Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Camino de Santiago (Part 3)

In front of a 13th-centrury
Templar Castle in Ponferrada,
566km in.

The life was beautiful again: two days in pretty towns with some interesting buildings, the end of meseta and beginning of mountains! And happy feet on new insoles. Woohoo!

On meseta I had been walking mainly with Anette from Denmark but we split before Leon due to different time schedules. A few days later I met Darek from Poland who’d started his pilgrimage at home, three months earlier. Despite his fitness and his high speed we were walking together - I could do with some harder workout and he was well ahead of his schedule (I guess it's not easy to plan ahead a 3-month hiking) ;) On our first day together we were so involved in our conversation that we missed a turn which resulted in walking shorter distance. I realised that when we already were in an albergue, after the shower and laundry and about to cook dinner. We’d done 22km or so and in the next days the distances were to be over 40km! No, that wasn’t reasonable… Long story short, after the dinner (and fiery discussion whether it was such an ingenious idea or maybe not) we packed our rucksacks and to great surprise of other people already resting with their legs up, we rushed out of the albergue. Next town, a Celtic settlement O Cebreiro, was 5km further. It was a very picturesque place, with its stone houses built at the top of a hill, overlooking the mountains. My guide book was telling about original Celtic round houses with thatched roofs but we managed to see only one in the centre of the town, which disappointed as a bit. Maybe there were more of them, hidden somewhere. Nonetheless, the town was pretty and we reached it at the sunset which only added to its beauty.

O Cebreiro
There was only one problem there. They had no beds left! What could we do... Slightly stressed we set off to the next town. Without lights, through a dark forest, slipping on a narrow, rocky path we were heading west, singing old Polish classics and praying for the albergue to be open and with places to sleep. That was a memorable night and I was so happy Darek was there with me! Once we got into our sleeping bags, all the stress was gone and we could already laugh at all the situation.
I count that night as an altitude training – after all it was a 5km run, with a (relatively) heavy loading, at 1300m a.s.l. ;)

Two days before reaching Santiago I met Christos, a Greek guy from Sweden living in Spain. We soon reunited with Darek, who I'd split with for a couple of days because of the problems with my heel which slowed me down a bit and made me prolong the trip by one day.
We stayed up late that night, talking about everything from every-day stuff to the most important issues in life. Angels, religion, stars, family and mice (better don't ask).

Entering Santiago de Compostela.
We stayed in Monte del Gozo, only 4km before Santiago. Next morning, at the sunrise, we were walking down the hill towards Santiago located at its bottom. The city was slowly waking up. After a month of walking (or three month as in Darek's case), we were finally arriving at our destination. Usually so chatty, that morning we were walking in silence, with emotions blocking our throats.
We stopped at the cathedral. "So that's it, that's the place where people have been walking to for over a thousand years." We went to the midday mass (again, it didn't matter whether you actually were a religious person or not), we spent some time wandering around the city. A question was hovering in the air above my head "And what now?".
It didn't feel finished to me...

The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela,
finally reached after one month walking.
But it didn't seem enough...

Last night in Santiago.
Having octopus with prawns and red wine
in a restaurant at the feet of the cathedral.

There was one more place I needed to see: the end of the world, a cape Finisterre. From the first moment I thought about doing Camino I wanted to finish it in Finisterre. The original plan was to walk there but somewhere along the way I felt that 800km was enough, and as much as I was enjoying it, I wanted to go back home. I ended up taking a bus and spending a day at the coast (and thanks to that I avoided crazy rains that started just after I'd finished walking).
I sat at the rocks, with the ocean crashing at the shore below my feet, blue waters touching the blue sky. It really felt like the ship that has sailed too far would fall over the edge of the world.
It looked like if it was outside time. I could imagine it was exactly the same a thousand years ago, and it will be the same in the next thousand years. (Coast erosion put aside for sentiments' sake)
I had a phone with me, that simple thing that makes the whole world a smaller place but at that moment I could feel how huge the world really was. In the era of planes and internet all distances seem shorter but over there, for the first time, I could really feel how much 800km is. I'd been walking every day for a month. I could call those who I loved and talk to them right there and then but how much would it take me if I wanted to walk to them? Everyone, everything was so so far away... And somehow it felt nice, refreshing. For a while.
It was in Finisterre where I felt the whole journey had been completed. It was over. I could go back home.
In only few hours I was thousands kilometres away. But I took Camino with me :)

A movie about Camino: "The Way" by Emilio Estevez:

The movie is beautiful and touching, showing well the atmosphere on Camino and peculiarities of the people you meet ;) However I'd say Camino has a bigger impact on how we look at our lives, it's more life-changing than shown in the movie. At least it was for me and for all the people I met there, for those who were doing it for the first time as well as for those who came back to thank for what the previous journey gave them.

More here:
Part 4

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