Thanks for watching.

My last day in Spain was a pretty relaxing one. I got up and went to the Prado Museum. I stopped along the way at the cutest little bakery café on a little side street. I had a giant piece of chocolate cake for breakfast and a glass of fresh orange juice. And it was good! The café was very small with just maybe four or five little café tables that could seat two people and a small counter with baked goods sitting under glass topped cake stands. And all around the little cafe, it had books for sale! All new releases that were for sale. They had books tucked onto little display stands in corners, sitting on rungs of ladders, and sitting on bookshelves hung on the walls. It was really cool. It was definitely my kind of place and I was so happy I decided to go in.

One thing I’ve learned on this trip is when you see a place open and serving food and you’re even the tiniest bit hungry, GO IN. I’ve learned to grab any opportunity I can rather than waiting and assuming there’ll be other options ahead. That has been a big lesson learned on this whole trip, for sure. Something better might not be just up the road. This might be the best, so take the opportunity when it comes up.

After breakfast, I walked to the museum. The police presence here is overwhelming. Lots of extra security down here in this part of Madrid around the big tourist places. The Prado is the biggest tourist attraction in Spain, so I think I saw their highest level of police protection this country has. Lots of huge vans and police of all types stationed all around this neighborhood. But, the Prado was great.

I only took one art history class in college, but I recognized some of the names of the artists I was seeing. Rafael, Goya, Van Dyck, Diego Velazquez (the Prado has tons of his stuff), and even one Rembrandt (I learned that’s his first name. I never knew that.) The museum is big, but manageable, I thought. I saw all the rooms in about 3 and a half hours, and I was able to browse the gift shop/bookstore and grab a bite to eat at the café near the bookstore. Of course, it was a ham and cheese sandwich but I was able to get it heated up so there was some variety with it being hot rather than cold…and I got a giant cookie with it, and giant cookies always improve a meal.

One neat thing about the Prado was seeing the artists who set up easels in the rooms and paint the masterpieces. I saw several and though some of the current painters versions of the paintings looked better than some of the paintings on display. It was cool to see that these paintings are used for that type of practice and teaching and that the Prado allows artists to bring their paints in and just set up right next to the paintings. Very cool. Maybe that’s common in these big art museums, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, but I haven’t been to a ton of art museums either.

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A painter in the Prado

 

After the museum, I walked around a bit and looked at the botanic garden through the garden gates. I didn’t pay the three euro to get in because it looked fairly brown to me. The police presence is good, security wise, but also sort of unsettling. I just came back to my hotel room and spent the rest of today relaxing and resting my feet and ankles again. There are Christmas movies on tv! They’re like the made-for-tv type of Christmas movies. Sort of in the vein of Hallmark Hall of Fame. I’ve seen one with Julie Andrews in it, and one version of a Christmas Carol where Scrooge was a woman. I can tell I’ve lost track of the passing of time. I sort of still expect it to be around Halloween. Next week is Thanksgiving, though!

But, this television has a group of channels out of the UK, and the commercials during the breaks in the movies are for the major toys of the holiday season in the UK. It’s interesting. It’s a lot of games that I sort of remember playing when I was a little kid. Like “Operation”, a version of a game where you try to push down the teeth of a crocodile and the crocodile will snap down and bite a player’s hand eventually (poor description, I’m sorry), and something that reminded me of a fishing game where you tried to catch magnets in fish and reel them in. And Europe seems crazy about Playmobil sets, too. I LOVED Playmobil sets as a kid. I had a carousel swing when I was little with a few Playmobil people and I remember playing with that swing all the time. I think I even still had it up until a few years ago. I haven’t seen Playmobil sets in the US, so I don’t know if they’re big sellers in America, or if Europe is just sort of the major market now for those? But, it’s cool. It’s sort of a retro sort of Christmas here. The toys aren’t really all that electronic or noisy or transform into anything else. They’re just these sort of 90s-era-America awesome toys.

Tomorrow I leave Europe. I’m going to take the Renfre train up to Chamartin and then take the metro over to the airport in the morning. I’m flying all day tomorrow to Philadelphia first and then to Chicago and then I’m staying in Chicago for the night before taking a train from Chicago to Albuquerque. I’m ready to be home. I won’t be home until Thursday and I go back to work on Friday, but I think I’ll be okay. The jet lag might get to me, but I’m hoping that the train will help me adjust better than just flying straight in would be. We’ll see.

Thank you for traveling along with me! I will update with some final thoughts after I’ve been home a bit and have absorbed a bit more of what this experience means to me and how I feel about it after I give it a few weeks back in my “normal” life.

Put a fork in me, I’m (nearly) done.

