Readjustment

I should have done this each day that I’ve been back, instead of waiting a week. But you can’t get back lost time so…Being back with my family was good. Being back with Ryan was better. Sleeping in my own bed has been wonderful, and yet I keep waking up disoriented. I don’t exactly think I’m in Spain, because I never slept the same place twice while I was there. Yet I wake and I stare at the ceiling and then at the room and I reorient myself.

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Going Home

I’m in the airplane to fly from Santiago to Paris. I feel naked without my mochilla.

Today I went to the pilgrims’ museum. It was there, reading about pilgrimages and their importance through history and why people do them, that it hit me. I’m a pilgrim.

A pilgrim.

I’ve stepped into the stream of history, become part of something thousands of years old.

I saw pictures of people bathing in the Ganges. Read how pilgrimages change people, change the world. And I realized, I who always feel that if I’VE done it it can’t be that special, that I have done something special. That while 300,000 people complete the Camino each year, I am still unique.

I’m having some trouble with that.

After meeting Bjorn I went back to my hotel and got my bag, then took a taxi to the airport. I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, admittedly at 11, so I got a bocadillo and a Coke. Almost 9 euros! I’m spoiled. For 10 euros I could get a three-course pilgrims’ menu plus wine. (Sigh) I think there is a lot of the Camino I will miss.

The flight to Paris had only one interesting thing happen. I was sitting next to two Asians. One asked the steward for tea, specifying “hotto.” The steward was totally confused. I, with my 37 days of pilgrim practice, said, “He wants hot tea.” That’s happened to me more than once lately.

Well, the other interesting thing was we disembarked on the tarmac. I haven’t done that in a while.

The cab driver flirted with me and told me I was beautiful.But that may have been the tip. My hotel was awful and didn’t have a bathtub. It didn’t have a restaurant either, so I got a Twix and some madelines out of the vending machine.

I repacked my backpack and went to sleep. Ryan called a little after 6 to make sure I was up and not going to miss my plane. Apparently I am never allowed to leave again.

When I check in this morning somehow I don’t have a seat. The man says the plane is very full, and something about standby, but that doesn’t make sense. He says I will get a seat assigned at the gate. I think this is the norm for everyone. So I wait at the gate, and my name appears on a screen.

When I check in I ask why my name is on the screen. “You were on standby, but we have a seat. Is good news for you.” Well, it is good news but I’m confused as to why I need it. I bought my ticket in December. Surely the airline knew I was flying.

I realize that all the zen-like pilgrim calm and acceptance would have been out the window had things worked out differently. Someone would have had to EXPLAIN why, after seven months, the airline hadn’t figured out I was supposed to be on the flight. I might have even used inappropriate language. Fortunately I was spared, and I can continue to pretend I am above such things.

In a beautiful twist of fate, not only am I on the flight, but the only empty seat is NEXT TO ME! I get a window. I get space to curl up or stretch out. This must be my reward. I’ll take it, God, I’ll take it.

I have set off EVERY SINGLE SECURITY GATE I’ve gone through. I think it is the various pins and screws that now hold bits of me together. I have been patted down, wanted, and had my hands wiped for residue.

Speaking of which, we were asked to stay on the plane while Customs boarded IT. Then they called for a passenger, Khalil somebody. Then after a bit they let us deplane.

I keep confusing airport personnel. “Is this it?” as I put my cell phone and money belt in a bin. “Yes.” “Did you buy anything in Paris?” “No.” Clearly I am not the norm, and I see it as I look around me.

People are absolutely anchored, tethered, by stuff. They haul it in bags, so many they can’t carry them all but need a cart. I have to wait to deplane while everyone gets their stuff. The carousels rotate with it, and the shops we pass urge us to buy more. And while I’m not at all sure I could be a digital nomad anymore, this is a lesson I hope stays learned. I need people and experiences, not stuff.

Reunion Time

I got up early Monday because I thought I would prefer spending the day in Santiago as opposed to Muxia. The only thing I forgot to do there was visit the holy rocks, and I might have inadvertently done it and not known.

