In honor of #TBT (Throw Back Thursdays), I’ve been posting a series of blogs recounting my experience on Spain’s El Camino de Santiago. The experience taught me a great deal about life, even lessons that I would turn to months later to give me strength when life threw me a curve ball. Continue reading to hear how our arrival at our final destination, Santiago de Compostela, played out.
Thursday morning arrived all too early (a theme here on the camino?) and we were soon on our way with only a few kilometers lying between us and our final destination: Santiago de Compostela. So much had happened since we left Sarria only four days earlier. We had shared a lot of laughs, some of us had cried, we´d thrown away clothes, gotten drenched in never ending downpours, and had moments where we seriously wondered if we could go on.
Now that only a few hours lay between us and Santiago, it was hard to believe that we´d had moments where we doubted our ability to continue. When I was studying psychology as an undergrad, we learned about a concept called the ¨Pollyanna effect,¨ which basically means that we tend to only remember the positive things about our experiences. It is a sort of defense mechanism that our brains have in place for the inevitable painful emotions and experiences that we are continually going to encounter in life. Researchers have even found that people with depression appear to be immune to the Pollyanna effect as they tend to retain only the negative memories.
Whenever I am not feeling 100% in a situation where I would like to be feeling better, I always try to remember that when I look back on the experience, I am not going to remember that my head hurt or that my nose was running or that I had had a terrible night of sleep the night before, I am going to remember the beautiful things I saw, the friends I was with or the sense of accomplishment I felt when the day was over. Looking back now five months after the fact, I know that the camino was a hard and difficult experience, but I only know this because I journaled about it and I remember talking with my fellow pilgrims about it. I can´t remember the exact pain I experienced with blisters on my toes, or the feeling of my legs aching after taking a short break from walking. I know I felt those things but they are so far away and abstract by this point. Which is probably why I now feel like I would be willing to do the Camino again in a heartbeat.
Anyways, back to that fateful day of March 28th, 2013 when we arrived in Santiago. The first couple of hours trudged along rather uneventfully until we reached Monte de Gozo where at 10am in the morning we decided to enjoy a bottle of sidra (hard cider) that we´d brought along in honor of the occasion. The guys even celebrated the moment by smoking cigars. After a short break atop that hill we headed down the last final stretch to Santiago. We soon realized that we were not alone, that a mangy black and white dog was eagerly following alongside us. We figured he was probably hungry, but when he refused to eat any of the food we offered him, we decided he would probably soon become bored and head back. We got farther and farther from the place where we had first met our canine friend and he continued to follow along with us, even stopping to wait at traffic lights and looking back to see if we were still following behind. He even posed for a picture with us. Was this how he spent his days, making this same journey with other pilgrims? By this time we decided he deserved to have a name and we oh so appropriately dubbed him ¨Santi,¨ and I even started planning how we could smuggle him into our hotel room if he followed us all the way to Santiago. But sadly, only a couple km away from the Cathedral Santi grew bored of us and sprinted off after a man who was running, and we never saw him again.
When the cathedral first came into sight, it´s bell towers peeking out between two buildings, tears sprang to my eyes. We had done it! So many kilometers, so many steps, so many moments of doubt, but we had made it to our destination! I couldn´t even imagine how proud the pilgrims who have walked the entire stretch of the camino must feel, because even after only 100km, when I arrived in the plaza in front of the Cathedral I found myself filled with an incredible sense of accomplishment. We took the customary ¨we did it!¨ pictures while posing in front of the cathedral and rested a bit. I had picked up a stone at the beginning of our journey because tradition says that you are supposed to carry it with you during your walking, and leave it when you arrive, while making a wish. I left mine near the plaza and sent my wish out into the universe. And while I feel it´s bad luck to share your exact wish, I will say that I believe it´s come true. Which makes me think of the beautiful quote in my favorite book of all time (The Alchemist) ¨When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.¨ And sometimes the universe knows what you want before you are even capable of letting your lips formulate the words.
Now that we had arrived at our destination, it was time to relax!! We spent the afternoon eating tapas and drinking, which are both great activities to do in Santiago, especially since the rain continued! And while we ate and drank, we also had lots of time to have great conversations, which is another activity I thoroughly enjoy. By that evening we had located our favorite bars and during the two days we stayed in the city we frequented each one of them on several occasions. If you ever find yourself in Santiago, I would encourage you to try these establishments:
- Trafalgar (the mejillones tigres rabiosos are spicy and delicious!)
- El gato negro (go for the queso del pais and empanada de pulpo)
- Orense (little bowls of wine for 50 cents!)
- El 46 de rua Franco (we loved everything here)
On our last night in Santiago, I wrote in my journal that I was feeling a little apathetic and sad. I couldn´t put my finger on why exactly I felt like that. But I suppose it´s always the same after an event that you’ve been looking forward to for so long is over. We had trained, we had planned, we had looked forward to the week so very much and now it was coming to an end. Even though there had been many moments on the road when I had desperately wished that this moment would come, now that it had arrived, I wasn´t ready for it. And I think that´s the case with all changes and transitions. Even if you weren´t happy with the present situation, when things change, it can be scary. Which is why we often cling to what we do know, even if it gives us blisters, forces us to walk hours and hours in the rain and leaves us exhausted and cranky. Because what comes after the road has finished? What´s in store for us next? How will what we reflected on and learned about during our journey influence the next road we embark on?
I always knew I wanted to do the ¨Camino de Santiago,¨ but I suppose it was because I wanted to be able to say I had done it, not because I ever thought it might turn out to be such an important experience in my life. The lessons I learned about continuing on despite pain, being in the moment and finding support in your friends will continue to give me strength on whatever other roads lie ahead in my life.
The simple things are really the most extraordinary things (The Alchemist)
I may have arrived at Santiago de Compostela, but the series isn’t over just yet. Check back next week to read the final part of the series for the “P.S.” version of lessons learned on El Camino when I share how it ultimately turned out to be a life changing experience and just how much the lessons I learned served me to take on what lay ahead for me a few months down the road of life.