As we embarked on the final day of our walk, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings came to mind. More specifically, I was reminded of how I feel every time I come to the end of that great epic. There’s a sense of joy, that good has achieved a decisive victory over evil despite sad losses and what seemed to be insurmountable odds. However, there is also a touch of melancholy; reaching the end is a reminder that all mortal pursuits come to an end: the story of the heroes, the pleasure of the reading and, returning to el camino de santiago, the physical experience of pilgrimage.
While the walk had begun with excitement and continued with lessons of perseverance, we’d now reached the final pages. Even talking to fellow pilgrims was different. We’d moved from greeting strangers to a measure of familiarity but now we were reaching the last chance to engage with comrades we might never see again. I remember making a real push to catch up with one walker I saw ahead and being rewarded with a pleasant conversation with a teacher from Ibiza who, fortunately, counted a good grasp of English among her accomplishments!
There was also the sense of the goal being in our grasp – I can only imagine how I would have felt if I’d been walking for a month or more like some of the peregrinos rather than a mere seven days! It certainly wasn’t as simple as just wanting to get there as soon as possible. At Monte do Gozo, within sight of Santiago de Compostela, one of our team expressed surprise when a fellow pilgrim shared that she wasn’t going to press on to the city in favour of resting and finishing the journey the following day. However, there was no answer to the wisdom with which she replied: “If I was in a hurry, I could have caught a bus!”
Descending the final stretch into the city was a very strange experience. Mulling on what we’d heard, words like “alienation” and “anticlimax” pressed “excitement” and “completion” far down the list. How odd to reach the end of the journey and find a a modern city, full of people riding around in vehicles, buying, selling and going about day to day life without any particular celebration! Even the distance markers and yellow arrows had petered out. What a contrast to hours of walking through rich landscapes, sharing purpose with pilgrims known and unknown.
I suppose it may have seemed a little different if we hadn’t ‘cheated’ by starting our journey at the destination! While the rest of the team pressed on to the cathedral, Jane and I climbed a hill overlooking the city to the final campsite where we could give Twinky a hand setting up the tents. When we finally got down to the city centre, the others were coming back and so we had to search on our own to find where we could get the final stamp in our credentials and claim our pilgrimage certificates.
It was part of a satisfactory seal on the walk that we spotted one or two familiar faces who were able to direct us to the appropriate office. Proving that we had travelled over 100km by foot, we received a piece of paper (in Latin!) that I suppose we could frame or store away with our exam certificates. However, more importantly, walking the way gives you membership of an invisible confraternity! It certainly made a difference to us on those ancient city streets, a touch of wonder to calm the shock of the ordinary.
One more entry to go and then I’m released from the discipline of daily recollection and blogging. However, in keeping with previous days, I must make a final note that the facilities at Camping As Cancelas were excellent. If the day before had been, almost literally, the pits this was in complete and welcome contrast!