Saturday, June 23, 2007


Being here in Santiago is confusing. It´s a bit like high school graduation and the 10 year reunion all at the same time.

When I left the plaza, I went to the pilgrim office, and they examined my credencial and presented me with my Compostela, boring little certificate written in Latin, and as my hands touched it, the heavens parted and light shone down upon me and I was sore afraid and I felt half of purgatory ooze out of my pores.

Sinless but also bedless. And here´s the catch, I didn´t have any yellow arrows to point my weary body to a place to sleep. The yellow arrows had ended.

I was trying to get my bearings, working my way out of the fog of finishing a 37 day, 760ishK walk, I started to meander around the town. Just like the plaza and the other towns, I could pick out the pilgrims. I could see them right away--dirty, tanned, smiling, nodding. This time was different, though. This time, we were done. There were congratulations all around. In this town, the way to greet another dirty, limping person is not "Hola". In this town we give shy hugs or kisses or a simple and sincere "Congratulations" in whatever clumsily shared language we could manage.

But that was just the graduation ceremony. Then something else happened. The reunion. I walked along the streets, still homeless at 5pm (with an albergue closed for renovations and rumors of hotels sold out due to a 25,000 person Manu concert in town and a saint´s festival weekend), I started to hear my name. Every time I went a block or two, someone called out to me. People came rushing out of cafes and out of stores and across little plazas to give me huge squishing hugs. Gerhardt who threw sopping laundry at me and danced to Spanish pop at 6 a.m.! And Irish Ali who hugged me as a cried my way up to the Cruz de Ferro with my flowers! Nils the bicyclist who I asked to walk his bike with me one morning because I liked talking to him! Smiling Stefan of the German military whose Camino taught him to get up when he felt like and stop when he wanted to. But then there were others! I started to see people that I wasn´t sure I would ever see again. Peter and Keri. Even Robert! I had lost these folks weeks ago, but now, just like a good high school reunion, they were tan and slim. We ate and we drank and we laughed and we danced and sang. Of course there was a cheap and comfortless place to sleep. Of course there was.

I said goodbye to some of them. I don´t think anybody cried, not that night.

I saw, I´m still seeing, so many people. People who can imitate my humming snore. People who know the best stories, the stories that are not published on this blog. People who have sewed my feet. People who think that I look ridiculous with normal hair. People I might never see again.

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