You may or may not be wondering are they there yet? Are they there yet? The short answer is yes. But the journey into Santiago took an unexpected twist and one day longer than anticipated. I apologise for the delay in updating but read on and you will understand why.
So I woke at 4am in O’Pedrouzo, it was exciting we were under 20km’s away from the grand finale. And, different to last time, we were only a day or two behind most of the people we had walked with or slept with over the last month or so. Our good friend Michelle had been one of the few people to stick with us last time and we really never kept up with her – it was only because she had days off we were able to meet up all the time. Heck, this time we were even walking in with two of our friends and I was excited to know quite a few people were keen to meet us in the square in front of the Cathedral.
The Fräulein, the Singing Germans, The Young Ones, even the Oracle was going to make a special appearance. The Rose amongst thorns was still around, the Doctor from Barcelona, and a number of familiar faces were gathering for the day. There was also a possibility that Speedy Gonzales might even be around. On top of that we were privileged to be in the company of the Choirmaster, who had been our companion off and on since a day or two after this had begun, along with Doctor Lovelace who it felt like we had known for weeks. I had also lined up a few friends and family back home to drink cheers around 7-8pm at night when we sauntered into the finish line around midday.
My beloved was excited too but he slept a little longer and was struggling to walk having not had an opportunity to rest his shins with all the final drinks he was obligated to partake in. Our scallop and beer day yesterday had given him some rest but he was definitely reliant on those darn poles again having not had a problem the whole way along until he sped up out of Portomarin.
I was in peak condition! I could not believe the aches and pains had finally left. All of that stretching, Physio and Medicine had worked. I could walk to Finisterre after Santiago without a problem. I felt so happy I bounced up the stairs to the Choirmaster, Dr Lovelace and the English Medicine Woman and played Elton Johns “I’m still standing” laughing and wishing them Buen Camino as we took off early ahead. At this point my beloved realised he had left his poles at the last bar yesterday. He was in luck because I could now walk with one. Actually I could walk without a pole at all! It really was a miracle.
So off we went into the dark hoping to reach Santiago before the 12 o’clock mass. We had a pole each and headed down to the bar to see if, against all odds, husband’s poles sat outside where he had left them. No such luck. Oh well, off we went again past the last street light and into the dark. At this point a lady from Canada yelled out and asked if she could walk with us. She had started in Sarria but hadn’t walked in the dark before. She was hoping she would find someone to walk with so she could arrive in Santiago early on her last day also.
The path was busy with pilgrims and we had to stop to put a compression bandage on my beloveds leg. At this point our Canadian friend took her leave, we were far too slow for her and she realised it was like a busy freeway with all the pilgrims going past early. Seems everyone wanted to get to mass at 12 and see the Botafumeiro swing!
The sun broke slowly and we headed up around the airport and the Choirmaster and Dr Lovelace caught up and stopped for breakfast.
This time my only concern was that we would miss the special 12 o’clock mass if we dawdled too long. I wanted to keep going and keep the pace up. One last push to get this thing done!
So up past the big Santiago statue near the airport and down the hill, the tears were rolling down my cheek it had all gone so well. We saw the Doctor again and laughed much of the way down the hill. Tears mingled with laughter for me. The emotions that flow when such a huge achievement was about to be met are difficult to explain.
A bit further on my beloved had pulled out the GoPro and filmed us singing “I’m still standing” and I found myself skipping and running with my pack on – don’t worry my sticks were in hand and there was no way I was going to fall!
It wasn’t long before we spotted the Irish Accordion players again. The others stayed and were all interviewed for Galician radio, I listened for a few minutes and left in tears of happiness. They had made my day playing music and dancing along the side of the road again.
We had a coffee stop at the camping ground where I had eaten dirt in my coffee last time, that was where gusts of wind had blown so hard we had retreated indoors. Today was perfect weather. Today was perfect for me. I was so happy because I knew without doubt we would enjoy Santiago and celebrate with many friends tonight.
We were now on the home stretch. The city of Santiago lay before us. I was still protecting my knees and zigzagged down the hill behind our friends. We stopped briefly for a stamp at Monte de Gozo – really an outer suburb of Santiago. We could feel success in the air! We were now unlikely to make the mass but we were all happy and motivated as we descended into the city.
On our first Camino we had celebrated with our good friends but I had also been in pain because of a ruptured plantar fascia. This time I felt like I could even go dancing – just like my friend from Paraguay had suggested!
As we crossed the freeway heading into the outskirts of Santiago I fiddled with my phone and achieved my first ever live post to family and friends. ” I think this is working, this is it, we are on the outskirts of Santiago,” I turned it to my beloved and said “say hello I think we’re live”. Friends commented saying its working, you are live, congratulations, you did it! But I couldn’t read the comments, we weren’t quite there and I wanted to look around. I still had the phone in my hand and the poles under my other arm as we left the bridge.
The Choirmaster and Doctor Lovelace were about 50 metres ahead and I was keen to keep up with them also so we could enter the square together. I hadn’t felt this good in weeks. Not an ache in my body. The blisters were healed. I was worried whether my beloved could keep up with me!
