If you’re here to find the link to donate that’s here Do it in a dress – Camino Finisterre.
Here I am. Santiago de Compostela. Once again but this time different. This time complete. The final day in a trek that has added over 1,000kms to my legs, sent 28 girls to school and taught me about persistence, belief, charity, honesty, fear, bravery, courage, community (shin splints) and kindness. An adventure that asked me to stand bigger than I’ve stood in many years. An experience that has left a legacy, one that will shape every step I take as I move forward into the next chapter of this long life.
Today started early! We rose at 5.30am to walk through the early hours. After a mammoth 12 hour day yesterday we hoped to avoid this afternoon’s heat. Fortunately I lucked in with another dorm night where I could sleep through. This is no mean feat with at least 15 fellow walkers sharing the room. Thankfully there were no loud snorers or late night shufflers. I also had a bottom bunk and a night without a buddy on the top bunk eases the sleep situation. I’ve grown quite fond of the shared accommodation this camino. I’ve seen it as a personal challenge to be more amongst people. Also as a solo traveller the single rooms are not as affordable as they were when I walked with my sister and shared the cost.
As early leavers we do what is courteous for our fellow ‘roomies’ by taking our packs out of the room to organise them and get ourselves ready. There are a few things I’ve done differently this trip that I think are worth sharing if you’re reading and planning a camino! I have a small 40 litre pack. It’s enough, so much better in fact. The weight is about 5kgs. I have a sleeping sheet instead of a sleeping bag – brilliant. Less clothes, a truckload less toiletries and food wise I have an energy breakfast bar for each morning as well as regular salt stick tablets.
Another beautiful walk that started with hours of darkness. We walked under a sky full of stars, the Milky Way … it was magnificent. There was no need to break our stride looking for the ‘way’ today because it is well marked in reverse from Santa Marina. I’m glad yesterday’s hill is behind us. It’s a nice feeling to know that you took a few extra kms yesterday for today, those 46 kms mean only 43 today! Only – ha ha.
Breda and I walked together to our breakfast stop some 12kms from where we started this morning. It was the village and cafe where I first sat with Christian and wrote in his diary a few days before. It’s funny walking back where you’ve been as the villages already hold moments and memories. Breda and I swapped numbers here and arranged to catch up in Santiago for dinner. While we both like walking together the track is now light and on this last day I think walking alone is calling us both.
It’s quite magical to walk alone. To take the time to relish in being on the camino. To hear the sounds, feel the villages, smell the freshness – to simply be at one with yourself and the landscape. I had that also last time with my sister. We were able to intuitively know when and how to skip into aloneness or perhaps ‘oneness’ is a better description.
There was a great sense of accomplishment building as I walked closer and closer towards Santiago. Always mindful that I hadn’t quite made it … but deep down knowing I would. I felt the warmth of every ‘Buen camino’, ‘Buenos dias’, ‘Buenos Tardes’ … where else in the world will every single person you meet smile and wish you a good day or a good walk? It’s unique and I wonder what the world would be like if this courtesy was practiced daily. Smiles and greetings, no doubt they could change the world.
I’ve walked over 1,000 camino kms and 34 camino days and naturally there have been challenges. But I keep walking and step by step I walk through it or I walk into what I need. It’s a little how I feel about life right now. The stronger we walk the better we get at surrendering to the ‘not knowing’ of what’s to come, through those harder steps life sometimes chucks in our path and into what scares us. Finding trust frees us up. And when we free ourselves we open ourselves to experiencing pure joy and isn’t the experience of joy worthy of learning to surrender.
Casa Pancho: I should have stopped here to eat but I pushed on. I was walking a part of the trail that I had walked in the first few hours of my first day. I was fresh and full of beans then. Today my feet were not so fresh! I didn’t recall that there were steep hills from here and no food stops for another seven or so kms. I had run out of food and water. Luckily I had drunk enough litres and had enough fuel on board but I was silly to walk past a lone cafe when I was feeling the need to refuel. Nevertheless, I walked on …
… And found myself here, in this tiny cafe. The first place I stopped on my way out of Santiago six days before. No signs to warn me I just walked into it with its welcoming grape and kiwi vines. The perfect last stop to have a tortilla and a cold drink before walking the last 12 or so kms into Santiago.
Physically this was the hardest part of the walk as my feet ached with each step but personally it was hugely rewarding. I knew I was nearly there. I was making the most of each step. I felt ready to finish and excited to make it to the cathedral without the trauma of last time’s injuries. I was also excited about this new feeling I was uncovering … that something was ending and creating space for a new beginning. With each step this camino, this hike for one girl was nearing its completion. This last week had given me the opportunity to finish of what I had started so bravely and provided the perfect setting in which to be able to let it go.
