The morning at the Provincial Albergue was the same as at the others – an early rise and we had to leave by 8am so that the volunteers could clean the dormitory in preparation for the arrival of today’s pilgrims. Except one thing was different. This was my last day in an albergue for the time being. After last night’s celebration of the completion of the journey to Cape Finisterre, it was a little sad. The daily ritual of walking, eating and sleeping had come to an end. After so many days the pleasant routine would be broken.
I reflected on the distance I had walk. Recounting again the huge distance of about 1600km since Le Puy-en-Velay, the thought of the number of steps taken crossed my mind. Just before Uhart Mixe in France, I had counted the steps taken to a road junction from its signs. There were 1250 steps per kilometre so according to my calculations I had taken 2 million steps since Le Puy! I was amused how this bit of multiplication came to a neat round number!
There was deep tiredness and elation mixed with sadness at completing the Camino. The overwhelming feeling of ‘what now?’ filled my mind. I preferred the journey, not the destination. An dormitory cleaner shouting for me to be out by 8am woke me from my reflections. Finally packing up, it was time to return to Santiago de Compostela. The previous night I had found the bus times and there was still fifteen minutes until the next bus left. The bus stop was crowded with walkers for the return journey so it was back to a harbour side cafe to wait for a couple of hours until the next, hopefully less busy bus. I would get to the bus stop earlier to make sure of a seat.
Ray, Alex, Kar O Lin, Ruth, Moritz, Arthuro and many others arrived at the cafe. We sat in the early morning sun chatting over endless coffees. Some were intent on continuing to walk South to Portugal. Ray just wanted to get as far as he could before he had to return to Britain. I was a bit jealous that they could continue the journey, to continue the simple daily routine of eating, walking, eating and sleeping. It was addictive in its simplicity – I vowed to do another long distance walk again one day.
I said my goodbyes as the bus time approached. It was sad to say goodbye after knowing them all for so many weeks – familiar faces in an unfamiliar land. We would all keep in touch.
At the bus stop, I was surprised to see Bernard. He had set off with Deirdré the day before to walk back to Santiago de Compostela. They had got to the climb out of Ceé when Bernard had suddenly decided that he did not want to walk any more. He walked back to Finisterre. A whole day walking to end up at the same place! Somehow I could understand his change of heart. He would be taking the same bus back to Santiago de Compostela. He was chatting and I needed silence. I was sad and sat in another area of the top deck of the bus. Nothing against Bernard – what was needed was just to sit quietly staring out of the window as the bus crawled along the coast of Galicia. Time to reflect on the last ten weeks, time to come to terms with the change, the transition back to daily life. It would not be easy. As the bus left and the magical coastline unfolded.
There were sparkling waters and azure seas. Small villages glistened with white-washed walls. People paddled on the sand flats digging for worms. Others clambered over the sharp rocks to collect molluscs. In the towns that slipped by the cafes and restaurants were filled with holidaymakers as well as locals. The sun was strong and if the windows had not been tinted, the eyes may have been damaged! The bus trundled along at a reassuring speed. It wound round bays and estuaries clinging to the small road. A feeling of safety and stability yet at the speed of the modern world. After walking for so long the bus seemed to be going very fast. It wasn’t. It had been so long since taking a bus that it was a strange novelty. I dozed on an off with the air suspension of the bus as my mattress.
Two hours later in Santiago de Compostela I spoke to Bernard and wished him well for his next walk. He was planning to do the Camino del Norte later in the year. Returning to the room in Esvina’s home, I was welcomed with open arms. Dinner would be at 7pm. I slept for a while then wandered around town in the late afternoon. At the Cathedral the queue for the Tomb of Saint James was short. Before long I completed the circuit through the Cathedral. Climbing down into the Sepulcrum, then up to traditionally embrace the statue of Saint James. It was a moving moment.
Dinner later in the evening was delicious. There was Esvina and two other lodgers around the table (both students at the University of Santiago de Compostela). My Spanish had improved over the last four weeks but was far from perfect. Still conversation and mutual understanding prevailed and it was a pleasant night.
Next day the flight was at 11.35am and after a good breakfast and warm goodbyes it was time to walk the ten minutes back to the bus station to take the bus to the airport a few kilometres out of town.
As the aircraft took off, I could clearly see along the North Coast of Spain towards the Picos de Europa mountains. Somewhere just to the South of those mountains was a short marked path called the ‘Camino de Santiago de Compostela’ or ‘The Way of Saint James’.
The Camino would continue for a long time after I got off that plane. The pilgrimage would never be over. The Camino stays in your life whatever happens. It is forever guiding you.