Bev messaged me last night; she is still in Santiago. I saw Chris when we got off the bus this morning. I will hopefully see Bjorn and Julia when they walk in tomorrow. I am excited.

I’ve been recharging my phone in the hotel but I can’t check in till 3. I can leave my pack though, and I think I will. I took apart my poles and they are in the pack.

My poles haven’t been apart in almost two months. The walking really is over. Ryan tells me I’m going to need at least three days to adjust. I’m sure he’s right.

But it might be longer. I haven’t lived in the Middle East for over ten years, yet I still sometimes look at a shopping mall and think, “Why? Why do we need all this?” I think the Camino will have a similar effect. I’ve lived with only what I could carry on my back for almost two months.

But I am not sure I will ever again underestimate the value of a bathtub you can fill with hot water and a soft fluffy towel.

I know I am a different person. Stronger. Tougher. And yet kinder. Gentler. I think I might really be a turtle.

Self-contained, not needing a home because I carry my house with me. Having a hard tough shell but sweetness within. Deceptively slow-moving on land, but put me in my element and watch me go!

Yep, I’m a turtle. Juanita Tortugita. Dalilah said she could call me “Latita,” which means “aunt.” So then I would be “Latita Juanita Tortugita.”

Nah, too much of a tongue-twister. I actually prefer, “Juanita Tres Colores” because I am about three different colors right now.

While sitting in the hotel I got interviewed! Nothing official; a Spanish teacher working on an article told me one of the three things she wanted to do in Santiago was talk to a pilgrim. But apparently I’m going to be in the article. Wow.

I met Enrique in the square; he is going to his family today. The square is chaos, pilgrims, protesters, and tourists of all kinds. They will close the square at 8 for the fireworks that begin at 10:30. I had lunch with Bev and Nora, whom I had met before. They split nachos we agreed we did NOT want the square. My hotel is very close (my mommy did GOOD) but it doesn’t have a terrace and watching from my room isn’t an option. We went to an Asian fusion restaurant that was AMAZING! We watched the fireworks from their garden. The waitress warned us the cinders sometimes fell in the garden but none did.

It was breathtaking. And not just because we had finished two bottles of white and were working on a red.

Now it’s Tuesday and I am sitting on a wall waiting for Julia to walk in. I could have had a free breakfast at the hotel (possibly still can, when is checkout time?) but friends are more important.

I met Julia for breakfast; she is with a lovely group of fellow Germans. She may once again share a taxi to the airport. She isn’t leaving, but has some questions about her backpack as a carry-on.

Now I am in a plaza sipping tinto verrano and waiting for Bjorn. The only conejito I won’t see is Dalilah. She and Davide are positively dawdling and will arrive on the 27th. Still, my heart is happy.

When I met Bjorn he was with some traveling companions. Here’s one.

The Guy’s trail name was “Cat Man.” I don’t know how he managed. Camping, probably.

The End of Walking

I woke up before 6 (not much before) so I took the phone out into the lobby where I thought I wouldn’t bother anybody and called Ryan. I would have put on my shoes and gone outside but they had disappeared from the hall where I left them. (Everyone’s had.) Apparently I did bother some people because after an hour I got a request to be quiet.

As Eires had the breakfast I’ve been looking for. Toast with tomato and oil. But no garlic. 😞 Last night Isabel and I discussed how she sleeps till she wakes up and I would probably leave without her. So I did. Here is the first picture of the day.It took me almost five hours to walk to Muxia. This is a cross in Morquintian.And this is what it sees. Part of the trail goes through a forest where they are logging.The white is a drift of cloud in between the hills.Here was my first glimpse of the sea by Muxia.

As I walked there was a sign “Carretera cortado….por obos.” I wondered if the road was under construction and decided if it was it would say, “cerrado.” So I kept on. I was wrong. But s pilgrim on foot can do things a car can’t. I got around and once again found there was an easier way I missed, since I saw pilgrims taking it.

