Camino ~ Arca to Santiago and beyond

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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Photo credit:Hotel Ciudad de Compostela)

Days 13-16 … Friday – Monday 14-17 August 2015

Took me some effort to write this, partly I’ve been out sightseeing and partly I can’t find any profoundly amazing thing to say about the final stage of the Camino.

I wanted to end this series properly with a decorative period, not a half-hearted report in mid-sentence.

But the last few days were both unnerving yet surprising and they now provided a meaningful conclusion to this whole insane walk.

This may drag on a bit so please bear with me. I want to share as much as I can on what the heck this grand walk means to me now.

The pilgrim cast in stone and metal, and in some of our hearts

The last 100km or 5 days were filled with “pilgrim tourists”. Many don’t carry any backpacks. They simply raced past chatting away and party in the next town.

It was very different from where I started in Leon. But there’re many ways to Santiago and everyone will find their own.

There seemed to be less people on the last day from Arca. Most people must have started earlier.

I was among the stragglers and the injured. But it was good taking my time enjoying the fresh fragrant country air. You know, how it’s like when we were kids in the playground and it’s time to go? It’s the same lingering feeling.

During the Camino, I’ve met many nice people, made friends, walked together, shared stories, love, peace and all that but this last day of walking, I wanted time alone as I approached Santiago.

Time for reflection

I was having mixed feelings. Actually it’s more like trying to solve an unknown puzzle or in search of something out there, elusive, perhaps even non-existent.

Originally I wanted to stay the night in Monte Gozo about 5km from Santiago de Compostella and made the descent early Saturday morning.

Somehow I missed the 500-bed albergue (can you imagine?) and arrived in Santiago without realizing it. Like, huh, I’m here already?

Entering Santiago was a bit disappointing. The outer city was dull, regular, lacking in charm and magic, definitely very different from my great expectations.

Luckily I met my new Hungarian friend Zsolt and he led me into the old city, got our credentials and certificates, celebrated with a sumptuous Galician dinner and ended the day with a well deserved rest.

We made it! Two boomers who met somewhere along the Way
Queuing to get certificate at the Pilgrims Office
The proud moment

The next day Saturday, Zsolt left and I ventured on my own. After the big thrill of having arrived at a preconceived sacred site, I felt disillusioned.

The place seems like a theme park with souvenir shops and tourists, families with agitated babies, children running and shouting excitedly while parents eat and drink, a sightseeing trolley, guided tours, buskers, tired pilgrims, happy pilgrims, day pilgrims, fake pilgrims …. It was an anti-climax. I can’t believe I walked so far for this. I was disenchanted, but still hopeful.

So I headed for the cathedral to see if I can find something important, a message, a sign, a vision, anything. As I entered there was a faint smell of incense and knew I missed the Botafumeiro ritual. This is one of the highlights of the pilgrimage and was really annoying to miss it by a few minutes.

What’s even more annoying is inside the cathedral, people were taking photos and videos while the mass was going on, holding up the queue just to pose for photos.

I moved away from the crowd to a quiet corner, stayed for a few minutes thinking how I started the Camino alone and ended up alone.

The picture that almost every pilgrim has

From the sea of people, I started searching for the pilgrims I met during my walk but there were no familiar faces. Feeling slightly lonely, I left the cathedral.

Just as I was deciding if I should buy a sandwich to eat in a park rather than eating alone in a cafe, I met Carlos and his son near the steps behind the cathedral. We’ve stayed in the same albergue for 3 nights but have not met for the past 5 days. It’s was a joyful reunion.

Plaza de las Platerías

Carlos used to live in Santiago as a child and showed me around the old quarters. How the place changes when you have someone with you. Suddenly there was warmth and stories, life and history. It was drizzling on and off but we had a splendid time.

The group from the night of the queimada in albergue Fenix – 3 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 1 Singaporean

Come Sunday morning, Carlos and group left. Alone again, I decided to make a day trip to Finisterre.

