Pedrouzo to Santiago – 18km
We weren’t in a hurry this morning. For most of the walk we went at a leisurely pace, putting me in mind of the pilgrims to Canterbury, England, who once rode their horses and donkeys toward their destination at neither a slow trot nor a fast gallop, but somewhere in between, which is why we now have the word canter.
I did start late, though, and so spent the first hour or so catching up to Mom and Carrie. I had stayed behind at the albergue to try to get a car rental from Santiago to Lisbon, and I worked at this until I realized several things: (1) Priceline’s notions of arithmetic are akin to Camino café-bars’ ideas about spaghetti Bolognese (2) car rental giant Kemwel.com has not yet entered the era of user-friendliness or common sense, to put it mildly, and (3) it is impossible to rent a car one-way in Europe for a price less than that of booking a private jet.
We’re at about the 42nd parallel, which is perhaps near the California-Oregon border in the U.S., but it’s still dark until well after eight a.m. because while the Spanish discovered America for Europe, they haven’t yet discovered Daylight Savings Time.
About forty-five minutes after Mom and Carrie had gone, I left Pedrouzo at a fast pace and found myself in a dark wood. Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I . . .
I waited for some pilgrims who hadn’t lost their headlamps. Instead I got pilgrims who had no lights at all, and one who tried to use his phone. The wood was so dark that I couldn’t even make out the ubiquitous Pilgrim Litter Navigation System. Once a group of ten of us had bunched up, murmuring in three or four different languages, we concluded via groupthink to take the wider path, a decision that, unlike the Bay of Pigs, worked out pretty well. I caught Mom and Carrie about an hour later, and I was pouring sweat. I don’t remember the song I was singing as I came up from behind, but they were convincingly disappointed that it wasn’t “She’s a Lady”.
A Spaniard on a bike asked us if we’d seen a group of four men, including one with a beard. No, we hadn’t. Why? Well, the bearded man and a woman had fallen in love some stages back, and then they’d gotten separated. The biker was trying to find the man to deliver a letter from the woman that included information on how to contact her. Awww, how sweet, right?
No. I am sorry, but better the letter is never delivered at all. If two people allegedly in love can’t think to negotiate contact information, what hope is there that they’ll remember to have sex, or to stop at the grocery store on the way home?
Not long afterward, we passed a pilgrim coming back from Santiago. He was walking back to France – that is, doubling his trip. We’d already run into an Austrian woman, perhaps late 40s or early 50s, who had begun in Toulose, France — 750 kilometers before the start of our own walk.
For Second Breakfast, I asked for the Espaguetti a la Carbonara. Based on my bolonaise experience thus far on the Camino, I knew this was risky; my espaguetti could arrive with octopus on top, and in a pesto sauce. Mom, feeling lucky, said she’d have one too. But the man at the bar informed us that, sadly, there was only one. Mom looked at the man, then at me.
“What did they do with the other one?”
A few kilometers later, she left her despised orange shirt on a sign that had been vandalized beyond usefulness anyway. We had walked twenty yards away from it when she said, “Oh, God, now it’s whining.” I thought she was joking, but she turned around to go back and get it. I took out my camera, but she had turned around again. “There are people coming,” she said sheepishly.
We walked on. She got shaky again. “It must be this food,” she said. “My body is just all messed up lately. I’ve got to get back on my diet. I haven’t felt so many problems in my body in two years.”
There’s not much to say about the last stage to Santiago. After the early forests and some brief bits of farmland in ruin, we walked on backroads bordered by some aggressively ugly houses, through sparsely settled suburbs, near an active firing range where all the suburban warriors were belting out double-taps, Navy-SEAL-style, and through Santiago’s outskirts, which, like a bride’s skirts, seemed to go on forever. We were in Santiago itself, but instead of the steep final hill that some guidebooks went on about, we were tested only by a tolerance for boredom. Said Mom, “I won’t feel I’ve arrived until I see the cathedral.”
With a little less than a mile to go, we took a break. I took off my trail-running shoes and discovered my first blisters, including a 2” x 3” job on my right foot and several on my toes. The unnecessary river crossing I had done two days ago had gotten my minimalist footwear wet, and they hadn’t dried out by yesterday. I had worn them anyway, with wool socks, but wearing them at all may have been a mistake. You never want moisture near your foot when you walk a long way.
I took out a pair of scissors and did the kind of surgery that makes fifteen-year-old girls blanch, and then I put on my FiveFingers. They had done almost all the work that got me here, and I would not, as Yahweh had done Moses, deny them the Promised Land right on the verge of it.
On our way to the plaza of the cathedral, we met two Seattle tourists who seem to have felt sort of bad because they’d gotten to Santiago by car. Mom chatted with them a bit before we had to answer the magnetic pull of the finish line just a few blocks away.
When Jesus Meets Me in the Sky
I was thinking of Julio’s words to me. “When you get to Santiago,” he’d said, “the local townspeople will greet you and offer to take you to their homes. You’ll have dinner with them and stay the night with them. It is a tradition there.”
I could just envision it. People would line the road like in the Tour de France, holding out bunches of wildflowers they’d picked themselves. Small children would squirm on their father’s shoulders, and teenagers would clamber onto the first-floor ledges of buildings, or hang from fire escapes and drain pipes. Everyone would cry out huzzahs and hosannas. Sloe-eyed and slender Spanish women would blow kisses. Old women would clutch at their rosaries.
