notes from the camino: it is completed


We woke this morning to a perfect day for walking. The sun was shining, a few cotton ball clouds were scattered across the sky as though they had been painted in, and a cool breeze blew across our path as we wandered through farms and forests once again. We walked at a relaxed pace, enjoying our conversation because we knew this was our last day on the Camino. After about a half an hour, we stopped for a coffee and bathroom break because the first of two climbs were ahead of us and there was nowhere to stop until we got to the other side of the mountain. Cafe con leches consumed, we headed up the hill. For close to an hour we climbed; the grade was not too steep and it was unrelenting. Three or four times the road turned toward false summits leaving us to find another stretch of ascending highway. We topped the mountain, found another coffee and a bathroom, and began our way down the other side.

Our talk turned again to those who had come before us. Those who walked in earlier times had only the clothes on their backs, one pair of shoes — if any, and no personal toiletries of note. When they stopped at an albergue for the night, a bath of shower was not part of the package. Regardless of where they started on their walk, by the time they got to the stage we walked today they were ripe. To borrow from the King James, they stinketh. We came down the mountain and into a little village called Lavacolla, which means something along the lines of “the place to wash your bottom (or your private parts). It was where people bathed before they got to Santiago de Compostela.

Our guide gave us instructions as he prepared us for our second climb and told us we would come to a small wooden bridge and the washing spot would be there to our right. I was expecting a sort of ritual cleansing place, a version of what we saw outside the mosques in Istanbul where the men washed themselves before going in to worship. What we found was little more than a shallow swimming hole with room enough for one person to enter the little brook, and there was one person there. He was a man about my size who had walked in front of me on the trail most of the morning. I didn’t see him with anyone else and he said little more than “Buen Camino” each time we passed each other. When I got to the stream, he was sitting on the bank, his shoes and socks beside him, washing his feet. I don’t know how long he stayed; we didn’t see him again. We crossed the bridge and began our second climb of the day, which pushed us to our limit even as it brought us to the summit of Monte do Gozo — Mountain of Joy — which is supposed to be the first place on the Camino from which you can see the Cathedral in Santiago. Also on that mountain is an enormous sculpture commemorating John Paul II’s walk on the Camino. For the ancient pilgrims to have bathed before they took on the second mountain was a mistake. They would have stunketh once more after reaching Monte do Gozo.

We ate lunch under the sculpture and then set out on the last eight kilometers of our journey together. We were tired. The two ascents had taken their toll, even with the coffee stops and our picnic lunch. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, we entered the city of Santiago and spent the rest of our walk on city sidewalks. Ginger and I talked about what it felt like to finish this thing we have talked about doing since we say The Way soon after he father died over two and a half years ago. To call it an accomplishment is the wrong word. We didn’t accomplish anything. This wasn’t on our bucket list as something to check off. It didn’t feel like some thing we had done. The word that kept coming to mind was completed. We completed the last seventy miles of the Camino de Santiago. We stepped out in Sarria and, five days later, were walking the streets of Santiago on the way to the cathedral.

The closer we got to the church, the older the buildings became and the smaller the streets. The cathedral is an enormous stone structure flanked on all sides by other giant stone structures all surrounding a huge square filled with people. In the middle of the square is a scallop shell carved into the stone where we could touch to mark the completion of our pilgrimage. There were not lines of people jumping up and down, no giant festivities. We saw a few groups, like ours, that touched the shell, took some pictures, hugged each other, and then went to find a place to shower and sleep.

There are things still to do here. Tomorrow morning we will go to the certification office and show our “Credential del Peregrino” to receive our official certificate of completion. This year, because of the eight hundredth anniversary of St. Francis’ walk, we will get a second certificate. Then we will go to the Pilgrim’s Mass together before we begin to go our separate ways. For the first morning in nearly a week, we will awake with more to do than just get up and walk. The focus of life will begin to diffuse, much life the rays on the back of a scallop shell, calling us to hold more than silence, to think beyond our next step, to move back into the life that swirls around us here in the city.

For now, it is completed, in a way a blanket is completed and then used for warmth, or a book is completed and then read again and again. The walk is over. The Camino is completed, but it is far from finished with me.


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