The camino to Santiago is done. We did it. Not only to Santiago but all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The very end. Walking the Camino was one of the most incredible, amazing and magical experience I ever had. It changed a lot. It changed me, but not only me. I witnessed my dad changing, I saw all the pilgrims where we walked with for a longer time changing and back home my mom changed too. It was the first time she was longer than one week separates from my dad after 36 years (can you believe that??;) She walked not the camino to Santiago, but her own camino back home… finally time for herself ofter 36 year 😉 haha! I’m proud of her.
We are home for 3 days and people are asking me; “is it what you expected?”. That question makes me think about my expectations. I don’t know what to answer, because I have no idea what my expectation was. I guess I didn’t have one. I started walking, like my dad. But if I did have an expectation I can say: This is something what I couldn’t expect and couldn’t imaging before. It is something what I can’t explain either. I can tell stories, I can tell and write about it, but to know what the camino is, you have to experience yourself. I think a lot of pilgrims agree with me. We talked about it the last days.. ‘How can we tell all of this to friends and family. How can we explain what we’ve experienced, how much we changed and what we’ve learned?’.
I don’t think the camino is a bubble isolated from the “real” world, but it depends an each of us how much we take with us in our daily lives. Life ‘on the camino’ feels actually most real and natural to me. Everyone is allowing themselves to be real, because people masks are coming off, judge and complain less and are meeting and conquering themselves in silence. No one gives a shit what you have done, or who you are. It doesn’t matter what your story is. It doesn’t matter how many problems and struggles you have, if you cry for days or feeling angry, guilty, ashamed or… It is okay, the way you feel and the way you are. It is accepted, not only by god, but by everyone.
People cry, share, laugh and hug each other, open to tell truthfully their story and are open to listen, to talk, to help, to share, to be. And that is exactly what I love so much. People without masks, without costumes, just the way they are.
There are also pilgrims who seemingly taking their daily rhythm and schedule with them to the camino. Everything planned, making reservations to be sure to have a bed in the albergue where they want to stay, because they know already where they going, starting to walk around 5 or 6 in the morning, they don’t take long breaks, because they have decided to arrive at a certain time, they go to bed early and the next early morning it starts al over again till they arrive in Santiago. It feels as if they are in a constant rush or in competition, but hey that’s accepted to, they are walking their camino and I’m sure they learn a lot of it in their ways.
I’ve talked with pilgrims who are walking the camino for the second or up to 8th times, because they like the camino life so much. Or some people just live on the camino. Like Peter, a homeless pilgrim. I’ve learned a lot from that guy. He said that you worry less if you don’t have much material things and money. He lives on the street for years, he choose for it. He has a little buggy with some clothes, a tent, a sleeping bag, a stick to catch fish, two little adorable puppies who were given to him and his theater sticks, were he makes some money with on the street. He doesn’t worry about anything he said. He just trust that he has everyday something to eat. And he always has. He plays almost everyday on the street to gain some money. “sometimes I have a great diner and sometimes just a piece of bread, but it is al good”. He lives by the day. He isn’t afraid to lose something, because he doesn’t have much. ‘If I loose something, other solutions appearing automatically, but only if I trust and don’t worry, otherwise I’m not able to see the opportunities. Simply I don’t see them, because I’m busy worrying, what attract everything I don’t want’.
A typical ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’ case is what I was thinking to myself after admitting that I had judged his ‘cover’. Peter had diner with us. We walked and talked for a bit, I hugged and played with his puppies, Casapaya and Serena, and we drunk a coffee the next morning. We saw Peter several times along the way and when we arrived in Santiago he was sitting on the square before the cathedral. Calm as always. He gave me a beautiful colorful selfmade bracelet. “I knew I was going to see you here in Santiago. It might seem as arriving, but remember that it’s only the beginning” he said. That night I saw him again in a bar where we had a drink together with a bunch of other camino friends and we celebrated life.
Let me tell something about our arrival day in Santiago. We woke up that morning in Arre, 15 km before Santiago. An easy day, feeling exited and sad at the same time, because we didn’t want to finish.
We started walking after a good breakfast. During the walk I thought about the last 6 weeks. About al the people we had met, the beautiful conversations, the experiences, the things I’ve learned, the nights under the stars, my dad… the hole trip past by in a few hours. We were quite slow that day, having breaks everywhere and because of that we met many of our pilgrim friends again. We walked together the last kilometers to Santiago and of course we had to stop at every bar to drink a bier.. to make the “last” walk a little longer. At the last bar we took our shoes off and walked the last part on bare feet.
During the entire camino my dad is singing a song. A very easy song with only 8 lines. If you’ve heard it once, it is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. My dad was singing that song along the way everyday and was teaching others so they could sing with us.
They were some moments that I wish I could press the turn off button, but everyone loved it. The funny thing was, that people kept singing that song (stuck in their head for days) and that we met people who had learned it from the people we were singing with. When people hearth the song they started asking ‘Are you the dutch guy from the song!’? Hahaha! My dads moment of fame on the camino!
So, when we walked through Santiago, on our bare feet, we all started to sing that song, all the way to THE square with THE cathedral. People came out of the shops to see what was happening and were taking photos and video’s. And then we arrived on the square, here we are, we hugged each other and stood there for a while, not really realizing that we where there… in Santiago in front of the cathedral. I beautiful and strange feeling.
Arnaud, a dear French Pilgrim friend we walked with for days, was already waiting for us in Santiago for 3 days. He arrived earlier. We knew he would be around the cathedral behind a glass of whiskey. So we started singing again.. this time the Arnaud song. And within 2 minutes we found him and with him other pilgrims we had met before, surprise! A big reunion. This was what arriving in Santiago made so special, to see, to hug, te be and have a bier with all those amazing people again, who will be in my heart forever. That night we had diner and partied in Santiago. We stayed for one day in Santiago, the first day without walking since the beginning.
We went to the mass. The mass overloaded me with emotions. Al the people who were there walked al the way to Santiago and now they were there, sitting in the beautiful cathedral, overthinking, realizing, crying, feeling emotional in their own ways. I was holding my dad and our new friend Matt and I cried. I felt so grateful for everything, all the moments, all the experiences, all the people and for all the love, light and energy around me. (By writing this my tears are streaming down my face again, grateful!)
At the end of the mass, they swung the incense bol trough the church. A special moment that will still with me forever. We left on a pieces of paper a prayer in the chapel in the church.