Legs quivering, lungs burning, scaling mountain tops, previously unthinkable to achieve, after an astoundingly steep, rocky climb, we conquer yet another summit. After 350 miles of hiking, we reach the commanding Cruz de Faro. Cross of Light, symbolizing that which is no longer of service to us, can be released to the cross. Worries, troubles, anxieties and anguish can be transferred to a rock, and left under the cross. Accompanying this release of worldly worries, the cross also represents a guiding torch to those who have passed this life before us easing their souls away from sorrow into joyous eternity, leading some to leave a ribbon or gift for those departed loved ones assuring them all is fine down here, no need to worry about us. Traversing the seemingly endless Meseta, plenty of time accrued to transfer cares to our rocks along with wondering how much a rock can absorb. This amazing rose quartz rock, a luminous cross etched in its center, crossed my path, perfect for the long awaited experience of surrender along with a ribbon carried for 350 miles, tying up for Kate and Riley, hoping to ease their worries of family sorrows accumulated in the past year.
Precariously stepping down the mountain, more difficult than crawling up, the terrain returned to astoundingly beatific, precious villages with winding stone streets, gorgeous stone houses sporting planter boxes overflowing with tender scarlet geraniums delightfully greeted us around every curve. Looking over each valley to cathedral spires in the distance seemed surreal and almost unattainable but there we were looking for shelter and food, a place to wash out our clothes and a glass of wine to complete the day. Scaling two 4200 foot peaks over 6 or 7 hours, we cross into Galicia through the mystical, magical village of O’Cebreiro, imagined or real, images flashed and lost in the same instant of civilizations came before us, guiding us closer to the completion of our journey. Galicia was settled originally by Celts only to be conquered by Spaniards leaving many Druidic traditions intact. Music became laden with bagpipes and kilts were not unusual along with mud made round houses called Palloza’s. As we trudged into Fonfria looking for a nights rest, we came upon the only Albergue available in town and found a room along with a meal. July 25 is the Feast of St. James and we hit it so good. Our hosts had a fiesta planned for the occasion in the manner of the Celts with a Quemate midsummer gathering complete with Aruzo and incantations. Aruzo is white lightning liquor in a pot with apple juice, apples, oranges, peppercorns, coffee beans a whole lot of sugar and some other secret ingredients. Our hostess, Angela of Celtic and Spanish ancestry, holds forth at the ceremony, mixing the cauldron and lighting it on fire, issuing incantations meant to release fears holding us back from anything for the year ahead. Lights out, pot ablaze, singing and shouting, we pass a delightfully amazing evening culminating savoring the torte de St Jacques, an almond and orange tart, breathtaking, intoxicating.
We used every ounce of that ceremony to complete an unkillable distance to Sarria, a brutally hilly, blazing sun day of 20 miles that ended with yet another of these wonderful villages that for some inexplicable reason has 100 steps up, literally, I counted, to get into old town and our pension our evening slumber. Well worth the effort into a village offering traditionally succulent seafood as well as an uncompromising view of town through our window plus the added perk of being shocked awake at midnight by exciting, brilliant fireworks celebrating a local wedding. Sarria represents the last 100 kilometers of the Camino where many people commence their journey as the government awards anyone completing minimum the last 100 km of the trail with the Compostela or certificate of completion. Our trip changed overnight as all the “short timers” crowded the trail as we were following the sunrise out of town the next morning. More people than we had seen in 5 weeks. Smoking, loud, music blaring out of phones accosted us at every turn. Culture shock we needed to get used to. We saw many injuries as people carelessly ran and power walked the 60 miles to get their piece of paper. A few mornings later as we started out with headlamps, chasing the sun, our last day on our path into Santiago arrived. Mixed emotions logically rise to the surface as 35 days of backpacking come to a close. Passing by a huge Albergue, 500 beds, on the outskirts of Santiago, I emotionally tumbled into the enormity of our adventure. Tears filled my eyes as I at last found Santiago in my focus below us. Sorrow and joy, blended into a luscious soufflé of adventure and liberation permeating every cell as our last view of the amazing cathedral appeared on the horizon. Santiago greeted us with live music scattered about the old town along with fireworks and crowds of raucous party people celebrating the last day of July signaling the end of the feast of St. James in the village where his body lies beneath stones in the enormous and hallowed cathedral. After completing the trail with a trip to the end Of The World, Finnistere, on the Spanish Pacific Ocean, with a coastline rivaling our Big Sur’s, as the billowing botefumeiro swayed back and forth spilling incense perfumed plumes of smoke at our final pilgrim mass, I reflected on many wonderful new friends met on the trail with uncountable lessons on survival and endurance in my heart. The Camino De Santiago, a journey for the books and one recommended highly by this unboundingly grateful pilgrim and I vow to use the steely strength I gathered physically and emotionally to embrace new as well as old challenges in my life, overcoming and assisting where I may. Buen Camino.