But I kept on and now I am here. Muxia. My last destination.I haven’t found my albergue yet, but I found the bar the bus will leave from at 6:45 in the am. I think I’m going to buy something for breakfast I can eat on the bus, and tomorrow climb the mountain to watch the sunrise. The WiFi in the bar Le Jardin is very good. I may end the day here.

It took over an hour of wandering to find my albergue. I even asked for directions. I finally turned on my data (for $10) so I could use google maps. When I was checked in, I went exploring.What I like about this picture is the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. In 300 years, where will the ruin be?

Now I’m back at De Jardin, sipping tinto verrano and using their fabulous WiFi. But I’m about to go take off my shoes, walk in the sand, clean up, do laundry, and go watch the sunset.

it was beautiful. A beautiful end to a beautiful Camiño. And Bev wants to get together tomorrow, and Bjorn and Julia should be walking in around 2 on Wednesday. Life is good.

A Leisurely Walk

I am moving very slowly this morning. I slept till 7:15, ate breakfast, readied my pack, and now I’m waiting for my body to decide it’s ready to poop. I HATE pooping on the trail.

Yesterday, as the bus rolled down the highway, I could see out my window and also a reflection of the other side. It was interesting to see transparent, ghostlike images appear and disappear. One of them was a guy in a pink shirt, standing by his car, clearly taking a whiz by the highway. Apparently my inhibitions are not shared.

it’s noon and I’m still in Finisterre. I had to walk to the lighthouse and the zero kilometers marker. It is traditional to burn an item from your pilgrimage, although it is forbidden now. Clearly some people still do.I’m regretting my expensive dinner. I should have grabbed a bocadillo and had a sunset picnic. Still, the views in the morning light are fabulous.

I’m hoping the one albergue between here and Muxia will have a room. I am not physically capable of walking another 30k at this point.

I didn’t leave Finisterre till almost 1. I kept asking directions and finally got on the road to Muxia. Other than having to use the nature toilet THREE TIMES, I traveled basically without incident. But walking in the heat is hard, even for a Texan. Here are some pictures.

There ate far fewer bars on the road to Muxia. I was desperate.

When I came into Lires it was about 6:00. I wasn’t sure I was there, but I met a Getman woman with a map. Together we found the albergue.

It was full. They only had two rooms left for 65 euros. The hospitalalero called another place, but they only had one room with a double bed. So we each paid 32.50. When we were ensconced in our room I said, “Oh, by the way, my name’s Jane.”

She laughed and introduced herself as Isabel. We agreed this was the Camino way. Isabel is also a teacher and an assistant principal. We talked shop and I got some great ideas from her.

This is the sunset from our room.

A Tourist in Santiago

I haven’t quite made this leap yet. I still think of myself as a pilgrim.

Yet pilgrims don’t sleep alone in a private room that cost them 55 euros. They can’t scatter their stuff all over and walk naked from the tub they just luxuriated in to the bed where they will sleep between two cool white sheets.

Pilgrims take showers. They use disposable sheets (yes, those are a thing) and keep their stuff close. They hide their money belt inside their pillow case and put their phone under the pillow as well. They sleep in their clothes or at best underwear.

They are quiet and respectful of other pilgrims, turning out the lights and stopping conversation at 10 pm. They’re up and on the road by 6.

I talked to Ryan at 1 in the morning and slept till 8.

I’m no longer a pilgrim.

So as a non-pilgrim I got my laundry done (Now tell me. Does this look like a laundromat?)and packed my backpack. Since I’m not walking today I packed my boots. That was weird. I’ve never put them in my pack before. Glad I haven’t. Those suckers are heavy.

It’s amazing how much heavier the pack is now. I bought shampoo and a round styling brush, since I had a hair dryer. Those things, plus the small can of shaving cream and some disposable razors, added a lot of weight.

But I’m looking at it like this. I climbed the Pyrenees with two lbs I didn’t need, when I was fatter, weaker, and the terrain much rougher. I only have to carry the pack two days more, really.

Today is on and off a bus. Walk tomorrow and the next day, short walks both, wearing, not carrying, the boots. Bus back to Santiago on Tuesday, fly out Wednesday. Paris then home Thursday.

