part 3: the post when we finish camino, hitch a ride, and remember the reason i love to travel.


October 19, 2012

Well, we done did it.

I had been imagining our arrival in Santiago for a while: Mia and I, marching into the square in front of the cathedral together, throwing our bags down and collapsing on the ground. We’d take a picture of ourselves looking exhausted but happy. All of our new friends would come strolling in eventually (after us, obviously — it’s my fantasy) and there would be lots of hugging and dramatic tears of joy.

Of course, as life would have it, none of that happened.

Our final day started well enough. It had been a bit rainy the days prior so the ground was muddy and there were some precariously situated puddles along the way, yet the sky was clear and the air was warm. The night before we had run into our English comrades, Mark and Andy, whom we hadn’t seen in a while. The four of us met up again at a cafe that morning and walked the last 15km together.

(Sidenote: Cousin was M.I.A. for this whole ordeal as he had arrived in Santiago the day before after racing a cute Swiss girl 50km to the finish — typical McConkey).

The rain started when we were about 10km out. And pardon my use of this terrible cliche, but when it rained, it poured. Relentlessly. My “waterproof” jacket and shoes were soaked through within 20 min. I had a trash bag over my backpack, but the wind ripped that right off so the entirety of my wardrobe got drenched. Mia and I started walking faster, partly out of excitement and partly because it was so damn cold. Finally, we reached the central square in front of the cathedral. Mia wouldn’t let me look up at it until we got right in the middle and had the best view. It really is stunning, and in a way the stormy weather complemented the gothic architecture. Mark and Andy joined us in the center.

There were no other pilgrims in the square; no one lounging around, or hugging, or crying as my fantasy predicted. Just us and a group of Germans on a tour. Their guide approached us and asked if we were “real” pilgrims, how far we traveled, etc. We answered her questions, which sparked excitement and awe in the crowd. Clearly an easily entertained bunch. After a “God Bless You” or two they went on their way, off to see the next attraction on their tour, and we were left to stare up at the cathedral once more. Andy hurumphed and threw his walking stick down, but that was the most dramatic reaction any of us could muster. I was so wet and cold (and happy!) but the hunt for an albergue with warm beds and hot showers commenced immediately.

As I predicted, I didn’t experience any sort of radical transformation upon reaching Santiago, but my perspective on the experience did change.

In my last post I was quite ready to be done walking, wrap this journey up and stuff it into the memory box labeled “life lessons” and move on to the next one. However, about a day and a half before we arrived, I realized just how much the last 30 days had meant to me. I’m not a new person now that it’s over and my dreams for the future still carry the same vague, cliched motif: see the world. Yet, I now have a clearer notion of what I hope to gain in terms of personal growth and why I’m so passionate about traveling in the first place. It’s difficult for me to express what this experience has meant to me in words, partially because I don’t understand it myself and partially because a better explanation is too embarrassingly intimate to post on a blog and mostly because all this self reflective bullshit makes any sane reader yawwwwwn.

On to the fun stuff.

Celebrations in Santiago followed as expected: drank a lot of cheap beer, ate a lot of calamari, had too many chupitos, fell asleep in a bar, acquired a new Sting’s Greatest Hits album, argued about who had the bigger biceps, went to a Guns and Roses cover band concert. The usual. Mia even scored a groupie pic, the feisty minx. Sandwiched herself right in between Axl and Slash (who lacked the hat and whose hair was far too well maintained, but who banged his head about quite a bit and was thus forgiven). The crowd went absolutely mad during “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, “Paradise City”, and “Welcome to the Jungle”. Things died down pretty quickly after that, as those were the only songs to which the crowd knew the words. However, all was well as those were the only songs to which the band knew the words too.

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October 21, 2012

Walking Beyond Santiago

Left for Finisterre after a two day stint in Santiago. Technically, the walk ends once you reach the cathedral, but it’s quite popular to walk an additional 90km to the coast to what was once thought to be the end of the world. Figured if we were gonna do the damn thing we’d do it right, so it was agreed from the start that we’d be heading seaside. Really loved that last stretch; beautiful green hills, simple living vibrations. The landscape was very similar to Ireland, but there were bits that felt like country towns in Maui. I’d much rather walk to the ocean than to a city any day, so even the 30+ days felt easy.

