Took me a couple of days to get this post up. Arrival in Santiago was emotional and busy and intensely personal and intensely relational. I'm now back home, resting and processing - slowly.
We arrived on Saturday in Santiago about 1 in the afternoon. We went straight to the cathedral and sat there in silence for quite awhile. Over to the side, we saw other people we had met on the Camino. Didier was talking with other pilgrims. It was a great time of reunions and reconnecting with people we had shared the journey with. The reunions included hugs and congratulations all around. We stayed in the cathedral plaza, taking photos and sharing stories and hugs, then the team sang the Aggie War Hymn together in the plaza. It was quite a spectacle.
I received my compostela which is an official document that recognizes me as a pilgrim and my walk from St. Jean pied de Port in France to Santiago, Spain - a total by their estimate 775 km. Also, the Franciscan order is giving out a special compostela to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the pilgrimage of St. Francis of Assi as he walked this very Camino to Santiago. It was a surprise and an awesome privilege to receive this special compostela.
Last night, we had a celebratory meal with many laughs, tears and stories from the Camino. I originally started this journey as a tag-along with the group, but ended as a member. They accepted me as one of their own and I am now forever connected with 14 incredible people. Quite an honor.
Today we attended the pilgrim's mass in the cathedral. It is a Catholic mass that recognizes the countries represented by the pilgrims that arrived the day before in Santiago.
After mass, I started the process of saying goodbye to my friends. We had many tearful hugs and promises to keep in touch. I also got to spend time with Didier today. We went to get ice cream and later toured the cathedral together. He is still in his wheelchair and continues to pray for healing. He, however, does not seem to be disappointed. We both told each other goodbye and hope to stay in touch. As we said goodbye, he called me his brother. He left this evening on a bus with some of the Aggies as they headed to Finisterre, the place once thought to be the end of the world. It is the furthest most point in Europe. Until Columbus, this was it. Didier had insisted on saying goodbye to the group and decided to take the trip to Finisterre with them.
I am still struggling with my feelings right now and still processing many things. I think that it will take some time for me to process all that I have experienced over the last 5 weeks. Debrief is a must. I plan on making the same trip next year with Laurie and a few others. Let me know if you would be interested in joining us in the journey.
Today I will arrive in Santiago de Compostela. It will be the end of the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It has been a dream for many years. I could not have done this without the help and support of many family and friends. I am dedicating this arrival and completion of this dream to Laurie.
Today is also the longest day of the year, the summer solstice but most of all it is the anniversary of my marriage to the love of my life. We have spent 28 years of life together as of today. So many times throughout this journey I have been reminded of you. I heard the songs of the birds and I was reminded of you. I saw the forests and was reminded of you. I saw the wildflowers (especially the wild daisies) and the beautiful gardens and was reminded of you.
I never imagined that 28 years ago today you would really be a part of me. I never imagined that the life we shared could ever be this good.
Like the Camino, our life has had its ups and downs. We have had many obstacles and I can remember in the beginning wondering if we could ever make it together. It has taken love, tenderness and kindness to overcome these obstacles.
You have helped me so much in this journey, both in our marriage and the Camino. Without your love, help and encouragement I could not have done either one.
I have missed you dearly. And I cannot wait to see you tomorrow night.
Buen camino my love.
Today we finished the next to the last leg of our pilgrimage. It was a good day of talking and reminiscing about the journey. We have about 20km more to get to our destination. Tonight, as we were discussing our plans for tomorrow, it was both exciting and sad. It is a really strange feeling that most of us are experiencing. As we were talking, it was really hard to keep from crying. I'm in strange place right now and having a hard time wrapping my mind around it.
I saw my friend Eve tonight. He had tears in his eyes, too, as he described the feeling. He is in the same place emotionally, and has said that it is now in his blood and he will return to walk it again. With his wife. Maybe they will join us next year when Laurie walks it with me. We plan on meeting up tomorrow to say goodbye.
We (the Aggies) leave at six tomorrow morning and plan on walking the last leg together.
