The End of the Camino – Tears and Bear Hugs

I just woke up in Santiago to the bells of the Cathedral ringing across the way. I love the sound of Church bells. There is something comforting about them. Reliable. Like the tides.

Yesterday I awoke before dark to the sound of rain on the skylight in my room. Not a good sign on the final day of my Camino. But by the time I crawled out of bed and packed up, it had passed. And blue sky could be seen through the clouds.

After fortifying myself with some coffee, I set out for the last 20km. The pilgrims joining since Sarria had been mostly Irish people. There is something wonderful about walking amongst them, listening to that sing-songy accent. And they are all happy, smiling faces that resemble my own Irish roots.

This final day it wasn’t so much a party atmosphere as a quiet reflection. It was mostly sunny and warm until Monte de Gozo. That’s a hill overlooking Santiago on the French Way. Santiago is laid out before you, ready to receive the Pilgrim who has come to the end of a very long journey. At last.

It was at that moment the heavens opened up and dumped its fury upon us. Everyone scrambled to shuck their packs and get out rain gear. I had taken my coat off early on, as the heat from walking kept me warm. But with rain pouring down, and just a little over four kilometers to go, I thought I’m not stopping now. It’s just a bit of rain. Other Pilgrims, and locals huddled under umbrellas thought I was crazy, I am sure. But I just kept going down the hill and through the city streets, getting wetter by the minute.

Water pouring down my face, I left everyone behind and finally made my way near the old part of the city. Coming up over the hill where the street narrows and the Cathedral comes into view, I started crying. I had actually made it. All this way. Through all that pain. And heaven was crying right along with me. Walking down that final stretch, strangers wished me Buen Camino. One old man shook my hand. These people see Peregrinos every day, so I am not sure why I sparked their specific interest.

Then I crossed the street to make my way through the warren of streets through the the old town towards the Cathedral. Coming to the portico by the church, the piper was playing his bagpipes. The sound bounces inside the stone structure like an amplifier. You can hear it from far away. Bagpipes always make me emotional, I don’t know why. I walked gingerly down the steps and out into the square where a big group of cyclists was celebrating the end of their trek. And who was there amongst them? Canadians, Darren and Lauly, the first Pilgrims I met on the Camino back near Puenta la Reina almost six weeks ago. Everyone else I knew had already left Santiago, but they were there waiting for me. I cried so hard when I saw their faces I couldn’t even walk towards them. But Lauly did the work for me. She ran across the square with her arms out wide.

Not a beauty crier😂

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hug. Big bear hugs mean a big heart full of love. A generosity of spirit and a transfer of positive energy from one person to another. I got bear hugs in the square yesterday. I couldn’t imagine a better greeting, nor end to a Camino.

I had no intention of getting the Compostela. This walk was mine alone. Between me and God. She knows why. I didn’t need a certificate for that. But Lauly and Darren talked me into it, and escorted me to the Pilgrim office. There was no waiting. I walked up, got my code, entered my info, then went right to the window. The volunteer was from Ireland, of course. He examined the credentials I received in St Jean in France, so long ago. I have been terrible about getting stamps this time. In 2017, I had two full books by the time I reached Santiago. This time, my one book still had spaces. But stamps aren’t what makes a Camino. Not for me.

I woke up this morning exhausted after a rough night. My body hurts. I have blisters under my blisters. Who knew that was a thing? But I feel lighter today, after carrying a pack for 800km through winter weather and over mountains the entire width of Spain. Darren said it best. ‘When we walked in I thought, ‘Thank God we’re done.’ But now, waiting for you to come in and walking you to the Pilgrims office, I think ‘I could do that again. I already miss it.’ And laying here this morning with bandages on my blisters, with aching feet and a grateful heart, I couldn’t agree with him more.

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