I got the second-to-last seat on the train from Santiago to Madrid. Lots of higher security to get through to get on board the train to come to Madrid. Sadly, the security were only screening for safety and so they couldn’t stop stupid. I got octopus juice dripped all over my bag from the family sitting in the seats ahead of me. The father had (rather idiotically, I thought) put a bag of wet pulpo above them on the overhead luggage storage and, of course, it dripped and made a little stream of octopus juice go down the storage shelf, getting all over the stuff of everyone around them who had their actual luggage up there. When the guy realized what happened because his wife started complaining because she was getting dripped on (nevermind that those behind them had been getting dripped on for a while and they never paid any attention while we all moved our stuff across the train aisles from their stuff and were asking what was wet and leaking), the guy just laughed. And it was a family of four, but they’d only reserved two seats and so were trying to get everyone around them to give up their seats for them and for the two little boys, who were running all over the place and getting in other folks’ way the whole time. They would run all over, shout at each other, throw a tantrum, and climb up on the seats and swing from the luggage shelf overhead. And the Dad would just laugh and encourage them while the mother ate octopus. It was a really really long train ride, let me tell you. Well, it was long, it was about 8 hours long, but it felt even longer with this awesome family along for the ride.

Unfortunately, this rude family’s behavior did not surprise me as much as it would have had I not had about a hundred such encounters with locals on this trip. At the beginning of the trip, I was surprised by the lack of consideration of others I’d noticed in the Northern Spaniards. I don’t like to make generalizations, but after a few weeks here, it really seems to be the norm…this inconsiderate behavior. They have no concept of respecting other people’s space or even caring for others comfort in public places. It’s very much a selfish sort of atmosphere that I’ve noticed. It’s been pretty awful at times, and I haven’t been alone in noticing this behavior and being put-off by it. Frank from Belgium, Pedro from Las Vegas, Lucy from New Zealand…each of them made comments about the unfriendly nature of the locals they were having dealings with. Pedro distinctly told me he wouldn’t return at this time of year because of the attitudes of the locals. He chalked it up to them being tired of pilgrims along the Camino and thinks that the Springtime is the best time to come because the pilgrim season is just beginning and they are ready for their “tourism” to start again, and maybe that’s true. But, to me, that doesn’t explain the people in Bilbao or folks like this family on the train. It makes me appreciate some of the behavioral norms in the United States. Americans seem to frown more upon some of the things I’ve seen a lot of here: children climbing all over strangers’ seats on public transportation, people playing their video games loudly without earphones, not apologizing for dropping things on people… even the very simple act of a smile from a store owner when a person walks into their café or shop has been unusual here. The pilgrims I met were definitely the highlight of my trip. I could leave the locals, most of the time.  It all adds up after a while and, at the moment, with my pack smelling like octopus, my dislike of ham being anything but lessened after weeks of cold jamon bocadillos which never actually filled me up, and my overall patience worn thin, I have zero interest in returning to Spain for a very long time.

Thinking back over this trip, I actually feel, for the first time, much more appreciative of where I live. This is the first time I’ve gone abroad and really really wanted to go back to the United States. Been very ready to return. Happy to return. It’s not just the attacks in Paris and the heightened security and the atmosphere of alarm that’s gripped Europe–although I will be happy to leave Europe for that reason, too– it’s the feeling that this country isn’t really a good fit for me. Spain and I will never be best buds. I’m not sure we can even be happy acquaintances right now. Maybe Madrid will help to balance the scales, a bit. I haven’t seen much of it at all, but what I have seen, I’ve liked.

I arrived here and found the Metro. Madrid’s metro is super slick! It was so easy to use. I arrived at the Chamartin Station in the northern part of the city and my hotel is located in the southern part and I just hopped on the subway and didn’t even have to transfer to get to San Anton station and walk to my nice hotel. I’m staying at the Catalina Atocha, and it’s great. Small room, but really quiet and nice. There’s a nice café down on the street level, too and it had really great fettuccini with pesto sauce on the menu tonight. Yum! I was really grateful for the filling pasta. Now I’m watching a bit of soccer. It’s half-time in a game between Ukraine and Slovenia and Ukraine is winning 1-0.