I saw Elisa again around 11. She and her friend were putting their packs in the storage office. You can’t take mochillas into the cathedral. I put mine in and was about to stand in line when I thought, “What am I doing? I couldn’t see the cathedral last time because there was a mass. I’m about to do the same thing.”

So instead I talked to the tourist desk and got a map. I went to the Mercado, which is where the locals get their groceries. I bought a cone of cherries. They were everything cherries should be.I saw a man refilling his water bottle from this. He was supposed to. This would not happen in the states. There was something special going on today, possibly because of St. James’s Day on Thursday.

Now when I came down the tunnel yesterday there was a man playing the bagpipes. I just thought, “Busker, trying to make a living.” This was confirmed when he had been replaced by a woman singing an aria when I left. ( She was GOOD, too.)

Then I read something about Galician music having bagpipes. And then this morning I saw this.

I ate lunch to this.I read somewhere there is a strong Celtic influence in Galicia. I believe it. Lunch was croquettes de bacalao, a salted codfish. The fish had been blended into a cream; they didn’t have the texture of fish sticks. They were GOOD, especially after I got some aioli to go with them.Before lunch as the parade went by I thought, “I don’t have to just wonder where these people are going. I can follow them.” So I did. Many of them went into a church. So I did too.

I sat in the back and thought, “This could be what this church looked like 200 years ago. I should take a picture.” “No I shouldn’t; this is a service.” “The service hasn’t started.” “Still…” Then I noticed some of the ladies had fans. Sequins and embroidery flashed in the light. That decided me.

I left discretely after. I’ve been through enough services I don’t understand.

Well, it’s 2:40 and I’ve been here almost two hours. I’ve got to go buy some souvenirs, tour the cathedral, get my pack, and find the bus station. And frankly, I’ve had enough bagpipe music.

I’m finishing this post in an expensive restaurant by the sea in Finisterre. Here is my view. I toured the cathedral, which is under renovation. Due to be finished in 2021, which is why Ryan and I are coming back then. I found the line to embrace the saint.

There is something in the cathedral which pilgrims are no longer allowed to touch, because centuries of fingers have worn holes in the rock. But we can still hug the saint.

I pass some scaffolding and begin mounting the worn marble stairs. The wall on my left opens to the bars so frequently in cathedrals. I peer out, trying to orient myself. Where am I? Holy crap, I’m behind the altar!

The sign at the bottom said take no photos, but how I wish I could!

I’m surrounded by gold. The polychrome cherubs holding up the roof I noticed last night (they’re HUGE) are even bigger this close. The saint I am to embrace has his back to me. Mindful of whatever it is that is now too worn to touch, I simply rest my rain-clad forearms on his shoulders and whisper, “Thank you,” although for what I don’t know. I go down the stairs (these are marble, remember) and out.

I revisit the crypt but something’s wrong. My heart isn’t happy. I respectfully touched when I wanted a full-on hug.

See it?

So, feeling stupid, I get back in line. I know it’s a statue. I know all I will feel is cold unyielding gold. What am I expecting? The gold to warm? A jolt of electricity? But I have to do this. I take a picture of a stained glass window.Then I’m up again. The cherubs are just as intimidating, the sheer opulence still breathtaking. I hug the statue, and it feels right. As if a small piece of my heart cracks, but not in a bad way. It’s now 4:00, and the bus for Finisterre leaves at 6.

I shop for souvenirs, but I can’t get the one I want for Mom and Aaron. (Sorry, guys, not telling what it is) because it won’t survive four days in my pack. When I’m done, it’s not quite 5 and I need a toilet. I decide the pilgrim office is the best place, forgetting about the guard outside. He’s busy with a pilgrim, asking if she’s there for the praying. I sneak past and decide that will be MY story.

So I stop at the chapel on the way out. A 20 minute service has just begun. There is singing, simple tunes whose words are on a screen at the front. There is a choral reading, also projected, and time for individual reflection and prayer. But the best part was the Our Father.

The screen, and the service leader, invites each of us to pray the Our Father in our native language. An incoherent babble fills the room. Spanish, English, Italian, Czech, Korean, as many languages as there are pilgrims, mix and blend and rise. And yet it is intelligible too, the poetry having a rhythm completely recognizable.

