Today involved our long return to the supposedly 'normal' or 'civilized' world. This is always one of our hardest and least favourite days of any Camino. Perhaps this simply means we need to work harder to keep the spirit of the Camino alive in our daily lives. Despite our best intentions, in a world that moves so quickly, is so goal oriented and narrowly focused, and in which people seem increasingly focused on their own needs and oblivious to each other, we still find this difficult.
We awoke at 4 am, and headed downstairs to the 24 hour buffet in the lounge to select some breakfast. We found fruit, yogurt, toast, jam, orange juice, and coffee. Although we weren't really too hungry yet, we ate breakfast in anticipation of the longish day ahead. By 5 am we had checked out and were getting into the taxi the hotel had called to take us to the airport.
One aspect of the Camino that people value is that it provides a different perspective on the world and our place within it. Partly this is offered through a simple change of pace. Walking forces us to slow down ... way down. Deceleration can take place over a few days or weeks, and sometimes you aren't really aware it has happened until you see a new group of pilgrims starting their hikes after you've been out there a while. The new arrivals often seem over anxious about everything, and appear to be rushing around, sometimes even being unwilling to take breaks because they feel like they must hurry or they won't 'get there.' Unfortunately, acceleration back to the pace of mechanized life isn't so gradual. The taxi driver was very professional and a complete gentleman, but the 15 minute ride to the airport, which cost 21 Euros, felt like a vertigo-inducing Nascar ride where signs, landmarks, and other vehicles flew past with indecent speed.
We made our way through the small and modern looking Santiago airport and boarded our Iberia flight to Madrid without incident. The hour long flight was completely full, mostly with people commuting to the country's capital, and not other pilgrims. Already we could feel ourselves losing some of the tranquility we'd gained on the Camino, as we sat surrounded by other passengers who were scrolling through Facebook or watching videos on their phones, bouncing their legs to a frantic inner rhythm, listening to music so loud it was audible through their headphones, chewing gum, and repeatedly applying overpowering and competing perfumes. When you've been away from it for a while, the distraction and over-stimulation of our modern lives is almost overwhelming.
When we arrived in Madrid we retrieved our backpacks from the checked baggage carousel, and then made our way by bus from Terminal 4, which is used for domestic flights, to Terminal 1, where international flights leave. We had four hours before our Air Transat flight back to Montreal was scheduled to leave, and we soon discovered that Air Transat shares its counter space with other airlines, and therefore doesn't open until two hours prior to one of its flights departing. In retrospect, it would have been more pleasant to wait in Terminal 4, where there were cafes, restaurants, shops, and more attractive waiting areas. Terminal 1 was less appealing, very crowded, and offered far fewer amenities, but once there we chose to stay put, sitting on the floor with our backpacks under the watchful eye of airport security.
The eight hour flight from Madrid to Montreal passed without incident. When we arrived we were shepherded through the customs process, which no longer requires retrieving checked bags and standing in line to be questioned by a human customs agent. Instead, we had to make our way down a long hallway to first answer questions at one computer terminal, and then proceed to another set of machines that scanned our faces and our passports. I seemed to be too short for the machine to detect me correctly, or else just abnormally shaped, and for quite some time it didn't seem to think my face matched my passport photo. Finally I convinced it we were the same, received a little printed piece of paper, and was allowed to proceed. I am one of those old fashioned people who definitely prefer humans to machines, even when they are giving me a hard time.
Our one hour flight from Montreal to Toronto was delayed by 50 minutes, and then our gate was changed. We were grateful for the extra time to walk around a bit after sitting for eight hours, and we took advantage of the opportunity to get something to eat and drink. Still in Camino mode, we were somewhat dismayed to observe the impatience of our fellow passengers, one of whom tried to elicit our support for the idea that Air Transat should be sued for forcing us to walk the extra distance between gates, giving us nowhere to sit down, and making us late. The individual in question didn't have noticeable health or mobility issues, and certainly had enough energy left after the short walk to complain with vigor and enthusiasm. Our lack of outrage seemed to cause disappointment. The whole experience was rather dispiriting.
When we reached Toronto we collected our backpacks and made our way to the long-term parking lot, which still had small lumps of dirty ice and snow decorating its edges. Thankfully our old car started without complaint, and we were soon in the midst of the fast-moving freeway system that circles the Toronto airport like an ungainly pile of spaghetti. Navigating this mess of on-ramps, off-ramps, collectors, and express lanes involves several rapid bouts of lane changes across eight and sixteen lanes of traffic while maintaining a constant speed of around 110 kph. I was more than usually glad that it was Sean driving and not me.
We stopped for a coffee and a mental breather in a Tim Hortons on the edge of Toronto, already missing the napolitanas and cafe con leches of Spain. We then continued our two hour drive back to London, Ontario, covering a distance that would have taken about eight days to cover on Camino time. Around 20 hours after leaving Santiago, we checked into the residence where we will spend the next week, before flying out to Newfoundland and beginning our next adventure. And so, another beautiful Camino comes to an end.