I Made It!

Amenal to Santiago de Compostela – 17kms

How do you sleep when the next day you are going to be doing something more incredible than you ever imagined?

Simple answer. You don’t.

I think I grabbed snatches of sleep from sheer exhaustion and still woke up well before the alarm went off.

We had decided to leave later to ensure we weren’t going to miss a single bit of scenery in darkness. Riley said to me when I had talked about the Camino at home and getting up at sunrise to walk each day, he wasn’t expecting that to mean 9am!

What love we had shining down on us. After 10 days of straight rain or severely overcast weather, we opened the curtains to a picture perfect clear sky.

It was time to go.

To honour Bree in a more special way for this very last day, we both wore pink tutus. (It would also be one way to guarantee Riley would stick to me like glue the whole day!)

As we left Amenal, we had a straight up climb, but after all this time, it felt like nothing. I felt great sympathy for a few walkers I saw who had the painful look of walkers just starting out. We wished them Buen Camino and moved on.

At the top of the hill, I did my final look behind me to take in how far I had come and was greeted by the sun peeping up over the mountains.

I was delighted in how beautiful the scenery still was, especially with the sunlight peeking through. I really hadn’t been expecting the greenery to last for as long as it did. Compared to other “major” locations such as Leon and Ponferrada, this was a walk that made me feel like I was still on the Camino as opposed to simply just out walking as a tourist in a city.

The roar of aeroplanes were soon filling the air though. The Camino actually circles the airport, so it was a weird feeling to think we were going to end up right back here the next evening. Riley originally was thinking the airport was really far away until he registered that by car, it’s no time at all. I think he has a new appreciation for transportation!

Suddenly, we walked out of the wooded area and took in a fabulous view of the valley below. With the sun shining, the blue sky and the low lying cloud sitting amongst the mountains below, it was a spectacular sight. Ordinarily, I would have a photo, but there were so many pilgrims lining up to have their photo taken with the carved monument, it blocked most of it. I thought I would get a better photo a bit further down. I was wrong.

We did line up for our turn at the monument. You might be able to see the valley in the background.

We stopped for breakfast at The Last 12kms cafe, a place I think could do with a liberal sprinkling of the Camino spirit. I get that they have to deal with thousands of pilgrims every year, but when you have named the cafe something that is likely to generate additional feelings of excitement, that feeling is crushed when you feel like you are nothing more than an inconvenience.

There was no warmth or smiles or even a basic acknowledgement. To access the toilet, I discovered you needed a combination code, which was printed on your receipt. The problem was, I hadn’t received a receipt with my purchase. When I went to the woman who had served me, she refused to acknowledge I had purchased anything. Fortunately, Riley had a receipt and I used his and hoped for his sake it wasn’t a use once and the code vanishes type of thing.

I was glad to get back on the way, but looking back proved a beautiful sight of the whole village.

The animals were determined to pull at the heart strings today. After so much walking on the Camino and most of the cats bolting at the mere sight of you, cats now curling around our legs became an ongoing distraction. Riley’s claim is I get to delay taking hundreds of photos, he gets cats.

The stunning weather and the surrounding scenery continued to show off in all its glory. I was savouring every moment, trying to imprint everything permanently into memory. I think part of it was also not wanting to move quickly and have the day end.

Our tutus received a fair amount of attention along the way, with people smiling, making little comments and one man even walked past us on a hill, turned around and took a photo of us.

The one thing I was expecting and hoping for, was for a cafe to be in every single village we passed through to capitalise on all the pilgrims as my plan was to stop in every single village (further delay my arrival) and enjoy my last Camino stops. I don’t know whether I missed them, but I didn’t see any (apart from San Marcos Camping spot that had a weird truck stop vibe), so it was a relief to see Cafe a Chica.

Sadly, the staff weren’t any better here and it was a horror to pay nearly 5€ for a cafe con leche and orange juice! Their one saving grace was a delightful cat who completely made himself at home.

Just up from this stop was Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy), and everyone was taking photos in front of the monument that was erected in commemoration of Pope John Paul II. I’m not exactly sure why as the entire thing was covered in scaffolding and sheeting. Riley and I walked around the edge and climbed the “hill,” and you could see for miles, including in the distance, the spires of the cathedral in Santiago.

Now that, brought joy.

What an exciting feeling to see how close and yet how far we really were. What a strange feeling to be able to see the end of your journey in such a physical form. So many emotions in that moment, but the overriding emotion was such easy happiness.

This stop put some pep into our step and I felt myself for the first time, want to get moving and reach Santiago. I was finally excited to be there.

The greenery lasted for a little longer, but then the reality of a city began to encroach and soon we were having to cross highways and walk along the outskirts.

