***Written yesterday, November 3rd.***
We made it!
After hundreds of miles full of strained calfs, blisters, shin splints and arch pain, we made it to Santiago de Compostela happy, wet, and relatively unscathed. In the end we walked 346 miles, which is about 100 miles short of our original goal, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.
We arrived on November 1st, two days earlier than our original date of November 3rd.
It is incredible.
The whole thing still seems a bit surreal. I can’t believe we’ve reached the end. It’s been a whirlwind few days, to say the least.
I barely slept the night before we arrived. My mind was racing, thinking about how tomorrow was the end. The last day! I kept waking up and checking my watch, wondering if it was time to go. It felt like the night before graduation. The excitement was almost tangible.
Our friends Paul and Katy were staying at the same hotel as us, so we started walking together. It was raining softly but we didn’t mind. We had made it this far – a little rain wasn’t going to get us down!
Within an hour, the rain went from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. Despite our rain gear we were soaked, but still we trudged along, laughing and splashing and having a blast. When we could see the spires of the Santiago cathedral in the distance, we all got a bit quiet. The end was literally in sight.
We had met Paul and Katy just a few days before, but our connection was instant. They are the first (and only) couple we had come across in the past month that was around our age, and within an hour of meeting we felt like we had all been good friends forever, swapping stories and laughing so hard we cried.
They have been about one day behind us the entire camino, and it’s almost eery how similar our experiences have been. We all keep saying that we wish we had met each other sooner, but the fact that we have met at all feels like a gift. A camino reward. They are the friends we didn’t know we were looking for.
As we walked into the city, the wind picked up, and soon the rain was coming down on us sideways. The city was confusing, and strangely enough, the path into Santiago was the least marked that we had encountered along the entire camino. Somewhere along the way we missed a turn, losing the path. When we realized that we would be arriving at the cathedral from behind, and not on the actual camino trail, Katy and I started to get sad. We had both really wanted to walk in on the path, the way that pilgrims had been doing for hundreds of years. To get lost at this stage seemed like a mean joke.
But then we realized that we were being ridiculous. What mattered was that we were here, in Santiago! That we had made it!
As soon as we got to the cathedral, it was clear that it didn’t matter which direction you had come from. There were pilgrims everywhere, laughing and crying and hugging, oblivious to the pouring rain. We stood in the middle of the square and looked up at the cathedral with awe and a little bit of disbelief. We had reached the end of our pilgrimage at last.
We popped inside just in time to see the botafumeiro swing. Because it was All Saints’ Day the church was packed wall to wall with people. We squeezed into a corner and stood silently, watching the botafumeiro swing back and forth as the room filled with incense. We stayed for about 20 minutes, occasionally looking around to sneak waves and smiles and thumbs up at other friends we had met along the way. And then the four of us left to get drinks.
We celebrated until almost 4 am. I woke up yesterday morning with hands down my worst camino hangover of our entire trip, and though I felt absolutely wretched, my sheer delight at the fact that I didn’t have to walk anywhere almost counteracted my hangover. Almost.
The last 48 hours have been a big blur of celebrations and hugs and wine and goodbyes. There have been lots and lots of “congratulations!” and “we did it!“s from people and to people, even if we had never met them until that very moment.
We have reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen for weeks, said goodbye to people that feel like family, and bonded with others we never even crossed paths with while walking. It’s been an incredible and overwhelming few days.
I’m a huge mixed bag of emotions right now. I’m sad it’s over. I’m proud of us for having done it. I’m grateful for the experience. I’m thrilled that we have made so many great friends and connections. And I’m so excited for what is next for us, not only on the rest of this trip, but in life in general. It feels like a new beginning in a way.
It’s going to take us awhile to process this whole experience, but Kevin said earlier that next to getting married, this is the best thing that we have ever done. I agree. We are stronger for it, both individually and as a couple. I believe we are better for it.
I’m already suffering from some post-camino blues, but whenever I start to get really sad that it is over, I try to remind myself that being sad over something ending is a good thing. It means that I was lucky enough to experience something so great that I didn’t want it to end, and for that I am so grateful. Bedbugs and all.
Tomorrow morning we hop on a bus to Portugal, where we stop being pilgrims and start being plain old travelers. Just thinking about it feels strange, as if I am losing a part of myself, like a snake shedding skin. It’s harder than I thought it would be to let go of this pilgrim identity, though I think no matter where I am, I’ll always be a little bit of a peregrina in my heart.
Though I’m sad it’s over, I’m content with how it ended, and I’m looking forward to the new travel adventures that await us. The camino has been such an all-consuming experience that I haven’t even thought about the rest of our trip, but we still have about two weeks left. And I certainly intend to make the most of them.
Thank you for following along so far. It has meant the world to me.
P.S. I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the camino, so when I get back home I’m planning on putting together a sort of FAQ post that answers them all, along with my own personal tips and recommendations and what not. If there’s anything you’d like to know (really, anything, I love this kind of stuff!) please feel free to send me an email or ask it in the comments. There is no such thing as a stupid question 🙂
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