The sun was setting as I was riding the subway to get here, so when I went underground, it was still light but when I popped out of the ground in this neighborhood, it was dark. Still, what I can see of the buildings look interesting. Madrid might be a cool city to explore a bit more sometime. Maybe the Southern part of Spain would be a better fit for me than the North. I don’t know. The people here at the hotel were very nice, and the waitress at dinner actually gave me a smile when I walked in! I was grateful for that kind gesture. As weird as it is, I’m sort of used to people smiling and greeting you when you walk in to places. I had never really noticed how much a part of America a simple smile and greeting is. It’s good business, for one thing and America is nothing if not good at business. But, it also just seems like the smile and greeting has become a part of who Americans are. It’s sort of natural to smile and greet, and we expect to be smiled at and greeted in response, I guess. Lucy was saying at one point that Lupe didn’t like to think of himself as an American (but he moved to the US when he was two, so he doesn’t remember living anywhere but the US) but that he was about as American as Lucy could imagine a person to be. She believes Americans are usually in a hurry, rather outgoing, and matter-of-fact in their beliefs. Lupe was definitely all of these things from what both of us saw of him, so it’s hard to argue with her opinion. I heard several accounts of what people expected Americans to be on this trip. One person was surprised to find out that I live in the same state as my father because he had always heard that Americans never live near their families. This person believed that Americans can’t wait to leave home and never want to live near their families after they grow up. I heard complaints about how Americans throw their money away by tipping everyone and how they don’t like to visit the United States because they are expected to tip everyone, too. It happens to everyone. You meet so many pilgrims from so many countries that these misconceptions are brought to the surface. I remember my first night on the Camino in Villafranca, sitting at the dinner table with the three other pilgrims and the man from Puerto Rico telling Sue from South Korea how he believed she was very much in danger and he didn’t know how she should live a normal life with North Korea as her neighbor. And Sue just looked at him, bewildered, and said, “You think I am in danger? Why do you think I am in danger?!” The man told her how the situation is painted as very dangerous by the media and that many people believe South Korea is going to be attacked by North Korea. And Sue just looked at him in disbelief before explaining how South Koreans are not concerned about this and that there are many who would like to reunite with North Korea and many who want to stay separate, but she didn’t believe there was any cause for concern that her country was about to be blown away by its northern neighbor. She looked really taken aback that this was the outward view of her country.

This is why I don’t want to fall into the trap of generalizing Spaniards based on these few weeks of rude encounters with locals, but it’s definitely colored my view of this country. I can count on just one hand the really good experiences with locals that I’ve had over this trip, I think. And some have been really great, like the wonderful old woman in Villafranca who turned me around and walked with me, in the rain, to try to find a bus to Ponferrada so I would not have to walk back. Or the four Southern Spaniards that I met on the Camino and laughed with and who kindly added my favorite shirt to their pack to deliver to me when I accidentally left it behind. I’m certain these are not the only good people here who seem to be very kind and nice, but I just happened to bump into very few of them on this trip, I guess.

I have no pictures to share today. I can tell I’m tired and ready to just get home simply by my lack of wanting to capture any of the scenery around me any more.

I don’t know what I just ate.

It’s the same day still as my earlier post, but in the evening. I have my hotel booked for Madrid tomorrow and Monday night. It’s near the Prado, so I hope to go see that on Monday.

I went exploring earlier, both around the hotel and went to the church again to see the remains of St. James and to see some of the smaller chapels. It’s really a beautiful place. Both the hotel and the church here are really lovely to explore.

This parador was a pilgrim hospital and orphanage up until the 1950s, when it was converted into this fancy hotel. What I really like is that the hotel put up small plaques to explain what the rooms and courtyards were originally used for when it was a hospital. I found the leech tank from 1890, which was where they kept all the leeches they used for medical purposes. It’s now just part of a wall below a window. And there was a courtyard that was where the mothers could leave their children if they wanted them accepted by the orphanage. There were explicit instructions on how to leave the children and instructions on how to care for the children who were left. The person rang a bell when they wanted a child picked up by the nurses and they were to wait until they heard the bell answered with a statement that began “Ave Maria…”

When I went out to the plaza, I saw the pilgrims who have finished today sitting on the ground and meeting each other and congratulating each other just like Lucy and I did on Thursday. It made me smile to see more people arriving, but I still haven’t seen Pedro.

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Pilgrims arriving in Santiago. Congrats!

 

The church is so lovely, and just like yesterday, there is a sense of calm and peace in it. Especially after the attacks last night, it is nice to be in a place where there is a feeling of calm and peace. I went down below the altar and saw the tomb of St. James. It’s a much smaller coffin than I expected and completely bright silver. I walked all around and saw the chapels. One in particular of Mary and the baby Jesus struck me because it looked like Mary was staring right at me. It made me stop for a moment and stare back. It was sort of eerie, but also comforting. Even after leaving the church and eating dinner, I still have the image of her looking at me in my mind.