I would pick up my poles and jog around the plaza in a victory lap, but the people’s joy would not be so easily contained, oh no. They would lift us up on their shoulders and sing to us traditional Galician songs, songs so old they were once sung by Pagans, and they would parade us around the square. When they finally set us down, all of us laughing ourselves to tears, a member of the Knights Templar would step out of the shadows and explain that the brotherhood still existed, after all these centuries, and could I please join – nay, lead — them?
The cathedral was well-hidden on the far side of Santiago. Also hidden were the townspeople and their homes, the huzzahs and the women, young and old. There were no tears, there were no kisses, and the Knights Templar remained a figment of Dan Brown’s imagination. We would stay in a pension, the Santa Cruz, run by an extremely helpful Spaniard who insisted on walking us places rather than simply give directions.
The Cathedral, and a Sort of Finish Line
The cathedral seems situated for maximum impact. You see only spires as you approach, and then the back and side. Then you go through a stone archway into the plaza and face the building opposite the cathedral. And once we entered the plaza of the cathedral, I focused on watching, and filming, Mom walking ahead of me. I surprised myself by getting a little choked up, but I’m pretty sure it was because I forgot to take my meds.
“Oh, we’re here!” she said.
“You made it!” I told her. “You did it.”
I handed Carrie the camera and hauled my backpack over to Mom. I set it down and extracted the two battered red carnations I’d stored in it since the night before, and when she saw them she started crying again. She didn’t even care that the stem of one was now only eight inches long. When I pulled out the sixteen inches of the rest of the stem, she reached for that too.
Our Seattle friends now materialized before us and took pictures.
“We’ve been here for days,” the man said, “and you’re the first pilgrims we’ve gotten to talk to. You guys have really accomplished something.” It was strangely wonderful to have some witnesses, to call them that, who were fully willing to join in something so late in the day and yet still get something from it, and who gave something back.
It was almost as an afterthought that we toured the cathedral. It did not impress as much as the ones in Burgos and Leon. There are three world-class cathedrals on the Camino: in Burgos, Leon, and Santiago. Burgos boasts most of the gold in South America. Leon, its magnificent stained-glass windows. My favorite, though, was the one in Los Arcos, because that is where something magical happened, as a father mourned his lost son, and we were witnesses to his love. What matters, in a cathedral, is simply who’s inside it.
Nearby, we found the Pilgrims’ Office and got our Camino certificates, in Latin, which, as I work it out, means they came straight from the Vatican.
But it ain’t over till the mochilas come home. We still had to schlep across town and pick up Mom and Carrie’s backpacks. They were at the seminary, which turned out to be down a steep hill, up a steep hill . . .
“I’m glad we’re not staying there,” Mom said as we got close. “It looks like a prison! Look at the bars on the windows.”
“That’s to keep out the nuns,” I said. Carrie then learned that a
seminary is an all-male facility, which we know because it shares the same root as semen. She will have so much to share in her school report when she gets back to Colorado!
We ran into Devin, of Canada, who had walked 60km in 24 hours and now had severe tendinitis in both legs. ”I saw the sign for 50 kilometers,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I could be in Santiago by tomorrow morning.’” We saw the 19-year-old New Zealand woman who had sped across Spain alone, on a deadline to catch a plane to London. And Mom was overjoyed to find Barbara of Bavaria, whose husband had surprised her for their 26th wedding anniversary by flying out to join her on the last three days of the Camino. She had walked him for 35km the first day. ”You people have got to be crazy,” he said.
What Have You Learned?
“When people ask you what you learned on this trip,” Mom said to Carrie, “what are you going to tell them?”
Carrie held an imaginary microphone to her mouth and sang, “She’s got style / She’s got grace . . . ”
I think that’s a job well done. Go forth and prosper, little cousin!
Me? I learned that Galicia, especially the countryside, is in a state of disrepair. My friend Adam, a longtime student of Spanish and Latin American history, and who is right about things that don’t really matter exactly 63% of the time, says that Galicia was depopulated during the 20th century. The guidebooks don’t often mention that until less than forty years ago, Spain was isolated and in decline under the right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
I learned that if you’re a Pope, you can fly into Santiago in a private jet, slide into your Popemobile, and, having materialized at home base, as it were, receive the designation of “pilgrim”.
I learned that miracles are possible. For example, in the hurly-burly of travel, I had lost both the little rubber earbuds to my iPod’s headphones. For weeks, I stuffed the hard metal tips into my ears. They fell out easily. It was a hard, hard existence. But one day, as I was walking along, I saw, draped over a branch on one of the countless trees in Spain, a black wire. As I drew closer, I saw that there was not one wire but several. The tip that plugged into a music source had been ripped away, but there, before my eyes, were two rubber earbuds. I crossed myself and harvested them, leaving the hard metal tips and the rest of the wires on the branch. They fit my own headphones perfectly.
I learnd that if the collected works of E. Presley have taught us anything, it is that the primary anxiety of a waiter wearing blue suede shoes is that you may do anything you want to do but you should lay offa his blue suede shoes; that you can burn his house, and steal his car; that you can drink his liquor from an old fruit jar. You can do anything, that you want to do, but you oughtta lay offa his blue suede shoes.
There is no destination. Only the way. Recall the book by the German comedian, if you can set aside, for a moment, the oxymoron. The jacket copy said that since its publication, the number of pilgrims had increased by 20%. If more people go on the Camino after my book about it, they will have missed the point. There is no Camino. There are only caminos. There is no camino here. The camino, the way, is wherever you make it.
“Buen Camino!” We have heard that hundreds of times, from fellow pilgrims afoot, from bikers, and from the Spanish. But at no time does it seem more appropriate than now, once we’ve reached Santiago.
“Have a good Way!”