If things had gone according to plan, I wouldn’t be here.

I wouldn’t be sitting in this tree, or picking fava beans from a garden to eat for dinner, or petting this cat that thinks I have food.

I wouldn’t be sleeping in a 12th century monastery with a monk who walks around slowly and in silence, except to tell those who will listen that God is inside of us and what’s inside of us is eternal.

I wouldn’t be cleaning the mold spots out of this refrigerator.

The first thing we saw on the last day of the Camino was a rainbow.

It felt like the last day of school: no real work to be done, just an assignment packet full of puzzles and word searches.

We stopped for coffee twice, and when the city of Santiago was in view, we stopped for beers.

The sound of hammers and drills greeted us upon our arrival to the cathedral. Netting and scaffolding clung to large parts of the church like giant spider webs. Venders stood by their carts of souvenirs: jewelry, clothing and walking with images of clam shells and crosses.

Dozens of pilgrims were spread out on the ground in the square before the cathedral, reveling in their accomplishment under waves of clouds crossing over the sun.

Thirty days of walking had gotten us here: Santiago de Compostela.

But arriving in Santiago was about as underwhelming as getting to Everest Base Camp turned out to be last year. I didn’t feel excited or accomplished. I didn’t feel like my Camino was done.

We sat around a table at a cafe outside the cathedral and had the second beers of the day.

Salut. To being finished.

Maybe I didn’t feel anything because there was in fact more walking to do. I planned to go to Finisterre, a coastal town at Spain’s western edge, about 90 kilometers from Santiago.

I hung out in Santiago for two days while I waited for Akash to arrive. It was beautiful, and crawling with the hundreds of pilgrims who swarmed in everyday. I wasn’t used to so many people being around. I must have been dehydrated one morning when, for a second or two, I watched all the people in the street transform into goats.

The walk to Finisterre didn’t feel like the Camino. There were more people; different people; clean people.

By the third day, I was eager to get to Muxia, another coastal city north of Finisterre. I started walking and told myself I wouldn’t stop until I got there.

Then I stopped.

It was a Refugio for pilgrims. There was coffee, orange trees, lemon trees and grapefruits on the tables; a garden growing tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries.

“Hola,” I said.

There was an echo from the three men in the yard, as they all looked up from their work and raised a hand.

One with a shaved head and colorful rubber bands around a long beard came toward me.

I asked for a coffee.

I sat under a tree, surrounded by green and warm winds and birds songs, and I wondered when I would leave this place for Muxia, and Finisterre, and perhaps the true finish to my Camino.

I remember three days in, thinking that walking 500 miles would be a long and grueling experience.

Three days before its end in Santiago, when the waymarks in Galicia carried a kilometer countdown to the end of El Camino, I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone.

I was anxious about it being over. Life had been so simple and I had gotten to be so happy just walking, eating and sleeping. I was happy in my dreams. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and note how comfortable I was and what a nice day it had been.

I liked being outside all day, watching and feeling the weather change. I could feel small, walking between the mountains and the sea, the sky and the trees; like I had big, powerful friends surrounding and protecting me and letting me walk on its surface. And it was all alive; there was the sound of the wind rustling the trees, the sound of waves crashing against rocks, and all day the birds sang.

I’ve never seen so much green, or the sky so blue, or the clouds so white.

Then there were the smaller things: the bees sucking from flowers, the butterflies dancing around in the air in twos, the ants crawling around bearing loads twice bigger than themselves; the smell of roses and pine trees and apple blossoms and jasmin, the sweet buttery smell of bakeries, the salty smell of the sea, and the sour smell of cow poop.

When we were walking, we saw, smelled and felt everything. I could feel that it was all connected–the big things and the small things, all existing together.

And I never felt like anything was missing. There was nothing to want.

We would never see the same thing twice, or go backward. Within each day, within each minute, there was something new. Some places we wanted to stay in for a while, others we couldn’t wait to leave. But either way, we left. There was something special in that–everything stays fresh.

My head was clear. I was never so relaxed. I could just sit and look. And if someone asked me a question, I could think and answer.

So what would happen when the Camino ended? How could I connect with nature in the same way? With myself? Would that happiness I’d felt dissolve when life was no longer just about following the yellow arrows?

I’ve been at the Refugio for two days now. I haven’t been on the other side of the little gate since I arrived, but I’ve been outside nearly every waking minute. This morning I planted tomatoes in the garden.

I have no immediate plans to finish in Finisterre.

My mom thinks I’ve joined a cult. That’s one of those things, like insanity, that you’re not allowed to deny, lest people believe it even more. At least that’s what our leader here says.

Seriously, though, I think the Camino brought me to this place to drill in the lesson I’ve struggled all my life thus far to understand: that the journey is what matters, not the destination.


The End: Somewhere in Between

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