The End of a Journey… or the Beginning of a New One?

Santiago – Final Day

What a luxury it was to be able to sleep in and not have anywhere to be. To just lie in bed and laze the morning away.

How strange it is though, to no longer need to pull on the boots, lace them up and start walking. What a feeling of loss this generates.

My growling stomach soon had me shaking Riley to start moving to pack and head downstairs for breakfast. Again, this place is amazing with a big range of breakfast items available.

Once we finished, we went back upstairs to check out and the lady at reception was lovely. She printed our boarding passes for our flight to Madrid, booked a taxi to get us to the airport later that night, put our bags in storage and gave me directions to pick up my suitcase that had been in storage in Santiago after being picked up in St Jean all those weeks ago.

Under sufferance, Riley came with me to collect the suitcase. It had been so long since I’d seen this suitcase, in my head, it was huge and would need Riley’s muscle to carry it.

When they brought out a suitcase, my initial response was, that’s not mine. It looked so…normal. Riley wasn’t needed after all but I didn’t tell him this.

After dropping it into storage at our hotel, we went back to the cafe downstairs to use and abuse their WiFi and power. We wiled away a couple of hours, enjoying fresh orange juice, churros and simply soaking in the atmosphere. It was buzzing, filled with Spanish people. This was clearly the place to come.

Riley headed off to do some shopping and I waited for Jean who was arriving into Santiago today, with Bill and Gwen walking in. I was so looking forward to seeing her as I hadn’t seen her since O’Cebreiro, over a week earlier.

Next thing, there she was like no time had passed at all. She’d had a difficult morning and desperately needed food that was quick as it wouldn’t be long before Bill and Gwen would be arriving into the square. When I went to pay for the drinks and snacks Riley and I had shared during the morning, the owner refused to charge for the food, he said it was his gift to us. Their warmth to Riley and I felt very special.

We made our way to the square to wait for Bill and Gwen and it wasn’t long before they walked in. It was such an exciting feeling to see someone else come in that I knew. I felt so thrilled for them and it brought back my own feelings of happiness.

After taking photos of Gwen in front of the cathedral, Riley showed her to the Pilgrim’s Office, while Jean and Bill headed off to their hotel with the promise of catching up before Riley and I left.

I enjoyed just roaming the old city a little, capturing more memories before Andee and Tiara were due in.

Andee had messaged to say they were arriving closer to 3pm, but Riley and I were waiting from 2:30pm, sitting on the ground and watching the arrivals of all the pilgrims. It was straight out of the movie, ‘Love Actually.’ You know, where Hugh Grant talks about being depressed about the state of the world and going to the Arrival Hall of an airport and seeing the joy on people’s faces and then at the end of the movie, they show real footage of people arriving and kids running to hug a father etc etc?

That is exactly what it was like sitting there.

We saw people walk in and fall to the ground, walk in and cry tears of joy, walk in hand in hand with all their travelling companions, huge smiles on their faces and everything in between. I could have sat there all day and watched it. It was pure joy.

3pm came and went with still no sign of Andee and Tiara. By 3:20pm, Riley was making noises about bailing and to be honest, I was beginning to think if they weren’t there soon, I would have to as well as I hadn’t eaten since 10am. Thankfully, Riley spotted them walking in and we managed to get a photo before a big swarm of people on a tour crowded in. It was so wonderful to see them.

Once Riley had given out his hugs, he was gone, heading back to our cafe for food.

I was walking Andee and Tiara to the Pilgrim’s Office, chatting about our arrival the day before, how their day had been and other bits when we walked around a corner and ran straight into son John, the young man I adopted for a day. He was asking about Riley and other things he expected me to know, but I had to plead ignorance and extricate myself out of his questioning by using Andee and Tiara and my need to show them the office. Thank goodness they were there. I’m not sure how long it would have taken to pull myself out of the conversation otherwise.

