Saturday, 24 April 2010
A Pilg´s Last Days
Some people finish their caminos with a sad sense of longing. They can´t seem to let go of the trail. They finish their visit to the great shrine cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and they just keep walking, onward to the Atlantic at Finisterre -- also known as The End of the Earth.
Me? I couldn´t wait to get to Santiago this time. When I first spotted its towers in the distance on the evening of 19 April, my heart went pitty-pat. I remembered reading about medieval pilgrims who had a similar experience back 800 years ago. When they saw the cathedral they supposedly fell to their knees and burst into a hearty chorus of "Dum Paterfamilias."
I just said "Yeehaw! I´m almost there!" and then turned my attention to securing a bed in the nearest Casa Rural. I stayed at a couple of fabulous Casas Rurales this trip -- these are bed and breakfast inns set in old country houses, usually run by families. They don´t cost much more than a regular pension or hostal, and they´re clean and charming and the food is much better. And they usually have a dog around who likes to be petted. Value added, I call that.
But it was not to be. The road zigzagged and doubled back on itself, gerrymandered and detoured, climbed and plummetted, and just generally gave me a last-chance going-over. Yes, there were pretty baroque pilgrim fountains, chapels, and quaint scenes of hay-mowing and carts being pulled along by cows. When I finally got into some serious suburbs, it was already almost 11. I realized I wouldn´t make that Mass, and was peevish for a few paces. And then I decided I didn´t need another church service to make this real. The pain in my ankles was real enough. I needed to slow it down and let this day´s walk unfold like any of the 30-odd days that went before it.
I stepped right in and crashed their Mass. I had MY pilgrim Mass right there in Sar, in my native tongue, amongst 38 jet-lagged Canadians on a whirlwind tour of The Great Shrines of Europe. I felt immensely blessed, swept up into Divine Providence... how likely was this? How rare, how wonderful, and how perfectly timed for me, who hasn´t heard a church service in English since London in February. I am not sure how my fellow worshipers felt at the Peace, shaking hands with a damp, bedraggled stranger. But in that place, that morning we all were strangers and foreigners and travelers and pilgrims. They ain´t tourists, I thought. They´re my brothers.
Gone were any doubts about the acceptability of my Camino Invierno pilgrimage -- I was signed, sealed, and delivered within moments, with hugs and kisses all around. We went off to lunch in a lovely little garden restaurant. I found a 20 Euro hostel room, and got a train ticket for home. And after a shower and a ceremonial Tossing Of the Busted Hiking Boots Into the Dumpster, I made my way to the Cathedral to deliver all the promises I´d made for people.
There was a bit of a queue to hug the St. James statue, a traditional pilgrim gesture. I decided to pass. I´d been hugged already by a Saint of God, that very morning in Sar. I´d walked my many miles and delivered my prayers at the altar. My pilgrimage was finished.
So I got my hair cut. I bought some fresh bright clean socks, an Arzua cheese to take home, and a nice pair of silver earrings. I took a nap, with the great bells of Santiago singing out the hours until I met my friend again for a seafood extravaganza, til an all-night rain rolled in, til the 9:20 Arco pulled out of the station the next morning and carried me backwards over the trail I´d just walked, all the way to Sahagún and Paddy and home.
The finest place in the entire world is right here.
But here are a few photos of the final five days of the trail.