It is beautiful, powerful, and my heart breaks further. I’m not sure what’s happening. Am I coming apart like a chocolate cherry, my insides oozing out all syrupy and sticky-sweet? Am I opening like a nut or flower, losing my shell forever? Or am I simply molting like a crab, and this soft new shell will harden again, albeit larger? I don’t know. I don’t know which I even want. (Not the chocolate. Blech.)

By the time I retrieve my backpack from the luggage office it is 5:30. The tourist office people and I agree; I need a taxi to make a 6:00 bus. So I get one. I arrive at the station at 5:45. Plenty of time, right?

The guy in front of me is having trouble. It takes till 5:52 to even get to the credit card part of his transaction. Then his card is declined. TWICE. I try the automatic ticket machine, but it won’t acknowledge Finisterre EXISTS.

5:55. Back to the line.

5:57. The ticket machine has run out of tape. Really?

5:58 A couple who couldn’t get the machine to work either ask about Boiro. The agent says something and they take off. She asks me something, clearly “Where do you want to go?” and I say, “Finisterre.” She nods her head after the fleeing couple and I take off after them. I’ve bought my ticket from the bus driver before; maybe I’m supposed to now.

6:05 On the platform is a schedule. The bus to Finisterre is at 6:15, but I have to buy my ticket upstairs. (Keep in mind I’m doing all this with a 17 lb backpack and walking poles.) Back up I go. One window is closed, so I go to another. “Finisterre?” I ask. He gestures to the closed window. “But it’s closed.” He indicates she’s just on a break. “Five minutes.” “But the bus leaves in ten!” I wail. He gives a “not my problem, lady” shrug.

I go to the window and drum my fingers on the counter. “Un momento,” the woman calls.

6:12 I’ve got a ticket! I go wait for the bus. The ride here is uneventful. The hostel has my reservation. And towels! Real honest to God towels! I’m hungry, and I’m on the coast, so I go get seafood. Fish soup, positively one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, EVER, and shrimp with garlic.I get creme caramel for dessert, and it isn’t good. When will I learn the Spanish are hit and miss, and less hit than miss, on dessert? I’m not looking forward to when I have to stop eating like a pilgrim.

Day 37: SANTIAGO!

7:30 am

No, I haven’t reached it. I’m planning a step by step post today. Right now I’m sitting in the albergue, late as usual. The sky is grey and the air cool. Excitement and a little trepidation are playing chase in my stomach.

Now. The time is now. The steps I take now are the culmination of over a month’s work. I’m going to shoulder my pack for the last time (in the morning at least.) I’m going to pick up my sticks for the last time.

I’m a little annoyed because last night I did three blog entries and totally forgot about laundry. When I remembered I thought, “Tomorrow I’m wearing my Santiago clothes. It can wait.” I forgot I only have two pairs of good socks and I’ve worn both. So I had to put an already worn pair on.

Today I’m stepping out to tackle the final road to Santiago. In dirty socks.

8:30 am

I’ve stopped for breakfast. Toast and cafe con leche and a glass of orange juice. I paid a ridiculous price for it (over seven euros!) but I need fuel. I’ve passed.a group of pilgrims praying the rosary as they walked. At least I think that was it.

Today is gray and overcast, just like the day I started. It’s trying to spit rain, and I need to decide if I cover myself or my pack.

Today feels different. The pilgrims seem like they are being pulled in a single direction, like filings by a magnet. It is like that, straggling disordered lines all irresistibly drawn to a single place.

All throughout my walk I’ve been working on my symposium presentation. I think I might have the end. More later.

9:30 am

I forgot to get a stamp again! I have avoided souvenirs, but I bought 5 euros worth here. Two shells and a magnet. I got two stamps, both different, so I am good for today. But if I stop again I may get another. Only thirteen more k! My heart is pounding, and not from walking.

