The last 20 kilometers
An 800 kilometer physical journey near complete and an inner one just beginning.
As I walked, I began to notice that the yellow arrows now had a line through them. I recalled my dream the night I was sick back in Triacastella. In the dream, instead of yellow arrows I had to follow crosses. I smiled at the coincidence and again, was reminded of the magical little things that have happened along the way.
My heart skipped a beat when I caught my first glimpse of the cathedral towering above the stores that lined the far bend in the Camino road I followed.
Frozen in my tracks, I fumbled for my camera afraid to take my eyes off the place I strove to reach for so long; the place I daydreamed about on day one as I sat on my sleeping bag on the grassy hill somewhere four kilometers above Roncevalles. As the landscape of mountains and valleys stretched out before me then, I imagined this place, Santiago, somewhere out there 800 kilometers away.
As naïve as a child, at that time, I didn’t yet know the experiences or the challenges that lay ahead or the people I would develop friendships with along the way. Nor could I perceive someone like Andrew. As I stood only a kilometer before the resting place of St. James I felt I had grown richer with an inner wisdom, an understanding of my own complexities and a deeper faith in something more beyond this world.
Butterflies fluttered in my belly, but the tears I expected didn’t come. Instead, my heart lifted, my eyes brightened and a big smile spread across my face. I had made it. The well of tears in my heart must have run dry during the many Camino moments along the way. There was nothing left to shed.
The closer I got, I was overcome with awe. It seemed fitting for a journey of self-discovery that I climbed the steps to the cathedral doors by myself.
Regardless of where my Camino friends were I didn’t feel alone. I felt full. It seems like a lifetime ago that I stepped out on my own into this ancient world so far from the place I come from, but I didn’t feel alone then either. I was taking myself into the unknown.
Fear nearly had its way with me though. It had me laying on the floor by the toilet, my heart beating so fast. At that time the butterflies in my belly wanted to churn upward. Was I crazy? What was I thinking going off into the world by myself with no language skills? These were my thoughts only a week before I left. I nearly didn’t come. I may never have experienced any of this and it gives me chills. Thankfully, I visited the walk-in clinic; however it was more to get validation from the doctor that my fears were warranted. My knee was acting up, I had a cold and I thought I was going to have a heart attack from my anxiety. He smiled and handed me a prescription for Ativan. “Take one of these and go on the trip,” was his advice.
There I stood at the top of the steps 31 days after I began.
It was easier than I thought. Not the whole journey, but arriving here in Santiago today was.
It was much easier than I imagined it would be as I lay awake on my upper bunk bed last night listening to the torrents of rain beating down on the roof. During those moments, emotions stirred in my heart, but today a feeling of calm settled over me.
A group of approximately a dozen men stood around in a circle singing gregariously in a different language and a photographer stood alertly waiting for emotional displays from arriving pilgrims. He still managed to spot me, even with my calm demeanor, and asked if he could take my photograph. By then I had already received my compostela and was holding it in a roll. I slipped it out of the roll, held it up for him to see and smiled for him.
Receiving my compostela was much easier than I expected too. While I stood in the short line-up, I saw a couple of familiar faces and we greeted each other with big smiles and, “Congratulations!” Last night, I had thought receiving my compostela was going to be this crazy emotional experience trying to find the right thing to say, but it wasn’t at all.
When it was my turn, I handed the young lady behind the counter my passport of stamps. Scenes played through my mind like movie clips. Seeing the stamps here, now, at the end, brought back special memories of the people I shared experiences with and of the places I had been like Trinidad de Arre where I saw Andrew for the first time. I had reached across the table to shake his hand and introduce myself. It struck me then how good his English was.
The young lady behind the counter asked me two questions, “Where did you start?” and “Did you walk the whole way?” She studied my passport and placed my final stamp above where it said in Spanish, Cumplio la Peregrinacio, or in English, Fullfilled the Pilgrimage.
She began to write the name Tatiana on the parchment. I told her my name was Tania, but she said it is customary to record my Latin name. I have never thought of myself as having a Latin name and I quite honestly like it. It makes me feel a little ancient, like this route pilgrims have followed for 1000 years. I asked her to write the name, Reano Veitch where my last name was to go. Both surnames are important to me and both represent a part of who I am.
Finally, I stepped through the cathedral doors. It was nearly empty inside. The swinging incense burner hung straight and motionless from a contraption high up in the central dome that marked the heart of the cathedral’s cross-shaped floor plan.
In front of it stood a gigantic golden altar held up by angels with golden wings.
I could imagine the incense burner swinging from one arm of the cross-shaped floor plan to the other high above the heads of pilgrims and hoped to be lucky enough to witness this ritual at tomorrow’s noon mass.
Afterwards, I settled in at the “The Last Stamp” hostel. Andrew said he would meet me here tomorrow.
After a hot shower I put my laundry on. Boy did it stink! My pack smells sour too.
Currently, I am sitting at a table in a bar celebrating with a glass of vino tinto – just me. I am hoping to run into some familiar faces tonight, but if I don’t that’s okay too.
From this point forward I am more decided on what to do now. I thought a lot about it on my walk today. I have accomplished what I came here to do. Not only did I physically make it to Santiago, but most importantly I grew tremendously inside. I have realized things about myself, forgiven myself, let go of things and gained a sense of peace. I am happy with my life, I know how I want to live it and I’m going to honour that – I’m going to live true to me. I gained a lot from this journey and I don’t feel like I need to walk any further. I will go to Finisterre, but I will go by bus. I will go on Friday and then I will take the train to Lisbon in Portugal. I am so happy and so excited!
This has been a tough journey, but also a very rewarding one with many, many good times and some good challenging ones too. I treasure both. I also treasure the people I have met along the way and the tools they have given me to reach this point. They all played a huge part in getting me to the place I am now in my heart and mind. Forever, I will be thankful to all of them and most of all to Andrew. He triggered something huge for me that I needed to sort out.
This has been a simply crazy and amazing journey and I am so thankful for it!