‘It is an act of courage to walk a camino. And I mean camino in the broad sense – a camino is any long walk you take, any path towards change.’ ~ Camino Reflections.
There is a post missing! The last week in Santiago. To those of you who followed along while I was on the camino and many of you did. Can you believe that in April there were over 2K views on my blog. Now I have no idea what that means in blog numbers, I’m sure it’s mini and I don’t care to look it up but to me it was huge to see a K there. People were reading my story and coming back. Maybe they went for a walk or even thought about going for a hike, perhaps they donated to One Girl or looked up their work – that’s awesome right there! And please don’t worry I am not trying to replicate those numbers my goal here is not that, it’s simply to share in a quiet space. Maybe a bit like an old school ‘community centre’ – a warm, calm place to be, to dream, hopefully with some interesting corners (hmm blog goals). The words of one of my kind reader’s Karen (of @coffeeteabooks) seem fitting with how I am feeling ‘a little stirring and a jiggle to start things up again’. I have more in me, in this One Girl story and it seems my contribution does impact others not just me, there is so much more to write about. There is room in the blogosphere for stories to be shared, they are what inspire me. In fact my calls to action often come from reading the words of others. So without further a-do let’s pick up where we left off in Santiago …. the last week.
Where was I? Oh yes! I was on a bus to Finisterre after a few days rest in Santiago. My emotions were mixed, perhaps raw is a better word. I knew I needed to move, to get out of Santiago for a bit but still I felt cheated. I had walked the first 710kms and 27 days with fire in my belly and spark in my legs – in a state of joyful euphoria. Then one night I began to feel tired, feverish and one of my shins had a dull ache towards the end of the day. And so close we were, just a mere 90kms out of Santiago and now I was injured? As you know I made it into Santiago, the end point of the Camino Frances Pilgrimage … just. It is fair to say that those last 90kms (three days) were torturous. It was pure grit and determination alone that took me into Santiago. And maybe my sister feeding me chocolate and doing her darnedest to distract me ‘Fran if you could live anywhere in the world …’? ‘Everywhere’ of course!
When I arrived in Santiago I couldn’t make it to the Cathedral that first day, there was nothing left. Physically or mentally. I had to get off my legs (remember by this time both shins were raging furnaces of pain). I needed to stop. STAT. That first evening I cried. When I woke the next morning I kept crying. I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop. It was the great tidal release of the pain of the past few days.
Supportive, holding the fort at home for five weeks husband said, ‘enjoy what you’ve achieved, you finished, write a last blog post and go celebrate and eat nice food with your sister’. He is pretty amazing (must not take him for granted). It hadn’t hit me that I had achieved something momentous, it couldn’t. The past days had given me no time for reflection or comprehension, just an incomprehensible feeling of loss. A loss of myself. Of my strong body. Even now I look at photos of wonder and joy on the faces of people who arrive at the cathedral – I never had that. Perhaps if it was my intended end point I would have had those feelings but as you know it wasn’t. I wanted to hike on the Finisterre. To the end of the earth. And I couldn’t. Thankfully, the camino is not the finish … it’s the days along the way.
Frank and Alan, the Texan brothers, Mark and Lucas our German friends were all still a few days behind. We had met up and said our goodbye’s to the wise Fin’s who were now on their way home. We had also met up with sassy Laura from America and quiet and deeply aware Jess from Canada they had continued on their walk. The German and UK Andy’s as well as Martha the fiercely strong, super sweet Dane were also on their way to Finisterre by foot. Relationships are strong on the camino. I wonder if I would have met these people in any other settings would we have become friends? I’m not sure we would have we are all of different ages, some with different politics and we all have very different lives. I am sure our paths would never have crossed.
But coincidence, timing and connection resulted in these pilgrims becoming my camino family. That is the absolute beauty of the camino you find who you’re meant to find. Like the big world we don’t get along with everyone just those who for what ever reason we gel with. They were #caminodeep and yes I fought the idea of a camino family because I still believed I wasn’t like everyone else but it turns out I am. This motley crew of kind, gutsy, funny, wise, fierce, tough, gentle, caring, intelligent hikey people will forever be my camino family.
