Spain Part 13: Santiago de Compostela

Monday, March 17, 2014: Waking up in Santiago that morning, I knew it was going to be a difficult day. The night before I was undecided about how I should spend the week before I flew home to Toronto, but that morning I knew my choices were limited.

I decided that due to lack of funds, going to Greece with Christine — or anywhere outside a 300 kilometer radius of Santiago for that matter — was out of the question. My flight home would have to be rebooked, new flight plans made, pennies would have to be pinched (like, only eat one meal a day sort of pinched) — it just became too much to handle and/or sort out within a few short hours. With that option taken off the table, I had to choose between going to Finisterre with Richard or Adriana (Richard was departing that day, Adri the next), or taking the bus to Portugal.

For the majority of my adult life I’ve told myself that one day I’ll go to Portugal, particularly Madeira as that’s where my Portuguese roots originate. Being in Santiago put me within about a hundred kilometers of the Spain/Portugal border. I could feel the motherland calling me. It might not be Madeira, but it was still Portugal. I had to go.

With my mind made up, my nerves seemed to settle and a calmness came over me. This was definitely necessary as I had to brace myself for the number of goodbyes I’d be saying this day.

Our group of eight — Christine, Adriana, Consuelo, Johana, Richard, Juliane, Michelle and myself — was going to shrink to just a duo by day end. It felt like I was being divided into pieces, which were thus going to be scattered across Europe.

The German girls were the first to leave us that morning. They already had their return flights booked and were heading home. We’d only known each other for a day and a half, but it was still sad to see them go.

Richard was next, and this was particularly hard for me. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to meet up again as the next week was a bit up in the air for both of us. He had a bus to catch to Finisterre and that’s all he really had planned leading up to his flight home. However, we were both flying out of Santiago airport on the morning of March 22nd, so deep down I had a feeling we’d see each other before we left Spain. Besides, my birthday was the 21st and I made him feel guilty if he didn’t make it back to Santiago in time to celebrate.

With Richard and the girls on their way, we reverted back to our original group of five. We decided to grab one last lunch together, so we made our way through the cobblestone streets of Santiago to a restaurant we had spotted the day before.

santi05

I don’t know what I’m doing, but Johana’s head poking out of the corner gets me every time I look at this photo.

Consuelo was the next one of us scheduled to leave. She was going to be taking the train back to Madrid, where she would be met by Adriana’s husband before she continued on to her home in Córdoba. I’ve had to say a number of goodbyes to the new friends I’ve met since I started my solo travels two years ago, but his particular goodbye was probably one of the hardest I’ve experienced yet.

Once we were done lunch and it was time for Mama to leave, we just stood there in the street looking at each other. We were so affected by the moment we could barely speak. Consuelo doesn’t like emotional confrontation it seems, so she was trying to get the hell out of the situation and be on her way. We hugged, we cried, then she said something to me which still makes me get stupidly emotional:

Tu eres en mi corazón.

You are in my heart. Like, c’mon woman. The tears, oh how they ran that afternoon.

After we were done with our blubbery farewell , Consuelo took off down the street so fast that Adriana and Johana had to jog to catch up to her. They were to chaperone her to the train station then come back to meet us, so Chris and I grabbed a seat at a street-side café to wait. We sat in silence for a few moments, and as I nursed my beer (it was called for), I could do nothing more than just take in my surroundings.

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(We ended up chatting with the two ladies in the lower right-hand corner of the picture. They were from Australia and had been travelling around Spain and Portugal with a rental car. I had a sneaky suspicion they were two badass grannies.)

We were eventually rejoined by our Spanish ladies, and with nothing better to do we went to another café to drink more beer and coffee. Johana had organized a ride-share back to Madrid, so it was just a matter of time before she had to leave as well. In fact, her departure was so sudden (her ride showed up unexpectedly), that we were only able to exchange a few quick hugs before she was dashing down the street to where the car was waiting.

And then there were three, but not for long. Christine had a flight to catch that afternoon and all of our bags were being stored at the tourism office, so we made our way back to the centre of the city to retrieve our things. Honestly, it was nice to be able to walk around without my pack, but I had gotten so accustomed to having it on that I felt naked without it.

If any of you ever find yourselves in Santiago de Compostela and have to get to the airport, there’s a local bus that leaves from the Praza de Galicia that only costs a few Euros. This was where Christine had to be, so once we were re-equipped we escorted her to the bus and saw her on her way.

We only had to wait a few minutes before her bus showed up, so our goodbye to Christine was similar to Johana’s, in that it was short but sweet. It’s almost like ripping off a Band-Aid — the quicker you do it the less pain there is.

And then there were two.

It was decided earlier in the day that Adriana and I would stay the night at Monte de Gozo. In their haste to get to Santiago the same day as Christine and I, the ladies missed staying at the “pilgrim’s barracks”, and Adri wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Besides, it was nice to stay in a non-pilgrim setting but part of me wanted to be back amongst the bunk beds, racks of hiking boots and various hiking poles and backpacks. The 7€ a night rate didn’t hurt, either.

We decided to pick up some groceries on our way, and seeing how it was St. Patrick’s Day, we also chose to grab a bottle of a regional liquor to celebrate with that night. We hopped on a local bus not realizing it was the right bus going in the wrong direction, so we also got a tour of Santiago from the comfort of our padded seats.

With twilight setting in, we eventually found ourselves at the barracks. We checked in, grabbed some laundry, and headed down to the laundry mat (it seems to be the only thing to do at Monte de Gozo). While our clothes were being washed, Adri and I sat on a bench facing the discotheque, pulled out our plastic cups, and poured shots of our regional delicacy (it’s a crème liquor though, so we took it easy — that stuff upsets my tummy when imbibed in large amounts).

We had some good girl talk that night, with the focus of our conversation being on relationships (we’re girls, we’re drinking, what else do you expect?). While we were sitting there, three young Spaniards toting guitars came sauntering up to us. They looked like dreadlocked nomads of the Rage Against the Machine sort. A round of introductions were made and drinks were shared before we found out that these gentlemen had been walking to Santiago for the past month. They started in the south of Spain, slept in their tent, and got by through food rationing and the kindness of strangers. These young men were true pilgrims (or hippies, however you look at it).

Once our laundry was finished the guys walked us back to our dorm so we could share some of our food with them. I had no more need for the fruit and other snacks I was carrying — my pilgrimage was over and these guys looked hungry. They thanked us, we exchanged a round of hugs, and the three amigos went on their way, heading to the tent that they secretly set up somewhere nearby.

I don’t know what it is but despite its banal setting, Monte de Gozo always puts me to bed in a happy mood. I scrawled another “Mac from Toronto” on the new bunk above me, got comfy in my sleeping bag, and fell asleep knowing that my pilgrimage may have finally come to an end, but a new adventure was waiting for me when I woke up the next morning.

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