The white concrete walls and lichen-covered facades of Santiago de Compostela are a heady contrast to my view of days past. As I sit here, looking across the window-framed historical centre, listening to church bells call the city to mass, I am filled with a quiet sense of accomplishment. To get here, I walked for weeks, for hundreds of kilometres, along a wise old pilgrimage trail and through some of the best landscapes Spain has to offer.
Last time I wrote about my Camino, I was still feeling blistered and broken after a four day solo slog in the Meseta. Further hindsight has added more value to that experience, especially now that I have finished my Camino, here in Santiago, and can appreciate the time and space afforded along the way. Of course, the Camino continued to offer new delights, lessons, places and people throughout the final weeks of the journey.
After reuniting with Dave in Carrion de los Condes and finding his knee was still barely able to carry him to the bar, let alone to Santiago, we drove day-by-day along the Camino to regain the injury time, hoping that each new morn would bring him a shiny new knee. The charming town of Sarria, which sits a little more than 100 km from Santiago, was where we finally resumed our pilgrimage. From there, we plodded along the final stretch, walking shorter days with gentler steps, meeting some friends from home, and taking more time to soak in the joys of food, wine and silliness along the way.
As we walked out of Sarria, it quickly became apparent that the Galicia region had a new set of words, foods, plants and landscapes to occupy our pilgrim days. The arid flats and mountainous passes gave way to hilly green, wet ferns, purple bell flowers, pine plantations. Long, fragrant paths were shadowed by silver gum trees that remind me of my faraway home. The air woke thick with a soggy fog, brewed dramatic clouds and often took delight in raining on us. Farmers grew jersey cows instead of cereals and tractors occupied more road space than cars.
Cervesa had become cana and sidra was sweeter. Suddenly tortilla meant omelette, as well as the familiar potato and egg cake, and lentil soup could be gleefully found on almost every menu. Vegetable gardens grew in scale and impressiveness, as did the rose bushes in full, delightful bloom. And, each house was accompanied by peculiar stilted huts, which we eventually realised are designed to store corn and built to show status.
In that final 100km, I rediscovered the joy of singing out loud and let go of my urge to find internet in towns where phone reception was a push. I also realised that one of my favourite things about walking the Camino was finding myself somewhere new everyday. I often stopped along the trail, caught by the sight of a red tiled roof or rickety farmyard and thought, ‘I am in Spain’, how wonderful’. As I fell asleep each night with a weary body and refreshed mind, I marvelled at being somewhere that I’ve never heard of before, somewhere that pilgrims have passed through for hundreds of years, somewhere with a group of strangers who are also journeying somewhere. As each new day brought little lessons and bits to grit my teeth through, it also showered me with delights, taught me more about simple pleasures, and a nurtured a deepening calm to steady me through the harder moments.
So here I am now, sitting by a window in Santiago, slowly reintroducing myself back into the non-Camino world and willing myself to continue that Camino brand of open, light-hearted simplicity as I continue my journey to other places, through other challenges, and towards other wondrous experiences.
There are so many Camino moments and tips that I’d love to share with you and just not enough time to write them all up while I’m on the road… but, keep an eye out for my posts about my lessons from the Camino and my Camino packing guide, as well as stories about towns I loved along the way.
From here, I will be spending a couple of weeks exploring other parts of Spain, like San Sebastian and the southern regions, so stay tuned for more Spanish delights.