Day 31 – Arrival

I walked 39 kms today to arrive in Santiago.

I arrived with decidedly mixed feelings – no sense of elation, no sense of achievement, no real sense of accomplishment. Not even an anti-climactic feeling.

Just a sense of confusion, really, as to why I've put myself through this.

It hasn't been easy for me.

I actually didn't want to arrive. I sat in a bar around the corner from the Cathedral, and stalled. I couldn't bring myself to walk into the square in front of the Cathedral. I had a beer and a plate of chorizo instead.

And I meditated. Perhaps it was because of the exhaustion from the day's walk, or the beer, or the afternoon sunlight, but I quickly slipped into a deep meditation.

I was asking why did I do this pilgrimage.

And nothing came back.

So I got up, paid the bill, walked around the corner into the square, had my photo taken, and walked into the Cathedral.

Let's start at the beginning of the day.

I left Arzua at 6am, and possibly because of the early start, I had three hours of beautiful walking without seeing anyone else on the track. It was a glorious day – blue skies, soft sunlight, and a cooling breeze.

In the dark though, before the sun came up, I got lost. I got to an intersection and for the life of me I couldn't find a marker showing which way to go.

And then I saw some horse dung on one of the tracks. It must have been from the Brazilian riders yesterday. So their horse shit became my yellow arrows!

I had breakfast at 9am after I'd walked 12 kms – fried eggs and ham. With painkillers. My knee had been giving me problems. The previous afternoon, walking into Arzua, it suddenly got so painful I had to slow down to a crawl.

What is it with the Camino?

I thought I'd gotten over my knee problems, and soon as Santiago is within spitting distance, the knee decides to throw a spaz. (Sorry, politically incorrect, but you get the picture,)

So this morning I drugged myself up good and proper, I put on my Voltaren cream and elasticised knee bandage, and I walked tentatively. Even so by 9am it was hurting.

So I did what I've done with all my medical/injury issues on this pilgrimage – I ignored it. I just walked through it. Nothing was going to stop me getting to Santiago today.

And a strange thing happened – the pain went away. Or at least, it retreated to a position of tolerability. So too the blisters which had emerged. They too were painful, but I put my thoughts elsewhere, and they didn't bother me.

I was expecting today, on the last stage into Santiago, to be full of crowds, but I saw very few people the whole day. I saw Bob and Joan again, who were powering through the day. (I've discovered that they are marathon runners, which explains their extraordinary level of fitness and stamina.)

And I saw Lazlo too, who has to be one of the sweetest kindest men I've met.

Bob and Joan left me spluttering in their dust, and I kicked on from Lazlo. Such is the brutality of the Camino.

I wasn't moving particularly fast though – I was stopping and taking photos whenever they presented themselves, and I think on a deeper level I was going slow because I didn't want the day to end.

I didn't want to arrive in Santiago.

About 8 kms out I was flagging, not having had lunch other than two Coke Zeros, when I came upon two young Irish girls, Sinead and Kate. They had a week off work, and they'd decided to spend that week walking the Camino. They were very funny and very sweet, and they kept me amused until we reached the outskirts of Santiago.

Then I let them go on ahead because I wanted to walk into Santiago by myself. I wanted to think about all of those pilgrims who'd come before me, and of the significance of what they, and I, had done.

I walked past this group of pilgrims sitting in the sun in an outside cafe. I passed them saying G'day as I do. (I refuse to say the requisite Buen Camino. I always say G'day mate instead. )

Anyway, this bloke jumped up out of his chair and chased me, and pulled me up and said You're Australian. He was an Aussie too, and he was leading a group that had started in Leon.

We swapped some Sydney Swans banter, and by this stage, a few others from his party had come over and joined us.

He asked me where I'd started from, and I told him St. Jean Pied de Port, and this was my 31st day on the Camino.

They all looked at me, impressed, and the bloke said very sincerely: Mate, I've got so much respect for you.

I left quickly, embarrassed.

It wasn't long after that I hunkered down in that bar around the corner from the Cathedral and meditated, trying to make sense of it all.

Fact is, what I've done is no big deal.

Later when I went to get my Compostela, the lady who was supervising said that today, 850 pilgrims would get their piece of paper. Tomorrow, she said, it would be between 1,000 – 1,200. And this is shoulder season! What will it be like in July and August, the most popular months…

Now, admittedly a good many getting their Compostela today will have done the minimum distance of 100 kms, but even so that's a hell of a lot of people walking this ancient path.