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The first time we saw the Atlantic was beyond exciting, and certainly encouraged a swifter step. It meant that we really had walked all the way across Spain.

20121212-173112.jpgSee the Atlantic in the distance?!

Ripped them boots off right quick as soon as we reached the beach, and let our toes enjoy the sand. I frolicked about at the water’s edge, but really had no intention of going in as we still had another kilometer or so to walk and it was freezing. However, Cousin had a different agenda and came charging straight for the waves. Set off quite the ripple effect as Mia refused to watch Erik take the first, dramatic plunge, and thus flung herself in a few moments before he could do the same. The Swiss girl who was also walking with us was quick to follow, which left me dry and alone on the beach. Had short conversation with self about the dangers of hypothermia before chucking headphones on the sand and running into the sea.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL WAS IT COLD.

Screamed quite the array of expletives while bouncing in the break. Apparently my chin turned an electric shade of blue, which seems a rather odd place to go numb, but I suppose something weird like that would happen to me. After we got out, Mia started doing these strange windmill and arm pumping maneuvers. Supposedly, it was to regain circulation in her hands. Found the little dance rather embarrassing myself. Turned my blue chin right up at her and looked away. Some people. We walked that last kilometer barefoot and on the sand, our boots dangling in one hand.

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The whole finale was very theatrical. Fortunately, Mia and I were both wearing our incredibly stylish post-swim ponchos which added some comic relief.

October 22, 2012

The next day we walked 20 minutes out to the lighthouse, which is the location of the 0.0km marker; positioned on the edge of a cliff, it is technically there that you reach “the end of the world.” Lucky for us, a downpour started same time as we did and ended right after we touched the final post.

20121212-174258.jpgWhy no, that is not a massive seal standing on the left. simply myself.

Porca miseria.

Decided to boycott walking in response.

A hippy campervan pulled out of a side street and I ran towards it, thumb at the ready. He pulled over and got out, asking where we were heading. Mucia, seaside town 28km north. Same place as him, so we hopped in and took our first car ride of over of month.

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Our chauffeur spoke English with a German accent and said he was Sandro from Switzerland. On the dashboard, there was a basil plant and a broken straw hat that suggested he’d come from someplace warm. In between the two front seats was a plastic box filled with tomatoes, cheese, crackers, and beer — all the essentials. We sat in the back at a table lined with two couches that he said could be made into a bed. There was also a flat screen TV mounted from the ceiling, a small kitchen area complete with sink and mini-fridge, and a bathroom in the back.

Remembering Why I Love to Travel

We talked for a bit and he told us about how he had quit his job at an insurance company to travel around the world in his caravan instead. He had plans to drive through Russia, China, India, around Australia, up through the Americas, and beyond. He didn’t look old enough to have already began and ended a career with such immense savings, and his travel dreams suggested a sort of youthful naïveté born after reading too many Kerouac novels, but he was goofy and genuine, so I hope things work out for him.

Eventually the talking stopped and Bob Dylan sang through the speakers, bringing a hush upon everything else. Sandro sat tapping his cigarette on the steering wheel, scattering ash on his jeans; Mia had fallen asleep, head hanging down, swaying unintentionally to the music; I watched the leaves of the basil plant bounce with every bump in the road; and the jingle jangle of “Mr. Tambourine Man” played all the while in the background, making life feel very surreal.

That’s one of my favorite things about traveling: the romance of those moments.

It doesn’t always happen. There are many times when you’re tired or lonely or even bored, and just want to go home to a life that’s more comfortable and consistent. But then there are also these simple moments of sincere happiness when who you are or where you came from doesn’t match up with what is happening in that moment, and that surreality allows you to see yourself and the world in a new way. Maybe I’m alone in this feeling or maybe these thoughts are just an indication of my own youthful naïveté. Either way is fine with me as I enjoy them so.

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