With just 20km to go I was finding it hard to distill how I was feeling about the whole experience of walking the Camino.
The physical challenge had been relatively easy and the camaraderie and communication with people from varied backgrounds all over the globe had been the best fun I’d had in years. I’d made firm friends and laughed with them in the evenings, improved my fitness, compared feet and blisters, become more tolerant and had time to reflect on what to do, where to go, next.
And yet … old habits and attitudes die hard. I’d given myself a deadline to reach Santiago in time for the Pilgrim Mass at noon the next day so that I could share the experience with Robbie. And that meant getting up at 5am and finding our way in the darkness through the eucalyptus woods.
We got lost and I got anxious. Maybe I hadn’t learned anything after all!
Finally, after so many days on the road, we caught a glimpse of the spires of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.
I felt nervous rather than exhilarated: unsure and unprepared. Our feet were sore and for the first time my back was aching. Walking through the suburbs was relentless and we were pushed along by a growing stream of day pilgrims, tourists, schoolchildren all focused on the 12 o’clock mass. Everyone seemed to be walking urgently.
The scallop shells led the way, the narrow streets were drawing us through, the excitement was palpable. We kept turning to one another and smiling. And then a square opened before us and magnificently, gloriously the cathedral steps beckoned.
We had arrived.
Day five started with a long steady climb to the summit of Alto del Perdón at 790m where it became obvious why the top was covered in turbines. We had to hold on to our hats as we posed for photos alongside the battered wrought iron statue representing medieval pilgrims struggling against the wind.
But what a view: behind us were the Pyrenees and new friendships already forged and ahead, stretching out across Spain, the rest of the long journey to Santiago.
We shared an orange before the steep descent then figured we deserved another café con leche at Uterga and as I opened the bar door I heard the familiar strains of “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen”. The language barrier meant I failed to understand why anyone in a bar in the blazing heat of a remote Spanish hill village was missing the attractions of the Granite City. I certainly wasn’t.
More haunting Scottish melodies sent us on our way via a detour to the 12th century Knights Templar church at Eunate. It was a quiet, pilgrim-free 3km, the path lined on either side with sunflowers, corn, blueberries and a feathery herb I didn’t recognize then as we walked through the village of Óbanos, the weekend’s fiesta was in full swing, people were drinking and eating at stalls in the square and impatient black calves were being lined up for the “bull ring”.
My hips were aching by the time we stopped that night on the far side of the bridge over the río Arga at Puenta la Reina. A young lad had handed us a leaflet for Santiago Apostol, an albergue forever thereafter referred to as “The Resort” so impressive were its facilities! Warm showers, clothes-washing sinks, spacious bunks and a long washing line with PEGS: my definition of luxury accommodation was changing forever.