That's a big shift of energy.

I haven't done this walk to challenge myself. I haven't done it to work out any existential questions. I'm not groping for meaning in my life.

And yet there's no doubt this walk has changed me. It's had a profound effect on me. I'll go into that stuff more in later posts, but yes, the Camino has worked some subtle spiritual magic on me.

I talked to my beautiful wife on the phone about 10kms out of Santiago. We talk each day before she goes to bed in Mudgee. And for no real reason, I broke down and cried and cried. I don't know why. And yet later when I walked into the square in front of the Cathedral I felt nothing. Other than my sore knee.

I've yet to make sense of all of this.

And I don't know what I'll do tomorrow when I don't have to walk.

 

35 thoughts on “Day 31 – Arrival

  1. Congratulations, you’ve done it mate. I can understand your feeling of nothingness. I felt nothing when I retired – it’s the end – that simple. But you have inspired me so much and I have loved all your photos and posts. I’m looking forward to further posts and your movie. Enjoy a good earned rest and say hello to Australia for me when you get home. Date: Fri, 10 May 2013 20:01:04 +0000 To: elizwhitcombe@hotmail.com

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  2. Congratulations Bill. I have been with you every step of the way and leave SJPP myself next Thursday morning. Interesting comments. I have no idea what to expect after completion. I will continue to follow your blogs and if I don’t get it done while in Spain, I will catch up when back home. G’day mate. or Howdy y’all as we say in Texas.

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  3. Bill,
    Perhaps you’ll know… perhaps you’ll never know the meaning of what you’ve just accomplished. But it has been a glorious journey for those of us following you along the way.

    If nothing else, you just wrote a wonderful book. I will buy the first copy.

    Jim in Kentucky

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  4. You’ve done yeoman’s work blogging every day and posting photos. Maybe you did it for all of us. Thanks for all your good works! Bravo!

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  5. Bill, 39 kilometres. What a huge day. That golden thread must have been very strong. Congratulations. I am amazed at what you have done. I look forward to the next few postings – answers? Changes in emotional state? Overall impact? Spiritual shift?
    I hope you check into somewhere which will give you an opportunity to be kind to yourself ( especially that toe..ugh) before moving on. Any thoughts on Finisterre? Maybe the Pilgrim Mass will provide something special. Please take care of yourself now you are not walking.
    Again, thankyou for opening your heart to strangers from afar. Blessings. Anne.

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  6. Just a note to Bill, who no doubt knows this, and the other folks following along: I just ended the semester. I reminded my people that the last day WASN’T the last day. The last day, and several like it, were a few months back. I taught a LOT of the classes like it was the last day of all of our lives, the semester, life on Earth, the Universe, everything. They noticed that those were rocking and rolling days….but at the time nobody thought about it as the LAST day. Looking for meaning in the LAST day might load up the last day too much. There is going to be another day, and there was yesterday, but the real ending and meaning and crux of something is probably back up the trail and calendar a bit. Perhaps it’s right before you even notice the end when you are really in the groove and gut of the experience. The crux of a rock climb, or a marathon, isn’t really at the end. It’s somewhere before that when you are absolutely IN the experience.

    God Bless Bill Bennett for taking us along on this pilgrimage. And God Bless Bill Bennett as his pilgrimage continues. He’s proved himself a good and faithful man.

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  7. Bill congratulations !!! I”m sure that the effects of the Camino will be more subtle and slow acting than you expect . maybe dont analyse it to much . one day when you are walking in the morning at Mudgee it will begin to dawn on you …. there is no one answer r

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    • Hey Rusty,

      You’re right on all counts. However I think I might have figured out the reason, which I’ll post next week…

      You and Donna HAVE to do this.