I left the girls to it and headed back to our cafe, just as Riley was finishing up. I told him about running into son John and that he needed to respond to him. He huffed away, contacted him and organised a time to meet. I messaged Jean to let her know where we were and that we would be having dinner at 6pm (same place as night before) if she wanted to catch up and she said they would come by the cafe, so Riley waited for them to arrive before leaving to meet son John.

While waiting, I ordered a sandwich. Oh boy, so many places along the Camino could learn from this amazing little cafe.

Jean and Bill walked in to say goodbye and it was incredibly hard. Jean was this bright spark on the Camino, making me laugh constantly and feeling like family. Bill had this gentle quietness about him, but so often when he did talk, I would stop in shock at what he had said and laugh all the harder, not expecting the words to come from a minister. I think if I had been around Bill when he was a practicing minister, I would have been more open to attending church.

I have always struggled with the things that have been done in the name of “religion” or how some “supposed” Christians could be so close minded and judgmental, not accepting people based on their sexuality, judging someone for taking their own life and so many other things. Bill is someone who could really teach the true meaning of kindness and acceptance. We need more Bill’s in the world and it was an honour to have him change my perception a little.

Bill told Riley to be nice to me while I hugged Jean. There were not enough hugs to fill the ache I felt at saying goodbye to Jean. I managed to hold it together long enough for them to all walk out of the cafe before crying a puddle on the table.

I had one last thing to do before leaving Santiago and I think I had been avoiding it because then it would really mean this journey was over – letting go of Bree’s last heart. There was only one place that seemed right and that was the beautiful garden at the Pilgrim’s Office.

I wandered down the steps into the garden and it was quiet as all the pilgrims tended to go straight into the office, receive their Compostela and then walk back out again without taking the time to sit in the garden. I walked under an arch of vine leaves, with remnants of grapes still on the vines, taking me back to the early days of the Camino.

As I sat on a stone bench, reflecting on the journey as a whole, once again, finding the words was so hard. How could I possibly write everything this journey has meant and how alive Bree has become, on this tiny little heart? Finally, the words came and so did the tears. Oh, how they flowed.

I thought of the start of this journey, when I first made the decision to do the Camino and couldn’t even get the reason of why I was doing it out of my mouth without crying, to now being freely able to talk about Bree. I thought of the people I’d met and shared Bree with, of the people I haven’t met who became invested in Bree’s story, helping me with information along the way or sending kind words of encouragement.

I felt so humbled by the love and support I had received and the generosity of people, helping me raise nearly $8,000 to go towards supporting other grieving families, all because my story and journey touched them. What an incredible gift, all in Bree’s name.

I didn’t want to leave the garden, but I knew I had to. Those footsteps were quite possibly, the hardest I had walked on the entire Camino. (I received a message from Andee a few days later when they were leaving Santiago, saying that they went and said goodbye to Bree before they left. I cannot even form the words for how much this touched and meant to me.)

I did a little shopping to find something special to commemorate the journey and found a very simple, silver bangle with a scallop shell on each end that I am hoping to get engraved with the words “In honour of Bree” and the dates when I return home. This way, I will have a tangible reminder always close by.

I had arranged to meet Andee & Tiara and Riley at El Papatorio at 6pm for dinner so we would have plenty of time to catch up before our taxi collected us after 8pm. (It turns out there was never going to be enough time). I arrived at the fabulous little laneway the restaurant was situated on 25mins early, so I thought I had enough time to pop into this gorgeous looking bar I’d seen across from the restaurant and order a Gin & Tonic. It was the type of bar I would love at home.

I failed to factor in the size of the G&T’s here.

I ordered a Nordes gin and when the woman asked if I wanted savoury or sweet appertisers, I thought I’d go sweet. Out came this enormous glass and filled with gin. The picture here is before the tonic water has been put in!

It was ridiculous to be paying what amounted to $10 at home for a G&T that would probably equal four at home and the plate of sweets was free! I need to move to Spain!