As we left the bridge over the freeway I looked to my left and marvelled at the first bar we had needed to stop at last time when my foot had been so sore. I didnt need to stop this time and it was a thrill to keep up the pace and walk past without stopping.
This is where the day fell apart.
As I walked past, poles under one arm, phone in the other hand, I missed the huge hole in the middle of the path. The missing pavement stone. I felt my body propelled forward with the momentum of my own vastly improved speed, it was impossible to stop, exacerbated by the weight of my pack, I felt myself falling and heard my beloved cry “oh no oh no” I barely felt my hands touch when my head pounded into the rock surface.
I lay for a moment somewhat in shock. Thoughts were running through my head. “Well this is a bloody inconvenience”. “Got a feeling this might stuff up the timetable.” “Yep that was a thud” “Okay I’m still awake, I’m still alive.” “What sort of damage has this caused?” “Hope my eyes are alright.” My beloved reached me to turn me over.
At this point I felt the blood gush out of my head. I couldn’t see out of one eye. My first thoughts then were – I am not getting up. We are done for today. This could be bad. I quickly pulled my buff down and pushed my hand against it to stop the bleeding having no idea of just how bad it was. My beloved shoved a tissue or something in my hand to put under it. The rest of this is going to be a piece meal tale of how things happened. It was chaotic.
“Oh no oh no” I was hearing from my beloved. “Call the Choirmaster!” I said. (Actually I said call Mairéad) I could see as I fell that she and Lovelace weren’t too far down the street but he couldn’t yell loud enough. In the very moment he needed it, he’d also lost his amazing ability to whistle. I must have looked horrifying. Blood gushing out. He managed to call her on the phone and before we knew it both she and Dr Lovelace were on the scene and helping him take action. Dr Lovelace is an emergency worker and a nurse. The choirmaster proved to be a genius communicator and organiser!
Meantime someone bent over and asked if she could help because she spoke Spanish. I thanked her and said I would appreciate her help. Someone called an ambulance and I lay there giving directions frightened I was the keeper of too much information and I was going to black out or die. Lovelace kept talking to me encouraging me to stay awake although to be honest I did feel like sleeping! They all took turns at holding my hand and helping me stay calm. My beloved was clearly so traumatised by witnessing the actual fall and the subsequent bleeding, that I did wonder if I’d been scalped! (Don’t worry I wasn’t! The forehead bleeds profusely with even a minor cut).
Someone also offered me water and I thanked them and declined saying I think accident victims aren’t supposed to eat or drink so I’ll wait. I was quite lucid but I was also in shock. I don’t know who saw this but that freeway of pilgrims we’d seen earlier seemed to flow past and inspect as they went. There were tissues being handed down, people were offering to help and every now and then someone would bend over and ask if I’m okay. “Take some photos, I can’t see what you can.”. Husband had suggested this last time for the man who fell off his bike. It was now obvious when you are the subject of the incident you cannot see what is going on up above or around you. I could see blood and I could feel it but I wasn’t a witness to the spectacle. I was terrified but must have sounded like a lunatic with some of my babbling.
I heard an ambulance was coming (and apparently every second person offered to call one) and I lay there realising we had a team of friends expecting us at the square in front of the Cathedral within the hour. This is where the Choirmaster became our personal assistant/ secretary. My beloved was on the ground holding my hand and messages were being sent to all and sundry. There’s been a little accident – nothing too serious. (Icehouse 1980?). An ambulance is coming, not going to make the cathedral today. No she’s good she’s talking. (And giving instructions left and right).
We were lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people. I have no doubt they were all in shock. It’s bad enough seeing the accident of a stranger. When its someone you know it can reverberate for longer and feel a bit stronger. Especially when there is an over abundance of blood!
The ambulance ladies arrived and tipped antiseptic wash or something that stung over my head, checked me over, wrapped me up and lifted me onto a trolley. I felt helpless and grateful all at once. I also felt confident that I was in good hands and had been from the beginning with all of the helpers surrounding me. I was worried about my beloved,
My neurological signs were good as I had remained conscious – even if my head looked horrendous! So a couple of hours later, after my first ever ambulance trip, I was checked over, stitched up, patched up and discharged.
The Choirmaster and Lovelace came to the hospital and respectively took responsibility for booking a hotel and interrogating the medical staff to ensure we had clear discharge instructions. They then returned to the location to finish their caminos. Susie and Yoghurt met us at the hospital with our package and accompanied us to our hotel before heading home to Germany that night.
It was certainly a day of surprises. First my ability to walk with ease and then arriving in Santiago with a bang! Messages and calls came thick and fast to check on my well-being. I was and remain truly grateful for the help and the concern.
Before the ambulance arrived I was laying there feeling helpless and quite frankly, a little bit clumsy! I realised the walk today was over. I was convinced our camino had ended. This was not the way it was supposed to end. It had been such a wonderful ride (despite all the pain and challenges). We were apparently only three and a half kilometres from the Cathedral and had walked almost 800 kilometres to reach it. This just wasn’t good enough.
I grasped my beloveds hand and looked him in the eye. “I’m really sorry my beloved” I said as apologetically as I could, “but we’re going to have to do this again!”