      Bill

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  8. I am sure in days to come the meaning of it all will come to you and like many others your blog is an inspiration to me for my similar quest next May unbeknown to you..you have helped so many your stories are so down home and fun and factual and your photos simply great..enjoy and be proud of yourself and now get home to your beautiful woman!!! best wishes Les

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  9. Bill. Well done. Not only for finishing the Camino but also for the huge effort in maintaining this blog which enabled us to go on your journey with you. I’ve found it fascinating and will miss the daily updates.
    I think maybe if you were strongly religious, ie Catholic, you might have felt differently on entering that Cathedral. Seen angels and heard God speaking to you maybe. But, no, for you it was the journey that was important, not the destination. Maybe that’s why you felt a little flat. But I agree with all the previous comments. It will stay with you forever.
    And I loved your dedication. How lucky you are to have such a special relationship.

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    • Thanks wentan – yes, very lucky to have my wife stick by me all these years. I’m not the easiest person to live with…😝

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  10. Congratulations Bill. Everyone arriving feels different and that is as it should be. I still don’t truly know why I walked and then again, many reasons maybe, but I simply wanted to breath. The changes you are talking about are real and profound and will stick with you. I am told, since coming back, I am calm and serene…. that is a wonderful fall out, don’t you think. Enjoy Santiago, it is a pretty town, overlook the tourists. If you want quiet, walk up to Almeida park to the ancient tree, sit a spell and look over Santiago. I want to thank you for sharing your inner most thoughts, so rare in the opposite sex and your wonderful pictures. Ultreia… they say, this is not the end, but only another beginning. Ingrid

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    • Thank you too Ingrid for your regular comments to my posts. Your encouraging and kind words have meant a lot. And don’t worry, there’s at least another week of “audits” still to come!

      bb

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  11. Good on yer mate! Well bloody done! The meaning will probably (maybe) come to you, sooner or later, in a flash of enjoyable inspiration – perhaps when you’re on another adventure! I’ll remember to send you a funny story and a good pic when I get there in October.

    Cheers for now,

    Terry and Maurene McEwen
    – looking at the Southern Ocean past Rapid Head and Kangaroo Island.

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    • You’ll enjoy it Terry. Truly a memorable experience.

      Make sure you do some quad strengthening. It’s a killer on the knees!

      bb

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  12. Thank you Bill for this journey and for this blog and congratulations. You have described a wonderful journey. Your writing and photos are wonderful. I have been one of the many folk “lurking” around here in Oz reading this blog – usually around breakfast time. Enjoy Santiago enjoy the memories ..and look after that toe. Regards Jill

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    • Thanks Jill.

      Sitting in an outside cafe at the moment watching pilgrims arrive. Seeing some faces I know. It’s an extraordinary thing, this Camino. What draws people to it…

      Thank you for your kind words on my postings. Gave me something to do at the end of the day!

      bb

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  13. Congratulations Bill, I sm very proud if you. You made it! Your wife is very pretty i am sure you miss her. I hope you can see the butafumeiro in action. Keep in touch

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    • Sweet, thanks Ariam.

      That shot of my wife was taken 20 years ago. She’s ugly now…

      (She doesn’t read these comments…) 😜

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  14. Big Hug Bill…thank you for taking me along on this journey with you.
    I understand your feelings as you arrive in Santiago. I felt the same way. I had intended to sort my life out, to solve all my problems (and perhaps others) on my walk….but I realised as I was entering Santiago…that I hadn’t had a single thought about the past, or the future the entire time I was walking….I was just in the moment. I walked, ate, washed and slept. And for me, the rest from the normal clutter that goes on in my head…was the best thing I got out of the Camino.

    I am so very proud of you ….again thank you for allowing me to share in your adventure.

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  15. I will be interested to hear your thoughts post Camino, but please don’t underestimate the power/ripple effect of your journey and this blog. Your soul has touched countless others. PS: Hubby and I have been married 33 years.

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    • It would be a wonderful thing Julie if this blog impacts positively on others. I never set out to proselytise – just to keep a personal record.

      Congrats on 33 years. Now THAT’S an achievement.

      bb

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  16. As I mentioned before Bill about my prospective doco subject who walked the Camino on one leg on crutches and that it changed his life, I remember him saying that apart from the physical feat of walking the whole way , it was the looking at his own life each day and realising he was not a victim. He lost his leg in a car accident and had a lot of anger and guilt for most of his life. He was able to let that go of that on the walk and now climbs mountains and gives talks around the world helping kids. It is different for everyone Bill. You will find yours. Cheers.

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  17. Fact is, what I’ve done is no big deal

    Yeah, that’s a very good attitude.

