November 15, 2002
Santiago de Compestela
|We wandered back to the plaza
in front of the cathedral to look for other pilgrims and found Eduardo.
Soon Rafael came peddling in. Suddenly I heard a booming voice from behind,
"Boston Red Sox suck!" It was my favorite Frenchman, Vicente.
The mood was that of a team which had just won a championship. High fives
were exchanged all around and everybody was grinning from ear to ear.
I was anxious to get to my hotel in order to get a hot shower and into some dry, clean clothes. I asked the others where they were staying. Someone mentioned that the local albergue was not very good — dirty and unpleasant. Someone else said that there were problems with theft. Since Santiago is a university town there are a lot of young people around. Thieves wander in and out of classrooms looking for things to steal. The pilgrims' backpacks at the albergue are also targeted. The general consensus was that there were inexpensive pensións and rooms for rent near the cathedral. As of the group began to disperse, someone suggested that we get together for one last meal. We decided to meet at the fountain at 8:00.
On the way to my hotel, I passed through one of the major plazas and came across an informational display table set up by the Asociación Compostelana de Diabéticos (the Compostelan Association of Diabetics). In commemoration of World Diabetes Day, they were offering free blood testing and were handing out literature about the disease that is becoming more prevalent in Spain. Like in other European countries, as lifestyles have changed with technological advances, physical activity has decreased. A greater number of Spaniards are becoming like Americans — lethargic and overweight. Obesity is not yet as great a problem in Spain as it is in the U.S. I hope such awareness campaigns as theirs will prevent an epidemic of diabetes in Spain, as I hope my camino will help increase diabetes awareness in the United States.
|I introduced myself to the staff
in charge of the display and handed out some information cards of my own
with my Web address. They were interested in my insulin regime and how
I monitored my blood during the 800 K walk. Lantus, one of the insulins
which I used daily, is not yet available in Spain, and they seemed excited
at the prospect of having a once-a-day baseline injection that doesn't
produce such extreme highs and lows. We also discussed counting carbs,
which seems to be a lot more common approach to control here then presently
used in the States.
The discussion about food reminded me that I hadn't had a decent meal yet that day. So I thanked the members of ACD for their work, bid them goodbye, and left for my hotel. After showering and cleaning up, I went to a nice restaurant for a good Spanish meal on traditional Spanish time — 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.. No more pilgrim's hours for me! And no more menus del dia, I ordered a la carte. The first course was an excellent salad followed by roasted rabbit. The wine was a Rioja and the dessert was torta de Santiago, of course.
Later that night, we pilgrims met at the fountain. There were Eduardo, Rafael, and Fiona. We were also joined by Guissep, a man from Barcelona, and the two young Swiss girls. Claudia stopped by but decided to go, to look for Min and have dinner with her. I looked up when I heard someone call out my name. It was my new best friend, José, the young architect from Madrid. I was surprised to see him since I had thought he was at least three or four days ahead of me. Apparently the continuing foot trouble had slowed him down. Also, his family and a girl friend were coming to Santiago to meet him.
We were still missing Christoph, as well as Vicente, which surprised us since the dinner was his idea. The two Swiss girls set off to find them. About 15 minutes later, they returned with Vicente in tow. He had been waiting at a different fountain. Then Christoph arrived. Off we trouped en mass to look for a restaurant. We found one with a separate room and a long table that could accommodate all of us. We decided to order a variety of tapas and left the choices up to the Spanish pilgrims. They were pleased at the chance to show off their country's special cuisine. The food was great, the wine flowed, and the laughter was infectious.
|Our Last Dinner|
|After dinner we moved the party
from bar to bar. We finally settled on one that was playing contemporary
music. Vicente demonstrated his dancing skills, alternating among the
three girls. This was a night of celebration. One Swiss girl expressed
what everybody else was thinking, "I am feeling a lot of pride, pride
for having walked so far — for having completed el camino!"
Since we didn't have to get back to the alburgue before the doors
were locked, the party went well into the madrugada (early morning).
I left them at 2:00 a.m. and they were still partying.
Friday was pretty much of a down day for me. After getting up late, I went to a cyber cafe to check my email. Then I took my computer to a cafeteria where I sat in a corner and tried to work on my journal. But I lacked inspiration. I could only garner enough motivation to transcribe the material from my handwritten notes.
Frustrated, I went back to the cathedral where I bumped into Mikel. He had stayed in Melide that stormy day and therefore was a day behind me. He was genuinely glad to see me and shook my hand. We promised to keep in touch and I headed back to my hotel.
As I packed my things to be ready for a 6:30 a.m. flight to Madrid, I mentally retraced the camino. I had seen many interesting sights and some incredible scenery. I had expected that, because of my previous trips to Spain. What I didn't anticipate was the camaraderie among the pilgrims. I had the same feeling that I did at graduation time from school. I knew that I would probably never see these people again, but I felt like they were good friends. Since I had interrupted the walk several times by stopping to stay at hotels in various cities, I would fall in with an entirely new set of pilgrims. In this way, I gained even more friends. There were so many: MiguelAn, Rudy, Rufino & Inga, Martina, Hugette, Gudrun, José, Marianne, Vicente from Madrid, Louis & Sylve, Mikel, Min, Christoph, Eduardo, Rafael, Fiona, and, of course, Vicente, my French friend.
As I turned off the light in my Santiago hotel room, I realized that I had just finished an adventure of a lifetime!