Dinner was a trip. It was crazy fancy with tiny portions and strange combinations of foods. I’ve certainly never eaten anywhere this fancy, and I was glad that I’d already paid for the meal so I didn’t have to actually see the prices. I was just given the menu of the day. And that, ladies and gents, is how Jill ended up eating octopus pate. The waiter took the menu from me before bringing out all the starters (I had asked if I could just get the ham croquettes as a starter, but he said he’d bring out both starters on the menu) and by the time he brought them out I couldn’t remember what the other starter was other than some type of seafood. I ate a few bites of what he brought out and, after dinner, looked at the menu by the restaurant entrance. It turned out to be a little rectangle of octopus pate with caviar on top. I didn’t eat the caviar at all because I recognized what that stuff was, but I took two bites of the pate. It tasted fishy to me, but since I don’t eat seafood, I think even non-fishy things taste fishy. Others who have eaten octopus told me that it wasn’t a fishy flavor. At any rate, as my last night in Galicia, I feel I can certainly leave now that I’ve actually tasted the octopus. The first course was some sort of stew with some veggies in it. Not bad, but they also just dropped a sunny-side-up egg on top of the stew, so I sort of mined my way around the egg to get to the veggies. The main course was “lamb knuckle”, which was pretty good. The meat was really tender and fell right off the bone. And for dessert, I had violet ice cream with an orange brownie — both pretty interesting. Well, it was all interesting. A memorable dinner. They kept taking my plate and all my silverware between each course and the head waiter took my bread from me and mini-swept up all the crumbs in front of me  before I was actually done eating the bread. But, it was definitely an adventure in the culinary world!

After seeing St. James and eating octopus and relaxing a bit more, I feel like I’m really ready to begin the journey home. With the Camino over, I feel like I just want to go home. I’m ready to be back in the States.

A nightmare.

It’s just about noon here and I’ve really got zero plans for leaving this beautiful hotel today. I had breakfast this morning. The hotel provides all the meals included in your room cost, and this ain’t a cheap place so you better take advantage of this! So, I did. It was a buffet type breakfast and was good. I haven’t really had a full breakfast since I’ve been here, so it was really nice to feel full in the morning for once.

All I really plan to do today is to sit here and read, write, and relax. There’s a giant soaker tub in the room and that has been so nice. My feet and knees are happy just to not be walking for a second day in a row. I’m hoping if I can give them a good long rest today, they’ll be able to hoof me around Madrid a bit on Monday so I can see the Prado before I leave. But, if they hurt too much, I’ll just keep on relaxing. It’s not a hardship, that’s for sure.

The news from Paris is really bad. What was unclear last night has become more clear in the daylight. The television is full of reports of the terrorist attack and France has closed its borders. I knew of at least one pilgrim who was trying to get to Paris yesterday to attend a wedding there that was to take place today. I have no idea if she even was able to get in, and I certainly wouldn’t have any idea if the wedding went on as planned today. It would be awfully difficult to celebrate anything in Paris today. Everything in Paris is closed. The big thing on the news is they keep announcing that Disneyland Paris is closed. I don’t know when France will re-open its borders, but certainly not today, which strands some pilgrims who are waiting to begin their Camino in St. Jean and those who were going to be taking the train Eastward from Spain are also waiting it out. Nobody seems in any hurry to leave Spain for France, though. There is a big banner up on the plaza across from the church here in Santiago that says “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. So far, no terrorist group has claimed responsibility, but the sites of the attacks have been named. It seems there were six different locations around the city and it was clearly a coordinated attack.

It’s a nightmare and the atmosphere here has certainly changed. People are concerned and, at breakfast, a group of the waiters were huddled around the newsstand reading the headlines of the major Spanish papers about the attacks. Everyone is a bit on edge. Security is already amping up. Even without leaving the hotel, I can tell that there are more measures in place from the news. I am trying to leave Santiago tomorrow by train to get to Madrid so I can fly home on Tuesday. I’m expecting to go through much more security than I’ve had to go through here up until now, which was basically zero.

I can really only watch so much of the news. They know more than they knew last night, but it is still very much a developing story and so they end up replaying segments of things. I found a channel that is showing Game of Thrones in Spanish with English subtitles, so that’s been something different. I’m sort of able to follow along.

Hello from the other side.

Today was my first full day in Santiago de Compostela and I abandoned my hiking shoes and hiking pole at the pension this morning. I already feel less burdened and lighter. I’m stuck between a pilgrim and a tourist today. I went to the noon Pilgrim mass and also to the mass tonight at 7:30pm. Both were beautiful.

I’ve been surprised a bit by the lack of religion I encountered on this pilgrimage. I’m not Catholic, but I expected to see more religious symbolism along the way. There weren’t even very many churches open during the days when I would be walking. Maybe they mostly opened in the evenings for masses. Thinking back over the people I met along the way, I think maybe half are probably practicing Catholics. Even in the masses today, I saw many pilgrims I met along the Camino and maybe only 40% took the sacrament and were speaking along with the responses in the mass. But everyone that I saw, those I recognized and those that I didn’t, all seemed to be in a state of awe at this place. There is something really special about this place. It’s not just that people walk hundreds of miles to come here, or that I’m positive that St. James is buried here, or anything. It’s just a powerful place. I like churches, anyway. I don’t practice organized religion, but I always find a sense of peace inside a church and today was no exception.