It was all incredible, but it did make me a little late for meeting the others. I saw Riley roll his eyes when he found out the reason why, but I knew Bree would have been right there with me.

It was a fabulous evening with Andee and Tiara and being joined by Karen from the UK. Karen had been with us in Bar Elvis. I learned that she had been walking in memory of her brother. I’m disappointed not to have crossed paths with Karen along the journey as I think she would have been someone else I enjoyed being with.

We left the restaurant to head back to our cafe for a final drink as this is where the taxi was picking us up from. As we passed the bar I’d been in earlier, I pointed it out to Andee and Tiara for them to try. Next thing, this man came up to me and excused himself and my first thought was, “Goodness, what have I forgotten this time?” It makes me laugh to know this is the most logical thought!

It turned out, he’d overheard me talking about the Gin & Tonic and wanted to know where I had been recommending, so I pointed him in. Andee laughed and said she had been reading my blogs to find out where to eat each day as I always seemed to find good places and I should do tours.

We arrived at our cafe and ordered drinks and while waiting for them to arrive, Andee went upstairs to find out about booking a room there for the next couple of nights and Karen went to the bathroom. The drinks were sitting on the table by the time everyone came back.

Karen had ordered a Gin & Tonic and when she saw the glass, she picked it up and took a decent swallow out of the glass before Riley could stop her. Her glass was half full, but again, before the tonic water had been put in! Karen practically spluttered the drink out of her mouth. It was hilarious seeing her shocked face at having to swallow a mouth full of pure gin.

So many laughs later, our taxi had arrived all too early. It was time for our last goodbyes of the Camino. Our Spanish host brought our bags down and gave me the warmest, most genuine handshake and told me he would look after Andee and Tiara.

I hugged them tightly. I will miss seeing them both and sharing our experiences. I told them they have an open invitation to Australia.

We climbed into the taxi and as it drove away, I burst into tears once more. Riley got it and just put his arm around me. I cried again as the wheels of the plane took off from the ground, watching Santiago fade away in the distance. I was emotionally spent.

Now, with so much happening on this journey, it is hard to go back and remember things from the beginning, but if anyone remembers my emotional meltdown in St Jean, it partially started from forgetting my things at Dubai airport on my flight over here.

Well, these items have been on their own journey. Throughout the Camino, there had been various emails trying to organise the return of these items. Originally, Emirates were going to send them to me by Fed Ex, but because I didn’t know where I was staying or if they would arrive at a location before I had moved on, this was ruled out. Then I was going to have to collect them from Dubai on my return home and get an extension as they only hold things for a month.

In the last week, we determined we would be flying out of Madrid, so it was organised to send my items on a flight from Dubai to Madrid. Communication wasn’t ideal from Dubai before receiving an email from Emirates Lost & Found in Madrid saying my items had arrived and I could collect between the hours of 11am and 10pm. The only problem was, we weren’t arriving into Madrid until 11:30pm and would be flying out of Madrid to Dublin at 10am the following morning.

I asked if they could be left with customer service and was told, not possible. I asked if they could be sent to the UK and I could collect them when I arrived so I would at bare minimum, have my glasses for the TCF International Conference I was attending. Apparently, there is some UK law that doesn’t allow for items to be flown in, so again, not possible and I was told they were going to put them on a plane to head back to Dubai.

I received an email from Madrid Lost & Found on the afternoon of our last day, asking if there had been any change to my circumstances before they flew them back. I couldn’t believe how ridiculous it all seemed, but I advised no.

Anyway, we landed in Madrid and I walked off the plane in my usual disorganised manner, trying to carry my phone, half open bag and laptop, while trying to pull my jacket on at the same time. Riley nudged me as we stepped out of the plane, because standing on the side was a man holding up a sign with my name on it.

