Today, I made it to Santiago! Also, I lost my shorts.
I did a really good job of not losing things on this trip (well, everything except my passport, which was the worst thing to leave behind, but it worked out okay). Last year I lost my guidebook, a pair of shorts, a tshirt, a pair of socks, my earbuds… this year, I held onto everything. Until last night/this morning.
I’d put my laundry in with some others and then forgot about it. Around 10, when I was going to bed, I went into the laundry room to find it. But it was nowhere to be found. Not in either of the washers, not in the dryers, not hanging on the line, not piled in a basket. I looked everywhere, I even walked through the bunk rooms scanning the beds and the floor for a pile of laundry. Not only could I not find my laundry, I couldn’t find the people who offered to do my laundry. They were out somewhere in Arzua.
So I went to bed and figured I’d deal with it in the morning. The alarm went off at 5:30 and I walked back to the laundry room to discover my things hanging from the line. Everything except my shorts. It’s a frustrating thing, to know that the shorts were somewhere in the building… that I hadn’t forgotten them, I just couldn’t find them. I’m sure someone else mistakenly grabbed them, but I was bummed. I liked those shorts.
But sometimes you lose things and after all, they were just a pair of shorts. I had another to wear for walking, so I got my things together and left the albergue at 6:00. Immediately, and just next to the albergue, was an open bar. The Frances may be crowded, but it also has coffee. Two points for the Camino Frances.
The walk was really good. Nearly 40 kilometers (again), but I felt so motivated to get to Santiago. I stopped a couple more times for coffee, and for one last tortilla, but mostly just powered on. At one of the stops Guillemette passed by; when I saw her I called her name and felt so happy. She paused but then continued walking, calling over her shoulder, “See you in Santiago!” She seemed like she was on a mission, and I could understand it. If you’re walking well and under 15 kilometers to Santiago, you just want to keep going.
Those last 15 kilometers were really good for me. I’d been curious about how it would feel to approach Santiago and I was surprised to feel excited. Just last night I was a little ambivalent, but suddenly it was like I remembered what I was doing: walking a really long distance to get somewhere. The ‘getting somewhere’ part of this Camino wasn’t as important as it was last year- this year it was more about the journey- but I could still feel a stirring of happiness and energy as I moved closer to Santiago. I felt so connected to the history of what I was doing, how hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims must have felt over the last 1,000 years as they approached the city.
The last couple of kilometers were a little tough (as they nearly always are), and once again under a hot sun. I made it into the city center and began to recognize things. Before I knew it I was close to the cathedral and there was part of me that wondered if I should just find a place to stay, first, and walk to the cathedral later.
But I couldn’t resist it- I wanted to walk into the square and look up at the cathedral and feel that I’d made it. So I did: the square was crowded, people were celebrating and hugging, or standing quietly alone. I paused for a moment, and then kept going.
The next hour or so felt overwhelming. I was in Santiago, a place that I’m familiar with, but I was also uncertain. Uncertain about where exactly I should go, uncertain about how to find the pension where I’d stayed last year. I wandered through the streets a little aimlessly, getting turned around more than once. I stopped by the tourism office for a map of the city, and tried to describe the pension that I was looking for. The woman helping me wasn’t sure what I was talking about, so I headed back out into the city to try again.
Eventually I found my favorite corner of the city, and after walking into a couple of different pensions/hotels that were not the right ones, I found my place: Casa Felisa. And then everything was familiar- I was taken up to my room (a private, glorious, wonderful room!), I took off my pack and spread out my things and took a long shower.
It was strange to be back in Santiago. I wandered through the city for awhile, and I stood in line to get my compostela- the certificate of completion for my Camino. But as I walked around and stood in line, surrounded by other pilgrims, I didn’t recognize anyone. It was like last night in Arzua, but this time I felt it even more strongly: I’ve been walking for a month, I’ve met so many people, and now I’m in Santiago and don’t see anyone I know.
In the last week especially, I moved fast through this Camino. I realized it when I recognized my first person in the city: a young Spanish guy. It took me a moment to place him and then I remembered- we’d stayed at the same albergue in Celorio, nearly two weeks ago. He and his friends were biking the Camino. Biking the Camino. Maybe I did this thing a little too quickly.
It was late and I thought about going to bed but first I decided to find some ice cream. I wandered through the streets again, then noticed a girl with pink shorts. Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun and she walked with her hands in her pockets. I was pretty far away, but it looked an awful lot like Guillemette. So I ran to catch up and realized it WAS Guillemette; I called her name and she spun around so quickly and then threw her arms around me, laughing.
“I’m so happy to see you, I’ve been looking for you all day!”
We talked about how ridiculous it was that we’d never exchanged phone numbers, and then I joined her and two other girls for a celebratory drink. We stayed out until midnight, drinking wine and talking about the end of the Camino. When we left, Guillemette and I gave each other another strong hug. “Tell me if you ever come to Paris,” she said. “I will,” I promised.
I was so happy to have found her. Guillemette and I had very similar paces throughout the Camino, ever since I met her in Bilbao. We never really planned to stay together, but we kept showing up in the same places. It took me awhile to feel comfortable around her, but in the end, I felt a strong bond: I felt like we were kind of in this Camino together. I would have been really upset if I’d left Santiago without getting to say goodbye.
Back in my hotel I thought about the others that I hadn’t gotten to see: Nicolas and Christine. Moritz too, he was somewhere behind me. I’d sent an email to Christine after I arrived in Santiago but didn’t expect to hear back from her. But I did, her message said she was in Monte do Gozo, four kilometers before Santiago, and that she would be arriving in the city early in the morning.
So I fell asleep with plans swirling around in my head: I wanted to do it all. I wanted to walk to Muxia in two days, and I wanted to hang around in Santiago just a bit to try and find Christine. I didn’t know if any of it would work: if I could find Christine, if I could walk another two 40 kilometer days, if I would run into anyone else I knew, if I would meet new people, if I would stay alone.