Today we walked another 30km to stop in Arzua. It was exceptionally hard due to the fact that much of it was uphill. Along the way, I got to visit with some of my Camino friends from Australia and England. It is always great to get to talk and spend more time with people I have met along the way.
We passed through a town called Melide that is renowned for its octopus dishes. Naturally, we had to stop and try some. It was good, but nothing I would walk over 700km for again.
When I arrived at the albergue today, I had to lay down. I was so tired. I slept for almost 2 hours! I guess the lack of sleep at night is really catching up with me.
I forgot to update you on the status of Didier. The other day, he lost his cell phone. It had all of his photos and videos from his pilgrimage trip and he was very down. Almost to the point of quiting the Camino. He was very upset to have lost all the memories of photos. The Aggies were able to encourage him and he is now probably ahead of us. I hope we complete the journey together.
We have another two days of about 20km each to complete the Camino de Santiago. I am really excited about the next few days.
I really wanted to show you what a day on the Camino looks like, so I shot some video all throughout my day, from waking up in the morning to the end-of-trek (albergue to albergue), a few days ago. However, with our not-so-reliable internet availability, it has taken me over a week to get all the clips uploaded and sent to Laurie so she could combine them for a movie for you! There just isn't a lot of internet on the trail! So, finally, here it is! This was shot on the day that we walked from Rabanal to Molinaseca. Hope you enjoy a little piece of what it is to spend a day on the Camino...
We officially passed the 100k remaining mark today. We are now less than 60 miles from Santiago. The excitement is growing, as are the amount of new of pilgrims on the route. We played the 'guess the new pilgrim' game today. You can spot a new pilgrim by the lack of an adequately packed backpack (or any backpack at all), brand new tennis shoes, perfect new shirts, and the lack of a limp or gimp or any injury. Most seasoned pilgrims walk with some type if swagger or limp by this point, and our clothes look faded and worn, as do we.
The atmosphere on the Camino has changed as well. The albergues and restaurants are nicer and cater to a more diverse group. It now has the feel of a vacation or tourism rather than a pilgrimage. Lots of people enter in Sarria to walk the obligatory last 100km (4-5 days). It feels completely different than the past 4 weeks.
I did meet a couple today that are missionaries here in Spain. At first, he told me he was from Kansas, but I picked out his accent as NOT Kansas - It turns out that he has family in Greenville, Texas and Sulphur Springs, Texas and he grew up in Winnsburo, Texas. Small world. We found the we share many of the same beliefs and theories and practices for missions. I spent a lot of time with them today. I hope that we can get together with them after the Camino to share notes and learn from each other.
You may be wondering about Didier. He is doing fine. We saw him this evening and he had just traveled 40k and will do another 40k in the next day or two. His pace is completely different than ours now that we are on flat land or on lots of downhill areas. He can really move a lot faster than we can. I hope we get to meet up again, at least in Santiago, before we part ways.
As for me, I'm good. I plan on spending tomorrow praying all day on the trail as Laurie and I have our usual day of prayer set for this Wednesday (tomorrow). Please keep me in your prayers as well.
Thought I would show you some of the faces of the Camino...
Today marks the one month point... I've been walking for exactly one month. Seems like it has been forever, and also like it has flown by.
I took today to walk alone, by choice. I'm an introvert by nature and I felt like I really needed a day to be with myself, to think, to recharge. Introverts aren't necessarily shy people or loners. They gain their energy from being alone, whereas extroverts gain energy from being around other people. It has taken me some years to figure out how to manage that part of my life. And part of that is being sure to take some time that is away, alone. So, today was one of those days for me. I walked at my own pace, which actually ended up being faster than the group and I arrived in Sarria well ahead of the pack (which surprised me). It's hard to explain, really... sometimes I'm walking and thinking, sometimes I'm not aware of any thoughts at all, sometimes I'm just taking in all that is around me, and sometimes my mind is jumping all over the place and I couldn't even make sense of the stream of thought if I tried. But it was necessary for me and it was good and I feel rejuvenated and ready to take on these last 100km.
