Thursday November 3. Salceda to Santiago de Compostela. 7hrs 40mins, 29km.
There were hand made signs along the way suggesting that one should relish the remaining miles. It’s like letting a tasty morsel linger in one’s mouth and on the taste buds!
Our adrenalin kicked in, I woke up at 4am, Joon woke up at 5am. We tried our best to go back to sleep. Eventually, we got out of bed about 6.30am, prepared, packed, had our breakfast and walked out at 7.50am. We were not the earliest because when I looked out our bathroom window at 6.47am to check whether the rain forecast was accurate, I saw a Camino pilgrim already walking on the road, heading away from our hotel! The forecast was correct, with intermittent drizzle till 9am.
After A Lsvacolla, as we were climbing a fairly steep incline, we noticed a home owner had built something into the side bank of his property. We slowed down and paused to take a look given there were bars and a lock.
Because we had started the walk from Salceda, which is 11.3km nearer to Santiago than Arzúa (latter is the recommended stop in most guidebooks), we didn’t experienced the crowd of pilgrims that we had expected. This made for a more quieter and contemplative walk!
I took this time to walk ahead of Joon and “rest” and “ponder”. It takes effort to coral the mind from wandering, the so-called ‘monkey mind.’ And the Camino built upon my earlier insights to peel back another layer for purification and cleansing. Here are my code words for my own recollection – The Foolishness of Expectations, Precision, of Being Right; and Recognizing the Inner Child, Preferring Heavenly Rewards.
One of the areas to pause, which is very difficult for most pilgrims, is Monte de Gozo. This is because this is within 5km of the Santiago Cathedral, which draws all pilgrims.
Monte de Gozo, a.k.a. Hill of Joy, provides one a first view of Santiago and the spires of the Cathedral. There used to be a monument that was torn down. But there are still significant in ground and structures that makes it worthwhile to ‘pause’ here.
Reaching the Praza do Obradoiro, which is the square in front of the Cathedral is a poignant moment. Pilgrims are spread out throughout, many sitting, some lying down. All reflecting on their journey, struggles and joys.
We arrived during the siesta hour, which turned out to be a grace for us. The majority of the shops were closed and thus, we were not exposed to all the consumerism and shoppers. It was like night and day compared to our previous Camino arrivals.
At the Pilgrim’s Chapel, there was a running slide show with contemplative music. Here are some of the “Beatitude of the Pilgrim” that I found particularly meaningful (there were 8).
- Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that the ‘Camino’ opens your eyes to what is not seen.
- Blessed are you Pilgrim, when you don’t have the words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn off the way.
- Blessed are you Pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
- Blessed are you Pilgrim, when you contemplate the Camino and you discover it is full of names, [stories] and dawns. [my addition]
Here are several stories. We met Eun Kyung, a Korean lady on the trail on this last day. She was walking slowly as she had a bad knee. She’s on a several months vacation in Europe as well as plans to travel to New York. She had absolutely no plans to do the Camino when she left Korea. But in her travels, she kept bumping into pilgrims who had completed the Camino and encouraged to do it, despair her apprehension. She accepted the promptings, and she’s relishing the experience.
We met Benoit, a Belgian at dinner. He did not have a reservation and was advised by Shanta (cook, waitress, owner all-in-one) to return in 15 mins or so, when space would open up. We invited him to join our table as there was ‘one’ extra chair (in a table for four!).
Benoit had wanted to do the Camino in March 2020 due to stress (work, Life, etc.) He was in the verge of just resigning but Covid struck. So, he continued working. And when travel restrictions lifted sand vaccines became widely available, he was granted a three month no-pay leave (as his Company correctly deduced that he would resign otherwise. Engineers like him are hard to find!)
Benoit was able to slowly and contemplatively work through his ‘stuff’ through the long walks. As he himself said, if he wasn’t on the Camino, these concerns would surface at random times during his normal day and he wouldn’t be able to work through them, and they would fester.
We also met an Austrian on the trail. He shared that his Camino started 15 years ago for a small stretch. He started resuming the stages left uncompleted, especially after a recent heart condition was rectified.
Finally, this story is about Shanta, the owner-cook of the Green House restaurant in Santiago. Her mother is Malaysian, and she herself was born in Wales. She now lives in Santiago, and was hankering for Asian food. She decided to set up a restaurant, and hearing from pilgrims hope difficult it was to find vegan food, she set up Green House. By the way, she does eat meat! What a noble aim – filling a need for Others!
On the Camino, New Stories are being written every step, every moment, every day. We are the Authors, both perceptible and what lies deep within and unseen. Learning to listen within creates that New Story, as creation is on-going. Blessings abound, we just have to open our hands and hearts to receive. God Bless you.