At the noon mass, I was sitting in front of a group of pilgrims who must have been several days ahead of me, but one of them was American and he was excited to see the botafumiero hanging at the altar. He said he’d been in Santiago since Wednesday and had come to the masses each day hoping to see the botafumiero swing and this was the first time he’d seen it. Someone else said that you have to pay a hefty sum to have the botafumiero swing at the masses, so often the pilgrims will pass the hat and try to come up with the money to pay the church so they can have the incense at their mass. But, apparently, every Friday they will swing the botafumiero. No payment needed from the pilgrims. So, I actually saw it at noon and again tonight at the 7:30 mass. The noon mass was full of people, but not stuffed. I had a seat close to the altar and was able to sing when I knew the responses during the service. There was a really adorable nun who came out at the beginning of each mass and tried to teach the pilgrims the responses. She would sing in her absolutely beautiful voice and then we were supposed to repeat what she said. She was funny. She would sing and have us repeat and then she’d be like, “Great! Now, just the men!….Okay, women!…Everybody sing!” It was funny and added a good laugh to the service. They also announced the pilgrims who had arrived, but I didn’t hear any pilgrims from New Zealand, and that was what I was listening for because if I heard Lucy, I would know that they would have announced me as well, but I didn’t hear any pilgrim from New Zealand arriving, so I believe we were announced last night instead. We were eating our victory ice cream when they announced our arrival in the church, probably. But, it was cool to hear how many pilgrims arrived today. It’s a wonderful feeling to see all the pilgrims at the church and to hear the priests praying for the safety of those on the Camino now and for our safety when we return home.

I didn’t cry at all, except at the noon mass, I teared up a bit when the organ played at the start of the service. It all sort of hit me at once that I finished this and seeing some of the other pilgrims brought home what we’ve all done and all the wonderful people I met, albeit very briefly, but seeing them all in the church was sort of like a huge burst of pride that we all did this and we’re here and still standing and it’s an amazing thing. I saw David from Italy, who is in large part the reason I could figure out how to continue from Ponferrada when I had no cash. I saw Lucy. I saw Alex from Denmark. I saw a pilgrim I met from England who was a nurse. I saw the pilgrim who had told me her ankle hurt so bad after running up the mountain that if she was a horse, they’d shoot her. I saw two of the German pilgrims. I saw Jay and Choi from South Korea, who I just met for the first time at the albergue in Santa Irene on my last night on the Camino. I saw so many familiar faces and all of them smiled.

I didn’t see Lupe and I haven’t seen Pedro from Las Vegas since I met him on the Camino carrying his stool. Those are the two people I’ve been looking for today. I know Lupe is here because Lucy said at dinner that she saw him earlier today and he was worried about how he was going to meet up with us at the evening mass because he didn’t have the contact info and he didn’t seem to have any faith that we’d just bump into each other at the church. Although, that’s exactly how Lucy and I found each other. I just walked into the church, said hi to a couple of pilgrims and walked toward the pews and there was Lucy, hobbling down the aisle looking for a seat. It was that simple, but we never found Lupe, so maybe he was right to be concerned. Lucy felt especially bad about not finding him because when she saw him around noon she had said she would meet up with him for lunch a bit later in the afternoon and then she went back to her albergue and accidentally fell asleep and missed meeting him. Lupe leaves tomorrow and so I think probably we’re going to miss each other.

As for Pedro, I have no idea if he’s even made it to Santiago yet. I saw someone walking through the plaza carrying a stool just like Pedro’s, but it was a young guy and I looked to where he was going to see if he was taking a stool like that to Pedro, but he wasn’t. And the stool is just a generic plastic stool that you can find all over the country. I hope he makes it. I think a lot of people are rooting for him. He’s like Lucy, in that people remember meeting them because they have a physical struggle that they’re overcoming, and those people stick with you because you’re in awe of their determination.

The masses were moving and it really brought home why we walked so far. The botafumiero was definitely the highlight and it is so nice to smell like incense instead of car exhaust. I feel like everything I have smells like disgusting car exhaust and has smelled like that since Bilbao. So, to smell like incense for a bit is such a nice change. It was started to help cover the stench of the pilgrims in the church centuries ago, and I think it’s still technically working in that same capacity, despite the frequency of showers on the Camino now. It feels really right to spend time in the church and I plan to go back tomorrow too because the lines to go down below the altar to see where St. James is buried were long and I want to just look around the church at the little chapels and things that I haven’t seen just yet.

Oh, I’m checked into my fancy-pants hotel! The parador is beautiful. It’s a converted pilgrim hospital and orphanage. It’s wonderful. My room is so great and they have a laundry service and so I got lots of my clothing washed. When the wonderful chambermaid brought the laundry back this evening, I couldn’t stop sniffing the basket she delivered my clothing in. It smells so nice. I hate to put them back into my smelly backpack, actually. I just want to keep sniffing my clean clothes. I really don’t know if I’ve smelled anything nicer in my life.

