I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, the official end of the Camino de Santiago, on October 19. So, I guess I’m done.
It’s been over a week since I stepped foot onto the main square housing Santiago’s cathedral and droves of pilgrims completing their journey. And yet, seven days later, I’m still trying to figure out just where the end is. And just what it means.
Here we go again…
We’re talking mixed feelings today, but don’t get it twisted. Arriving in Santiago felt really fucking great.
If I’d been anticipating a big, emotional bang at the end, a firework punctuation point, I would have been left disappointed. Arriving in Santiago felt more like an ellipsis than a period or an exclamation mark. Thankfully or not, I didn’t expect it.
There are reasons, and I’ll get into some of them below. But even with those reasons, after “completing” something so long, so prominent on my bucket list, so unexpectedly sweet and warm and surprising, the lack of searing emotion disturbed me.
It feels different than I expected. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’ve heard other pilgrims and friends discuss what the end felt like. What the end even is. The answers are different, the feelings are complicated. There’s not a neat box with a neat ribbon tied around it. It can’t be quantified so easily as receiving your Compostela—proof on paper that you did it.
Today I’m talking about the end. And Unless something changes between starting and finishing this post, I don’t have any conclusions.
First, I’ll touch on some of the reasons why Santiago de Compostela didn’t feel like the end for me. It was not a surprise on that day, but rather had to do with factors that started much earlier on the Camino. Or, I could say it had to do with my body and my friends.
Scenes from Santiago
What, like it’s hard?
I hesitate writing this part because of how it will sound or how it will make people feel about their own Caminos. But it’s my blog, so here we go.
The fact is, the Camino was not especially physically challenging for me. Don’t get me wrong, it felt like work. Often. But not the hardest work and certainly not the most difficult physical challenge I’ve put myself through.
There were moments—scaling a steep hill and thinking “Fuck, I thought the last one was the LAST one.” The time my blister burst in my shoe while walking in the early morning. The first three nights, when sleep evaded me to the point of wild-eyed terror and foul moods. When the sun baked me in La Rioja, the wine region. When I had to push an extra 5k in the afternoon heat, after having walked my longest day to that point. There were times when my blood pumped and my lungs worked furiously to keep me going. But it’s a body and this is how it works.
There was never a point that I doubted my ability to finish. Where I considered taking a cab or bus to skip some portion of The Way. (More on this later.) Where I sent my pack ahead to walk lighter and more freely.
My blisters, aches, and pains were infrequent annoyances, never day ruiners. My “rest days” were for touristing, for flitting round cities, sleeping in big beds, and eating like a queen. Not, in fact, for resting.
This challenge didn’t scare me like running a marathon did. Or like the thought of my first Body Pump class when I get home does now.
I think part of the reason for my deflated finale was not feeling accomplished “enough”. As if my lack of suffering made the Camino something less than I’d hoped.
I say this as a person who is young(ish), and able-bodied, and healthy, and active in day to day life. I say it not to diminish anyone else’s experience of struggle on The Way, but to highlight an interesting chasm. I think if this were harder for me, I’d feel better in the end.
As it were, it felt not like a hurdle, something overcome, but like an interesting thing I’d completed. Some fun I’d had. Some great memories to be sure, but not the aching joy of doing what you thought you couldn’t.
Was throwing away my shoes—who carried me for 500 miles— the end?
look at this picture of athleticism (fueled by full fat cafe con leche and sugar.)
Oops… I did it again.
Another reason for this weird ellipsis feeling at the end of the Camino has to do with one connection in particular.
A few weeks ago, I found myself embroiled in a Camino romance. Juicy, eh?
I won’t get into detail about it, but it changed everything about my Camino and definitely contributed to my confusion about the end.
You see, this Camino lover and I, we made plans. Past Santiago and in Finisterre. Past Finisterre and in other parts of Spain. We’ll be together until early November, when I fly home and back to real life. And until then we’re squeezing out all the good we can, maximizing the “now”.
It is hard to be devastated about the end when so much excitement is still on the horizon. It also feels, in a way, like the Camino has been extended. We have each other to bridge the gap between the end of the camino and the beginning of real life.
Since this is still part of my Camino story, maybe it isn’t over yet. Maybe the end comes when I fly home from Europe, letting slip from my hand the last thread of this experience.
Nothing to see here, folks, just 100k from Santiago.
What, like it’s sad?
I started my sadness tour in Astorga, around the time I found myself swimming in a love bubble. (If you haven’t read about it, check out Camino Week 4: The Love Bubble)
This time in my Camino, after León, was when things shifted. Weeks 1 & 2 of the Camino were marked by solitude and the joy of being outside. But by weeks 3 & 4 my focus shifted outward. Outside my thoughts and my own two feet. It became about the people—the connections forming and strengthening by the day and by the mile.
I suddenly felt close to people—something like the “Camino family” thing that I’d heard people talk about.
My insides filled with syrup—sticky joy and love. For a week after the realization that the Camino would end, I cried every time I thought about it. I wore sunglasses when the subject was broached, lest I be caught with wet eyes in the light of day. I wondered what the end would feel like, if this sadness was just a preview.
But the thing is, things change. Week to week, day to day. And by the time I reached Palas de Rei, 3 days out from Santiago, I didn’t feel so sad. I didn’t feel excited either. And I really didn’t feel like walking.