I was starting to reach desperation point of needing to go to the toilet, so I was extremely relieved to see a restaurant up ahead. We both walked into relative darkness and what felt like 50 eyes of all men, turn around and look at us in silence. As I made my way to the toilet, I wondered why they had stared at us so intently. When I walked out, I realised why.

I had forgotten we were both wearing pink tutus, so Riley must have made an interesting sight, especially standing there by himself.

A few smiles and greetings though warmed them up and they wished us Buen Camino as we left.

Not far from this location, alongside a large, busy roundabout was a monument to historical figures connected with the Camino, or so the book says. I didn’t actually pay attention to the monument. It was the sign in front of it that was drawing all the attention and pilgrims again lining up to get a photo.

We took our turn and afterwards, I turned and smiled at Riley and said “we made it.” At that moment, the force of that statement hit me in the chest like someone had punched me and I burst into tears. I couldn’t even comprehend this journey across from France, and here I was, standing close to the end on the other side of Spain. How do you ever explain this to someone who hasn’t done this?

Everyone was taking turns from being in the photo to being the photographer. As I was taking photos for a lady, she did a pose standing normally and then a pose holding her poles up in jubilation. In that moment, I realised I didn’t have my poles with me. I had left them back at the toilet stop restaurant!

These poles had gotten me through the Camino and I had to go back. Fortunately it wasn’t too far and we were laughing about it the whole way. When I walked in to grab them, all the men who had stared at us previously, cheered when I picked them up. I grinned at them all and waved goodbye.

Back on track, we kept walking… and to be totally honest, if it wasn’t for having the Buen Camino app, we would have felt very uncertain about where to go. After an overabundance of arrows all along the Camino, there was a serious lack of them in Santiago!

Other than a few words about this, Riley and I were relatively silent as we drew closer. I could certainly feel the magnitude of it, but I think even Riley could feel it too.

Corner after corner we turned, down little cobblestone streets, wondering if we would ever get there, before I finally heard the Piper playing underneath the arch, welcoming all the pilgrims into the square. With each note of music and each step that brought me closer, I could feel the emotion bubbling up inside me, to the point I thought I would burst.

We stepped out from the darkness of the arch into the blinding sunshine of the square in front of the cathedral, arriving at 2:11pm on Tuesday, October 22, 2019.

Somehow, in amongst the hundreds of people in that square, I instantly saw Sara and Evan and I wanted to run to them. I managed to refrain from that, but I did walk quickly and hugged Sara and then cried, making Sara cry.

The emotion of it all was just so overwhelming. I had just completed the 800km Camino across Spain from France in honour of Bree and now it was over. How do I just stop? How do I say goodbye to all of these people who had such an impact on my journey? How do I continue this amazing bond I felt with Bree when normal life creeps in? How do you explain the magnitude of these emotions to someone who hasn’t walked this journey? It was a relief to have Sara and Evan there who did understand it all without any words being said.

It actually took time to process that dear family members from home were there to greet us. Barbara and Josh were there, looking completely normal, as if we were out to dinner at home. It was the most surreal feeling. It was wonderful to see them, but at the same time, I couldn’t wrap my head around the abnormality of them being there.

But then it was time for the photos.

I adore this photo!

We wanted to celebrate, but I also wanted to have my Compostela today, so Sara took us to the Pilgrim’s office to receive a number. They have a great little system where the number has a QR code and with an App, you can scan the code and find out where you are in the queue to save having to wait at the office.

With number in hand, we trooped back off to a bar behind the cathedral, joining Barbara and Josh and Sara and Evan. We all bought Gin & Tonics (most logical choice), and toasted our arrival into Santiago and then did a toast… for Bree.

Soon our number was coming up, so Riley and I made our way back to the office and with less than 10 minutes standing in line, we were up. For me, this was one of the most important moments, not for the Compostela, but for having Bree’s name written on it.

This actually proved a bit more challenging. The volunteer who was serving me, had limited English and when I asked him about including Bree’s name, he didn’t understand. The volunteer on his right who was serving someone else, was English, knew what I was talking about, but couldn’t speak his language to explain it. All the while, my guy is writing away on my certificates and I could feel myself getting distressed about the concept that I may not get Bree’s name included. (Fortunately, he spelt my name wrong on my certificate and when I pointed it out, he started a new one, buying me more time.)

I spoke to the man on his left and asked if he spoke English and was relieved to discover he did. I asked him if he could explain what I wanted and I think, stopped breathing. Next moment, I listened as he spouted off an explanation I think in Spanish and I watched the comprehension on my guy’s face. Success! I nearly burst into tears right there. I will be forever grateful for those three volunteers accommodating and assisting me, potentially delaying other pilgrims. (I later learned there are some volunteers that are sticklers for the rules and will only deal with the person in front of them).

