Day Twenty Two. Someone named Jill.
I woke early this morning. It was like when I was a little kid, excited to be going on a special trip or adventure. I didn't realize how much anticipation I had built up for this day, but I was raring and ready to go out the door at 7am.
It was a pretty glorious morning, the sun just peaking up from the hills behind my hotel, promising a good day's walk. I thought my early departure would mean that I'd have the Camino pretty much to myself as in the past, but I guess others had the same idea. Initially it wasn't too bad, but as the day wore on, the combined route traffic felt at times like a busy New York sidewalk. Well maybe not quite that crowded, but given the isolation of the last 21 days, there was an impact. I'm told that the oldest route--the Camino Frances-- is always this crowded. I'm glad I took the relatively empty Camino El Norte, along the beautiful coast.
There were still some lovely walks under a long canopy of tall trees, and still much productive farmland and planted fields. But there were signs all along the way that the end was nearing. I saw several pairs of walking shoes enshrined on the familiar Camino marker posts, and messages of encouragement and camaraderie left behind on walls and utility poles.
One sign really got me. It was a message to someone named Jill. I stopped for a moment to digest it. And then my eyes filled up, and I felt a lump in my throat. When you walk the Camino, it's hard to describe how it makes you feel. Maybe that you are participating in something bigger than yourself. There is an understanding that you have with your fellow travelers, a bond that is created out of more than shared pain and endurance. Often you walk alone, yet together you are not strangers. And when I read what was written to Jill, I felt it was also meant for me.
The first sign that the end was near was the airport. The Camino had to circle around the Santiago airport, out of which I will fly on Friday to get back to my starting point of Bilbao. The airport is just on the outskirts of the city, and even at 8:15, there were a few planes roaring into the morning air.
The second sign was the manhole covers. They had a scallop shell on them from the city of Santiago. I actually found them beautiful, but that was the definitive sign that it was almost over, and I felt some surprising regret. Did I really want this experience to end? Yes, but also... no. And suddenly I found myself wondering if I should do this again next summer when I come back to Spain for the wedding of a friend.
Then finally the path turned onto a road that went down, down, down, and I knew this was the final approach. Suddenly you could see the city at the bottom, and within a few minutes I was standing at the big sign of welcome to Santiago de Compostela. Everyone arrived at the sign had to take a picture, as I did. Then there was a bit more of a walk towards the center of the city, where the Camino ended at the doorstep of the Cathedral. There were lots of people around, and I was excited to immediately start touring, but I decided I'd go directly inside to where the bones of St James rest. I got in fairly quickly, and I knelt at the pew before the reliquary and set the petitions I had brought with me from Holy Family Church. I plan to pray over each one the next three days in the church, and just before I depart, I'll leave them on the floor in front of the Saint along with other pilgrims' petitions.
I left the church and found my hotel. It's really really nice, and just a few steps from the old part of the city and the Cathedral.
I hope to see my friend Carlos one more time tomorrow, spend some time at Mass in the Cathedral, and get a sense of the city.
Stay tuned for my adventure in Santiago tomorrow!