Lo and behold, the Korean lady Shim who was in my little Singapore National Day dinner was on the same bus. It was the Korean National Day and she treated me to the best seafood lunch at the end of the world. After that we walked to the lighthouse and had a great excursion together.

Shim trying to brighten up the foggy day with her cute sunglasses

While waiting for the bus back, Shim and I saw an Italian pilgrim who could barely walk and stumbled to our table. His knees were badly swollen after completing a grueling walk on the English Camino. We helped him order food which he ate very quickly. Then he saw another pilgrim, rushed to meet the person and forgot to pay for his meal. So Shim and I settled his bill.

Monday morning Shim left for the airport and I was alone again. Went to the bus station to get tickets for Madrid. Guess what? The Italian pilgrim was in the same queue. This is beginning to be look like a drama with a few characters playing lead roles.

Italian and I were happy to see each other and we walked to the old town where he treated me to breakfast. Then I accompanied him shopping for birthday gift for his mum.

Despite badly injured and limping painfully, Italian pilgrim walked all over looking for a special gift for his mother

Ok that’s getting a wee bit personal so we said goodbye and parted ways. That’s when I got lost in the maze of Santiago and wandered into a small empty square with only a flower store in front of a building with green doors.

Inside was a small church with a simple interior and in the centre the statue of Jesus with a humane expression unlike the suffering look on the cross. In the peace and calm of this old place, I sat on a bench and began to reflect on the experiences of the past two weeks.

It didn’t take long to realize that most my needs have been answered, my fears dispelled and my hopes reignited along the way. Not in an obvious manner but in subtle instances when I least expected. Everything seems to happen for a reason. 

It became clear when and why people come into my life, the lessons they taught me, how problems can be solved, what’s really important and above all, I realized the Camino has not ended when I reached Santiago but it is the start of living differently from now on, of looking at life in different perspectives, managing expectations and being truly contented being myself.

The Camino is about following the yellow arrows of our lives. Sometimes they are hard to find especially in busy crowded places. Sometimes we feel lost and we will need a friend to show the way. Sometimes we are that friend. And sometimes, we are the yellow arrows.

 

The real Camino begins now.

Buen Camino! Peregrinos para siempre! 

Have a good journey. We are pilgrims forever.

Joan Yap

 

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8 thoughts on “Camino ~ Arca to Santiago and beyond

  1. It was well worth the wait to read about the conflicting and turbulent emotions and experiences presented to you on the latter stages of your journey. Those people who tend to enter places of worship for the sake of saying they’ve been there and taking ‘selfies’ and not leaving the scene until they’ve grabbed their quota of other electronic memorabilia, can be tiresome. Unfortunately that’s the way of the modern world with its short attention spans and souvenir-seeking ways rather than devotion or due respect. Never mind. Tolerance is a virtue too. Good to see you survived the many pitfalls along the way and overall derived a great deal of enjoyment and fulfilment from the overall experience.

  2. Wow what a read. I really connected with you writing and truly liked your last paragraph about following the yellow arrows of our lives. Thank you so much for writing this blog. I start my Camino Journey this September from St Jean to Santiago. Thank you again.

    1. Thank you Lucie.
      I wish you a safe and meaningful journey. If you have any questions about the Camino Frances, do feel free to reach out and I try my best to answer.
      Best wishes, Joan

  3. Thank you for posting your story! I have thoroughly enjoyed following your journey, physically and spiritually.
    I am currently planning to walk El Camino Frances in 2019 to celebrate two new knees and my 70th birthday.
    You have certainly inspired me to pursue that long held dream and make it a reality.
    Thank you, and Buen Camino.

    1. Dear Margaret,
      Thank you for your kind comment. I apologize for not replying earlier as I was busy with work and not very active on my blog these days.
      I wish you all the best for your walk and you are also an inspiration to me.
      “Life begins when fear ends.”
      Have a lovely weekend.
      Joan

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