I’m on the final stage of my walk on the Camino Portugues. I keep in mind that my journey’s end has to be on or before Sept. 26, 2018 at Santiago, Spain. Santiago has become one of the great centers of the Christian pilgrimage. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have been able to have walked where many heroes of Spain, legends, and Saints have stood and walked. This includes El Cid, kings and queens of Spain, and where Caesar and Charlemagne have walked.
On the Camino travelers are referred to as pilgrims. The pilgrimage allows pilgrims to honor and pay tribute to the apostle St. James. After I left the coast and started walking up the center of Portugal it became hot and dry. I continued to be overwhelmed with sore feet, the heat and continued praying for a cool breeze and cold water. It was an amazing walk, however it feels longer in the heat. I enjoyed talking to the villagers and farmers along the trail, even though I speak very little Spanish. We always seemed to understand each other and get our point across. For example, I would point to the farmers vines and the way he had them set up and would then give him a thumbs up, he would smile and say gracias. We would gesture, waving our hands, arms, and point while speaking English and Spanish and a lot of laughter. After a while the farmer would send me off down the trail with a full bottle of water and a handful of grapes to snack on for my journey.
I arrived in Padron which is a one day’s walk from Santiago. The first stop is always to secure a bed and stow my gear. I walked around this historic village built along the banks of the rivers Sar and Ula and the starting point of James’ ministry in Spain and return of his remains following his martyrdom in Jerusalem. Next I hiked to the site where St. James first preached high above the village. You can only reach the summit by climbing hundreds of centuries old, well worn rock steps to Santiaguino del Monte where he first preached.
Santiaguino has been an important stop for pilgrims following the “Way of Saint James.” On reaching the mount, pilgrims must pass through three separations in the rocky formation known as “Hell, Purgatory and Glory” in order to meet the Camino’s requirements. It is a very steep climb up the stone steps, but really worth the effort to this religious and historical site. Today it is a collection of stones and boulders with a statue of Saint James and a stone cross above and behind the statue. I stood high above the village and I could envision St. James standing there with crowds of people around. Also at Santiaguino is a small chapel with a stone motif of the apostle baptizing a pilgrim with water poured from a scallop shell. I felt like I was on holy ground. I could also feel this distinct energy in the village.
After a good breakfast and a few cups of cafe con leche I started the final stage of the Camino Portugues to Santiago. It was a long 20 mile walk into Santiago, the trail hard with rock, cobblestone and pavement. I took my breaks, taking my shoes and socks off, massaging my feet to get those extra miles in while having another cafe con leche at the little cafe on the side of the trail.
Walking through the city I could make out the towers of the cathedral off in the distance, which was awe inspiring. Getting closer you start feeling different emotions. I finally arrived in Praza do Obradoiro in front of the cathedral which is usually the first stop for pilgrims. I met many travel weary pilgrims in the plaza. Praza do Obradoiro is the place where all the pilgrims who complete their journey congregate and celebrate with gusto. This plaza is never quiet and is always vibrant and noisy.
Most pilgrims stay in the square for a few hours or more and may come back in the evening as well, greeting and welcoming all their new friends they met each day on the Camino for the past weeks or months. I was welcoming and congratulating Camino Portuguese friends who will become life long friends from all over Europe and the world. Pilgrims lift up the Compostela certificates they earned, along with hiking sticks, poles and their arms. There is often hugging, kissing, crying, and singing. It’s the end of the journey. People did this for religious reasons, spiritual reasons, to challenge themselves, to honor loved ones or maybe find something in themselves.
I found friends Isabel and Diego, from the south of Spain, who I met on the path. I was very touched by their story and their sweet demeanor. We became fast friends and met often on the journey. I was very pleased to have reached the end of the journey in Santiago at the same time. Towards the beginning of the trail I gave Isabel a Camino shell to attach on her backpack as this was their first camino, I knew this was an important remembrance of the journey for Isabel and they were overjoyed. Meeting new pilgrims each day and supporting each other throughout your journey, recognizing that everyone is on a journey of discovery, redemption, recovery and healing.
If only we could adopt this in our daily walk throughout our lives.
The scallop shell that I presented to Isabel is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago. The origin of the shell as the badge of the pilgrim in Compostela is open to more than one explanation. I read in medieval times once pilgrims completed their journeys and reached Santiago and the ocean they would pick up a shell to bring it home to the priest as proof that their pilgrimage was completed.