Getting on the bus was the right move. A change of scenery and some motion to help shift my perspective. The kind hearted messages and comments that you lot delivered from home (or while on your travels) to my blog, IG account, to my what’s ap etc were beautifully and gladly received. It was like the old days of receiving post from the postman. I honestly have a moment with all of you that I can recall. I will be forever grateful that I walked the camino with each of you – my extended camino family.
Of course as soon we arrived into Finisterre we ran into some old favourites! The fluro gear wearing Italian friends. We never had long conversations with those guys but they were always just around a corner or at a table having their long two hour lunches with wine. We did learn that they were Alpine Mountain Rescuers. I am hoping my husband doesn’t have to meet them next week as he sets of on his Tour du Mont Blanc. He is taking a tent with him, there is no way he could do the night’s filled with snoring in the huts ;). I am not sure which of us is the more hardcore.
The first evening we hiked up to the lighthouse at Finisterre. It is one of the most powerful working lighthouses in Europe and as the night would unfold a spiritual place. As I have written previously Finisterre takes its name from the latin finis terrae, meaning “end of the earth”. At the end of this Roman road is where the Romans thought the earth ended and also where the ancient celts worshiped the sun. I can absolutely understand why. The sun, as it sets over the Atlantic to the east of the continent literally and spectacularly drops from the sky into the ocean. It is without question the MOST moving sunset I have ever witnessed and also without doubt it won’t be the last time I do. I am a creature of habit like that. Like Rome and the pantheon … each visit never feels like the the last.
There is a small cafe and hotel on Cape Finisterre. Small enough to exist yet taking nothing from the spectacular horizon and 360 degree beauty of the cape. It was the perfect place to sit with my sister enjoying a beer and a tapa as we awaited the sunset. Many people were scattered around the rocks with a bottle of wine and cheese. It was a bit windy for us. Something powerful happened that night as the mountain goats appeared on the cliffs just as the sun was beginning to set and drop away into the ocean.
I consider mountain goats to be one of my way markers in life. They are what I see when I dream of the Pyrenees and the Alps. Thinking of mountain goats can take me back to the wonder and freedom of our time spent in the campervan last year as a family. If I imagine the sounds of the bells I am instantly taken to spring, to flowers and snow tops, to adventurous kids playing in mountain springs, to deep smiles and feelings of awe and contented bliss. I can smell the fresh air. It’s important to have lived moments you can escape into don’t you think? I know, I digress, again. It’s a long story this one. The arrival of the goats reminded me I was home for the moment, right where I needed to be. They gave me a sense of peace and the permission I needed to let go of the disappointment of not walking there.
The camino is full of coincidences. Here is another one for you. That morning I had said to the Texan brothers ‘if you see German Lucas say hi’. I knew they must be at similar points on the trail and honestly you never know who you will see around the next corner or who will arrive at the Albergue that night. Wouldn’t you know it … a what’s ap photo and a message arrived. They had found Lucas sitting on a park bench! Here’s another. That night as we were having a beer and watching the sunset over the Atlantic a divine Sth African hiker who I had met at that ‘chicks who rock’ dinner with the Danes back on day 11, in Cardeñuela Ríopico walked into the cafe (there were 6 people in total in this cafe!). She was super interesting and I was so excited to be able finish the conversations we had started at that dinner three weeks before about the master’s degree she was about to start and about her mum’s camino blog. She was following in her mum’s footsteps and walking the camino, that’s an unreal story in itself. We also heard from Martha out of the blue … she was on the way in and hoped to meet up with us!
So we relaxed. Ate more food. Probably the best food we had eaten along the camino. We walked with our feet in the sand and started to wonder what would come next. That first meal in the photos by the way was served at 11.30 pm the night before. Honestly we were finally hitting our ‘Spanish time’ stride. As we were wandering along the beach guess who arrived by foot – Laura and Jess (writer of The Things She Carried – her camino story).These two will light up any room, both with their own stories and reasons for taking a long walk. It was an honour to have met these two. Along the camino I took many photos of pilgrims as they walked. I would then catch them or bump into them along the way and ask for their emails to forward the photos on to them. I was so happy to finally be able to take a photo for these two.
