Christina and I wake at a normal hour. We don’t have to pack and leave by 0800 today. We go downstairs and enjoy . . . what’s it called again??
Oh, yeah. BRUNCH.
It is our last day on the Camino. Tonight we will be in Santiago. Can it really be over?
We walk at different paces, hanging together, then separating. Even if she isn’t with me, I know that she, Andres, Juan Carlos – my Camino family – are at my side. I haven’t seen the brothers in a while, but I know they are in the area. We will all arrive at Santiago today.
I feel sad. I feel great. I miss my family. I feel strong and energized. I feel lost. I am physically and mentally ready for any adventure. I want to walk for miles and miles, weeks and weeks more. I don’t want this to be the end.
Christina and I pass through a serene eucalyptus forest. Although I had walked by these types of trees before, I had never been surrounded by their intense natural fragrance. I stand still and inhale – the aroma implants in my brain.
We stop for lunch at a local cafe. There are tourists – real tourists. Their tour bus is nearby. There must be some important local sight nearby. We are not here for sight-seeing, however. We have a journey to end.
Christine and I split again. I spot the huge monument to the visit by Pope John Paul II. It is bigger than I imagined it would be.
As I walk around it, I see a homeless person come out of the bushes behind the monument. Shabby, he looks like he just finished taking a leak in the woods. He meanders over to a cart set up by a gentleman selling soda and juice to passing peregrinos and makes himself comfortable.
I am standing in front of the monument, taking pictures. Christina comes along, smiling (she knows something I don’t know). Suddenly, who comes running up out of nowhere and grabs me?
Andres! Juan Carlos! The brothers!
It was a wonderful surprise. I had not realized how happy I would be to see them. I give them the strongest of hugs and blink back emotion. We chatter away, in English and Spanish, delighted to be sharing this last day together on the Camino.
The brothers had arrived earlier at the nearby albergue, Monte de Gozo, and would spend the night there, walking into Santiago the next morning. I could stay, too, since there are hundreds of beds available at this municipal albergue, which was built to handle the crush of pilgrims who arrive during the fat days of July and August and the city’s worth of regular vacationers.
But Christina must get to Santiago today. She has a plane to catch and has only one day available to visit Santiago.
I decide to not abandon Christina on this last day. We will get our campostellas tonight in Santiago.
But, since Santiago is so close, we decide to take the boys up on their invitation to share a feast they are preparing at the albergue. There will be about a dozen people who have already donated money for groceries, and Juan Carlos will be the “chef du jour.”
The boys amble down to the nearby grocery store to buy the supplies.
I wander over to the cart and buy a soda. I put my pack down and relax in the shade. I listen to the conversation between the homeless man and the person who is minding the cart. They are talking about Spanish politics, something I know absolutely nothing about.
But the homeless man seems to know what he is talking about. Even in my rudimentary Spanish, I can tell he has reasonable opinions and is expressing them well. He fiddles with a coil of wire as he sits in the shade and talks. I join the conversation. They enjoy having a NorteAmericana talking about politics and kindly ignore my many linguistic mistakes.
They ask and I tell them where I’m from, how long I’ve been walking, etc.
The homeless man has been traveling on the Camino for the past two years. Before that, he spent a year living on the beach in Mallorca. He stays in albergues and makes money by selling little figures he makes from wire. I had admired his skill as he twisted plain wire into action figures, words, and sculptures. Now I realize why he was so skilled – this is what he does for a living.
I then notice that he has about a dozen of these figures set up on a stone pillar in the shade nearby. It was the worst marketing location ever. If you walked into the pillar you still wouldn’t see them because the gray of the wire blends so well into the gray of the stone.
As I say goodbye because it is time to find the albergue for dinner with my “family,” he hands me one of his wire sculptures. Lovely, intricate, he had casually crafted a pilgrim walking while we had talked and was “gifting” it to me. Of course, I could not accept it as a gift. I was a pilgrim but I wasn’t homeless. I give him €2.
He refuses to take it. I insist. He refuses again. I really insist.
He relents and accepts.
But he gives me another sculpture, more elaborate, with words and figures.
It is sitting on the desktop next to me as I write this.