    The rubbish that some people like Paulo Coelho have been selling concerning the Camino is just that, rubbish.

    That doesn’t mean the Camino isn’t transformative, as you point out yourself, but it will transform people in completely unexpected and idiosyncratic ways, rather than providing any one-size-fits-all magic.

    OK — for some people, including myself, the Camino will have a deep, mystical effect upon the very soul — but it is a great mistake to go forth to Compostela somehow expecting that this will happen (it took *me* completely by surprise !!), because the simple fact is that these things are both completely unpredictable, and highly unusual.

    I am glad that you have arrived — the wisest advice I’ve EVER seen in any guide to the Camino was in a little leaflet published some decades ago by the inestimable mademoiselle Warcollier (whose personal contributions to the Camino are so massive as to be incalculable), and it is : “The only important thing is to reach Santiago“.

    This short, stark, indeed “almost brutal” phrase contains everything that you need to know of the true spirituality of the Camino.

    I actually didn’t want to arrive.

    It’s a very common feeling among pilgrims, though I’ve strangely been completely free from it, though it would normally be my own natural tendency. Possibly because every single return from Santiago has been by hitch-hike ? hmmm dunno

    I wouldn’t worry about it.

    I’ll point out that this is something in the modern pilgrimage that is alien to the original mediaeval Camino — Compostela is not actually the destination, but the halfway point.

    The true destination of the Camino is home.

    I’ve never done the actual full Camino, that is from my home parish church to my home parish church walking via Compostela — and not many people nowadays do so. But the end of the Camino is a homecoming, and the journey home is the final part of the Way.

    I don’t know how you plan to return to your own home, now.

    I sat in a bar around the corner from the Cathedral, and stalled. I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the square in front of the Cathedral. I had a beer and a plate of chorizo instead.

    And I meditated. Perhaps it was because of the exhaustion from the day’s walk, or the beer, or the afternoon sunlight, but I quickly slipped into a deep meditation.

    I was asking why did I do this pilgrimage.

    And nothing came back.

    Though the Matrix trilogy is a deeply unchristian film series, the character of the Oracle in those films has some wise words about our choices that we do not understand.

    The only important thing is to reach Santiago“.

    E Sus Eia

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    • Thank you for this. It contains much wisdom.

      And you’re right – going home is the thing. I saw a few people walking back – about half a dozen in total. Hats off to them.

      Again, thank you for both your comments – this one and the previous one.

      Bill

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  18. A big congradulations on reaching Santiago De Compostela! I have enjoyed your journey, your words and your pictures. With only 17 weeks til I head out for Spain, after reading your experience I somehow feel more prepared, it has give me a realistic view of what to expect, even though I know everyone’s journey is different. Look forward to reading your post Camino thoughts. Thanks for sharing. Carla

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  19. Thinking of ya Bill,so glad you have arrived safe,free yer mind n let whatever sink in.

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  20. Belated congratulations Bill, haven’t been on for a day or so. Glad you made it in one piece. You have been bitten now so you will be back again no fear. I plan to walk the Saria section in September with my wife and hopefuly the whole thing again next year for my 60th. It gets in your blood. Just had another stent fitted and I am building up the walking again.
    Really enjoyed your blog. See you on the way.
    Pat

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  21. Bill,
    Congratulations & thank you for giving us a front seat on your journey over the last month. Inspiring. Motivating. Beautiful.

    Glad you’re finally getting some rest. When things were “rough going”, many times I’d think of you early each morning in Boston & wondered how that crazy Aussie was holding up, knowing it wasn’t yet mid-day & you still had many miles to go. And like clockwork, no matter how good or bad things went, you gave us a well written & witty daily report. Unbelievable, no idea how you did it. Hats off to you !!

    Really appreciate the post-game. Keep it coming. We leave in 10 days & water camels are staying home. Mile buiochas a chara…a thousand thank you’s friend,
    Mike

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    • Thank you Mike. Yes, I stayed in bed till 9am yesterday. Didn’t realise how tired and sore I was! Doing the blog each day, and getting it out in a timely manner, became very important to me. When others were sitting in the sun after the day’s walk chatting and having a beer, I’d be hunkered down in a bar with wifi somewhere, doing my blog! Doing my audit now on expectations vs realities, which I’ll post soon. Hope your Camino goes well for you. Bill

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