My Camino de Santiago is over, and while for days I dreamed the finale would be a triumphant, exultant experience, this was not to be. Instead, my final day walking into the fabled city was one of the worst of my trip.
When I wrote last, I was about halfway along the 800 km route. Just ahead of me was the dreaded Meseta, a high plateau with flat, boring trails. This was my most difficult section, as not only was it mind numbingly, soul crushingly uneventful, it was also very tough on my body as the repetition of the same-length steps on the flats put a lot of strain on my hips, neck, and shoulders.
My most positively memorable days began in the early morning before daybreak, sometimes in fog, feeling the sun rise behind me and hearing the birds awaken, moments of serene peacefulness.
All along the way, new friends were made and in many cases just as quickly lost. My first good friends on the camino were a couple from Ireland, always laughing and enjoying themselves. I met sisters from New Mexico and Colorado, about my same age, who hiked almost the entire trail together.
I met a man and two women who at one point worked for him. One of the women was walking the Camino for the second time. During her first, her husband met a younger woman and left her. She started this Camino at the same location where she ended that one.
Many people were doing the entire “Camino Frances” route from France as I was. But, as I got closer to the end, there were more people who were doing shorter routes. There are various caminos throughout Europe and several people had done those before.
Some people walked only 10 or 15 kilometres each day. Others walked 25 or 30 or more. All seemed to share a sense of camaraderie. However, I did sense some emotional distance between those who walked the Camino as a cathartic or transformative experience, seeking some spiritual goal, and those who merely walked it to do a long hike in a foreign land. I definitely considered myself to be in the latter group. Whatever transformation may have happened in my psyche, I doubt that I will fully grasp it for months to come.
On my next-to-last day, as a cruel irony, I developed a blister on the outside of my left heel. I had literally walked for a month with no problem. And then finally as the end was almost in sight, this very painful blister formed.
The last day by distance was not a long walk, only about 20 km, with cool, overcast skies. But I never felt strong or comfortable and my feet hurt with every step. When I finally reached Santiago, instead of heading to the 0 kilometre point at the famous cathedral, I went to my lodgings for the evening and took a nap.
After a rest, I put on my sandals and walked into the city centre when I first laid eyes on the magnificent cathedral. I had the pleasant opportunity of seeing many people that I had made friends with during the journey who had also finished that same day.
The next morning I walked back into the city and stood in line to get my certificate of completion. I spent the rest of the day in a better mental and physical condition and was able to enjoy the city, seeing and celebrating with more and more Camino friends.
The terminology of “first camino* entered my lexicon. In spite of the pain and hassle and effort, many people seem to return home from their first walk, anticipating and in some cases planning their second and third. I met people on the trail who had done the same walk 10 times.
I’m not sure that applies to me as there are so many other trails around the world to walk.
Would I ever do it again? It’s hard to say at this point. It is undoubtedly a memorable and potentially life-altering experience Right now, I just want my feet to stop hurting.