Editor’s note: This is Gleb’s final post, dispatched from 60 km west of Santiago de Compostela, at the “end of the Earth.” Gleb would like to present a slideshow about his trip at PRC after he returns to Portland, accompanied by inexpensive Spanish wine and other “pilgrim food.” Watch for news of this upcoming event.
Watching the sun melt into the Atlantic while perched on the rocks in Finesterra, a cape in the northwest corner of Spain and the final “end” of the Camino de Santiago, I cannot help reflecting upon the nature of my journey. What was it all about?
The physical and mental aspects of the hike gave me no trouble. In fact, back home, my running and backpacking buddies and I sometimes cover more distance on tougher terrain in 24 hours than an average pilgrim does in three or four days.
I do feel that this bout of walking across the Iberian peninsula let me experience something different, however, something significant, almost something I have not felt before. It was the people I met along the way.
While on the Camino, I did meet a few folks. Many had spiritual reasons for heading to Santiago. Some were the garden-variety pilgrims after their compostela, a certificate of completion, which, apparently draws some water in Europe. (Some people include it on their resume under “Interests and Accomplishments.”)
Some desire to turn a new page in life, to put an unfortunate or a tragic event behind them. Things like divorce or cancer. You can do that by leaving a rock on the pile at Cruz de Hierro, an iron cross outside of the village of Foncebadon. That symbolizes leaving bad things behind, all your troubles and worries.
Others want to scatter their loved ones’ ashes over the ocean.
It seems like many cultures have some sort of a spiritual endurance journey. Muslims trek to Mecca. Native Americans have vision quests. Europeans, apparently, walk the Camino. I am not a psychologist, but it seems like there is something to walking six-to-eight hours per day, having left your everyday life back home. Something to sharing modest quarters with people from all over the world at night, trying to stumble through broken broken Spanish, German, or for some, English phrases, attempting to ask or answer simple questions.
Never mind the great food and wine, those are exceptions that prove the rule. The accommodations are spartan, and the end-of-the-day exhaustion is real.
One thing I noticed is that the time does seem to slow down while on this trail. Your daily life boils down to waking up, walking, eating, sleeping. On the final, twenty-sixth day of my journey, I feel like I have been walking in Spain for a year. I barely remember Portland, my work, Thirsty Thursdays at PRC….
Whether what I experienced was spiritual, or not, I did experience some sort of a renewal. A recharge. A much needed break from the grind, from the day-to-day, the nine-to-five. A cure for “mom’s spaghetti.”
The Camino leaves me refreshed and hopeful, ready to take on new projects. To sign up for another marathon or ultra, or something beyond. I would highly recommend this journey to anyone wanting to clear their mind, or just wanting to walk with a backpack. By the way, I did leave my rock at Cruz de Hierro.