Sarria, Spain – March 26, 2017
Today’s Miles: 12.9
Total Miles: 5,094.5
Portomarin, Spain – March 27, 2017
Today’s Miles: 15.3
Total Miles: 5,109.8
Palas de Rei, Spain – March 28, 2017
Today’s Miles: 15.7
Total Miles: 5,125.5
Ribadiso, Spain – March 29, 2017
Today’s Miles: 14.1
Total Miles: 5,139.6
Pedrouzo, Spain – March 30, 2017
The mountains fade behind us. Their snow-clad peaks become a distant horizon then disappear. Snowball fights become memories, replaced with splashes from water fountains on hot days. New faces appear, more and more of them, flooding the trail until anyone old feels like a friend even if you’ve only seen them once, weeks ago.
More pilgrims means more shops, cafes, and bars. Advertisements crowd towns, fighting for space on the walls of old buildings, growing thicker each day. Vendors appear on lonely stretches of trail, displaying trinkets in carts, offering to stamp pilgrims papers, their donation boxes implying an unsaid fee.
Some pilgrims go out of their way to collect as many stamps as they can. In Santiago they are proof of the journey as if a bit of ink smashed on a piece of paper represents the truth. I don’t bother beyond the albergue stamp each night. My feet are proof enough for me. My legs can vouch for the miles. My pack worn skin can co-sign anything. They are the truth more than any piece of paper smashed with ink.
But all those miles don’t protect me from the sad happiness of a trail’s end. I try not to count the days left in my head. I try not to wonder at each moment if it’s the last coffee Christina and Jorgelina will light up a cafe with their smiles and convince me to drink with them, if it’s the last time Daya will prowl the supermarket aisles to make a giant salad for dinner, if it’s the last time we’ll all squeeze into bunk beds and share stories until the lights go out. I don’t want to think of the end, but it’s there, a shadow behind everything, lengthening as each day slips away.
The moments come faster, as if we are picking up speed, hurtling forward like a car without brakes. A vegetarian spaghetti dinner. A broken kitchen and microwaved disappointment. Searching through town for a bakery. Fried plantains smashed into tostones. A picture of Won Gyu at Santiago. Another from Amelie. We started together. They were just ahead, but now they are finished.
New pilgrims crowd every turn. People walking just the last hundred kilometers, all that is needed for a pilgrimage certificate. People we’ve caught. People catching us. We are only a fraction of the summer flow of thousands each day, but it feels crowded, it feels a different world from that grey morning in St. Jean when we looked like ghosts in the mist, when all of this was so new.
The crowds push us together. The days go by. There are four left. Then three. Time rushes forward. How does it slip so fast? Now two. Then only tomorrow, only a few hours of walking left between us and the cathedral in Santiago.