Camino de Santiago: Day 36

Pedrouzo—Santiago         12.3 miles     

3 November 2017

Compostela de Santiago

I was awakened in the middle of the night by a bunch of French people loudly packing up to begin walking. It was 5:30 am! I was annoyed. They wanted to get to Santiago in time for the noon Pilgrim’s mass at the Cathedral. It seemed to take them forever to leave. I got another hour’s sleep and was about the last person to leave the albergue. 

The hospitero was not there and the door had automatically locked when I walked out. As soon as the door closed behind me, I realized I did not have my trekking poles. I looked through the glass door, and sure enough, they were leaning against a table! Arghh! I kept thinking someone else would walk out and I would be able to jump back in and retrieve them. But, no, I was the last one to leave. There was a phone number on the door, but I don’t carry a phone.  

It took me a while to realize that I was still in wi-fi range, and I have the ability to use my Skype account to call a phone. Yay…I felt bad that the hospitera would have to return, but I really had gotten used to walking with my sticks. I called and apologized for my mistake. He said no problem and I heard a click—the door was opened—automatically from where ever he was. Yay! I thanked him profusely and was on my way…I think I was the last pilgrim out of Pedrouzo.

The Camino was awash with pilgrims on this last day. It made me wonder how many people only walk the last day or so into Santiago. And, the road became more and more crowded the closer we got to the city.

Early in the day, I walked with two young men from Portugal and they almost had me convinced to “come to their country.” This would be a mantra I would hear the rest of my trip as I encountered travelers from all over the world. “You should come to Slovenia…Azerbaijan…Croatia…Sri Lanka…Germany… Bangladesh…Turkey…Italy…”

A bit of an aside: I am posting this over a year after I finished the Camino. I have to confess–I did go to Portugal and stayed there three weeks to retreat after my Camino experience. I also later went to Sri Lanka (where I am now currently residing for three whole months). AND I am hoping to make it Azerbaijan someday to see my sweet friend Zumi, who I met in India.

Sometimes, when there is no one around to hear me, I sing when I am walking. In these last few weeks, I have often found myself singing an old Girl Scout song. It is short and very profound:

Peace I ask of thee, Oh River,

Peace, peace, peace.

When I learn to live serenely,

Cares will cease.

From the hills I gather courage,

Visions of the day to be.

Strength to lead and faith to follow

All are given unto me.

Peace I ask of thee, Oh River,

Peace, peace, peace.

Back when I was 12 or 13 years old, it was a pretty song, but the full meaning was lost to me.

Today, I spent a great deal of time chanting over and over, under my breath, “When I learn to live serenely, cares will cease,” in time to my steps. Now, here at the end of my Camino, I am only just beginning to understand those words.

I once saw a movie set in Tibet in which a monastery was burning down. The young monks were running all over the place trying to save the sacred texts and icons. The lama, however, just stood there calmly watching the fire. I did not understand that at the time. I am just beginning to now.

I keep having to re-learn that when things are not going the way I want them to, if I just let it all go—let the frustrating things not matter, then I calm down—almost immediately. I do become more serene and I don’t care as much. It is like magic. I have a long way to go to truly internalize this lesson and make it a constant habit, but the fact that I have this “tool” or “skill” in my possession is very powerful for me.

I wrote in my journal: 

The last several miles were hard—mostly because you must walk through the outskirts of the city and it is not really very interesting. When you arrive at the old town and Cathedral of Santiago, tourists and gift shops abound. I am not a Catholic and Santiago holds no spiritual significance to me. I did not find myself moved as I arrived at the Compostela. Santiago is not my final destination. I will walk four more days to the coast. The ancient—and original—Celtic pilgrimage trail ended at the Atlantic Ocean—Finistere–the end of earth.

It is here in Santiago that a pilgrim can bring her credential to the Pilgrim’s office and receive a Compostela—a certificate of completion. The pilgrim’s credential is the folded card full of stamps from all the albergues where she has rested herself—the stamps prove that she has made the entire journey. With that credential, the pilgrim can stand in line to receive a Compostela. A very interesting history of how the Compostela originated can be read here.

For some reason, the Compostela held little meaning to me. The credential itself showed the work…the journey. For me that was all I really wanted.

Except for one thing…And this is the interesting part…

Anyone who knows me knows that I have very little use for jewelry. But I had read about the silver Ultreia ring, a souvenir that can be purchased by anyone—pilgrim or not—in many of those gift shops that I distain. I walked into a small jewelry store and found an Ultreia ring that fit. It was a symbol for me of the 50 days I would take to walk this Camino of Gratitude—a symbol I would see every day and remember.

My silver Ultreia ring has Camino symbols around it: a credential stamp, a shell, an arrow, a sunflower (which has more meaning for those who walk the Frances route), a star, an umbrella, a musical note, and tears. On the inside the words “The Way” are written in English, French, and Spanish. “Ultreia” in Latin means “onward” or “beyond,” a greeting that was used by medieval pilgrims when meeting each other. The traditional response was “Suseia,” meaning “upward.”

I was not sure if I would attend the Pilgrim’s mass on this Friday evening, but I found myself drawn to the Cathedral as the time approached. I got there early to be sure to find a seat and I wrote in my journal until the mass began. Even though the service was in Spanish, I found myself moved because of the pilgrims who were surrounding me. 

We all had made our Caminos—whatever that meant to each of us.

2 thoughts on “Camino de Santiago: Day 36”

  1. And I will continue to walk caminos cos it’s wonderful knowing that the road is well marked, there will be a bed at the end of the day (you hope), and you will make friends who will remain over the years.

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