When I created this project I was disillusioned with travel and the form in which it’s often shared online. I wanted to know I was contributing to the travel ‘noise’ in a way that was true to her essence, that she gives and we shouldn’t use her to take from or to encourage a world that wants ‘more’ at any cost. Travel, when we become immersed in her with new people, cultures and landscapes usually encourages us to want less, to give more. I think I achieved that. I know sharing the beauty of the camino inspired others to also walk, to dream of reflection and simplicity – to take time in nature and to want to be a part of something that was contributing. We sent 28 girls to school, girls who had more chance of becoming child brides before we stepped in (or up) – that action my friends MATTERS. It matters a great deal. It was a call to action (to protect what’s vulnerable).
I hope it also encourages others to come to this beautiful part of the world and participate in walking across a country! Travel that is sustainable for the environment and for the communities it supports. Travel that you come home from feeling content and with new fresh and challenged perspectives. And lastly by standing for something along the way I hope it helped others to feel they too could be brave, that bravery is not only about hustle and being loud or by insincerely telling others how they should live or what they need at the cost of your own soul. It’s simply about being honest and having the courage to take the action you need to be true to yourself by knowing and standing for what matters to you, no matter how small or big. Tip toeing, stepping or striding forwards.
If something doesn’t ‘feel’ right it probably isn’t. It’s far more courageous to explore your own intention and live your own truth. I think that is bravery not the bullshit we are fed, a lot of that is really just packaged up marketing or the projection of someone else’s needs. Which if you also need – unreal. But if not … it’s extraneous noise getting in the way of living your own real connected life. On the trail it all feels so real … I’m looking to surround myself with even more people like that. People who are living and feeling ‘real’ and standing for something. And I’ll be tuning in with those daily camino’ism type habits that keep me moving in the right direction. Along my path, towards my truth.
Of course just as I was about to walk back into civilization, into what would be the final section of this trail I happened upon this little guy. A cotton tail rabbit. Happily munching away, not frightened of me and contented to let me stand and stare in wonder. Of course if you know me you’ll know that his presence will be taken as a sign. A coincidence of great importance. I don’t believe this bunny is my animal totem but I do believe he was there to celebrate my ending. In a read of rabbit symbolism I know why this rabbit was on my path today. How about you? Are you noticing what’s along your path? And are you taking the time to understand why? Tell me a story if you have one to share.
And then in one unexpected second this gloriousness happened. I walked up from the forest track and into a view of the cathedral of Santiago. It was one of the most surreal experiences. When you arrive in Santiago from the other more popular way you don’t see the cathedral. I was nearly there. For the last few kms I started to undo all the plans I had for arriving and decided to just go to the cathedral and sit in the square (plaza). No, I wouldn’t check in, shower and do things in any order, I’d simply arrive.
How did it pan out? Well I ran into Helen within two minutes of hitting the square. Helen is the Dutch lady I met who flew in on the same plane. We took a photo for each other. I lined up on my sore feet in my stinky hiking gear at the pilgrim’s office to get my compostella and guess who walked in? Breda of course :) after getting our pieces of paper we bought a beer and sat on the plaza together to drink it. Naturally we’d do that! She’s Irish and I’m an Aussie and a beer signals a hard day’s or in our case week’s work. It was pretty amazing to sit in the square for a while. Sure I was tired, sore and smelly but I was also contented and in the mood to linger in the moment. We talked to fellow pilgrims and met a couple who had walked twice a year for three years to finally make their way along the camino Frances into Santiago. Every story is different, but everyone has one.
This trip was a bit about me being open to people and while I quietly harbored the desire to hibernate in my hotel room, I decided to go out and share a meal with Breta to celebrate finishing. I’m glad I did as again we met pilgrims with stories. A man (72) who just walked his first camino. He plans to do one a year ‘why not’ he says ‘I can still walk’. Why not indeed?!
There’s more I could write about my camino but then I’d never get this published! Do know I ate Santiago tart for breakfast (yum) … and I did run into Helen again at the airport (camino community and coincidence are always around the next corner). And we all know I’ve been back over a week now and am actually already living in the next chapter of my story (I’m keen to live in that, many unknowns but I’m sure it’s going to be a good one).
My camino Frances is over but don’t for a minute think I’m not on the camino. Don’t for a minute think you’re not on the camino either … every step we take is along our very own personal camino, our walk through life. What a privilege. I’m trying to not waste too many seconds by not remembering that – it goes fast, gosh my kids are growing. And boy do I love being a part of and awake enough to be sharing and present in that.
Again it’s time to say buen camino dear friends. Thank you from the depths of my heart for all the support and donations along the way and a special thanks to Sherilyn for the painting you did for me. I received it at the airport and have been profoundly moved by your sentiment. Of course Sherilyn I also see this as a great coincidence as it came at exactly the right time. And I want you to know that it was the moment that officially finished this last leg of my Camino Frances (hike for One Girl), the moment it all made sense. Thank you for creating an artwork (a gift) that helped me realise the importance of being proud and aware of the legacy I will leave for my children. That my life will stand for something important because I stare at the things that didn’t sit right inside and answer the call. That’s my personal truth and I will continue to build on that … for now by remaining close to home. The equinox has blown in and her timing is quite perfect. Time now to do small things with BIG love. But we know it’s the small, simple things done with love that are really the big, brave things don’t we ;)