Buen Camino!: Arriving in Santiago.
Last week, I wrote about the insightful, mindful, and spiritual journey my experience on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela brought about. The realizations that sprung from unforeseen circumstances, the challenges and rough terrain, and how family love and support is comparable to none. This week (because there is no way a ten-day journal would fit into one single entry), I choose to write about the milestone moments - reaching the one-hundred-kilometer mark, and then entering the city of Santiago the following day - and why learning to forego unnecessary material objects and mundane everyday matters makes an adventure all the more fulfilling.
We reached the hundred-kilometer mark at the end of our seventh day atop Monte de Gozo - the mountain of joy. From the top of the mountain, pilgrims get their first glimpse of Santiago - the final destination of the pilgrimage - from birds' eye view, with the roof top of the cathedral glistening ever so prominently. Despite the exhaustion from the days trek, I could see the smiles of family members - I had to rest my injured ankle completely up till that point, and hence, had to sit out from the walk - and their tired eyes made to sparkle by the promise of being so near the point we all had been walking to daily for the last week, seven hours a day. And though we all had somewhat of a mental image and a vague idea we created in our heads that we were drawing closer, hours, that turned into days at some instances felt like it was never going to end. Seeing the physical manifestation of the culmination of our journey was a most encouraging final push that was definitely much needed by all.
On the final day of our Camino, I finally got the go signal to walk once again. Well, more like I forced the issue as I wanted to be able to complete at the very least, the final walk. Ankle bandaged and taped, armed with a walking stick in hand, I traversed what were mostly downhill concrete slopes that bridged the country side and mountain view to the actual city. And then the magical moment happened - that very instant we set foot on the cobblestones of Santiago, and walked into the city, up the steps of the cathedral. It dawned on me at that very moment that we had arrived. Up until that point, I never understood (and would actually laugh) at the idea our tour guide constantly put in our heads - his repeated narrative of the very emotional and overwhelming feeling of entering the city for the very first time. I was wrong. Though no tears were shed, I had never entered a city, or taken a trip by foot until then, and I do not know that will actually ever happen again, to be honest. Cliche, but true, it was all but a blessing to be there in the moment. I finally know what carpe diem means in its truest essence.
As if that were not enough, one of my aunts got the honor of doing the reading during the pilgrims' mass that afternoon, and we were treated to seeing the botafumeiro - a world-famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral - in all its glory. And though I did not completely understand the mass because most of it was in Spanish, the energy emitted by every presence in the room was enough to move me. All the pilgrims in the church were, after all, celebrating something common - the fulfillment of a fulfilling, albeit strenuous, physical and spiritual journey. I say spiritual and not religious because besides the pilgrims' mass and the legend surrounding the Camino itself, there is nothing about it that is strictly Catholic. In fact, one can only assume that the majority of those who decide to go on the pilgrimage are at the very least Christian. Needless to say, it is an experience that unifies - regardless of race, gender, country of origin, or religious beliefs. The pilgrims we had crossed paths with, and met along all the way all proved one thing: they were in it for their own reasons, and though we were all traversing the same path, everyone was doing so at a different pace, in a different way, collected different stamps even, from a multitude of starting points. Yet, no matter where we may have begun from, we
all ended up in the same city, and we all got something substantial (though in different ways, forms, and learnings) out of it.
And although I only got to spend two nights, and one full day in the city of Santiago, it will truly be one of substantial meaning, that will always hold a most special place in my heart. It is the first, and only city, I have entered by foot so far. And let me tell you - the feeling even beats that of landing back in your mother land, in an airplane after months of homesickness away from home.
Alex M. Eduque