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Camino Frances: (Part 9) Walking into Santiago de Compostela

It was so amazing to spend Day 33 walking with Tillia and Monique. We chatted and talked and before one knew it, we were walking into Portomarín. The evening was spent in festivity and we found a great restaurant for dinner and sat at a table on the sidewalk. Amazing to again bump into friends, new and old, exchange stories and experiences. And so it was that we met Guy and Grace, a couple in their 80's who I had seen along the route. What stood out for me was their love for each other. They looked like they had just met and fallen in love. It turns out they had been together for 29 years already and still as much in love as the day they met. Such a beautiful couple who walked hand in hand every step of the way.

We (Tillia, Monique and I) said goodbye to each other at least three times. Once after dinner as they wanted to leave early the next morning and then at least twice the next morning when we kept bumping into each other.

Helen and I walked a 25 km (15.5 mile) stretch to San Xulián and spent the night in an amazing Albergue in this small village opting not to overnight in Palas de Rei so that we could separate our daily walks from the crowds.

This part of Spain is simply beautiful with many Horreros so typical of this area. Ah the peace and quiet of the trail, the sounds of nature and ones feet on the gravel were food for the soul.

It was Helen and I again and this particular day we walked many hours just on our own. A great day for preparing ourselves for the finish in Santiago.

As always we found time for laughter, time for reflection and time for stillness. We walked so well together. I wondered what my Camino would have been like if I had not met Helen... She had become such a part of my day and I hers. We laughed together, cried together and walked silently together. We often walked apart meeting only at the end of the day. There was never any obligation to stay together, yet we just did.

It was also a day that we bumped into Faye from Durban, Sue from Johannesburg and a father and daughter couple (Terry & Kerry) who had all started at a similar time to us. I was amazed to see the transformation in Terry and Kerry. I had really thought that this journey could break their relationship. Way back in Obanós they were not in a good space. It was amazing to see how their relationship had blossomed into a very special friendship. On top of things, Kerry who was more than a little overweight, had shed a huge amount of weight and had to tie her pants up with safety pins to keep them from falling. I was so grateful to have been part of their journey. As I write this, and flip through photos to add to this blog, I can see my own transformation. I am so grateful to be able to re-live each day and every picture. Smell the smells and feel the emotions.

Helen and I spent that night in Salceda at what would be our very last Albergue. We were in a sombre mood, as was many other pilgrims who stayed over. All of us feeling a similar emotion. We were some 30 kms (18.6 miles) from Santiago.

We left that morning just after 9am, later than usual as it was a short day with just a 12 km (8 mile) walk to Lavacolla, a little village just 10 kms (6 miles) outside Santiago. We meandered along enjoying each step as it brought us closer to the end, stopping to have our Camino Passports stamped and savouring those coffee stops along the way.

We had booked into a hotel for our last night on the Camino - a spoil we felt we deserved. We arrived at Lavacolla just after lunch time and spent the afternoon chatting to other pilgrims who had pretty much done exactly what we had. What a wonderful day reminiscing and mentally preparing ourselves for the walk into Santiago.

With a heavy heart we set out just after 9am. The walk into Santiago was amazing. We skirted past the airport, past fields and villages until we were on the outskirts of the old city.

There were many stops along the way and as the emotions built up, my throat constricted and then tears welled up in my eyes. With each step I drew closer to the Cathedral situated in the old city of Santiago de Compostela. Looking around me I noticed that every other pilgrim was experiencing the same. The tears flowed... the customary 'Buen Camino' muttered with a choked voice as the tears flowed.

I cannot describe the feeling of walking on the cobbled streets toward the plaza in front of the Cathedral. All pilgrims make their way to this place to mark the end of their journey. There Helen and I saw our friends, our Camino Family... many of them lying starfished on the paving crying, others taking selfies with the Cathedral as a backdrop.

It was unfortunate that there was restoration work being done on the Cathedral at the time but to be honest, I didn't care. I had made a journey that was life changing. I had walked 800 kms (500 miles) in 39 days. I had cried and laughed, met amazing people whose troubles made mine pale into insignificance. I had learned to listen - actively listen and I was so grateful for this life lesson. I had conversed with a diversity of people and know that language is not a barrier. I had found myself ...

Was this the end of my time with Helen? Of course not! Once we had done in the plaza, we went to the Pilgrim Office and collected our certificates. On our way to find our Hotel, we stopped off for a bit of shopping. Neither Helen or I had brought any ordinary clothing so we bought ourselves some jeans and a top or two. After a great shower we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the old city bumping into many of our camino friends and sharing a celebratory drink with them.

Our celebratory meal with a great Vino tinto

My Tattoo

On the Sunday (4th June 2017) we attended the Pilgrims Mass and received the Pilgrims blessing. An amazing end to a very amazing journey.

Helen and I were to only part ways at Kings Cross Station in London. We landed up coincidently flying out to London on the same flight, landed up being seated next to each other with absolutely no planning. It was not time for us to say our goodbyes. On landing at Gatwick, we took the train to Kings Cross Station where Helen went on to another town outside of London. I took a cab to North London where my niece was waiting for my return. We both cried. They were tears of gratitude and happiness, sadness too as we had shared a very intimate journey together. It will never be goodbye Helen - I will remember our journey till the day I die. Thank you is all I can say... thank you.

I will walk again, there is something very spiritual about Spain and it's Caminos.

I will be back...

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