Last year, I think I was worn out. This year, I’m feeling pretty good.
So maybe there will be a few more big days of walking, and possibly one last day of walking along the coast. It would be a nice way to finish this Camino.
But first, Santiago. Almost there.