(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 25, 2005
Day 26: Melide to Arca, 34.5 km/21.4 m

fountainIn the morning, I found myself waiting by the fountain for Martin. Of course I’d be waiting for Martin—I only half believed that he’d really show. I decided I would spare 15 minutes, and I struggled through every second trying not to be angry for not getting an earlier start.

When it began to sprinkle, I abandoned my post and went in search of coffee, all the while questioning why I had agreed to walk another day with Martin and Nick. Was it because the day goes faster and there’s more laughter? Was it the security blanket of men and language? I liked Martin, very much, but I suspected that our moment had passed. We were certainly not going to have conversations of any real depth with Nick around, and I felt the growing need to enter Santiago on my own. Martin was undoubtedly going to grow into a caring, thoughtful, soulful man. For now, there was still a boy in him, and that boy exhibited very age-appropriate behavior.

With a cup of steaming brew in hand, I decided to pass by the refuge before heading out of town. I shouldn’t have. It would have been a far more fitting end to our journey had I ventured off on my own and left Martin to come to his senses without my judgmental eye. But no, there he was, heaped into a ball in the grass. I called to him and he stirred, harried and ragged. He explained that he’d been locked out of the refuge and had gone clubbing all night. He got in at 6 AM, slept through his alarm and awakened to an angry huéspeda kicking him out. His energy was just as offensive as his appearance. I would have preferred that he sleep off his hangover in the bushes, but he slung his bag over his shoulder and wobbled next to me, spewing all the way out of town.

I let him ramble and complain for an hour, envisioning his tirade bouncing off the force field I’d projected around myself. I didn’t love him any less; I simply no longer wanted to be consumed by his energy. When he suggested we stop in Boente for breakfast, I told him that I needed to walk the rest of the way to Santiago alone. It didn’t surprise him. His eyes softened, and I looked into them for the last time. I knew that I would cherish him always.

I continued alone on the Camino and turned back a couple minutes later. He was standing where I’d left him, watching me. We waved a sweet goodbye.

It was a gray day, and the sky ahead of me was all black. I knew what was coming, and it made me long for the shelter of home even more. Finnesterre was an unlikely prospect. Seeing the coastline was far less appealing than seeing my homeland, my people, my sense of place. I wanted first to land at Karen’s in Exeter and spend long days doing nothing but sitting by the fire with my feet up. Then I wanted to get to DC for the opening of my friend Jeanette’s play. I had less than 30 miles to go, but in my mind, I was already home.

The final fifteen or so miles into Arca were absolutely brutal. My pack was heavy, my feet throbbed, my head was everywhere but on the Camino and for God’s sake, RAIN! Once again, what saved me were my waterproof socks.

I stumbled, I strided, I glided, I fretted and for the last mile I was rewarded with ridiculous hail and a raging thunderstorm. Right after I passed the refuge in Santa Irene, the sky unloaded. It was a downhill mud-fest with my eyes trained on the ground and my poles stabbing the sludge. And yet, it’s possible that this was my favorite day. It was ever so beautiful to me, mostly because I was nearing the end of a very long journey and a momentous chapter in my life. It seemed appropriate for me to be battling the elements once again. One of the many gifts of my Camino was that I got to see my sense of fortitude and perseverance from so many vantage points and under so many extreme conditions. I felt proud of myself for not just enduring, but enduring with happiness. I had once so wholeheartedly believed that the core of myself contained darkness. But the core of myself had been revealed again and again, and to my utter astonishment it contained just the opposite. I could let go of any belief in lack or worthlessness or limitation. I was a being of light. I had experienced it every day for almost a month now. It was firmly rooted within me. And I would never forget it.

And as a being of light, I began envisioning the perfect night in a hotel. I didn’t want to cling to expectation because, in fact, shelter at this point would be a blessing. And a bed—a dry bed, any dry bed, but if possible, a big dry bed in a solo room with a massive bathtub filled with hot water.

You can’t blame a girl for asking, especially on her last night before accomplishing her years-in-the-making goal.

Oh, the weather. And oh, the grove of trees doing its best to provide me a canopy amidst the roar of thunder and the driving rain. And then, oh, the town. Arca, with a sign: hotel. I prayed. If I thought I could get up again, I would have fallen to my knees. But instead, I muscled onward and arrived at an adorable bed and breakfast right off the path. I inquired hopefully and… YES! It was more than I’d been spending on a room but this was clearly more than a room; it was the most spectacular oasis, called Hotel O Pino and described in the brochure at the front desk like this: You pass the pilgrimage church and the hostel Santa Irene HotelOPinoand you will come to a densely wooded eucalyptus forest. At the end of that forest you will reach the ancient village of A Rúa, about 19 km away from Santiago de Compostela.

Big tub, big bed and internet!

I bathed, I soaked, I flossed, I laundered, I drank wine, I sang, I meditated and I cried. But when I tried to indulge in the internet, the public computer wasn’t working. But just to make a great night even better, the huésped led me to the office and let me use theirs. It was simply divine. I spent only enough time to email Karen in Exeter to tell her I was planning on booking a flight out on Monday, two days away. And then I booked a hotel in Santiago for tomorrow.

When I lay down naked in my enormous bed, I thought, tomorrow, Santiago, I will have walked 528 miles. And then I thought of my dear friend Henry who cannot walk at all.