9:45 am

It’s more than spitting rain now. I stop to put on my jacket (which is at the BOTTOM of my pack, of course) and put the rain cover on it. I am near the airport. Planes that I have not heard in a month roar overhead. In six days I’ll be on one myself.

10:10 am

Rain has stopped. Jacket is off. I’ve just heard some pilgrims joyfully greet one another when they thought they’d lost each other on the trail. Wish I was one of them.

10:20 am

Stopped at a bar to use the toilet. Told you these people were serious. 11:00 am

I didn’t pee in that bar; the line was too long. Haven’t found a place yet I CAN pee; what’s happened to a bar every three kilometers? I’m in Lavacolla, the last town before Monte de Gozo, which is essentially a suburb of Santiago. There’s a little over 6 miles to go. Still alone. Got presentation ending though.

11:27 am This is so not fair. Men can pee in a cornfield. No, they’re not in this one. They were on the other side.I can tell I’m hungry. The pack gets heavier when I’m hungry. I’ve walked over seven miles on orange juice, coffee, and a piece of toast.

11:45 am

I’ve stopped in a little bar and gotten a pork sandwich. I don’t know how Ryan survived; pork is the meat of the Camino. If only the Spanish didn’t serve their sandwiches dry. This one’s pretty good.; the bread is toasty and the pork freshly fried. But damn it could use some aioli. Or some fried red peppers. That would elevate it to superb. I’ve wondered if the Spanish just LIKE dry sandwiches or do they not know better? 5.5 miles to go. Still have seen no one I know.

1:15 pm

In Monte de Gozo. Three miles to go. For the very first time my boots are rubbing my ankles. It’s probably the dirty socks. I now remember what I did when this happened once before. I got the silk sock liners I bought and put them on underneath. Hang on a minute.

That feels better. I’ve gone all this way with no blisters (other than the one I self-inflicted) and I’m not going to start now. I still have seen no one I know and I’m losing hope I will. It’s okay. A stranger took my picture at the 100k marker and a stranger can take it again at the cathedral.

The pilgrims are either dawdling in bars or rushing on. Dalilah messaged me last night, and she and Davide are moving very slowly. She doesn’t want it to end. I understand, and I don’t have a relationship that may end when my walk does. Yet I can’t help a pang as I see the couples, hand in hand, finishing their walk together. (2021, Ryan. We’re doing it. But not on St. James’ Day.)

The weather is now beautiful. Clouds make their own solemn pilgrimage across the sky, and the sun peeps through windows of blue. My charger cord has decided to continue working, my knees are good, and my feet are tiredly resigned. Don’t bother telling them the walking is almost over. They won’t believe you.

2:45 pm

I’m in Santiago. It’s weird to see people in suits and normal clothes, living non-Camino lives. A man passes me on the sidewalk, then looked back and gestures toward a fountain, making a drinking sign. I’m confused; the fountain which he indicates is dry. Then he holds up five fingers. What does he mean? Five minutes? My app says 1.5 miles; I’m not going to walk that in five minutes. I meet Elisa.

She is 17 and on Camino with a friend. She has her Compostela and is trying to find her albergue. She also wants to bus to Finisterre and walk to Muxia. She tells me there is a pilgrims’ mass at 7. We both plan to go. Maybe we can make plans then. I use the map feature on my app to help her with finding the street for her albergue. We agree the Spanish in general are terrible about directions. Of course, it could be a language thing.

3:40 pm

I did it! I am here. Alone, as I knew I would be. As I walked the pilgrims who had already arrived cheered. It is apparently a tradition. Encouraging, comforting, and embarrassing.

The spires of the cathedral appear in the distance. But they soon disappear behind other buildings. I encounter pilgrim after pilgrim with their credentials. One is an older woman, perhaps like I would be with 5 years more and 20 lbs less. Our eyes meet, and I see in them the same tearful wonder I feel.

I cross the road with some sin mochillas, but all my animosity is gone. We are all pilgrims now, and this is the end. I walk and walk. The cathedral is gone. I still have the yellow arrows. I have to trust them. They lead me down the tunnel, and then…

Some pilgrims (the sin mochillas, actually) saw I was alone and offered to take my picture. I knew that would happen too. So here I am.

