We’d heard on the grapevine that there would be thousands of Pilgrims flooding into Santiago de Compostello from all four corners of Europe. We had to make haste unless we were prepared to queue for hours waiting for our certification. Early it would be. I set our alarm for 4am at 5am we’d set off. Without making a peep we tiptoed around Butch not to wake him while we prepared for our “final ascent”. Ultreïa suseia! Butch gave us a very emotional farewell, lots of hugs and a final wave as we set off.
Exciting. With strapped toes we squeezed lashings of Voltaren gel onto our palms and massaged tender calves. Nostalgically we hitched our backpacks for the final time on our Camino. With headlamps on we took our last selfie in the street and headed in the direction of the yellow arrow. On a quiet square we noticed lights on in a café. A sign. We had to have our usual coffee and croissant. Pepe was open, a landmark haunt for Peregrinoes on their final day to Santiago.
The small restaurant/bar is covered in memorabilia, flags, notes, fotos, even the colourful South African flag and a couple of R10 notes were attached to the walls and rafters.
Pepe’s wife had just taken a delicious apple strudel out of the oven and was slicing it up into generous portions. Who could resist? While Pepe signed and stamped our Pilgrim Passports we wolfed down the delicious apple tart, crispiest, lightest golden deliciousness filled with syrupy tart apples.
This was to be an emotional day and what a perfect start we had with Pepe and his wife treating us like family, hugging and kissing us on our foreheads, a custom it seems, like a Papal blessing. As they waved us off on our way, we all had tears in our eyes.
We met the funniest characters on our way and on this last day it would be a very odd character, who, when asked for directions, waved his hand in a regal, ceremonial wrist flapping way and then gave us a Royal FART as he pointed the way! That set us forth swiftly! This unlikely Pilgrim remained in our sights all day until we reached our destination and then he disappeared in a puff never to be spotted again. It takes all types doesn't it?
For the life of me I can’t remember very much of the day, except that it turned out to be much further than I thought, way markers were confusing as we neared Santiago, sometimes arrows would point in both directions! Pilgrims were more skittish as we neared and it seemed like a race was on. We’d hardly stop for breath or water, forgetting our discomforts, feet or toes. It was Onward Christian Soldiers through forests, over hills and streams until we reached the outskirts of the city.
As I neared and climbed up towards the Cathedral walking through the new city my energy ebbed out of me, my legs and feet became leaden and it felt as if I should just stop and sit down and forget about ever reaching the Compostello. I’d done what I’d set out to do after all.
There I was in the middle of a city when all of a sudden a huge fist clutched at my heart and great sobs escaped from my mouth as huge tears sprang out from my eyes I had to suck it up! My children don’t take kindly to me being emotional.
And then. Lise stepped in. Without her I would not have made the last 5 kilometers. She literally carried me there, holding my hand, egging me on, encouraging me as she became stronger and stronger and I sadly, weaker by the minute. I was done for. Exhausted. Finished. Thank you Lise for being my rock and pillar of strength and support.
As I click through my photographs I can see the exhaustion etched on my face, I looked and felt ancient, and I wasn't even 60 yet! For the very first time in my life I felt my age, no more “18 till I die”! Ridiculous.
As so often happens what should’ve been a triumph, a long awaited highlight, standing in front of the Cathedral was a huge let-down! Lise had to coax a smile out of me I literally couldn’t do it.
The queue of course was long, I didn’t have the energy for all that so we decided to leave it until the next morning in time to attend the Pilgrims Mass at the Cathedral too. At that moment I had an appointment with a shower and my bed at our Guesthouse just a few meters across the square. I needed my own space away from the maddening crowds. The weariness was both physical, mental and emotional. We’d done it!
Just before I collapsed into a heap right there in the middle of the square, Butch arrived after much searching! It was just as well he didn’t pop any corks as he’d promised he'd do, I'd said that I would raise a glass on one condition it was a MOET! I might’ve collapsed. So, there I was feeling like a huge party pooper who just wanted to lie down and exhale. It was essential that I pull myself together and man up, my dearest friend Bronwynn had sacrificed two days of her annual family holiday in Malaga to join us in Santiago de Compostello to celebrate our VICTORY!
Here is the road: the light
comes and goes then returns again.
Be gentle with your fellow travellers
as they move through the world of stone and stars
whirling with you yet every one alone.
The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.”
~ Arlene Gay Levine ~
SOLIDAGO: The Latin name Solidago is a compound of solidum agere, meaning to make firm, whole, healthy. In earlier times this plant was primarily used for healing wounds.