Last day in Santiago and last day in Spain

Today is Saturday and I’m already in London (royal wedding day!). I knew exactly what I wanted to write about my last day in Santiago and Spain, but it was hard to find the space and good Wi-Fi to get it down. Now 24 hours have passed and I’ve had more time to reflect.

I have been jotting out a final reflection of the entire experience in a little notebook I picked up in Ponferrada (finally something to write on bedsides little scraps of paper and receipts, Kat). I don’t think I will be able to really type that one out until I’m stuck in an airplane seat for 9+ hours, so that post will probably be published from Seattle. Seems fitting.

On my last day in Santiago, I said goodbye to this amazing friend:

After the first week, I decided I didn’t want to actually walk with anyone. It was better for me because I could listen to music to distract myself from the body aches and pains, plus I could stop for breaks when I needed guilt-free (and inch my way up mountains and down rock faces without feeling like I was holding anyone up). Besides, I lost my original walking sisters Sally, Amy, and Kat on the trail somewhere. I didn’t enjoy walking with anyone else as much as those three… until I met Georgia and she became my fourth Camino sister. It’s amazing how deep and intense and brutally honest our conversations were, and how spending such a short amount of time with her impacted me.

Georgia left in the morning; she was flying home early to surprise her beau. By the looks of his Facebook post last night he was beside himself with joy over the surprise. Well done, G!

Posing for the photo above turned into a funny exercise of where to put heads and hands when our height difference is so great. This collage tells the full story of how Georgia was trying to figure it out without putting her hand on my boob. Photos taken by an Episcopal priest, by the way. 😎

Thursday night I had one last dinner with my amazing original three Camino sisters: Amy, Sally, and Kathleen (plus the wonderful Louise from Philly/Bury St Edmunds. I got to revert back to my old academic self for a moment telling her about one of my old articles about Carlyle and Abbot Samson; I could feel the pointy part of my head sticking out).

Listening to them talk about their experiences during the time we were all apart, it became clear that escaping to private rooms meant my Camino was very, very different than theirs. I did miss out on serious communal bonding opportunities, but I have to make peace with this. My Camino experience was mine and I can’t feel like I missed out on anything. Having private rooms (so no one on the Camino would hate me anymore) meant I met a very different circle of pilgrims doing the same. I’m ok with this.

I look like a deranged rodent in the photo because I had some weird light shining on me. Editing the pic doesn’t help:

A trip down memory lane: the four of us at that free wine fountain at the monastery outside Estella. I was the only one who had a shell, so we took turns taking little baby sips out of it. Then Sally topped off her water bottle…

The Camino is truly a metaphor for life. People we meet and bond with slip in and out of our lives constantly, with periods of constant companionship rotating with periods of never seeing them at all. Where are those friends? Are they doing ok? Are they still at it or have they taken a different route? Will I see them again?

Reuniting with Kat closed a circle for me since I met her the very first night of walking (when I stayed in Valcarlos). Kat and I on the trail somewhere, in the mud:

It’s amazing how deep and intense and brutally honest our conversations were, and how spending such a short amount of time with her impacted me.

Have a lovely time with mum, in India, and in Bali, Kat! I can’t wait to hear about the rest of your journey.

Reuniting with the Texas sisters closed the circle of the entire Camino for me. Remember we first met in Bayonne, France, when I overheard their American accents expressing frustration over the French train strike. We teamed up and made our way to SJPDP together using a combination of bus and taxi. We had dinner together the night before the three of us set out as well. The sisters ordered steak and were served the most enormous platter of beautiful steak. I remember it was too rare for their liking. Yes, I took a photo and still have it:

In SJPDP before we started walking:

Thursday night the sisters once again ordered steak, once again the portions were ginormous, and once again it was served more rare than they preferred. It was the ultimate circle-closer.

It’s amazing how deep and intense and brutally honest our conversations were, and how spending such a short amount of time with them impacted me. Have a wonderful time in Portugal, Amy and Sally! Go, Texas, go!

I said goodbye to one more Camino sister Tuesday night, but we didn’t get any last pictures. We never walked together because she is a crazy distance-killing machine on the path, but we killed a lot of wine and beer together whenever we both ended in the same village. She is my beloved Camino sister, and she is one of the strongest bad-ass women I met. Chantal: it’s amazing how deep and intense and brutally honest our conversations were, and how spending such a short amount of time with her impacted me. Everything is going to be ok. I will see you in NYC November 2019.

A trip down memory lane — Chantal and I in Carrion-something-something (who can remember village names anymore?).

Thursday was yet another holiday in Santiago, which meant everyone was out of work, kids were not in school, shops were closed… you know the drill. The Spanish LOVE their holidays! This one was specifically celebrating Galicia. The city became packed with celebrants, and they choked the narrow streets and all of the tourist sites (including the cathedral).

I did manage to catch the tacky tourist train in the morning before the streets became impassable. Of all the tacky tourist trains in Spain, these two had to board mine:

It was great to reconnect with Gary from Switzerland and Juan from Brazil one more time. Allison from Chester had still not reached Santiago by Thursday, but the guys promised to give her a hug goodbye from me. Here we are in Leon a few weeks ago. If you compare pics, you will see that the guys got haircuts and shaves in Santiago.

Closing those circles…

I’m very sorry I never got to reconnect with Kitty and Wilma from the Netherlands. I hope you are both doing well! A trip down down memory lane of us in Pamplona (I happened to run into them as they were leaving town). It’s amazing how deep and intense and brutally honest our conversations were, and how spending such a short amount of time with them impacted me.

Back to Santiago: I will admit to you all that I got overwhelmed by the crowds by mid-afternoon. It all just became too much. I decided to stop playing tourist and wander through the park instead. I came across a massive protest march leaving the park. People of all ages and a lot of families with kids–

Check out these rude pilgrims cutting right through the protest:

It was inspiring seeing the people of Galicia march for the right to preserve their language and identity. So many of the locals I met along the entire length of the Camino were such real, passionate, kind, warm, and generous people.

Now that I have been back in staid, grim-faced London for the last 24 hours, I realize how much I appreciate the authenticity of every Spanish person I met. They yell, they talk excitedly, they feed you way too much food as a sign of love (even if it is all bread). They kiss you on the cheeks even if you had only met 30 seconds before. They approach you randomly on the path and tell you they are praying for you. At least until I reached Sarria, almost every local in every village and every city would greet me with a “Buenos Dias,” “Buen Camino,” “Hola,” a smile, a wave, or at the very least a friendly head nod. The children run around shrieking and making terrible rackets, but they are happy, joyful, and clearly loved.

I suppose this post is not only a love letter to my Camino sisters, closing the circles, but also a love letter to Spain. Gracias!

On the way to the airport, a view of the last hill I climbed down last Tuesday morning. Even though I walked by the airport Monday, I still took a taxi back.

P.S. Is the Camino really a metaphor for our lives? Absolutely!

Everything happens for a reason if you let it be, and people come in and out of your life in surprising ways. To be honest, I wasn’t happy with myself for scheduling these two days in London; it seemed like a great idea in December, but I really just wanted to go straight home. I decided to practice patience and let it go, see what comes my way being here an extra two days. Then it happened! A very chance opportunity to reconnect with a very special person from my past life as an academic — my friend and former professional mentor Ginny who happens to be here working on a hagiography manuscript in the British Library! We haven’t seen each other in over ten years. The Camino still provides!

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