Well, it's almost exactly 24 hours after I picked up my Compostela after answering a variety of questions including whether I walked the entire time (e.g. Did I take a bus or taxi? Do you want to take a look at my feet?) and what were my reasons for doing the Camino (pilgrim press has it that stating non-spiritual reasons my get one denied the Compostela). I said "meditation" & apparently, I passed. I was also fortunate that I showed up only minutes before the office closed so I only stood in line for about 20 minutes in contrast to the more timely pilgrims who waited up to more than two hours! I did not go into the Catedral as i did not have another two hours to wait in line!
Before I return to the subject of completing the Camino, I want to say that I am staying in a really nice hotel in Finisterre (or Fisterra in Gallego, the language of Galicia) with a FULL SIZE bed (as opposed to the top bunk in a room full of bunk beds!) with apparently unlimited hot water (rather than showers that have to be restarted every 30 seconds by pushing a button & sinks--for washing faces & clothing--with only cold water. And I can turn the lights on whenever I like--all for the amazing price of €35 (about $43) including breakfast. It seems a bit steep after paying €5 to€10/night, but the accommodations are significantly superior.
Back to finishing the Camino. I think all worked out exactly as was best. I really could not have walked another day--in fact would not have walked the final day were it not exactly that. The day before, I started having a lot of pain from a probably strained muscle in the front of my left calf which became very inflamed and swollen. I am now taking prednisone, so the swelling is diminishing, but it's still quite painful. So that was really all I could do. Also, I am glad that I had visited Santiago on the front end of my trip because it felt huge & overwhelming after being in so many small villages and never getting lost (I got lost going home to the too expensive albergue last night & lost the entry code so I thought I might be sleeping outdoors). Also, listening to others reports of climbing the Pyranees in the unrelenting rain, going straight up for hours with nowhere to rest or walking the Meseta for seven straight days (think Texas panhandle in August with no trees at all!)--all made me realize that starting in Astorga was truly brilliant as most days had variety, and we had fabulous weather (only rain was when I was on the train & a bit my first day walking).
That said, it is strange not to be walking, especially as I see other pilgrims arrive here in Finisterre. This was a totally unique experience, unlike anything I have done previously and surprisingly challenging. The one thing everyone I spoke with said was that it was harder than they expected. For me, I don't think I appreciated how hard it was going to be walking everyday with blisters that never had a chance to heal and for which no amount of padding could prevent ongoing aggravation. The heat and the hills (many, many way longer than Far West!) were not actually particularly difficult for me since I trained in the heat & my blisters were less painful going uphill! As it turned out, I had to walk more slowly (and I am already slow) so I generally walked most of the day alone, walking for a while with others, but eventually needing to slow down. In the end, I think this was good: I really enjoyed the sense of quiet, a chance just to let my thoughts flow freely. I was aware of many things for which I am appreciative: that I have the time, money and opportunity to make such a special "pilgrimage"--still not sure exactly how that term applies to me, but to have this time is certainly a blessing; that, in spite of having a fair amount of physical distress during the walk, it was all due to "overuse" & would heal quickly when I stopped stressing my body; my relationship with my camera which allows me to move beyond my tendency to live in my mind, and connects me with the physical world in a way I love; that I had the physical health and tenacity to finish (I actually would have predicted that I would have taken other transportation at times when I was so sore & tired, but did not want to do that); that at the moments when I really needed help, assistance was available; and that I would have the chance to share this experience with other people who may not ever be able to have an experience like this.
I think the most important "creed" of the Camino is that everyone does his or her "own Camino" and that there is no room for judgement whether someone goes fast or slow, skips stages, carries their pack or sends it ahead, that everyone is doing this for their own reasons and needs support. Therefore, everyone is always wishing others a "Buen Camino". I have other thoughts about this experience, but now I will share some photos from the last day on the Camino Frances de Santiago.
More pastoral countryside
Followed by signs of fall in the woods
Goodbye to the ever-present and good-natured cyclists
On Monte del Gozo before heading into the city
Top of the Catedral at dusk
And a final Jacobean cat!
I hope this has provided my patient readers with a picture of life on the Camino & that it may inspire someone to take the trip themselves. I appreciate all the support!