Camino de Santiago: Santiago, the beginning of the end
Special to the Daily
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blog posts written by Gwen Edwards chronicling her journey on the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, a trail of hundreds of miles across Spain. The Summit Daily is serializing Edwards’ adventures leading up to a fundraiser for “Phil’s Camino,” a documentary, with events around Breckenridge from Thursday, June 4, through Sunday, June 7.
I’d arrived early in the morning to Santiago, having stopped the night before a few kilometers away from the city to re-center and sleep and be alone. After attending the crowded pilgrim mass in the cathedral, the Dutchman and I went for hamburgers, folding up our compostelas and tucking them away as if we hadn’t just walked 830 kilometers to get here and collect that piece of paper. We strolled down a crowded cobble street, sharing a chocolate cookie in the shape of a shell, and tried not to panic about finding a place to sleep, which of course was solved with only a little dramatic effect.
Two weeks or so prior to arriving in Santiago had been spent walking the Camino Primitivo, which is a route that breaks off from the Camino del Norte, passing through Oviedo and Lugo. It is known for being a physically challenging route and one of the least travelled. It was also quite rural compared to the northern coastal route, passing mostly through farmland and tiny towns that shut down completely on Sundays. This section found me walking over dams, past ruins of old pilgrim hospitals and high up in alpine mountains above the clouds with only the cows for company. I spent a night in a basketball gym on a piece of cardboard, an evening dancing to an impromptu Irish music ensemble, an afternoon humbled by a pulled calf muscle, a morning singing Hawaiian chants with Italians.
I met a nun the second day in Santiago at the English-speaking mass, and we had a coffee together in the plaza behind the cathedral. She wore a plain gray sweatshirt and glasses, and I cupped my Americano as she softly explained in her Irish accent that God is speaking to us all the time, we need only to listen. I still had 10 days left in Spain, and here I was at the end of the camino, not sure where to go. Making it at last to Santiago felt at once huge and crippling. The journey was over and I’d yet to solve the answer to the question I’d sought. What exactly was I doing with my life?
My camino friends were all leaving on buses and planes and trains back to Holland and Australia and France. So that night, we went out for drinks, finding bars in basement caves along the narrow cobbled streets. We laughed at all our inside jokes and agreed not to say goodbye. I snuck up to street level when the rowdiness red lined. The cathedral stood in front of me, quiet and strong behind a thick mist. The walls were illuminated with spotlights, and I was alone with the shadows of thousands of pilgrims who had come before me. It became very clear that the only thing left to do was keep walking.
After a couple days’ rest, I packed up my bag and put on the well-worn uniform of yoga pants and trail runners. At dawn, I said goodbye to the Dutchman, to the days of drinking trailside tea, to the comfort of good friends, and followed the yellow arrows away from Santiago toward the Western coast.
Gwen Edwards is the owner of Yellow Arrow Coffee in Breckenridge. Edwards took her pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in July and August 2014.
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