After 31 days on the Camino, journey’s end was suddenly imminent and with it came a rush of emotions, all of which were perhaps somewhat to be expected after such an almighty endeavour.
I’d deliberately picked Monte do Gozo as my last stop before Santiago in order to leave just a few kilometres to cover in the morning to follow.
What I couldn’t decide was whether to walk alone, to give myself time to order my thoughts and mentally prepare for my arrival, or to look for any of my Camino Compadres to walk with.
As with pretty much everything else on the Camino, it worked itself out.
I started out in darkness on the edge of town and saw no one I knew for a while, which gave me the time I needed to arrive.
Then, almost inevitably, I saw Duane just a few hundred yards from the Cathedral square, who was equally preparing himself for those final steps.
We embraced (he is the Free Hugs Guy after all) and then we had our own little moments as we finally walked into the square and savoured our achievement.
I’m not going to attempt to describe the feelings and emotions a person feels at the end of a Camino, as it can be intensely personal and private.
Having said that, when I saw Martin a few minutes later, he said that he just felt numb, a nothingness.
Everyone’s Camino is different.
My 9am arrival meant that it was a good time to go and get my Compostela straight away, as the Sunday morning queue would be quite short.
Whilst I stood there, in something of a daze, a lovely American girl called Beth engaged me in happy conversation and the pure simplicity of her presence was enough to help me remember the best thing about the Camino.
My fellow Peregrinos.
Over the preceding weeks, every day had been filled by wonderful people, fascinating conversations and incredible combinations of people from all over the world.
If ever I needed to find a reason for having walked the Camino, that would be it.
Earning the beautifully inscribed certificates of completion was a fine moment too, even despite the discovery of my Latin name, Ioannem.
I’m not quite sure if I’ll be using that again.
After a celebratory OJ with Eliana from Brazil, who I’d not seen since Villafranca Montes de Oca and a few others including the incomparable Gea from Holland and Aruba, I went in search of a hotel room for the next couple of nights.
Much as I’ve loved most of the albergues I’ve stayed in, the desire for a room I could call my own, with no Mountainous Snorers present was overwhelming.
I think I deserved it too.
Once that was sorted out, I decided to attend the 12 noon mass at the Cathedral.
Naturally, I bumped into several of my Camino Compadres in the line and Maddy and Olivia from the previous evening sat with me and Felix from Germany (who took this picture of me outside León) and Daniel in the pews, awaiting the ceremony.
As we queued to go in, I made the foolhardy comment that I surprisingly felt pretty good, given all the effort that had been expended to get here.
But after sitting quietly for an hour before the service began, I began to feel notably more feeble, a sensation that only increased as the service commenced.
When it came to be time to stand, I felt weak.
When it came to be time to sit, I felt relief for only a few seconds.
The strength and determination that had carried me all the way across Spain had all just washed away, like water down a drain.
But I soon realised that Maddy, Olivia, Felix and Daniel were feeling much the same way too, all of us holding onto the pews for support and just about getting through the physical, spiritual and emotional test of the symbolic conclusions of our experiences.
The service did bring a tear to my eye at one point, with some gorgeous singing from one of the nuns, as well as the sound of the organ and the swung Botafumeiro.
Even though I was just a witness, not a participant, the power of the event had taken the last of my strength.
But in a very good way.
After the first afternoon sleep I’d taken in the whole Camino, I met up with Helen and Alison (UK), Paul and Tom (Ireland), Lisa (Canada), Andreas (Switzerland) and Marenne (Holland), who took the picture.
I ordered the chicken, but it never turned up, a cause for momentary irritation, given how hungry I was at the time.
But in truth, I had been well fed on this day.
Song of the Day: Just Looking, by The Stereophonics