Now I have to go stand in line.

4:30 pm

The line wasn’t that long. I handed the man my credencial (both, I filled one up.) “Did you walk the whole way?” he asks. “No,” I reply. We have to work out the distances I didn’t walk, and my official record ends up being 711 kilometers. That’s 428 miles. I’ll take it. I buy a tube and put the credencial and certificates of distance (the halfway one now sadly dog eared.) Then I find my hotel.

6:34 pm

Guess what I just finished doing?

Nope.

Nope.

Not that either.

Shame on you! I’m not that kind of person.

No, it was…

THIS!

Bathtub!

Bathtub, bathtub, bathtub, bathtub, BATHTUB!

7:19 pm

I’m in the cathedral waiting for pilgrims’ mass to begin. I’m too late to get a seat but the botafumerio is out. Sorry, pictures aren’t allowed. YouTube it.

I wish I could take pictures. The altar is…wow. I’m sitting on the base of a pillar. I can’t see a damn thing. But I’m sitting.

During mass I see Marlene and her husband. I haven’t seen them for a month. They are from Eddie’s group early in my Camino. They tell me they’ve been in Santiago for two days and are leaving tomorrow. This is their second mass. They tell me the botafumerio is supposed to swing tonight.

The mass begins at 7:30. It is mostly a sung dialogue between the priest and the choir. Both are incredible. If God deserves our best He sure got it. I try and stand next to Marlene, but my ankle hurts too badly. I sit on the floor.

The priest begins his homily. I can understand bits. Marlene, who is fluent in Spanish, says, “Oh this is going to be longer than an hour.” When it’s time for communion the priest asks, in English, that only Catholics take it. I go to the crypt of St. James, since with the crowd communion will take awhile.

The supposed bones of the apostle James rest in a silver casket. There is a prayer rail with kneeler before it. I don’t really believe these are the bones of James, discovered hundreds of years after his death. And I CERTAINLY don’t believe that he came to life 1,000 years ago and chased the Moors out of Spain.

But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people change their lives, open their hearts, become citizens of the world for a brief 30 days because of that silver casket. What does it matter what’s in it?

I thank Marlene when I return. “Moving is better than standing,” I say. Not long after that, the organ music swells, and the botafumerio slowly lowers. I can’t see how it is lit; there are too many people. But the sweet sharp smell of incense begins to fill the cathedral. My breath almost stops. Am I really going to see it? I begins almost hyperventilating with excitement.

The botafumerio rises and begins to swing. It’s path isn’t smooth, as I expect. It clunks and thunks a bit. I take some video (everyone else is) but I don’t want lose the moment by videoing it. I want to be IN it, experiencing it fully. So after a burst where I get the botafumerio at its peak, I stop and just experience the moment.

THIS moment. I have worked and walked and sweated for this moment. Tears course down my face. I think I’m the only pilgrim crying. I don’t care. The incense spreads over the pilgrims, spreading its benediction over the phones raised high. It seems the silver and gold will crash into the ceiling, but of course it doesn’t. The priests are too good for that.

It begins to slow, the arc lessening. It slows to a stop, and soon the mass is over. Although I still hope to attend the 12:00 mass on the 25th, my heart is content. More than that, it is full. I immediately send Ryan a text. “I GOT TO SEE IT!,” I trumpet. “Cool,” he replies. But I know what is behind that seemingly innocuous word.

I haven’t eaten since noon, and it’s almost 9 by the time the mass ends. I send a message to Beverly, but end up wandering the streets in search of food. I decide on an Italian place. I want the cookies dipped in wine they have for dessert. I’ve read about those. But the wine is strong. After the vino tinto I had with the meal, I am literally having trouble feeling the screen as I type this.

So when I’m done, I’ll pour myself back to my hotel (not far, I planned ahead) and maybe take another bath. Then I am going to sleep, in my PRIVATE room, where I can sleep in my underwear or nothing at all, as late as I want (well, kinda, I gotta do laundry in the am) and then head for Finisterre.

I can’t believe I did it. Can you?