As I pondered my way though the days at Finisterre I did feel antsy and without purpose. After so many days of moving, of putting my backpack on, of sharing the evolving hike for One Girl story and of walking I was struggling with stopping. I enjoyed the moving. I had felt a bit stagnate before I left for the camino (there is an expat warning story there I am nearly ready to share). Now I felt I had found something and everything, anything seemed possible. I needed to keep the momentum alive. But what was everything?
In the quiet of one afternoon I submitted an application to a course I had thought about enrolling in for a long time. I knew I wanted to build on my One Girl contribution, to find a way to possibly contribute professionally. Maybe, just maybe after walking 800kms I could also take the same approach towards studying. I’d started believing I could do it. And by starting at the beginning and walking each day I could get through the research and stats required to produce something that would contribute to the greater good. Just as the camino had ended so would the two years the course would take me and so I applied to a Masters in Public Health.
My application is still in process and I haven’t made the commitment to study yet. I am thoroughly enjoying studying for my Spanish class and I know I am better at doing things when I am accountable to someone else! Gosh I am lucky to be born Australian where we can apply online and if needed defer our university fees with government assistance. Will I do it? Scary? Yes. But with work and dedication I can do it. I know I can. I am however doing something I don’t always do and that is considering before leaping. I’ll probably leap, of course I will (that’s how I roll) but I want to play a bit with this motion thing I learnt on the camino first. I want to not be looking for something but simply walking forward. I want to walk into the next leap.
Martha and German Andy joined us on the second night for another sunset experience. See I told you last night wouldn’t be the last. Of course this wasn’t the last either because in that cafe the night before I made plans with Frank (older Texan brother) to come back in September to hike Santiago to Finisterre. We are going to make it a round trip and hike back to Santiago you can read why here. I currently reside in Europe so it is an easy plan for me to make right now – no regrets.
Have you heard of the swinging Botafumerio? It swings in the cathedral in Santiago. It swings to greatlofty heights and fills the room with the sweet smell of the frankincense that burns within the huge incense burner. The burner weights 80kgs and measures up at 1.6 meters, it is rather awe inspiring. We arrived back in Santiago from Finisterre for a holy Sunday so were fortunate enough to witness this incredible tradition. In days past it was to hide the smell of the unwashed pilgrims and as a prophylactic to diseases the pilgrims were thought to carry.
We also were able to catch up with the yin and yang. German Mark and German Lucas. They had arrived in Santiago and if you rememeber Lucas was planning to walk the last 100kms with his mum. An awesome experience to share between a mother and son. We had breakfast and met his mum and those two went on to walk to Finisterre and Muchia. A whopping 950kms for Lucas, a 23yo type one diabetic who had the heaviest pack going around because he carried his medications. People on the camino are inspiring and everyone has their challenges.
We shared a meal and said good bye to our mates Frank and Alan. In the end what started with an unanticipated arrival finished with a perfect ending. We managed over that week to see most of the people we had met along the way. Our camino family. My sister wondered who I was – I was entirely a social beast and if you know me I am far removed from that IRL. (I am also playing with that little nugget I learnt about myself.) Maybe I should be a full time hiker, is that a thing? ;)
There were two people we didn’t see and we don’t have their details so if anyone reading this knows Mike (newly retired like the Tuesday before he started the camino from St Jean, witty, funny, fast walking pace, washes his ibuprofen down with coke) from the Sth of England. Or Hong (mother of 2, American, married to a German, sometimes drives to Amsterdam for yum cha and Paris for lunch because she feels free on the road, who told her husband she needed to go for a long walk). Please do ask them to get in touch! You never know right? The camino showed me just how small the world can be. Especially when you’re open to coincidences and chance. Putting it out there friends. And sure I know we all have to make things happen, do the work not just put it out there. For me making it happen was saying ‘yes’ to the adventure, the work came from there and the coincidences continue to flow. What an incredible adventure my camino was and still continues to be.
Last, but by no means least of course I must mention that gutsy hiking animal up there to my right. My sister – she made my camino. I will forever treasure the experiences and time we shared walking across Spain together. I can’t wait to see her next month to relive the funnies!
Walk your life, treat it as a camino. Each step, each day all leads somewhere and are part of one great big adventure. ~ Camino reflections.
Ha ha and maybe don’t think this is the last you’ll hear a camino yarn, I have many more to share.