My Life as a Traveler


June 23, 2012

This is my last morning walking and I'm up with the 5am Club, no sleeping in this morning. It's still dark, I've got my headlamp, which is good, because the first part of the trail is in the woods. When I emerge from the trees, I can see the first fog of morning over the fields. There are a few people walking, not many, though.

It's only 20km to the cathedral. On the way, I'm thankful that the road is not too busy. I greet pilgrims as I pass, some I know, most I've never seen. I try to be as much in the walking moment as possible for these last few steps. I stop at Monte del Gozo (Mount Joy), the last hill over Santiago, hoping for a view of the cathedral that the pilgrims of old could see from here. However, in this century, the suburban apartments block the view. I gotta keep going and by 10am I'm at the outskirts of Santiago.

Walking over the freeway and through the busy streets of suburban Santiago, I feel somewhat disconnected. Only when I reach the gate of the old town that beckons me to the narrow streets and more medieval-looking buildings do I start to feel excited. At the top of a rise I see cathedral spires. Is that where I'm headed? These last five kilometers are taking forever! I drop down a hill and see a square. Dr. Judith is there… Christiana… and Susie! I've made it, almost. This is just the side of the cathedral. The front, the main square, is through the portal below. Susie is walking with me, but I am speechless. We walk into the square and I just stare up. There he is, Sant Iago, the pilgrim who's been walking with me since St. Jean.

Good friend that she is, Susie let me take it all in slowly. We sat for a while outside and watched as more and more people filled the square. While I went into the cathedral to pay my respects to St. James, Susie watched my bag so I could follow the timeworn ritual unencumbered. I climb the stairs to the entrance and take in the beauty of it. I can't place my hand on the central column of the inner portico anymore like they do in the movie The Way, because the millions of pilgrims coming here have worn a handprint in the marble as a mark of gratitude for their safe arrival; there's a barrier now, so I can only look at it. I can see the statue of St. James at the high altar as I walk the length of the cathedral. There's a set of stairs that lead behind the altar and I get in line to hug the statue. When I reach St. James, I fling my arms around him and lay my head on his shoulder, thanking him for my safe arrival, the people I've met, really everything about this extraordinary journey. I'm glad there is not a huge line behind me; this is not the quick hug for someone you just met – no, it's the embrace meant for a dear, dear, friend.

Directly down the stairs are his bones in a silver box, behind a gate. You can kneel here to offer your prayer, but I've said my peace at the hugging station and move on. The cathedral is filling up and Mass is about to begin, but I'm too overwhelmed for ceremony today, so I go back outside. Susie wants in, though, and she leaves me to just sit against one of the columns of the building facing the cathedral and just be. I text Mary and she's still over an hour out. I recognize the cassock of Father Augustine and see some other people file up the stairs to the cathedral. To my left is the Santiago Parador, an old monastery/hospital turned into luxury hotel, and in front of it is someone playing the piano. I listen to the music, watch the arriving pilgrims, and can't believe I'm done walking. I can't believe that I'm here.

Morgan calls – what great timing – he's in Finisterre after a short walk this morning. There's supposed to be a huge party at the beach there – I know some pilgrims who are taking the bus this afternoon from Santiago to attend. I congratulate him – I'm so proud of him – he just turned 16 in March and walked this Camino on his own.

People are spilling out of the cathedral; Mass must be finished. The sound of bagpipes echoes over the stones as I hop up from my spot and go to greet my friends. These hugs are even better than the hug for Saint James. First on the agenda, it seems, is to get my Compostela, my Certificate of Completion, and so I meet Lyn, Kathy, and Mary at the Pilgrim Office. There's a line – it's right after Mass, after all, and we talk and wait in excitement. At the top of the stairs we present our filled-in Pilgrim Passport and receive our Compostela (with my Latin name – Dnam Iuliam Greene). Now I will be one of the pilgrims mentioned from the US in tomorrow's Mass.

I'm hungry for lunch, but first I want to check in at Roots and Boots. I'm really glad I reserved the room; they were close to full when we arrived. It's past 2pm, but a shower is absolutely necessary. Lunch is salad, white wine, and razor clams. Who knew razor clams tasted so good?

I'm meeting the girls – Susie, Mary, Lyn, Kathy, and Silvana – for celebratory champagne at the Parador before dinner. We toast each of our successes. Silvana tells us there's a Zara store and we make her take us there so we can buy something new to wear. I'm really sick of wearing the same four shirts for the last 35 days and would love something new and pretty, but nothing suits me. We eat a nice Pilgrim meal at recommended Restaurant Manolo. Outside there is a group of drummers surrounded by a crowd, bouncing and clapping to the rhythm. This foreshadows the big town-wide party tonight – it's the Feast of St. John the Baptist – and it's rumored that there will be fires in the squares around town (not in front of the church) and people will be jumping over them.

Since Mass doesn't start til noon tomorrow, there's all the time in the world to walk around town and check out the festivities. The night is perfect. I've seen plenty of sunrises, but precious few sunsets because I'm usually in bed before the sun goes down at 10pm. But tonight, the moon is bright over the purples and blues of the coming night. Climbing to a hill above the town we can see the entire multi-hued horizon, complete with glowing moon, between the church steeples. The drummers are parading through the streets with a parade of people behind them. Competing with them is the group of bagpipers and their following. On the corners, there are open grills where people are cooking some kind of trout-sized fish. At midnight, fires are lit and people are in fact jumping over them.

And all of this because I walked almost 500 mies.

Thanks, Santiago, you're the best. See you at Mass tomorrow (actually, later today, since it's after midnight!)




4 responses

  1. Brad

    I had the joy of commanding a field hospital in Bosnia for 10 months. I say that the day I brought my unit home was the best day and the worst day of my life. The best day because I brought every soldier safely home to his or her family. The worst day because the moment I stepped off the bus I was no longer their commander. I had lost my family, even though my wife and daughters were there waiting for me in Wurzberg. I think you must have felt very much the same. You will never be quite the same, but as they say in Spanish, esta cuenta se ha acabado”. This story is over.

    July 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    • Si, it’s (almost) over, yet not forgotten and I’m working on weaving the lessons of this experience into the reality of life at home. Creatively challenging!

      July 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm

  2. Juli, eres una mujer maravillosa, cumpliste tu objetivo, FELICIDADES! Siempre recordaremos tu visita.

    Maria Eugenia y Andrea
    Oasis Frómista Spa

    Juli, you’re a wonderful woman, fulfilled your objective, CONGRATULATIONS! We will always remember your visit.

    Maria Eugenia and Andrea
    Oasis Spa Frómista

    July 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    • Ladies!!!!
      I am smiling uncontrollably as I read your comment. THANK YOU for your support, your healing hands, your hugs, and your chocolate fountain! I know I walked better after visiting with you.
      Best wishes for you and your business,

      July 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

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