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The End. Or The Beginning? Rua to Santiago. 15 miles

We were standing on a busy street corner, cars whizzing past us as we desperately searched for even one of the many yellow arrows that had been painted on buildings or cobblestone streets in every town we walked through, no matter how small. They had been with us during our entire six-day journey, helping us to navigate the Camino de Santiago. But not anymore. The arrows seemed to have disappeared the moment we entered our final destination, the City of Santiago.

When we’d first arrived, we discovered that Santiago wasn’t what either of us had expected. Much larger by far than any previous town, village or city we’d walked through, its larger size and density came with the annoyances you’d find in any big city. Cars and trucks. Graffiti and trash. Noise—from honking trucks, the freeway we crossed over, planes overhead. All things we hadn’t experienced during the past six days.

And now, we had to slog our way through the outer suburbs of Santiago to reach the historic district, Santiago de Compostela, where the cathedral and the pilgrims office (where we’d get our official completion certificate, or compostela) were located. It was here that the signposts guiding our way were no longer in view. Not only the large yellow arrows we’d often come across, but the white stone locational pillars as well, featuring the same yellow arrows, as well as kilometer markers and the symbol of The Way: a scallop shell, its hinge representing Santiago de Compostela, with the multiple ridges on the shell meeting at the hinge to represent all of the various routes pilgrims walk to get to the cathedral. Hundreds of years ago, the shells were carried and used by pilgrims to eat and drink. Today, they’re ever-present: bronzed shells embedded in sidewalks or on the walls of buildings, yellow shells embroidered on patches or printed on t-shirts and painted on signs, or the real thing: white shells dangling from a red cord affixed to the backpacks of most pilgrims. Including mine.

And it wasn’t only the directional signs and symbols of the Camino that had dropped out of sight. The pilgrims we’d walked with until hitting the outskirts of the city had mostly seemed to vanish, too. Now and then, we’d see a few people with backpacks, but they often seemed as if they were swallowed up by the big city before we could catch up with them. But the most disappointing of all were the people hurrying past us. No more Buen Caminos, no more smiles or even a simple buenas tardes to welcome us. These people had lives to live, work to do. They were clearly in a hurry, and they didn’t have time for tired pilgrims, especially American pilgrims who didn’t speak their language. But hey, didn’t they understand how important and critical we are to their city? Hadn’t the city of Santiago grown and thrived through the centuries because of pilgrims like us who come here and stay in their hotels, eat in their restaurants, buy their Camino souvenirs?

As I internally criticized the city and its citizens, I could feel my stomach tighten and my shoulders begin to climb toward my ears. Could the joy and calm of the past few days disappear as quickly and completely as the yellow arrows, the kilometer markers, the scallop shells and our fellow pilgrims? Just when we’d come so far and gotten so close to achieving our goal, it seemed that we were completely lost.

But were we? And just what was our “goal,” anyway? To get a signed certificate proving that we’d walked 88 miles? To take beautiful pictures of stunning landscapes along the way? To eat great food and meet interesting people? We’d done all of that, and more. But standing there on that busy street corner, not knowing which way to turn, we reminded ourselves that our “goal” wasn’t about the destination. It was about discovering ourselves along the way.

So, we each took a deep breath to find the calm that had slipped away. And we kept on walking.

Somehow, we realized we had stumbled our way into the historical district, mostly because of the dozens and dozens of souvenir shops with Camino trinkets lining the cobblestone streets, a sure sign we were getting closer to the cathedral. Ignoring the shops, I stopped the leader of a large tour group. She couldn’t tell us where the pilgrims office was, but she pointed us in the general direction of the cathedral. As we made our way there, more pilgrims fell into step with us, and that’s when we heard it: bagpipe music coming from a wide stone staircase. Making our way down the steps, the bagpiper smiled at us as she continued to play.

A musical end to what we hope is only the beginning of our journey:

We took the last step and turned the corner. Pilgrims like us were dancing, sitting, or splayed out on the hard stone of the large square in front of the cathedral, celebrating their arrival. Like all of them, we’d made it. We took a moment to take it in, knowing that the celebration would continue at the Pilgrims’ Mass held the next day for hundreds of us in the cathedral. 

I wouldn’t consider myself a religious person, even though Kent and I raised our kids as Catholics and taught CCD to teenagers for many years when we were first married. But in the past decade or so, my feelings for religion have plummeted as my interest in spirituality has sprouted wings and taken flight. That Saturday, in a cathedral dripping with traditional Catholic symbols and ritual, my spirituality soared. Why? 

I believe it was what I’d thought Covid had bled out of me, what I didn’t fully realize I’d missed so deeply during the past few years: Community. The journey we’d just completed wouldn’t have been the same without meeting the women of Catalonia, Idaho or Sweden. It wouldn’t have meant as much without the old men and woman who smiled at us and wished us Buen Camino along the way, urging us on. Or the young man from Germany we met on the last day, who’d started his pilgrimage in France more than a month ago and told us about the many interesting pilgrims he’d met along the way. It meant more because Kent and I did it together.