After the mass tonight, Lucy and I looked for Lupe and, when we couldn’t find him, we just went off to dinner. We found a bar with a good menu of the day and ate well. While we were in there three men in dark black cloaks with badges sewn on them came in to get a coffee at the bar. One of them had a guitar and Lucy told me they were musicians known as La Tuna. It’s a tradition in Spain and Portugal to have these musicians playing in the streets and plazas. Lucy said sometimes they will even parade through the cafes and bars. They wear traditional clothing, play many instruments and sing. We walked around after dinner and came across a bigger La Tuna at the plaza near the church. There were about six men playing and singing and it was really cool. I was glad to get to see this sort of musical tradition. After that, I said goodbye to Lucy and wished her well on her continued trip. She’s staying in Spain for several weeks before heading back to New Zealand before Christmas. Many people are going to become tourists now that the pilgrimage is over. A lot of people have tickets home in mid-December, so there’s still a lot of travel in store for some of these people.

My television in this fancy hotel wasn’t working at first and I asked if someone could come and look at it and someone did and now it works. There is something happening in Paris. It’s going on right now and seems like some sort of terrorist attack, but it’s all confusing. Nobody really seems to know how many places are under attack right now. They are saying there are explosions at some places and gunmen at others, but nobody seems sure of what’s actually going on. It’s still going on. Paris is in the same time zone as here, and it looks like it started about thirty minutes ago, but the reports are just coming in. It doesn’t seem like anybody has a clear understanding of what’s happening right now. I got all my Dad’s texts today at once and I’m able to be in contact with him again. I texted him earlier when I first saw the breaking report about the attacks in Paris but he said he hasn’t heard anything about it yet in the States. But I think he’s seen some reports now. Now it says there’s a hostage situation in a concert hall, but even the reporters are confused about how many locations are under attack.

Mission: Accomplished!

Man, my feet, knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders ache but I feel so happy! I’m in Santiago de Compostela!

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I can hardly believe it’s done! My feet are still attached and I still have all ten toes! They may never work the same, but they all made the walk. Lucy and I ended up walking the whole way together today. I don’t think either of us would have made it here today without the other one walking beside us. I would probably have stopped short of Santiago if I had walked alone. On the map, the path looked to be about 21km, but it was closer to 24 because you have to walk quite a way once you reach the city of Santiago de Compostela. It was very hard. The last 5k felt like the longest stretch of the entire Camino. Lucy and I took so many rest breaks today, but we have made it and it feels so good to be here. We had more frustration with some locals as we were trying to walk in from the outskirts of the c. Lucy (who has family who live in Spain and has spent much time here and speaks Spanish very well) was asking people how far it was to the cathedral. We asked four people, three of whom had on official government vests, and none of them would tell her. None! Isn’t that crazy? How do you live in that city, with so many pilgrims coming by each day and not be able or willing to help them if they happen to ask you directions? She was astounded at the lack of knowledge of their own city. I’m not sure what the deal is. I don’t know if they’re always this unhelpful, if they really know so little about the place they live (seems unlikely, right?), or if they’re just sick and tired of living along a pilgrim route and dealing with pilgrims. Whatever it is, the lack of consideration that I’ve encountered here has been pretty astounding at times. By this point, we were both so tired and Lucy was having such a hard time walking on her ankle and so we were taking lots of little breaks and just trying to keep each other’s spirits up and hoping that the cathedral would be just around the next corner. And, finally, it was and it was wonderful.

We made sure to get our stamps before we arrived in Santiago so we could go straight to the pilgrim’s office and get our Compostelas. It’s cool. It’s all in Latin, even my name, and includes the day that I finished the pilgrimage. The pilgrim’s office has you write down your information on a piece of paper and they use these lists to announce the arrivals of the pilgrims at the pilgrim’s mass each day. They announce how many pilgrims have arrived from each country and where the people began their Camino. I’m not sure if we will be announced tonight or tomorrow.

Lucy and I ended up at the church around sunset. It’s very interesting to walk in to a city you’ve never been to before and seeing people you know. That was really cool. Lucy is very recognizable with her ankle brace and so many people were excited to see her in Santiago and know that she finished. I’ve seen several of the pilgrims I met along the way and there’s so much hugging and smiling that it feels like you’re part of a big reunion, but it’s in a place none of you have ever been before. None of us know how to navigate this town away from the Camino, but we all walk this same way and so we see each other as we arrive and stay in this city.