I was exhausted from being emotionally drained and it being nearly midnight, so my poor brain couldn’t compute what was happening. I went up to him and registered his Emirates uniform, but even as he was handing me a package and asking me to sign a form and show my passport, (none of which I could do because my hands were full), I still didn’t understand what it was all about.

It took quite a moment to realise he was handing me my lost glasses and watch. I couldn’t believe the extra mile they had gone to in order to return my belongings. Their office closed at 10pm and here he was, two hours later, standing there, waiting for me.

The Camino provided one last time.

I completed an epic journey across Spain, something I never thought I would ever do and I have never felt more proud in my life. I have loved sharing the journey with others and hearing from so many people how much they have enjoyed it. I did it to honour my beautiful daughter and her incredible zest for life and share her story.

I have far too many stories still to share, so this will quite possibly be the start of a whole new journey. I just need to work out what that looks like.

Buen Camino x

16 thoughts on “The End of a Journey… or the Beginning of a New One?

  1. What an amazing journey. So proud of you and Riley ( not many boys would wear a pink tutu) and so very glad that Bree was so very present with you.

  2. WOW, you have proven again just how amazing you are & can be Karen. That is one hell of an achievement my friend and I’m very proud to know you. Love to you, Riley & Bree xxxxx

  3. Karen it was great following your story on the Camino. They were times when it felt like I was walking it. You should be very proud of yourself. It was also nice meeting you with Irish. Best of luck for the future. Martin.

    1. Hey Martin!
      You never know, there may be more journeys to follow. 😉
      Was nice to meet you too after hearing your name mentioned on the Camino.
      Glad you enjoyed following the journey.

  4. Karen so proud of you and all that you have achieved in memory of Bree and to have your amazing son by your side understanding you, your emotions etc is so special. He is an amazing young man who has a beautiful Mum( inside and out. ) Its very emotional reading this today its Darrens 54th birthday so Im unable to put my thoughts on paper tonight. lots of love to you and Riley looking forward to seeing you when you come home. Stay well and safe and enjoy the rest of a wonderful overseas trip. Hugs xx

    1. Hi Pat,
      Such big hugs to you for Darren’s birthday. I’m sorry I missed this. Have been very offline.
      I hope you are feeling a bit more peace in your heart now.
      Thank you as always for your kind support and love.

  5. You should feel so proud of yourself. You did this for you. Which means it’s also for Bree and for Riley. Amazing journey and I’ve loved the blog. G & T all round when
    You return 😘😘

    1. Thanks Jen. I do feel incredibly proud and really miss being out there.
      Looking forward to a G&T and a good catch up.

  6. So awesome reading your journey on the Camino and the way you describe emotions is unique and so special. Reading your story was easy, entertaining and so inspiring. Bree was with you all the way 💓.
    Much love x

    1. Hi Jacqui,
      I had so much love and support along the way, it made it easy and felt wonderful to share the journey with everyone to have them along with me along with all my angel children looking over me.
      I still have Bethany with me in my phone xx

  7. And here i am bawling my eyes ourmt😂🤣😂🤣😍. So glad your journey has brought you closer to Bree!💕❤💕

  8. Wow! What a journey! So proud of you Karen and Riley! I have re-lived my own Camino vicariously through yours. Very grateful for your daily blog. I was laughing and crying along with you. I so loved the message on your final heart. Bree truly lives on in everyone’s heart who knows you Karen. ♡ She is so proud of you, her loving Mum ♡

  9. Congratulations on finishing such an epic journey Karen. Bree would would have been so proud of you ❤❤😁😁

  10. an emotional read today (and on such a deeper level as today is my beautiful Ashleys birthday XX) I am so touched by the connections that you have made and the kindness that has come with that. Bree is bringing many beautiful people into your world! My love for you, Bree and Riley and the journeys to come! xxxx

  11. Wonderful experiences Karen. I’m so happy for you and yes this is just the beginning of the journey .
    Totally agree with you regarding the G & T’s they are the best .
    So looking forward to catching up when you’re back . Take care ❤️

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