And in church that day, we were surrounded by all of them, with some having trouble navigating the hard pews and kneelers after walking so far. The woman next to me was one such pilgrim, her leg stuck out at an unnatural angle as she tried to kneel, her hiking boots still bearing the dust of The Way. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks, but I don’t think she was crying because of the pain. The beautiful smile on her glowing face said otherwise. At one point, she struggled to her feet to offer her seat to another woman with a taped wrist who looked exhausted and was leaning up against a pillar. Surrounded by all of these people who had just completed The Way, feelings of gratitude overwhelmed me, the same feelings of gratitude I’d experienced from the very first day of the walk and which hit me like a sledgehammer. I started each day of my Camino with gratitude, and I’d carried those feelings with me during every step I took. I’m finally beginning to understand that if I begin each day this way, expressing my gratitude and thanks for all that I have, it can’t help but spill over onto everything else. Thinking about my family and friends, the physical health I have to be able to walk this far. Knowing that I will never go hungry, or be left all alone. Remembering that I have a home, and security, and a life filled with people (and dogs) who love me. I have so very much, more so than many. And when I reflect on all of it, my days begin and end in joy. I’ve never smiled at so many strangers or enjoyed it as much as I did on this trip.

A world map noting pilgrims from all over the world who have passed this way.

The bishop greeted all of the pilgrims in about a half-dozen different languages although the rest of the mass was mostly in Latin and Spanish. It didn’t matter. Sitting there, surrounded by a world community, listening to the music, seeing and feeling the warm glow from hundreds of candles and, even more so, from hundreds of people, I didn’t understand most of the words. But one word that I kept hearing over again over again was “todos” which means “everyone” in Spanish. It’s a translation I’ll never forget.

Thanks for coming along with us on our Camino journey. We wish you Buen Camino on your own. See more of our Camino videos here:


  1. I’ve so enjoyed being on this journey with you, Jill! Your thoughts about community especially ring true. Thanks!

    • Thank you for coming along for the ride/walk, Barb!

  2. Gratitude! You feel it and we all do having traveled vicariously with you. Thank you for sharing this profound journey.

    • I really appreciate your coming along with me, Janet! Thanks.

  3. What a gift to your community to write each day so beautifully, Jill, and to provoke more deep thinking among us. Mazel Tov on your amazing journey ~


    • It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for your kind words Christy.

  4. Congratulations, you two! You have taken me right back to my experience of the same entry into Santiago. Loved the bagpiper in the tunnel, and the amazing collective experience both in the cathedral square and the process of getting the certificate. And my experience with the 3 masses we attended (June wanted to as many of the botafumerio ceremonies as we could!) was like no other spiritual experience in my life. So thrilled you had such a great Buen Camino! We really look forward to hosting you with a bottle or two of Albarino and hearing the stories up close and personal. Travel safe on the rest of your journey!

    • It was all you and June said it would be, and more. I’ll reach out soon so we can swap stories. (Three masses? I was emotionally exhausted after attending one!) Thanks again!!

  5. My heart is swelling with love, pride and hope having hopped in your backpack with you thru this journey, and your thrilling feat of accomplishment. So thankful that you two did something so amazing for your souls and perspective and that you were able to do it together, as always. My wish for you is that you are able to carry this “scallop” of light with you in ALL future endeavors, including airports, rush hours and WI/US politics. They don’t get to take that away from you EVER! Shine on dear friends and can’t wait for a full report sometime in the future, when you get around to it! Much love & respect always, dear lifelong friends!

    • My heart is equally full with our friendship. Love your “scallop” of light image. Inspires me to tuck my actual scallop in my purse so I can carry it with me wherever I go as a reminder. Currently, when one of us starts getting hyped up or negative (okay, it’s usually me), all one of us has to say is “Camino” and our blood pressure reduces. That’s why it’s so great to have done this together, so we can keep reminding each other of what we learned. For me, sharing it with my friends and family on this blog has helped reinforce the lessons learned. And of course, dear friends like you will continue to lend a hand. Love you, and thanks for coming along with us!

  6. The bagpipes: what a joyous way to be greeted. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Thanks Karen. I appreciate your feedback and support!

  7. Felicidades por tu viaje, mi amiga! I’ve so enjoyed your daily updates and can’t wait to hear even more when we are able to get together with you and Kent.

    • Gracias mi amiga! I will reach out this week so we can get a date on the calendar. Can’t wait–and thanks again!!

  8. I have appreciated being a virtual part of this journey. Gratitude is such an important point of view. May you have safe travels home, my friend.

    • And I appreciate that you’ve joined me! We are home, safe and sound, and trying to catch up with all that we missed. But much more slowly…
      Thanks, Margie.

  9. I know I teased you both about “the WALK” but after reading that beautiful rendition, so very very moving, I wish I could have done that WALK in my younger days!!! It was almost like when I did the spiritual journey you sent me on many years ago. Thank you so much Jill , you touched my heart tonite! With hug’s & kisses to you & Kent.

  10. Buen Camino! Your blog brought so many memories flooding back to my own experience, in 2018, with my BFF from HS and college. (We were both nearing 60 at the time). I had just lost my husband and hers was battling a serious I’ll was of his own. For us, it wasn’t a religious experience, though we’re on a trip put together by California Catholic Charities. But it was, for me, very spiritual. I could ramble for pages but I won’t. Sadly, I just returned from her husband funeral this month, but the circle is real, and while there, I was able to have lunch with a dear friend who we walked our final 3 days with – now she’ll be a life long friend I met on my Camino. Thanks for sharing yours!

    ~ Kate from Ohio

    • Hi Kate. Thanks for reading for sharing your experience. Like you, my journey was spiritual, even more so than I had hoped it would be. And even though we’ve been back for nearly a month, I continue to dream, think and meditate on the experience, which I hope will stay with me for the rest of my life. I appreciate you taking the time to visit my blog and comment. Thank you– and Buen Camino!

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