Fool in the Rain
My Camino — day 7
The last day has arrived and as will I to my final destination of Santiago de Compostela. But what is it about the number 7? Is it some weird universal law where big things seem to involve 7 key elements or stages? For example, the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, the 7 chakras of the yogic energy system, the 7 stages of grief … the list is endless if you google any topic along with the number 7. Didn’t even the big fella create the heavens and earth in 7 days, or was it that he did it in 6 and then rested on the 7th? I don’t know, I’m not religious, although I do have faith in something bigger than ourselves. After all, despite how important we think we are, and how we so often try to convince others of that lie, we’re barely piss-ants on this earth, let alone in the cosmos.
Everything seems to go on functioning just nicely despite us doing our very worst, and the world will continue doing so long after we’re gone. Shit, that’s both an amazing and super scary thing to think about, just how insignificant we really are. Yet, for some reason, we are piss-ants gifted with self-consciousness, and the ability to think and act out of free will. Surely there has to be a good reason for that, other than for just going through this life serving our own selfish needs and desires? Maybe it’s not even about us? Maybe it’s just all simply for the entertainment of the almighty, like a cosmic theater of sorts. There were certainly some clues out on the path that seemed to make a good case for it.
It was just going to be a relatively short hop to the cathedral in Santiago, so there was absolutely no reason to rush. In fact, the day before I had already made up my mind that I was going to make this last day a kind of personal celebratory stage — and by that I mean I was going to treat it as a beer run. The rules for that were very simple — walk slow, stop often, drink sufficient quantities of beer, smile and be happy. I think I was more than ready to play this game as I headed out of Padrón into the very cold and rainy morning. It was now heavy enough that my poncho was an absolute necessity rather than just something to make me look like a holy monk on tour. Truth be told, I am not a fan of rain, and I didn’t often have to worry about it when growing up in outback Australia, but I was just loving it today. I was actually hoping for a good old piss-down, because it would give me more reasons to stop for beer along the way — but, as a public service announcement for the responsible consumption of alcohol, my aim was never to get completely wasted, but to achieve that very similar magic carpet ride state from the day before, and to hold on to it for as long as I could with timely top ups. Everything we consume in this world is a drug of sorts — be it food, shopping, alcohol or … err .. drugs; but they’re only bad things when you let them control you. Some ‘drugs’ are purely for inducing pleasure, but nothing else, and I’m not a fan of those, because I think they weaken you, sometimes even destroy you. However, others can, with wisdom, be used as tools for transcendence. So, I knew exactly why I was hash housing this last day, and it was to help put the final nail in the coffin of the hardest year of my life. It was time to move on to a new life — and I had 27km remaining to make it happen.
Well, I got my wish. The heavens opened up with a vengeance after only 5km and, despite my poncho holding out the deluge, the humidity was off the charts. So, I scanned for suitable cafés to dry off, and soon enough one came into my sights. It was a very basic local joint filled with both younger and middle-aged workmen, as well as retired old-timers reading their morning newspapers over a series of espressos — and then there was this bald (ok, shaven headed) dude with a white technical running shirt and shorts, sporting a bright yellow backpack, and demanding a pint of beer at 9 o’clock in the morning. I got a few odd looks, but I wasn’t refused service. When I got onto my second beer, I had somehow already started a conversation with the other patrons in a really bad mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, telling them what I could about my camino.
In the end, the mood in the café was very jovial with some of the guys being willing to even join me in a group photo — though one old guy in the corner never raised his eyes from his newspaper at any time. What did I say about how insignificant we are, despite what we think about ourselves? It’s all a matter of perspective.
Once out on the road again, the next 2 hours went by in a flash, and before I knew it I was already on the outskirts of Santiago. No, it’s too soon, I don’t want this to stop! As if the heavens heard my heartfelt outcry, it began to hail .. yes hail! And wouldn’t you know it, I was just adjacent to a food joint at exactly that moment. I just had to accept that it was a sign from the gods to take another break.
So, this time I added a really nice tosta mista with and egg to my two beer pitstop. After a very relaxing hour long break, which again gave me plenty of time to do some social media updates, as well as to almost get dry, it was now time for the final 5km push to end my journey. What was strange though, was that I didn’t really feel anything special now that I was approaching the ‘finishing line’, despite having covered over 240km in 7 days. It was more like I was saying to myself, “Ok then, you’ve pretty much done it. What are you going to do then after it’s over?” That’s the question I pondered for the last hour of my Camino de Santiago trek, and it started to bring up feelings of anxiousness again, the same ones that I’d had before taking my first step. It seems that I'd been able to forget my personal challenges while being totally immersed in the day to day life of a pilgrim, but soon it would be time to return to reality — and it seemed that everything that I had left out of my backpack, as an unnecessary burden to lug along the trail, was still going to be waiting for me. Shit, surely things would be different after this journey? Maybe the point of a pilgrimage isn’t to remove your problems, but to gain new tools and perspectives to be able to better deal with them? Looking at it this way, the purpose of a pilgrimage is not about forgetting. It’s about remembrance, the shining of the light of wisdom and love on your personal darkness, so that it can be cleansed and healed.
There I then stood, in the mid afternoon, at the steps of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in the pissing rain. As I had suspected, there was no blinding light illuminating me from between its spires. In fact, the cathedral itself looked rather uninspiring as a significant section of it was wrapped in scaffolding and blue sheeting due to ongoing renovations. So, I had completed the Camino Portuguese, and despite every magical moment that I had experienced along the way, I now didn’t feel very much different than when I’d set out from Porto a week earlier. Despite pushing myself through the pain of my blisters and general fatigue, once the journey was over, all that was forgotten in an instant. It really just felt like ‘another day at the office’. It was very similar to the feeling I’d had after completing the Marathon Des Sables race in the Moroccan Sahara back in 2012, where my pre-event expectations about how I’d feel had been much greater than the reality. However, I knew that something within me had shifted, but it didn’t look like I was going to be able to figure out exactly what right now. I think I was first going to have to deal with some kind of post camino hangover before I’d have the opportunity to take stock of everything. Only then would I be able to see my life with new eyes — and that’s something that I knew I couldn’t force. I just had to be patient and allow the process to run its course, to let things unfold and reveal themselves in their own time.
I headed away from the cathedral square to the nearby Centro Internacional de Acogida al Peregrino (pilgrim’s office) to get my final camino stamp and official completion certificate. After that, I checked into the Hospedería San Martín Pinario, which was located adjacent to the cathedral in an amazing old historical building. This place was well beyond my paygrade when it comes to accommodation, but as they have a standing special offer for pilgrims, which is basically a private room and awesome buffet breakfast at hostel prices, I was good to go. That evening, I didn’t feel like celebrating with other pilgrims. I didn’t even feel like going out for a special meal. Instead, I just went to a local supermarket to get something simple for dinner to eat in my room. It ended up being seasoned mussels, bread and beer. I guess I wanted to still hang on to the camino feeling for as long as possible by replicating my meal of the penultimate day. I was not yet ready to go back to reality, because like the old Dutch guy that I had shared breakfast and a good chat with that morning, I had discovered that I was at my happiest when I was walking, when I was living my life on the run.
You can also view a playlist of videos covering the entire 7 day trek here.