As I write this, the smells of El Gato Negro come rushing back to me – the pulpo, the pimientos, and of course, the pan. After our inside (and outside) look at the cathedral, our pursuit of the authentic pilgrim experience continued, and we found ourselves in the classy arms of a five-star establishment. Well, five stars if the rating system were determined by great companionship and how much “sweet smell of success” hung in the air. We spent two hours together, and our final meal was one for the books. Although we were in a warm, crowded back room of this small bar, we were all glowing with pride – we had FINALLY made it to Santiago. Yes, there were bumps and bruises, but we were all together, a Camino family, sharing in one last experience that would conclude one of the best times we will ever have.
Following our feast, the illustrious Drs. Gyug and Myers surprised us with our very own version of the Oscars. It was at this point that we all realized just how once-in-a-lifetime this experience truly was, and just how wonderful our two leaders truly are. Thoughout the Camino, they paid attention to the multitude of personalities, likes, and quirks of each and every pilgrim in our group, and presented the Camino awards to each person, tailor-made. From Little Miss Sunshine (Amy) to the Kantian who “does the right thing whether he likes it or not (Matt),” these awards came straight from the keenly observant minds and kind hearts of our professors, and the gifts they gave each of us reflected this compassion. The Camino awards made the experience that much more special, as it reflected just how close we had all become.
Queimada | Photo by Mike Perlowitz
The capstone of our last evening together was the Queimada ceremony. Unique to Galicia, the traditional Queimada ceremony consists of sitting around a cauldron of burning Queimada (a special Galician drink) while reciting an incantation together to ward off evil. It seemed like a fitting end to our journey – together, we warded off the evils of blisters, sunburn, and tendonitis, trading them in for laughter, conversation, and even a student-professor arm-wrestling match for the ages (picture included). It truly was a perfect ending to this life-changing pilgrim experience.
Final test | Photo by Mike Perlowitz
Although we’ve finished our Camino pilgrimage together, the journey is never truly over. As we go forward, the Camino, specifically this Camino experience, will hold a “special place in our hearts (to quote the talented Giancarlo’s ‘Camino Song’).” I, for one, have grown by leaps and bounds from this experience – the confidence, companionship, and occasional blister (for which a fellow peregrino always provided a band-aid) have given me a renewed faith in humanity, in the goodness of the human being and the indomitable human spirit. I think I speak for all of us when I say that our Camino experience has taught us what human solidarity truly entails, and what the human experience is all about. Our two-week Camino may be over, but our lives’ Caminos move forward, with the lessons we’ve learned and the friendships we’ve formed always in mind.