This is a couple of days late because we’ve been celebrating. Also, I think it’s hard to articulate what I was, and am feeling, post-pilgrimage. I’m feeling a lot, and it will take some time to unpack and process. But for now, to keep up with my travel blogging, here’s a Day 10 (and final) pilgrimage report.
Even though one’s emotions can feel mixed when you reach the end of such a meaningful experience, it was certain that we were all ready to stop walking, and to wear something other than hiking clothes! We hit the trail early again, and had a couple of miles without many other pilgrims on the trail. But with about 9 miles left to go to Santiago de Compostela, it was like someone opened a gate and pilgrims entered the trail seemingly out of nowhere. It was an amazing experience, though, to be sharing “The Way” with so many pilgrims. All of us had self selected to do a pilgrimage, and the air was rich with a shared meaningfulness. We all walked with purpose. It was a great procession. The boys hiked hard and fast. They didn’t request as many snacks today as they have the last 9 days, and Jerry and I stayed right on their heels. We were all eager to reach Santiago de Compostela.
After 10 days of walking on the Camino, we got to know the familiar faces of the many pilgrims who were on a similar timeline and schedule. A kinship was formed, and we often greeted each other at lunch or on the trail, or in the village or town at dinner each evening. It was fun to share in each other’s anticipation of the grand finale today. I only met and conversed with one pilgrim today, but it was a good one. Meeting Gisele today was something I think God, or the Universe facilitated.
We were hiking up a big, long hill at about 10am, when I passed Gisele. I smiled, and said the customary “Buen Camino” to her. She smiled and returned the pleasantry, and added, “Are those your boys up ahead? Is that your family?” Yes I told her, and she complimented me, saying “It is beautiful to see your family out here. How wonderful.” We walked and talked for most of the uphill, and a little more. Gisele is originally from Columbia, but has been living in Miami for 23 years. She told me she used to be a nanny for three boys, and seeing my sons reminded her of those boys and that experience.
She shared that she owns a few properties in Miami, which she manages, and she recently quit a job where she worked with about 150 people. She has been walking the Camino for 6 weeks. I asked her what drew her to the Camino. She said one day she just realized she was racing. Every day felt like a race, and all around her at work, people were “like robots.” She said she, and all of the people she worked with/around came to work every day and they worked fast and furiously, often with headphones on or staring at their computers, and often not even looking at or seeing each other. She added before she knew it another day had gone by.
She explained, “One day I just decided I needed to stop. I just needed to stop my life. Every day was so busy and about doing as much as possible and the pace was so fast, I just needed to stop.” She said she also hoped to be closer to God. Next thing she knew she was walking the 720-kilometer/500-mile Camino de Santiago.
I asked her if her experience on the Camino has been successful in helping her to stop time. “Yes!” she exclaimed. She explained that her days have been reduced to literally just putting one foot in front of the other. Every day. She shared how when she started, it took her 10 hours to climb the mountain on the first stage, and she questioned her decision to walk the Camino. She said she has met so many wonderful people, and heard and experienced so many interesting and personal stories during the journey.
About halfway through her experience –in the middle of her 500-mile pilgrimage– she was walking along the path when a shepherd crossed the road right in front of her with about 500 sheep. She said she, and other pilgrims, had to stop in the road and wait and watch as the shepherd herded the sheep across the road. She explained that right in front of her on the road, one of the sheep in the back collapsed, falling right in front of her. “It looked at me with its brown eyes. It was dying.” She said one of the other pilgrims who saw it, chased down the shepherd and told her about the fallen sheep. The shepherd came back to see what was wrong, and looked at Gisele, and explained, kindly, “Death is part of life.” The sheep died right in front of Gisele.
With some other pilgrims’ help, the shepherd moved the dead sheep to the side of the road and carried on about his business. When Gisele got to an albergue that night she was still a little shaken, and when she was sharing what had happened with the sheep on the trail with a person at dinner, the person told Gisele, “That is a lesson for you. That life can change in an instant. You don’t know when your time is up. One minute you’re alive, the next minute you’re not… All you have is your next step, this moment you’re looking at right now.” (This reminded me of a passage in the book I started reading, and finished, during my flight to Europe, called The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, which has been on my mind since I read it: “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”)
I asked her how she would return to her life in Miami, after the Camino pilgrimage. “I will take what I’ve learned here and apply it to my life in Miami. It will be hard, but I will do it. I know a different a way to be now.”
Gisele also told me about a 94-year-old French woman she met who started walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in early April, and who is still walking, behind her, somewhere along Camino. “I said to her, ‘Gosh! How do you do it? How do you walk for so long, and at your age?’ And she told me, ‘What do you think I should do? Sit in a chair and knit? I would rather walk on a trail in France and Spain that sit in a chair and knit.’” Gisele shared how that inspired her to continue her own walk, and how to live her life upon her return. I am so glad I met Gisele. Jerry, who was walking near us, took a photo of us that Gisele asked me to send her, so I will be in touch with Gisele again.
We eventually entered Santiago, and I would be lying if I didn’t report that we were disappointed when we viewed a street map that indicated we still had about 1-1/2 miles to walk (through the city) to get to our final destination! About a quarter-mile before arriving, Wolf offered to hold my hand, and we walked for some blocks that way, before he traded my hand to Hayden, who I walked with for a some blocks, before he gave my hand to Fin, who I walked some blocks with. Then, eventually Jerry! We practically ran into the great plaza where the great Cathedral is located. Yes, I cried. I was overcome with emotion, mostly gratitude. It was a most fulfilling experience, and it was even more meaningful than I imagined it would be.
After some hugs and a prayer and some photos, we went to the office to get our Credencials validated, and received our Compostela certificates. We had a great night of eating and celebrating and taking in the “Pilgrim” atmosphere of Santiago de Compostela. (I will share more personally and extensively about our family’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage experience in a future blog post, after we return from this trip and I’ve had more time to reflect on and “unpack”/process the experience. As I write this, we’re on a plane headed to Barcelona, where we’ll enjoy the last few days of our trip.)
One last thing, though… Most people really are wonderful. All of the people we met or greeted or were greeted by in our 10 days on of pilgrimage were wonderful. We made so many new acquaintances and friends.
Two couples from Cincinnati became our fast friends as we saw them often at dinner along The Way, and ran into them one final time on our last night in Santiago last night. We’ll be keeping in touch. What neat people they are.
We also reunited with Amy, from CA, who I look forward to keeping in touch with. As soon as I met her, I knew she was my people. I look forward to keeping in touch with her and hopefully finding a way to make our paths cross again one day. And also, we ran into Jorian, from Holland! I had shared her story in an earlier post. A day before us, she completed the entire Camino and had celebrated the end when she was met by her Father, who flew to Santiago for the occasion. We had big hugs, and it’s a real possibility that we’ll do some work together in the future.
We also made friends with Peggy and Ian, a retired couple from Vancouver. They walked the entire Camino in just 29 days. It was something Peggy said she always wanted to do, and when her brother passed away last year and left bucket list items unchecked, it inspired her to not hesitate. Given the ambitious schedule they kept, they have 7 days to “spare”—and we again bumped into them on yesterday’s Muxia and Finisterre bus tour.
Thanks again for following along. Your thoughts and support have meant so much to us. Truly! Love, Shelli, Jerry and boys
Next up –and last stop on our Epic trip itinerary: Barcelona.
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