The last three days were trudged through. I found myself annoyed at the walk ahead, the distance that separated me from my friends. I didn’t want the solitude or the miles to think. I wanted dinner with the people I love.
And maybe because of this, Santiago, for me, felt like a meeting place, not an accomplishment. And because I’d been so emotional before, in the love bubble weeks described, I didn’t have much left. The tears had already come and gone. I’d already processed and accepted that the end was near. When it finally came I felt alright about it.
It was a beautiful reunion. A finish, a party. A last hoorah.
But if we were all continuing on the Camino after Santiago—and most of us were—then is it actually the end?
Walking, shmalking. This is what the Camino is about.
But man, I will miss Camino sunrises like this.
The best laid plans
Another thing that confused my sense of endings, was that we planned to continue walking after Santiago. We would walk to Finisterre, a small town on a peninsula on the westernmost point of Spain—“The end of the Earth” it translates to.
This would take three days and then there would be another reunion.
I would continue on to Muxía, another small village on the coast. Then the Camino would be done.
I learned my last Camino lesson leaving Santiago de Compostela on October 21. When we were soaked through our clothes, boots squishing under foot, and getting pelted by wind and rain 10 minutes into our walk.
“You know,” I said to my under-the-weather walking partner. “We don’t have to do this.”
It’s okay to change your plans.
We ducked into the first café we saw. We drank hot coffees while we dripped dry and made a new plan. A bus to Finisterre. Three days hanging out in town, instead of walking to it. Relaxing. Debriefing. Enjoying ourselves.
We booked a bus and booked a stay and we never once regretted the decision not to walk. It surprised me how little guilt I felt over this. Where normally I’d think of it as “giving up” on a challenge, for some reason I’ve been able to accept my decision in Santiago as something else—changing my mind. And I’m always allowed to change my mind.
The problem that this little change caused was that it changed the end. If we weren’t walking anymore, did that mean our Camino had ended in Santiago?
I pondered this throughout my three days in Finisterre. Thought of it daily, at least a few times. Thought about it when I walked to the lighthouse, saw the 0km marker indicating the final finish of the Camino. When I braved the winds to stand out on the rocks on cape Finisterre, the edge of the end of the world. Eating a vegan poké bowl in a hippie restaurant. Each time a pilgrim in the group chat sent a rain-soaked selfie, documenting their dedication. When people from home congratulated me on finishing and I just felt…weird.
When would I feel it?
Assuming I’d walk on from Santiago, I put less stock in the ending there. I got my Compostela, partied with my friends, enjoyed the time. But I didn’t think much or feel much or cry at all.
Now, holed up in the little seaside town, sipping hot tea and eating pancakes, I wondered: Had I missed the opportunity to feel the end?
At the end of the earth, still searching.
scenes from Finisterre
On Monday, three of my favorite people and I packed up a picnic and walked to the opposite side of town, down a cobblestone path to the beach. Finisterre treated us to gray and rain for days, but on this day it was sunshine and blue skies. The beach stretched before us, lush green mountains—emerald gifts from the rain—lined up on either side. Patches of sea grass swayed in the breeze in time with the waves that crashed to greet us.
Only one or two people marred the shoreline. And otherwise this treat was all for us.
With the first steps of my bare feet on the sand, I felt it.
Here it is.
I dropped my things, I pulled my clothes off, and I ran. I didn’t wonder if the water was cold or if I’d regret it. I didn’t wait for anyone else to join me (and it’s a good thing because they didn’t.) I ran with abandon into the sea. I ran until the water reached my waist. I ducked under, let the waves crash over my head. And I splashed in the surf, laughing and waving my arms like a crazy person.
Or, perhaps, like a woman who’s just found the ending she was looking for.
A shot caught by Ed of me living my literal best life.
Looking for the end with all my best beach babes
Epilogue, or something.
My dip in the sea in Finisterre has come to feel like the ending to my Camino. Part of me thinks this makes perfect sense. I grew up on the coast, feel at home by the ocean. What could be more fitting than walking 500 miles straight into the sea? But part of me still wonders.
If I cheated by not walking. If the real end should have been Santiago. If you should always feel fireworks at the end of something big, or whether sometimes it’s okay to let the moment come and pass, a quiet transition from “is” to “was”.
Many of my fellow pilgrims have discussed similar feelings in the week since we all made it to Santiago de Compostela. We’ve been processing in our own ways, and I think many of us will continue to do so next week, and the following, and perhaps for longer. When we get home or when we reach our next destination. When a lesson learned on the Camino serves us well in real life. When we think of a familiar face—not our camino besties we still keep in touch with, but someone we met along the way who we liked but lost track of. Those people who gave comfort with their familiarity, their dinner company, their soft-spoken wisdom; The village of people who walked the same way at the same time. When we go for a walk and wonder how in the hell we did it for seven hours a day. When we miss the mundane shittery of laundry and bunk beds and smelly boots lined up on shelves.
Maybe the end is different for all of us. Maybe it is just an ellipsis—
Until the next time we all meet or the next time we decide to go for another long, long walk. (There are several caminos, after all.) It’s a comforting thought, the possibility. A fuzzy blanket wrapped around me to stave off the chill.
I’ll keep it. ❤️