Sarria is the last place for people to "jump on" the Camino if they want to register for the official pilgrim's Compostela at the end. You must walk at least 100km to be officially registered for the Compostela.
I'm very aware of the fact that we are just days away from finishing this journey. I'm really excited and really feeling the energy of the end being in sight. But, at the same time, I really want to stay in the moment, to not get ahead of the journey, to stay intentional and present in every step of the way. So my inner battle right now is to stay in the present and not be focused on the end. Every one of these last 100km is important in some way, and I want to be there for each of them.
Today I met a fellow Texan on the Camino. She is 73 years old and is a fellow missionary to South Africa. She is walking with her friend, a professional dancer from Poland, and they are trying to raise money and awareness for their mission work.
We got a chance to exchange stories, laugh together and even shed a few tears together. She shared with me her first day when she arrived in Roncesvalles. You might remember from my post that the trail section to Roncevalles was a rough day for everyone. She said that she almost got to Roncesvalles when she said to her friend "I'm going down". Her knees gave out and she landed on the ground . With the help of a big, muscle-bound emergency care worker and a lot of effort, he was able to lift her off her feet and drop her into the floor of his SUV. When he did, he said, "That's a heavy woman" . We were laughing hysterically as she told the story! She is a great story teller.
Since that day, she has been pacing herself and has been doing well. She is a good example that age is not a limiting factor to walking the Camino. I have met many people past retirement age that are walking and doing better than many of the younger ones on the Camino.
I also had a breakdown on the trail today while sitting alone reading my devotional. I don't know how long I sat there today, but I ended up having a great talk and cry with God. I think that was what I needed today to help me to go into the final 100 miles of the trek. As of tonight, we are within 80 miles of Santiago and should finish up on Saturday - Laurie's and my 28th wedding anniversary.
The natural beauty today was fantastic. Today on the trail, I saw a chestnut tree that is estimated to be around 800 years old. This tree has been alive for almost as long as this pilgrimage has existed. It has seen a lot of pilgrims pass here. Lot's of history.
Tonight we are staying in Triacastela. We will walk to Sarria tomorrow, and then head in to our last big push. Less than a week away.
Tonight I am staying in the tiny village of La Faba. We walked about 24.5km today, mostly uphill. This is a beautiful part of Spain with mountains and little communities built along small mountain streams and rivers.
I had some really good conversations with members of our group. For a while, however, I walked with a girl from Maine . We talked about archaeology (her degree) and culture. We also had an interesting conversation about religion and Christians in general. She said that she is not religious but she knew Christians while growing up. She said that she was never interested in Christianity because when they talked with her, they continually told her that since she wasn't a believer she was going to hell. She said that they were very hateful and they shunned her. So, for that reason, she quit listening to them. We talked for a long time about how many Christians leave out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) to love God and to love your neighbor. It was really a great talk. I think that maybe the wall she had built was chipped a little today and hopefully a different side of Christianity was revealed to her. Planting seeds. Planting seeds.
It's 91 degrees at 6 pm. Our day started at 6 am this morning. Our plan was to beat the heat if possible, with a 30km trek ahead of us. We actually got to watch the full moon go down, and later we watched the sun rise.
In Ponferrada, we passed an incredible castle that served the Templar Knights. Unfortunately, we were there about 2 hrs before it opened, so hopefully I can visit it next year when I pass this way again.
We walked a total of 30k today in this heat. No clouds and occasionally we had shade when we left the trail to sit under a cherry tree. Today took a lot out of me physically. I feel completely drained. I am trying to recover from the heat. I drank about 3 liters on the trail and now have put away another liter. Hopefully a good meal and sleep will help.
I did meet a lady from Texas today. I think she is probably in her late 60s to early 70s. She has been walking the trail from France, as well. She started a few days before us and plans on finishing the 22nd or so of June. Other than meeting her and a small bit of conversation, today I was in survival mode. Trying to beat the heat and stay hydrated till the end of the day.