Today, I leave Santiago with a mixture of emotions. Not only am I leaving the place or the destination I strove to reach for so long, but I feel like I’m saying goodbye to much more. I don’t know why. I have a lump in my throat and I can feel the tears wanting to come as I sit here in a window seat on a bus heading to Lisbon, Portugal.

It’s the people – the special Camino relationships I am going to miss so much.

The connections forged here are unique. It’s like we were each led to this path, brought together at a place and time by some unknown force to help teach us something about ourselves, to help guide us to that internal sense of home or spirituality. Our common bond and individual insights helped shed light for each other on our own journeys. Our conversations were enlightening.

When I think back to how the Camino came about for me it seems so coincidental and strange. I was supposed to go camping the weekend I discovered the Camino was something I was going to do. Plans changed. A relationship ended. In my mind, I can hear Joey from Arizona saying, as we trudged up the hill towards Cruz de Ferro, rain pelting our faces, the wind blowing so hard, “You need to lose something in order to gain something.”

It was Friday night of the May long weekend when the relationship ended and Saturday morning when I called my parents. They were having company. Bonnie was staying in the spare room, but I could share it with her if I wanted to come. They were going to hear a talk by a 70 year-old woman who walked an 800 kilometer pilgrimage in Spain called the Camino de Santiago. Next thing you know I was going.

If that relationship had not ended at that moment, I would not be here now sitting on the bus reminiscing about the incredible soul-searching journey I just had and the people like Andrew, my best Camino buddy, who impacted my life along the way.

I said goodbye to him early this morning around 4:00 a.m. I think. I got the BIGhug. It was the best big hug. I didn’t want to let go. Earlier, four of us had gone out for a delicious eight course celebratory dinner which included a couple bottles of vino tinto and a round of shots, orujo – good stuff!

We bar hopped, danced, drank vino tinto and continued to slam back the orujo. There’s nothing like celebrating a journey like this, 800 plus kilometers of walking and soul-searching, in the resting place of St. James, the city of Santiago de Compostela. We were all on an emotional high.

I was happy to snag Andrew for the last couple of hours. There was so much I wanted to say to him, but it was a challenge since I had literally lost my voice from all the yelling and screaming the night before.

We walked across the empty plaza and up the steps beside the cathedral. The only people outside were a few hovering around the entrance to the night club. The hug took place at the top of the steps. Some alone time at last in a perfect setting, at a perfect spot and at a perfect time. The cathedral bell tolled and I smiled to myself. I’m going to miss this guy, my Camino buddy.

We walked back to the hostel and talked in the downstairs kitchen for a while. Andrew’s journey from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, Finisterre and then to Muxia was a fast one. He thinks too fast – such a long distance in only 30 days. At one point along the way he wondered why he was even doing it. Finally, the Camino moment that broke him down; that stopped him in his tracks briefly along the way. It made me so happy that my eyes welled up. I understand the internal struggle here and the growth it creates. We walk in search of answers and when they don’t come we just keep walking.

He walked alone most of the time. I’m not surprised. He told me it’s the best way and he’s right. It’s important. The only time to contemplate your internal struggles along the journey is during the walk, so there needs to be a healthy amount of alone time.

His feet hurt him. He struggled with them for the entire journey. His determination is admirable. He had started his journey from St. Jean Pied de Port on September 24th, the day after I began. He isn’t sure if he’s any closer to finding the answers to his big questions, but he’s figured out some of the smaller stuff. He says those answers could lead to sorting out bigger things down the road. He found a scallop shell on the beach at Finisterre. He still had his beard. It was much thicker than the last time I saw him outside of Burgos. He’s on his way home this morning. He had to be at the airport around 7:00 a.m., so he’ll be extremely tired.

I smiled to myself while I sat in Porto having a cup of tea and some tapas. I thought about the toasts we made last night. We all had to make eye contact while making our salud or there would be seven years of bad sex. The looks we gave each other to ensure we would all avoid this fate was quite comical. I smile to myself even now. I’m traveling on my own, sitting on a bus headed to Lisbon in Portugal. How cool is that?

It’s been an interesting existence along the way. It is so separate from the world I came from only last month and which I will fly home to on October 31st. I will miss this and will want to come back one day, but it will be a different experience. I will dream of this I am sure. It was so surreal and so special. I will never forget it…ever.

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