Whenever something impacts you so fully and so positively, you want to hold onto it for as long as you possibly can. This act of holding on for dear life has permeated the last month.
So deeply in love with the Camino was I that I wanted so desperately for it to continue forever. Even as I knew it would inevitably come to a screeching halt. I did my best to ignore that reality, but it always sat there in the back of my mind, on the edge of my periphery, close enough that I always knew it was there.
With the journey complete, Mom and I spent a few days recovering and relaxing in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. Days were spent relaxing at coffee shops, having Michelin-starred dinners, drinking cervezas on terraces and generally enjoying our last moments together as one large family.
Each day was impacted by goodbyes to one or more of our Camino family, as everyone started to make their way back into their own worlds.
A few of us walked up to the Cidade da Cultura, a place I had enjoyed when I visited Santiago last year. A giant campus of modern buildings set on a hill overlooking the ancient city, and not another person in sight. It’s an oddly dystopian place to visit and made us feel like we were in an episode of Black Mirror. On our last day, we enjoyed a wonderful picnic in Parque de Belvís, and I was struck by a very real deja vu from a year ago.
Mom and I then took a bus to Fisterra, a small town on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. In Roman times, it was believed to be the end of the known world, and its name in Latin means “Land’s End.” Many pilgrims consider this the spiritual end to the Camino and several of our friends were walking to town to complete their journey. Mom was quite happy to be done walking, so it was a bus ride for us.
After our friends arrived, we took a walk to the lighthouse at the end of the world where we all quietly said our personal goodbyes to the Camino. That evening we enjoyed a meal together before deciding a night swim in the ocean was required. Our first attempt was a complete failure, as the water smelled so pungently of sulfur that we didn’t even attempt entering into the water. We then walked a good 30 minutes away to the actual beach. Being in the ocean under the night sky was a surreal experience. We floated in the salty water as rain fell for about an hour before making the trek back to the hostel.
The next day, Mom and I took the bus down to Porto, from where she would fly home a few days later. We spent several days relaxing and seeing the sights of the beautiful city. Our dear friend Ronnie arrived and together we went to a park on the far side of the Rio Duoro to enjoy the sunset. Mom's final day was a beach day, where I fell asleep and burnt my body to a crisp, but that’s a story for another day.
The unfortunate time had finally arrived and it was time to say goodbye to my Mom. In the early morning hours, she boarded a plane and her European adventures came to a close.
I will be forever grateful for every moment we got to spend together on this magical adventure. We shared laughs and tears, joy and sadness, struggles and triumphs, and through it all kept saying “I love you.”
Her departure was yet another reminder of the sad fact that the Camino was over. Still trying to hold onto it, I had booked an apartment with the last of the Caminbros for a few more days in Porto.
Little did we know, but our first night was Festa de São João do Porto, a festival celebrating Saint John the Baptist that dates back more than 600 years. It’s a massive party that starts in the early afternoon and goes until sunrise the next morning. Block parties dot the neighborhoods and at midnight there are fireworks. And because the festival fell on a Friday this year, the party continued each night throughout the weekend.
In preparation for the long night ahead, we did what anyone would do in Porto, we went port tasting … rookie mistake! Sweet port in the heavy heat of the day made us all feel like we were already hung over! But we soldiered on and had a wonderful night. Right up until we realized we were stuck on the wrong side of the river from our neighborhood. The fireworks are launched from the river and off the main bridge, so the bridge is closed to traffic until several hours after the display is over. This made us all quite salty.
The next day we went to see the Living Van Gogh exhibit, which was absolutely incredible. Van Gogh is one of my all-time favorite artists. His paintings always seem to be alive when you view them, so to see them in this new way was so stunning. We watched the exhibit all the way through multiple times, simply stunned and in awe of its absolute beauty.
That night we landed at the famous Casa Guedes for dinner before strolling through the city in the night air. Back in our neighborhood, we found a live band playing at the block party. We boogied with the locals as the hours slipped by.
Sadly, it was time for the group to finally and totally break apart. The adventure was indeed ending. Nina and Quincy left for Lisbon. Ronnie started walking again, having decided to do the Portuguese Camino back to Santiago. Emily flew to Malaga to be reunited with her family and her dog, leaving me the last one standing. I enjoyed one last day in Porto before I caught my flight to Lille, where I would finally reunite with all my possessions.
On June 28th, the Camino chapter finally came to a close. I was once again alone, with nothing but time and a giant world in front of me.
I am a profoundly changed person because of this adventure. I was also a profoundly confused person on this day. So devastatingly sad that it was over and I was no longer with my new family.
But also incredibly excited to be back in my element. I was looking forward to spending the next month back in the Hauts-de-France, a place I felt so incredibly comfortable in last year. Back with another group of people that bring me such incredible happiness and joy, the Ducrocq family.
After holding on so tightly to the Camino journey, it felt incredibly freeing to know that it was time to finally let go.