After the pilgrims mass in Santiago , we all went out to our last lunch together before meeting our familes. Everyone was a little nervous during lunch. Only a couple members of our group had done a homestay before, and we did not know very much about our host families. After lunch, we waited together in front of the cathedral for our families to come pick us up. One by one, people started to arrive. As each new person walked up, I wondered if it was the person I would be living with for the next two weeks. I had decided to live alone, and I knew that my family had three kids, all over the age of 14. When my family finally arrived, I picked up my pack and walked with them to their car. Immediately, I knew that I had nothing to worry about. They were very welcoming and made sure that I had everything I needed. As they showed me my room, the bathroom, and the rest of their apartment, I realized that I had been nervous for nothing and was going to love staying with my Spanish familly for the next two weeks.
I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to celebrate the completion of the Camino de Santiago than with a permanent reminder of everything I experienced over those 800 km. I got this tattoo in Santiago the Tuesday after we arrived as a ‘trophy’ for what I had just accomplished. This was also important to me because just a week earlier, I had decided to return to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, which is where the Camino Frances formally begins, to walk the first ~500 kilometers (to León) by myself. That made this tattoo not only representative of what I had already done, but what I was going to do. With each passing day this tattoo grew to mean more and more to me. It wasn’t until the day that I arrived in León that one of my friends shared with me what the owner of the albergue we stayed in the previous night had told him: “Your Camino starts when you reach your destination.” It’s what you do after you finish. It’s what stays in your heart when you go b ack to the real world. Every time I look down at my wrist I will be reminded that the Camino has changed me forever and I will remain a Peregrina for the rest of my life.
After sixteen long, but fun days, we finally arrived in Santiago today. The entire trek I was racking my brain for a creative way to celebrate arriving at our final destination. I asked Annie what other groups in the past had done and was shocked to hear that this hadn’t crossed their mind. After going through countless possibilities and being told by several people that entering Santiago naked would probably be inappropriate, I decided we should tie all of packs together so we could both literally and figuratively finish this journey together. As a group of us walked the last five kilometers tied together, singing songs and anticipating our grand finish we realized hiking tied to seven other people is a much slower process than we imagined and as the we approached the city limits of Santiago we unfortunately had to untie ourselves. We continued to brainstorm ideas until Lindley and I finally came to the conclusion that we would crawl, wheelbarrow and I would carry her on my shoulders as we approached the cathedral. Oh and I walked the last kilometer barefoot in the pouring rain. Needless to say a scene was made in front of the cathedral but it just didn’t seem right to just walk to the finish of this amazing sixteen day adventure.
Today is the second to last day of the Camino. We woke up and had a small breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola bars before heading out around 8:30. The sky looked dark for the first half of the morning, but we walked about 9 kilometers and stopped for second breakfast before it started to rain. We stopped for a little while under a small café awning because it was pouring. After a few minutes, we decided that the rain was not going to let up and decided to just push foward. We walked for about 90 minutes in the heaviest rain I have ever seen. Despite getting completely soaked through, today was one of the best days of the Camino. We had fun walking through the pouring rain once we accepted the fact that we were not going to stay dry. It felt like were were little kids again, playing in the puddles during a rain storm. After today, I´m almost sad that we arrive in Santiago tommorrow. The Camino has been hard, but it has been the most amazing, fun experience of my life.
Each day on the Camino follows a similar pattern. We wake up early; have a quick breakfast; walk during the morning and early afternoon; and spend the rest of the day recovering or exploring. Although each day presents a new challenge, the days can blend together. For me, the people that we meet in each town are what make each day unique. Almost every person I have talked to loves sharing something about where they come from.
In León, we had trouble finding our hotel after exploring on our own. A man named Santiago saw that we were lost and insisted on showing us the way. He talked to us about living in León for his entire life and showed us his favorite part of the city.
In Astorga, we had only been in town for a few minutes when a man came up to us and began telling us about the Roman ruins we were about to pass. When we told him we had to get to our albergue to meet up with the rest of our group, he immediately offered to show us the way. He spent the entire walk to the albergue telling us about the buildings we passed.
These are just two of the many people we have met in Spain, but both are perfect examples. The people we meet in the small towns and cities of Spain love their homeland and enjoy sharing it with others. Not only are they proud of where they come from, they also know so much about Spain’s history and culture. I have learned more by just talking to people in Spain than I could from reading a textbook.
Today, leaving Portomarin, we were overwhelmed by the number of new pilgrims that have joined the trail. Looking ahead all we could see was a stream of pilgrims. At times, there were bottlenecks where the path narrowed. In my seven years on the trail, I´ve never seen so many people. While this is a fantastic event to witness for the first 30 minutes, the reality sets in: Where are these pilgrims going to sleep? Now finding a place to stay for our group becomes my first priority. Insider knowledge, strong Spanish skills and even some Gallego (the local regional language) is the key to having a place to stay for each of the next three nights or possibly having to walk to the next town.