And so I have really come to the end of this journey. There have been so many highlights, so many people I will remember and not very many that I want to forget.
Firstly there was George – we spent eighteen days together from first meeting until we parted in Mérida. The same time that I spent with Eli last year on the Camino Portuguese. But there is a big difference between sharing time and space with a man and a woman. George was meticulously respectful when we had to share space and it was great to see him again at the end of his camino.
The day that I parted from George, I met Olivier and his friends, but I didn’t get to know him at all at that time. Two days later I met Paul and fell into a very easy friendship with him. We walked the same stages until Santiago, usually walking together for some part of the day and often eating together in the evening.
And at the same time I got to know Olivier and we became firm friends although I decided against walking with him when he leap-frogged a stage, it was definitely the right decision for me. But I was so pleased to meet up with him at Finisterre and laugh our way through a couple of days.
In Santiago I was lucky enough to see many of the friends that I had made along the way, and was particularly delighted to greet Wilfried when I assumed he would already have departed.
This has been an exceptional camino for me. Although I am glad I started my camino experience in 2013 on the Camino Frances, I would not want to repeat that route now. Just too many people walking the same stages. I think the Camino Portuguese, particularly from Lisbon, remains less trodden. The Camino Mozárabe between Málaga and Mérida was practically deserted, we saw only six pilgrims in eighteen days, and five of those had walked the Granada route.
It was a shock when reaching Mérida to find the municipal albergue full (24 places) but I managed to squeeze in and over the next day or two the numbers evened out and we were mostly a group of 8-12 until we reached the split to the Camino Sanábres when numbers dropped a little.
The Via de la Plata was dominated by men, the majority of whom were French. I am reliably informed that this year the men to women ratio has been 3:1, but I was often the only woman with up to ten men. That wasn’t really a problem for me, but I did miss some female company. What would have been more of a problem was having no one to talk to in my own language, so I was very happy to be able to chat with Paul.
This camino has taught me that groups of men walking together tend to be very cliquey and dominate the space. I didn’t come across any groups of women walking together, so can’t comment on whether they show the same behaviour. Single people and couples are much more likely to mix and be sociable.
I very much enjoy walking alone, but am also happy to spend some time walking and talking to others. Everyone has their own pace and it is difficult to adjust to others who don’t match your own. I was full of admiration for couples who walked together, when the man was often considerably taller than the woman, but they managed an amiable pace together. I wouldn’t find that so easy. I walk quite fast but stop a lot to take photos. Paul and I acquired the nick-name ‘the English Runners’ but we were not racing with anyone, just walking at our natural pace.
Santiago is a fabulous city, full of visitors from different walks of life. Many pilgrims who have walked from afar (or not so far), and tourists of all nationalities in big groups led by tour guides that block the way in the narrow streets. Most pilgrims quietly arrive in the Praza do Obradoiro In front of the cathedral with a look of awe and gratitude on their faces, whilst others arrive in groups and are very noisy in their celebrations…and then there are the cyclists. Some pilgrims have finished their current journey but others choose to continue to the coast and have another three or four days before they can relax. For some, claiming their compostela is one of the highlights of their camino and others don’t bother to visit the pilgrims’ office and are happy with their credencial that logs the stages they have walked.
By the time I arrived in back in Santiago after walking for 52 days I had forgotten about the few tough days where the distance was a challenge, or the terrain was hard on the feet, or I was walking alongside a busy highway. What comes to mind are the magical memories of stunning scenery, the glorious sun-rises and beautiful ancient cities. And the weather! I was so very lucky. One day of walking in pouring rain, a few very windy days and some rather chilly mornings, but overall the weather was glorious and perfect for walking. Even in Galicia that is renowned for its rainfall, not one drop fell on me. I certainly hadn’t expected to be so fortunate. And I know that this good fortune colours my entire camino.
And after taking seven and a half weeks to walk from Málaga to Finisterre, I returned by aeroplane in one and a half hours. And now I am comfortably at home, no more sweaty rubber mattress covers, or being careful not to sit up in bed for fear of catching my hair on the springs of the upper bunk. Time to use the bathroom without worrying about keeping anyone waiting. Being able to eat healthy food whenever I want. Wearing clothes that don’t make me feel like a tramp. And, joy of joys, being able to tame my hair with straighteners. Such simple luxuries that I normally take for granted but will relish for the coming weeks.
Once again, thank you for sharing my journey and giving me so much encouragement. It has been an absolute pleasure to have your company along the way. I am already missing the interaction – I loved receiving your comments and hope you will keep in touch.
I hope you will enjoy some of my favourite photos. Just click on the first picture and it will enlarge and then you can flick through at your own pace.