Preamble: I was hoping to write a completely different kind of closure. But I had promised to myself, before I even started this journey, to be as honest as possible to myself and to the readers. For this reason, I decided to draft the epilogue in the most sincere way I know, with an open heart.
Last year, when I thought about doing my first trip to Santiago, I only had 21 days available. I would be closing an important period of my life in Scotland on June 28 and I had to attend a dear friend's wedding on July 25 – the days in between were all that I got. I spent several hours trying to find a feasible itinerary to reach Santiago from St. Jean Pied-de-Port within that timeframe, but I quickly discovered that doing the entire path under 30 days was almost impossible. The only person I knew that had completed the French Way in 26 days, suffered from tendinitis and and was put on physiotherapy for 9 months after. It seemed like I had no other option than to either skip the wedding or do only one part of the Camino. Both of them were truly unappealing to me.
I was encouraged again when I later read a story that two Italian marathon athletes did the entire path from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela in 23 days. Maybe the 21-day goal was not impossible, so I thought. Obviously the price to pay would be very high: no rest, minimal sightseeing, be the last one to arrive at a hostel and the first one to take off, before dawn, every day. At the time, even taking these stringent conditions into account, it still appeared to be a better deal than skipping my friend’s wedding, or doing a truncated version of the Camino. So I downloaded their route and decided to follow it for the first few days, and then increment the daily mileage after the first half, depending on how my body reacted to this kind of “torture”.
Not surprisingly, like I said in a number of my earlier posts, my first Camino was different from what I had expected, even since day 1. The day before my take-off, I had just come back from Scotland, gone to an AC/DC concert, and had multiple vaccination injections. The next morning, after only two hours of sleep, I quickly did my backpack and rushed to the airport, only to learn that my flight to Lyon had been canceled. After another sleepless night, I took the first morning flight out to Lyon, and onwards to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
I arrived at St. Jean Pied-de-Port around 1 pm, had a quick lunch, bought a wooden walking stick, waited for the pilgrim’s information center to open, and asked them for the credential (a record to be stamped at each stop along the way until arriving at the Compostela and a requirement for the certificate of completion to be granted).
“Good luck for tomorrow,” people at the information center said to me.
“I will start this afternoon,” I replied.
They told me I was crazy to start right away, because of the extreme temperature at noon, the Sun , my lack of training and many other issue. I told them I had a strict schedule and this was the only way I could finish in time, with or without their approval.
That day I had the worst physical experience of my life. It brought on by the combination of temperature, pain and the realization of what I was about to do. I nicknamed the day my “Baptism of Fire”. But when I arrived to Roncisvalle at midnight, I said to myself, “Come On Marco it can’t get much worse than this.”
I completed the Camino in 20 days and spend an extra day just to enjoy Santiago and salute some of the pilgrims I had met during the path.
According to my own rules of desires, I can add a new desire to my list only after I have realized the one before. Before my first pilgrimage, I said that I wanted to go from St. Jean to Santiago in 22 days or less. Because I realized it, I added a new desire.
I wrote down on my list of desires:
“I want to walk from St. Jean to Santiago and walk until Finisterre and Muxia.”
(For those who aren’t familiar with these two locations, Finisterre has a sign that says “km 0”, which signifies a break from the old world and pilgrims arriving here used to burn their old clothes before getting dressed in new ones and going home. Muxia, instead, is one of the best possible views of the Atlantic ocean. I wanted to reach both of them on foot.)
I thought surely this Camino would be the time to realize this desire. I had it all planned out: I have 24 days available. I would take 20 days to reach Santiago, and 4 days for the remaining 120 kilometres to Finisterre and Muxia. At that moment, I did not consider the impact of writing a blog because it was not in my list of desires, and – more importantly - I did not consider the impact of destiny.
This time, it took me 22 days to arrive at Santiago, and I was not in the best possible conditions. My ankles and tendons were screaming. I lost a nail in one toe. My knees and shoulders were all in pain. And I was exhausted from sustaining the entire 800km walk with only 5 to 6 hours of sleep every night for three weeks. If this is not enough, my backpack is now heavier by 1 kg and a half for all the souvenirs I bought for friends and family.
Even so, a part of me still wanted to walk more. It was the reckless part of me, the one that finds joy only in the realization of a goal, and not in the process or the journey of getting there. I was afraid of the bitter feeling of regret when I have to face my ghost of failure months later.
I spent a good part of yesterday, my day at Santiago, contemplating if I should keep going. Should I try to finish another 120 kms in 2 days after having just done 800 kms in 22, or should I take a couple of days off in Santiago but will leave without completely realizing my desire?
My mother and my father suggested me to rest, and my girlfriend begged me not to walk anymore. She later confessed to me that she had gone to the church and talk to the statue of the Virgin Mary. She expressed her gratefulness for every help received and prayed to Virgin Mary to push me to rest a little bit. My girlfriend is Buddhist.
Me, on the other side of the Atlantic, I decided to flip a coin. Because this time, I did not hear the “Do it” voice that had accompanied me since the beginning of the Camino. I have only resorted to flipping a coin when I have an either-or decision to make and I lack the clarity to go further. Over the years, I seem to have developed a good relationship with the coin, and it has always offered me wonderful results, especially in hindsight. As I take it out only in extreme conditions, I do what the coin says, and when I do it everything works fine.
So I took out my lucky coin, gave a meaning to each side (Stay here or walk to Finisterre and Muxia?) and flipped. The answer was clear: “You have to remain in Santiago.”
With a little bit of sadness, I accepted. I sent a message to my girlfriend and another one to my mother, saying I would not walk any more. They were both very relieved.
The desire of going to Muxia and Finisterre is still there. But I acknowledge my main faults: I underestimated the impact of the destiny, and – even more importantly - I have not specified the number of days in my desire. I simply assumed that I would have walked at the same pace this time, and I would be in good condition to reach the Ocean and walk until the km 0 of Finisterre, but assumptions don’t have a good relationships with destiny.
I guess that the price I have to pay to put an end to this chapter will be, eventually, to walk on these roads once again..