A peregrina’s journey on The Camino de Santiago : The End

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Last Friday, September 11, I walked into Santiago and completed my pilgrimage on El Camino Frances.

The same day the remains of the murdered American pelegrina had been discovered. I’ve hesitated to write about the end of my pilgrimage because, in a sense, The Way will never end. Forever kept alive in the wisdom granted by conquering doubt and fear, and in the joy of sharing stories and laughter with new life-long friends. Each step I took closer to Santiago became a privilege and a type of invitation.

I bought my copy of The Pilgrimage by Paul Coelho at the Cathedral of Santiago shortly after arriving there, happy to find an English edition. I’d wanted to read the book before my camino but a friend suggested I wait until after my experience.

In The Pilgrimage, Mr. Coelho’s guide Petrus discusses the three forms of love: Eros, Philia and Agape.

One of the great gifts of my camino is philia. Friendships formed while walking 500 miles, step-by-step from St. Jean Pied De Port, over the Pyrenees and across Spain. Navigating alternate routes which landed us in tiny pueblos where we were among only a handful of pilgrims. Another great gift was a kind of philia of myself. My most precious steps were taken during great stretches of solitude where I walked closely with the Lord and learned to tolerate my pain and weakness and master my fears so they didn’t hijack the great thrill and beauty of my camino.

My favorite time of day was always the silent, surprising even dramatic early morning hours.

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On my final steps into Santiago I felt everything all at once.

Great joy upon completing the journey––one so difficult, it had me questioning both why I was walking The Way and my physical ability to finish. And great sadness at leaving pilgrim life behind. Having to say goodbye to noticing how a German mother and her adult daughter whispered and giggled while they rubbed each other’s legs with soothing lotion in the bunk next to me, and the way an older man on another bunk stared at me. The sounds and delicious aromas coming from the kitchen of a small albergue. How the lights on automatic timers would occasionally plunge me into total darkness during my shower. The different wars in the albergue dorms between fresh air at night or not, pulling the blinds or not. Squeaky mattresses. A stuffy night on the top bunk forcing me to sleep on a couch in the kitchen instead. Euphoria in the movement of my muscles during my morning stretches. Meeting and knowing every inch of my body. Having to. The buzzing of mosquitos in my ear. Not rushing. Finding my own pace. How much time that took. Worshipping The Lord on my walk every day. Complete and total exhaustion at the end of the day’s walk yet having to find a place to sleep and wash my clothes that afternoon. Writing postcards and the joy they brought. Looking at my maps to make sure to pick the short or long route. Walking in a rainstorm. Thunder and lightning. Scanning the horizon, looking for a good shelter. Not needing one. The rainbow. Answered prayers.

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Coziness, snoring, a warm blanket, a new bar of soap. Taking care of my feet, wearing a headlamp to read at night and to get ready in the morning. Late-night writing sessions.

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Endless bottles of wine, boccadillos and tortillas that are nothing like the tortillas in America. The photos we take and share, the realizations we make. Hugs after not seeing each other for days. Random friends agreeing about how life is surprise. How some surprises appear at just the right moment when you think you’ve chosen the wrong way on the path. Playing Scrabble in four different languages.

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sLOVEania –– a friend points out her country is the only one with the word ‘love’ in it. Metaphors. The lost sheep.

The hardest good byes of all? My fellow pilgrims. It’s a wondrous thing to visit a pueblo or city I’ve never been to before and run into dear friends who greet me with warm smiles and hugs. Sharing stories over a pilgrim meal. Asking each other about our feet, backs, legs. Our journeys. Agape. image

At Fisterra, an early Sunday morning found me combing the beach. My bruised toenails deep in the wet sand and the sun on my back, I discovered a Santiago shell on the shore.

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On my walk to the Faro (lighthouse), where I’d end my camino at the 0.00 KM marker, I’m greeted with more hugs and smiles. My friends and I sought shelter from a sudden storm over a few glasses of wine, glad to be out of the weather and toast to the realization we’d not have to live in the rain any more. A local I met on my walk back from the Faro gives me a Santiago shell he found on the beach, a larger one than the one I found. Beautiful. A gift, he says. It seems too precious to give to a stranger, but he insists. He gives me an abalone shell too, called it an oreja (ear.) We lie in the late afternoon sun for a time. On my walk to my hotel, I soaked my tired feet in the Atlantic, remembering the ancient pilgrims. How they thought Fisterra was the end of the world. I looked out over the ocean imagining the New World.

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Pilgrim’s Prayer (from The Santuario Santa Maria A Real do Cebreiro)

Although I may have traveled all the roads,
Crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
If I have not discovered the freedom to be myself,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have shared all of my possessions
With people of other languages and cultures;
Made friends with Pilgrims of a thousand paths,
Or shared albergue with saints and princes,
If I am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have carried my pack from beginning to end
And waited for every Pilgrim in need of encouragement,
Or given my bed to one who arrived later than I,
Given my bottle of water in exchange for nothing;
If upon returning to my home and work,
I am not able to create brotherhood
Or to make happiness, peace and unity,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have had food and water each day,
And enjoyed a roof and shower every night;
Or may have had my injuries well attended,
If I have not discovered in all that the love of God,
I have arrived nowhere.

Although I may have seen all the monuments
And contemplated the best sunsets;
Although I may have learned a greeting in every language
Or tasted the clean water from every fountain;
If I have not discovered who is the author
Of so much free beauty and so much peace,
I have arrived nowhere.

If from today I do not continue walking on your path,
Searching and living according to what I have learned;
If from today I do not see in every person, friend or foe
A companion on the Camino;
If from today I cannot recognize God,
The God of Jesus of Nazareth
As the one God of my life,
I have arrived nowhere.

––Fraydino

Isaiah 30:21

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.”

4 thoughts on “A peregrina’s journey on The Camino de Santiago : The End”

    1. Thank you so much for joining me on the journey me encantada con du hija Lucy and I look forward to meeting you very soon in Mexico. ((Hugs)) Laura

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