Obradoiro plaza is a place of ancient buildings with many happy people wandering around. Put this together with the street performers of a high caliber and it is a great place to wander around and soak up a fantastic vibe. The next stop after rejoicing at the plaza is securing a place to sleep before going back to the plaza to greet more friends.
After the celebrations at the plaza and cafes you eventually end up at the pilgrims office near the cathedral to obtain and receive your Compostela. The Compostela is a certificate of completion of the Camino de Santiago that is issued to you by the pilgrims’s office. The next day I was in line with a few hundred people to get my Compostela. I saw lots of people from the trail. At the pilgrims office there were people from all over Europe and around the world. Everybody was talking about experiences, all in different languages, with everyone shaking hands, and most limping from aching backs, blisters and bruises. We felt all types of feelings and mostly sore feet.
There are two types of certificates. One is in Latin and is issued to pilgrims who declare that they did the camino for religious or spiritual purposes. Your name will also be written in Latin. The second certificate is for those who did it for cultural or historical purposes. This one is written in Spanish. Both are a testament that you have done the camino de Santiago. In order to stay at the official pilgrim hostels you need to have a pilgrim passport credential impressed with a rubber stamp at hostels or Albergue, churches, town halls. Then the credential must be presented at the pilgrim office in Santiago in order to receive a Compostela as proof that you walked the Camino Portuguese. I also received a separate certificate for the Camino Portuguese. After reaching Santiago, the next day it did seem strange to not get up early get my pack together and start walking down the trail.
There was one last thing I needed to do. I went to Finisterre which was considered the end of the known world during medieval times.
In latin the meaning of ’Finis’ is “the end” and ‘Terre’ means “the earth.” The famed lighthouse at Faro de Fisterra is where the last Camino way mark is located. I was first here at the crucerio or “cross” near the lighthouse on the Northwestern coast of Galicia when I completed the Camino Frances in 2015.
I placed chips of granite from my mother and father’s grave stone at Camden Point and placed a photo below the lighthouse looking out to the Atlantic in honor of their memory. This time I completed my pilgrimage on the Camino Portuguese. On this day I am here to honor my parents and place the same photo and chips of granite. Once again I’m leaving Santiago by train, crossing Spain and traveling to Paris. I look out the window as parts of the Camino Frances go by revealing many memories. I find myself smiling, some memories are bittersweet, laughing at times, and always thinking and contemplating life and the meaning of the journey.
There are many insights I learned from the Camino and the satisfaction of another goal accomplished. Never giving up, consistently moving forward, learning and developing in spiritual and physical health. I enjoy creating relationships and in developing existing relationships with deeper insights. I realize that I continue to create my life and continue to live it by being my best self, despite obstacles and physical complaints.
Life is what you make it and I’ve proven that to myself over and over. I enjoy being able to show myself I can beat the odds and defeat any voice or input that could hold me back. I am here to communicate and live a full life and to present to others around me that anything is possible. There are no limits other than those that we present for ourselves. This Camino is completed however I believe that the journey is never really over.
Even though my feet hurt and my back is sore after carrying my backpack for 200 miles, the journey and pilgrimage is determined by walking through the struggle and enjoying the delight of walking. I realized that a pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet as each step continues. My soul and heart are good and full. Spain and the Camino have rejuvenated me.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to travel and to achieve my goals. I hope to do another Camino and be at Obradoiro plaza in front of the cathedral next year on Sept. 26. I always ask myself what’s next as another Camino however most of the Caminos left to me are more challenging, some involve many higher mountains, one is the longest Camino, the Via de la Plata starting at the southernmost end of Spain and going north for over 600 miles through the desert and hottest parts of Spain. This journey fills up all my senses and brings me peace and hope for the future. The Camino helped me live again and encourages me to keep striving for more.
With every step I take, I know that I’m not alone. I see echoes of the ones I lost, I think of them and carry them with me. I cannot say goodbye to those whom I met. I have grown to admire these great people as travelers and have developed deep friendships while on our journey together on the 2018 Camino de Portugues. The memories we have made will last a lifetime and we will never know a goodbye. The journey really never ends. I know that the Camino journeys that I have taken have changed my life and transformed me forever. To everyone on their own journey I wish you buen Camino — “good walk!”
John Larimer is from Camden Point and is 59 years old. This is his second Camino, completing the first in 2015. He walked the Camino Portuguese from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.