After Lucy and I got our certificates, we just sat down in the plaza in front of the cathedral for a bit and then went off and had some victory ice cream. I got mint chocolate chip and stracciatella. Lucy chose strawberry and coffee, which she said was better than she expected together. I’m so exhausted of wearing these shoes and carrying this walking stick everywhere. I’m thinking of abandoning them here when I leave in the morning. I’m actually staying in a pension above the ice cream shop. Since I didn’t expect to arrive until tomorrow, my fancy hotel reservation begins tomorrow night. Lucy walked back away from the historic part back toward where we were coming in to town. She had an albergue she wanted to stay in, so we parted ways and will hopefully meet at the Pilgrim’s Mass tomorrow evening. I haven’t seen Lupe. I did see Alex from Denmark. I met him way back on my second day on the Camino. He said he arrived yesterday and is heading off to Finisterre on Saturday. I think most of the group from those first couple of nights arrived here yesterday. There’s a German couple who I’ve been seeing at the albergues the last few nights and they arrived here tonight, too. They arrived in the plaza as Lucy and I were sitting on the ground in front of the church. They came and sat near us and we all just looked at the church. It’s a mix of happiness and relief. I think most people are glad to stop walking. Glad to arrive. Even those who have not much idea what they’re going to do after this is over seem  happy to be here and not have to get up and walk all day tomorrow. We can all relax and enjoy our accomplishments!

I haven’t been inside the church yet, but I think I will go to the noon mass tomorrow. I feel so happy! I haven’t been able to text my Dad, though. Something is wrong with my phone, I guess. It seems like the texts go through but I never receive anything back. I haven’t been able to get texts for a couple of days. I’m hoping it’s just a service gap and will clear up soon.

Tonight is my last night as a pilgrim. Tomorrow I become a tourist more than a pilgrim. I’m glad to have had the experience of this entire pilgrimage. It was very difficult, and my feet and legs are so exhausted, and I’m hungry and ready to find real food and stop carrying this pack so far every day and allow my hips to stop having to go numb from the weight. I look forward to no longer being a pilgrim, but I’m glad that I had this experience.

Hello, friend.

Today was my first day of being part of a little Camino group. I saw how spontaneously this can happen. It was really interesting. I’m in Santa Irene with my two new Camino friends, Lupe from Mexico (who lives in San Francisco) and Lucy from New Zealand. I met them both early this morning in Arzua. I had stopped to get some breakfast at a bar (more on this awful experience later) and then was walking out of town and met Lucy while I crossed a street and we met Lupe about 200 meters later while he was taking a picture of a church and the three of us are still together, hanging out here at the albergue in Santa Irene.

I passed through some cute little villages outside of Boente this morning on my way to Arzua for breakfast and saw some really neat houses. There are getting to be more houses and larger houses as I’ve gotten closer to Santiago de Compostela. Still farmland, but less rustic, I guess. Also  today, we’ve begun to pass memorials of pilgrims who died along the way. There’s a big one of a pilgrim who died in the 1990s named Guillermo Watt, but there are others of pilgrims who died in their sleep more recently. It’s very sad, because at this point, we’re all so close to making it to Santiago. Less than 25km, and to see these memorials is sort of heart-breaking, knowing how difficult it is out here and that they came so far. We walked through some farmland still today and got to see lots of dogs and cats. I still have the feeling of being guided through towns and villages by the local dogs and cats. They seem to show up at forks in roads and lead me down the way to find the yellow arrows. It always makes me smile to see the cats and dogs out here. I haven’t heard of any bad encounters with dogs and pilgrims out here. I’m sure it can happen, but I haven’t heard of anything yet.

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Guillermo Watt memorial. He died here on this spot in 1993, at the age of 69. The memorial includes his bronze walking shoes.

 

Lupe told me he had seen me earlier, just a moment or two before Lucy and I met him, and that he didn’t think I looked like I wanted to talk to anybody. I looked mad. I laughed when he told me, but it’s true. I was livid. I had stopped at the bar for breakfast and was happy because the bar had hot chocolate, and I haven’t found it anywhere else yet. So, I ordered a hot chocolate and got a little croissant and settled down at a table. The woman was, as seems to be usual here, unfriendly but I wasn’t really looking to make buddies with anybody there, just to eat. So, I ate and there were several other pilgrims in the bar and we exchanged hellos and buen caminos and things. As I was packing up my pack again to leave, the bar owner came over and was wiping down the table (an older local woman had come and sat down at my table with me. She never said anything to me, just smiled and seemed like she was waiting for someone to show up). So, the bar owner is wiping down the table and shoves the ceramic jar for trash off the table at me, and it falls at my feet and breaks all over my feet and my pack. It shattered and I sort of jumped back and went “Oh!” and looked up at her and the woman just smirked at me and walked away. Never said anything. Never said Sorry. Never asked if I was okay. Never said a word. Just a smirk and walked off. It was seriously the rudest thing I’ve had happen to me so far out here. Who does that? It’s fine if it was an accident, but you’re a business owner, and yes I’m a pilgrim, but I paid and your bar is on the Camino! If you don’t approve of serving pilgrims for whatever reason, you’ve chosen your location horribly. I was so pissed off. I never saw Lupe pass me, although he said I did look up and say Buen Camino, so I guess I was on some sort of pilgrim autopilot response system even when I was so mad.