He handed me my certificates and put a final stamp in my credential. I nearly cried again.

We made our way back to the square and took some time to take everything in and for me, take a breath. We lay down on the ground, looking up at the cathedral and just enjoyed being in the moment.

Finally, it was time to try and find our accommodation without the benefit of data. To my delight, Hostel Suso was just 150m from the cathedral – prime location. I cannot rave about this accommodation enough! The room was gorgeous, but it was the staff that absolutely made our time there a delight. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to stay for my final night on the Camino.

We’d been told of Casa Monolo as a place for dinner, but when I arrived there, it was filled with pilgrims, it was loud and the meal was just another pilgrim’s meal. This wasn’t what I wanted for my celebratory dinner. As soon as Barbara and Josh arrived, we quickly left and made our way back to our hotel to find the map our host had given us with a recommendation.

Our host was at the reception and not wanting another average meal (I had a LOT on the Camino), I asked the host if the place he had recommended was a nice restaurant. When he looked at me questioningly, I tried to explain, nice food, nice ambiance – celebratory.

He looked at me with a very deadpan face and told me his girlfriend’s parents were flying in from Italy the next day and he was taking them out for dinner there on the weekend. He paused and asked me if that answered my question. I burst out laughing, thanked him and we all went to El Papatorio. What an fabulous meal it was and exactly the type of meal I wanted to celebrate the end of an incredible journey.

After pushing our stomachs to the limit, we rolled out and went back to the square to take photos of the cathedral all lit up. It was gorgeous and we had the added benefit of being entertained by Spanish performers singing and dancing.

We said goodbye to our dear family who were heading on to other travels and went back to our hotel. The cafe they run below the hotel was still open (it was after 11pm by this point and we were too wired to sleep), so we popped in to have another drink. Riley had a cider and I had a Puerto (Port), which he filled to the top of the glass as he said they were closing and they liked us. They also gave us some food and because we were staying in the hotel, told us to take it back to our room and enjoy in bed. I told you this place was amazing!

It was the most spectacular, emotional, amazing, fulfilling day I could have had and I still don’t think this comes remotely close to fully describing it.

Just one more day in Santiago and having to let go of my final heart, but that’s another story.

11 thoughts on “I Made It!

  1. Amazing journey and so special to have done it with Riley in memory of Bree.
    Thank-you for taking Dani along too xxx

  2. Waited so long for this chapter & so emotional reading it now. What an amazing journey you’ve been on Karen & to have Riley beside you & Bree in your heart 💖 enjoy the rest of your journey wherever that may be & safe travels ❤️🐞🎒🥾✈️👣

  3. Congratulations Karen, Riley and to Bree. What a truly amazing journey to have accomplished! I cried when I read this, after reading of your entire journey, it was even emotional for us, your readers. I can only imagine what it felt like for you.
    A road well travelled, by the three of you.♥️

    Deirdre xx

  4. Karen so exciting to actually see and read about the final part of your amazing journey. Congratulations on achieving your goals and with Riley at the last piece and Bree all the way. Thank you for taking Darren and keeping us all part of it with the wonderful post on Bag of Hearts. Dont know what you have been up to but have been waiting days for this informative final blog ? post and pics.HA HA Love reading all the other comments from you friends and agree wholeheartedly with every word they said. Missing you and your happy face and laughter. Take care both of you and enjoy your time with TCF people in U,K, and all the other places you visit.Lots love xx and huge hugs. Safe travels.xx

  5. Your journey brings back so many memories of the Frances Camino ! I have to go back to finish my own journey. I am glad you shared your thoughts.

  6. CONGRATULATIONS beautiful lady…. i don’t have the words (lol, you know me!!!) In reading your post, i jump for excitement , ( well in my head), i laugh and i cry ( and cry some more…. happy tears and sad tears) and my heart is just so so filled with joy for you ( and Riley) A massive hug to you and i can’t wait to see you on your return. Lots of love xxxx

  7. Thank you for sharing all of your incredible adventures with us. Congratulations Karen, Bree and Riley. Looking forward to walking with you back in Melbourne. ❤️🐞❤️

  8. Am breathless wuth awe of what you have accomplished. What a beautiful tribute to Bree. Ever more closer in spirit the 3 of you are as she was definitely on the Journey with you. I feel this so strongly in my heart.
    I cried so much reading this post that I cannot begin to tell you.
    That you have achieved what you set out and that it is now drawn to a close.
    But on reflection the joy the people you have met and the adventure you have had will never end for like Bree the memories are forever etched in your memories and heart.
    Thank you for having me on your Journey the photos and your stories had me feeling as if i was on the journey too. Such wondrous beauty.
    Enjoy the rest of your trip and look forward to giving you a big hug. Much love carola

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