Time walked – 6.5 hours, including 2 coffee stops, a lunch stop and one foot care stop
Total distance walked – 11.1 miles
Miles to date – 507.55 (Ray) and 497.75 (Wendy) + 5 miles each on horseback
Weather – Warm and humid, mid 60’s to hot afternoon, 80 degrees F
Terrain – Smooth dirt trail, smooth rocky path, rough rocky path
Ray and I made a plan to meet Jeri at 7:30 a.m. in the common area and walk together for the day. We had been startled by an alarm at 6:00 a.m. that was buzzed for five minutes without being turned off. It was coming from a backpack but no one would claim it, and it started buzzing again at 6:10 a.m. Ray climbed down from his top bunk to use the restroom and discovered the room across from ours was empty. He walked into the room, gathered some of his things, and left again. I was confused by the alarm as well as Ray’s actions. He returned to explain, helping me move my equipment across the hall. We were ready before 7:00 a.m. and discovered Jeri waiting as we descended the stairs.
The three of us walked four kilometers, stopping for coffee where Jeanette had fallen. From the design of the curb we could see how easy it would have been to fall given any distractions. Again we were thankful that she had not been badly hurt, and thankful that we had not had any mishaps along the way. There were a handful of locals and fewer pilgrims inside the café. Jeri was as surprised as Ray and I that there weren’t as many pilgrims as we had expected in the final stretch. We sat and talked about how much we were going to miss our morning coffee, drinking slowly and lingering longer than usual at the table.
I had agonized whether to walk 16.5 miles to Santiago de Compostela, arriving late in the day on Thursday or stopping short to arrive Friday morning. Jeri had made a reservation in Lavacolla, six miles from the cathedral, and had planned to walk to the cathedral Friday morning. I was tired of making plans and decisions. Trusting Jeri’s experience, I followed her lead and booked a room for the night as well. Not having the stress of wondering where we would stay made the walking more enjoyable for me. Ray, Jeri and I walked and talked and laughed. Walking with Carmen, riding the horses and now with Jeri, I had laughed harder and more on the Camino than I had in the last few years combined.
Our path alternated between open fields and lush forests. Beautiful flowers were scattered among the trees, while spontaneous ferns grew beside the path. Thinking they were hard to keep, I supposed that I would never look at a potted fern the same. Instead of missing my home in Panamá, I was thankful that I would be able to return to a place very similar to the Camino with plenty of hiking opportunities.
Our excitement was building as we were getting closer to Santiago. Every time Ray and I thought about seeing the cathedral for the first time, our eyes would fill with tears. I asked Jeri if she had cried in Santiago on her first Camino. She told Ray and I that she was emotional the year before, but somewhat angry on the last day walking by herself. This year she had prayed that she would find someone to walk with into Santiago de Compostela, and Ray and I had been an answer to her prayer. I told her that I was looking forward to celebrating our accomplishments with our Camino family and glad we were together. Becoming misty eyed at the thought of reaching the cathedral, I was sure that I would cry. I imagined that I would cry from joy of reaching the goal, complete physical exhaustion, sadness of the journey’s end, and gratitude for God and the gifts he had given us on the Camino.
Ray, Jeri and I stopped to take a photo of our shadows. We talked about the weeks that had past since taking a similar photo. It seemed like it had been months instead of weeks. I mentioned that we had been so naive about the Camino in the beginning, but felt that we still had so much to learn. Ray said that if it weren’t for our airplane tickets, he would keep walking. Having return tickets felt like a curse. Even though we had walked nearly 500 miles, I wasn’t ready for the Camino to be over either. At first we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to walk 500 miles, and now we didn’t want it to end.
My feet were getting hot, and I announced that it was time to take a break. Jeri pointed out a smooth rock on the side of the trail, asking if that would work for me. I shook my head saying that I could wait for something more comfortable. We walked a little further, talking about our families and the lessons of the Camino. A small, rock-walled bridge seemed like a perfect spot to stop and rest. I removed my sandals and socks, setting them beside me on the bridge. My socks were so encrusted with dust from the trail that they stood on their own.
I slicked petroleum jelly on all the tender and rough spots around both feet before putting on my socks and sandals. The new blister stung to the touch, so I carefully adjusted the straps on my sandals to avoid the blister. Grabbing my backpack to put it on, I thought back to the beginning when I dreaded having to take my pack off and on again. The task had been daunting because it required most of my strength. As I adjusted my straps, I grinned at how natural it seemed to throw it on and haul my belongings. It would seem strange not to wear it, like not needing a coat after a long winter.
Less than a kilometer away, we ran into a nice restaurant with several outside tables and chairs. The patio was full of pilgrims although we did not recognize any of them. Ray was ready for lunch so we stopped again. I remembered how hard it had been for me to bite my tongue while waiting for Ray to adjust his hat or remove his jacket, knowing that our next stop was close. Now it was funny that we had stopped at the bridge when a restaurant was just around the corner.
Since we had a reservation for the night, I hadn’t studied the guidebook like I usually did. We came to some steep climbs that I had not expected. The climbs were challenging, but not as difficult as they would have been two months ago. We passed a few pilgrims who were obviously newer on the Camino. Jeri encouraged one couple who had stopped part way up to catch their breath. They were in awe when she told them she had started in Saint Jean after they had asked. I was impressed by the way she told them that what they were doing was not easy. She said that the last 100 kilometers was actually quite difficult and an formidable undertaking. Jeri was right, it was a remarkable accomplishment regardless of where the journey began.
Ray walked a good distance behind Jeri and I, enjoying having some time alone. Jeri and I talked about our husbands and our children and our lives back home. I was surprised to learn that Jeri had several grandchildren. We talked about the families that we had seen walking the Camino together and how wonderful it would be to share the Camino experience with our grandchildren one day. Jeri glowed when she spoke about her family. I thought about the photo I had taken of her from behind with her wet clothes drying on her backpack. I told her that while that picture had been funny, I needed to take another one that showed her family how radiant she was when thinking of them. Her eyes were shaded by her hat, but I thought the photo captured her soft smile and courageous determination perfectly.
We passed a stream before reaching Lavacolla, which means to cleanse or purify oneself. Traditionally, peregrinos stopped to wash themselves after their long journey and before entering Santiago. The miles had passed by quickly even though our pace was enjoyable. We checked into the hotel in the early afternoon, thankful to have plenty of time to rest before our final day.
The internet signal in our room was weak, so after showers and a short rest, Ray and I headed to the lobby. We found comfortable seating in a lounge, and started working. Jeri sent a message that she was going to order room service so we were on our own for dinner. I thought room service sounded great, but Ray had already surveyed the restaurant menu. I looked up from my tablet and saw Linda and Laura standing at the front desk. They turned and entered the lounge holding their electronic devices. I invited them to join me so we could catch up while they connected to the internet.
Linda and Laura had been pushing to get to Santiago de Compostela early on Friday as well. We decided to continue our conversation over dinner, moving to the restaurant once it opened. The ladies had traveled extensively and their stories were fascinating. After dinner we were all tired, yet excited for the next day. We said our good-byes and started walking toward the rooms, discovering that our rooms were on the same floor at the end of the same hall. Someone remarked about the odds, and all four of us chuckled before wishing each other a good night.