This was it. After walking almost 800 kilometres in 31 days, I was about to arrive at what I thought would be my final destination: Santiago de Compostela.
My excitement grew and my step quickened as I trekked with my two Camino friends Joanne and Moya through the outskirts of the city.
After a good hour, we rounded a corner and suddenly there we were in the main square, looking up at the famous cathedral.
We stood, trying to absorb the whole scene. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves.
Thinking about it later, I realized that while we had technically arrived, in our minds we hadn’t even remotely touched down.
We hugged, shed a few tears, and had a fellow pilgrim take the obligatory photos.
It was quite awhile before we left the square to find our accommodations, and in that time I began to feel disheartened. I had expected to experience such joy on completing this journey. Why instead was I feeling somewhat empty?
By Day 2 in Santiago, the post-Camino blues had really settled in. After spending so much time in solitude over the past month, I found the city crowded, noisy and totally overwhelming.
Searching for peace, I went to a pilgrim’s mass – one of several held each day at the cathedral.
If I had any do-overs on this trip, it would be to avoid the church at all cost.
It was packed and people were jostling for pews. Sadly, I saw elderly people standing while those younger were firmly planted in their seats.
The mass itself was disturbing too, with people parading by in the middle of the service to hug a statue of St. James located at the front of the cathedral.
When it came time for the priests to swing the botafumeiro (large incense burner), pilgrims snapped pictures, shot video and applauded as if they were at a circus instead of a church service.
As I stood there, an idea started to form in my mind.
I didn’t want my disappointment with Santiago to be my final memory of the Camino.
I had planned to take a bus to Finisterre, a town 90 kilometres to the west on the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of bussing it, why not walk?
So it was that I found myself back on the trail, this time travelling with a pilgrim from Milan and another from Singapore, both around my daughter’s age.
It amused me that I had started my Camino walking with two wise women yet would end it accompanied by two young men.
Our arrival in Finisterre couldn’t have been more different from the one at Santiago. There were no big crowds; no expectations. There was just a small town with a breathtaking view of the ocean.
Later that evening, we walked to a strip of land that juts out into the sea. We lit a fire and took turns ceremoniously burning articles of our clothing. Peace and happiness filled every cell of my being.
I thought about the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who had come before me and had stood in exactly the same spot, giving thanks for their safe arrival and watching the setting sun turn the sky a fiery orange.
Perhaps it was the imprint of so many people over hundreds of years that made the place feel as if it existed outside of time.
Had I been here several centuries earlier, I would have believed I had reached the end of the world (thus the name Finisterre). The Romans thought that the entrance to Hades lay just over the horizon.
It was on this spot that I received the closure I had missed in Santiago. I am a child of the ocean; it spoke to me here far more profoundly than any cathedral or saint’s bones ever could.
My Camino was over and its ending had been nothing less than perfect.
I was ready to go home.
Journal excerpt – May 17:The final rituals have been performed. I am no longer a pilgrim and have become a tourist. The last act, performed this morning, was to remove my scallop shell (universal symbol of the Camino) from the front of my backpack and put it away. It was a bittersweet moment.
Janet Patterson is a Whitehorse writer who walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in spring, 2010.
Whitehorse writer Janet Patterson was runner-up in this year’s Foreign Correspondent competition. She and her son recently vacationed in Italy.