Anyway, everything got better shortly after that because I met Lucy and Lupe. Lucy is really easy to spot because she’s wearing an ankle boot. She hurt her ankle five weeks ago playing tennis in New Zealand and had to postpone her trip out here until the doctor gave her the okay to walk so far. So, she started in Sarria almost a week ago and she’s made it this far with a rest day in between. She goes slowly, of course, but her injured pace is my healthy pace, so we are good walking buddies. We’d barely exchanged names and where we are from before meeting Lupe. He set out from St. Jean Pied du Port in Mid-October and has never taken a rest day. He’s the first pilgrim I’ve met out here who seems to be on a mission. He’s proud of the fact that he believes he’ll be the third one of his initial group from St. Jean to finish the Camino. He’s planning to continue to walk to Finisterre on the Western coast of Spain and burn everything he brought with him. He seems very focused on this being the end of his old life and the start of whatever his new one will be. Today is the first day I’ve become part of a group. It’s a very spontaneous thing. You get into a conversation and, for whatever reason, you all just walk together. Lupe is much faster than Lucy or I , but he choose to stay with us all day and walk along with us for the day. It seemed like a longer day than I normally walk, and it was. We didn’t get to this albergue until nearly 6 pm, by far the latest day I’ve had so far. We stopped and ate a late lunch though because we kept being turned away from places along the way. We ended up at a real restaurant with real food and that was so good. I’m so sick of ham sandwiches and really don’t think I want a ham sandwich ever again in my life, at this point. We were getting really hungry and there was a sign for an albergue and a restaurant about 400 meters off the camino and Lucy and I wanted to go. Lupe was lecturing us, telling us how “you never leave the Camino! It’s never a good idea!”, but we were both hungry and he grudgingly came along with us. We found the place and it looked really great, but we walked in and the manager at first said he would serve us lunch, and then the cook came out and mumbled about us being there, and then they showed us into the bar area, and then we were told we needed to leave our packs at the front door, and then when we got to the front door they told us they weren’t going to serve us. Despite the fact that, in the bar, we saw three pilgrims being served. It was weird. We were sort of offended by that. People have the right to not serve whoever they want, but we couldn’t figure out why the three of us in particular weren’t welcome. Lupe got his “I told you to never leave the Camino. It’s never good.” out of the way early and we walked another few kilometers to a smaller town where there was a café with tables outside and several pilgrims having a rest. The woman who ran the café came out when we arrived and were putting our packs down and told us she was sorry but she had no more food. She’d just sold the last two ham sandwiches. She pointed out the restaurant up the road as a place we could get food. We were tired, Lucy’s ankle was bothering her, but I was secretly glad to continue on and not have to eat a ham sandwich. It was worth it in the end, I think. We got real food at the restaurant. Real bread. Real juice. Real salad. Real pork roast. I got some pizza. And we all got a some dessert. We knew we were going to have to get to Santa Irene pretty quickly before the sun went down and I knew there wasn’t any food there, so we ate a lot. It took us about another hour or so to get here to the albergue, where we were the only ones, even arriving so late. The albergue worker was a sourpuss, of course. Just the norm, here, it seems. My feet and knees hurt a lot, but walking with Lucy puts a lot of things into perspective. If she can do this, there’s very little to complain about. So, the three of us are here at the albergue tonight just hanging out and laughing and talking and it’s been so lovely! Despite the long day, we’re still happy to be together and have made some progress.

Lupe won’t walk with us tomorrow. He’s determined to make it to Santiago tomorrow. Lucy and I are both thinking it will take us until Friday, not tomorrow, to get to Santiago. I think I’ll stay about 10km from Santiago, but Lucy is planning to walk a bit closer to town tomorrow. We’ve agreed to leave here together and get breakfast in Arca and then probably each walk our own way. Still, the three of us have planned to meet up at the Pilgrim’s Mass on Friday the 13th at 7:30pm at the cathedral so we can all celebrate and go out to dinner together. We’re only about 21km from Santiago, so the feeling in the air is one of relief, mostly. Everyone knows that we’re nearly done. I think that’s why Lupe was okay with walking so slowly with us today. His Camino is coming to an end and I think he was okay with just meandering today rather than rushing from one place to the next. I think walking with people is good because it can make the difficult parts easier — you might lost time if you’re a fast walker like Lupe– and it’s nice to chat and laugh and make friends, even for just a day, as you go.