Before reading this post it is important that you know how truly grateful we are to have had so many wishing us well and cheering us on – especially over the last few days. We are sure that there are many times when we could have pulled the plug and hopped on a bus and headed off into the sunset but for the well wishers and the messages of encouragement. The fact that many also promised to raise a glass on Friday also made us extremely happy and emotional as we celebrated in Santiago last night. Thank you for taking this journey with us!
And now to the blog!
Well after the heat wave yesterday I almost thought I was still dreaming when I awoke to a strong wind and looked outside to see serious storm clouds gathering across the horizon. There was no sleeping in today (for me at least), so I hopped into the cold shower (as you do when there is no hot water yet again!) and fixed up my pack, and taped my heel, ready for the grand finale. My beloved husband enjoyed a few extra minutes siesta and was pleased to hear the weather report I conveyed after my quick trip out to the courtyard. We anticipated a wet arrival in Santiago (just like many others before us) so I put my rain jacket on and husband made sure his was nearby – yesterday whilst sweltering in the heat this was an unimaginable outcome. We were both pleased that we would be walking in cool weather.
Only at the last minute did we confirm the cafe where we were staying wasn’t going to open early for breakfast so we headed out the side of the building and out the gate for our 8 kilometre trek into Santiago (note the actual distance was 9.47). The wind was quite strong and husband had to stop and put his fleece on which seemed almost absurd after yesterday’s heat. We passed a couple of tv stations before reaching the first little cafe at the camp ground overlooking Santiago. We sat outside until a cup of coffee and a cup of tea arrived and a gust of wind blew all the dirt into our faces and our drinks. We quickly moved inside and enjoyed a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs and tomatoes along with our dirt encrusted drinks. My eyes had a gust full as well.
The Australians from Yepoon who had been at our last two overnight stops dropped in as we were leaving. I must have looked a bit of a mess having ingested dirt with breakfast and having shed quite a few tears reading messages from the home front on my phone. I’ll come clean here – I’d been bursting into tears on and off for a few days by now whenever I thought of the enormity of the journey we had almost completed and the challenges others were going through elsewhere. Husband would simply look at me and smile (or laugh) as we plodded on down the track. Today was different though. I was allowed to cry when we finally arrived. But the tears kept coming between bouts of laughter all the way down the hill into Santiago. The tears were dispursed between hiking songs. I was singing “Valderi Valdera with a knapsack on my back” which clearly drove anyone who dared come near me away and, my all time favourite “These boots are made for walking”. We kept walking.
The gps app was counting down the kilometres but the wind was so damned loud I couldnt hear her speak every second kilometre. We knew a few people were sitting around at home waiting to hear of our success so they could toast to our arrival so we were reluctant to drag the arrival out. Furthermore, the wind had captured a few wet clouds so we had a few sprinkles of rain and this urged us to hurry on so we could get there before the rain really fell down.
We passed the Polish Albergue where we thought Michelle and JC might have camped. We had also met another two people from Slovakia and the Czech republic who had been looking for that albergue yesterday. It was said to be a great camp ground. We kept moving. We also passed a rather large statue erected for the Popes visit a couple of years back. A young fellow with Cerebral Palsy walked with great difficulty down towards us from the statue – I wished he and his father buen camino – his face lit up with a huge smile and his father said “Buen Camino” back – the tears flowed again. Weren’t we lucky to have been able to walk that far!
We kept walking. I was probably going faster than any day so far. We were seeing new pilgrims everywhere – everyone was speeding up. Was it the proximity to our destination or the impending bad weather? I don’t know we just kept walking. I turned my data on to send a quick message to everyone saying 4k’s to go. I saw other messages of encouragement and had to turn it off again before it chewed my battery. We kept walking.
As usual the last 4 kilometres into any city are the longest. Santiago was no exception. It’s always harder with concrete and traffic. We stopped and had another pilgrim take our photo at the Santiago sign. We took a photo of her and her daughter in return. We stopped for a quick toilet stop at a bar and bought a drink. We kept walking following those yellow arrows for what would be the last time.
Finally we reached an area that had to be the old city. A bunch of schoolkids headed off to the right as we came up the first hill. This confused us. There were no arrows to be seen. We stood perplexed looking at the Camino app compass for a while – it seemed to change its mind every couple of seconds. Thankfully a couple of more observant pilgrims headed up the street opposite and we suddenly spotted the faded sign with the arrow on it. We passed many shops and locals and finally a large building on our right that looked like a grand hotel. It was the last albergue before the square in front of the Cathedral.
We walked under an archway and finally out onto the square. I was blubbering. We had made it. One of my sisters insisted I call her when we get there as she was sitting by with two bottles of champagne waiting to toast. One was for her. One was for me. She suggested she might have to drink both as I was so far away! No prizes for guessing which sister! I turned the data on and called blubbering. I tried to call my other sister and my dad but couldn’t get through. Husband turned on facebook and told our boys and all of our family and friends. We turned round and round and hugged each other both happy and sad our journey was over.
We threw our packs on the ground right in front of the Cathedral and laid down. There were different groups around in circles, singing, chanting, clapping. Most were not long distance pilgrims. Or at least not the walking type. We had the best spot. A tour group arrived in front of us and a Spanish man asked if he could take our photo. At least thats what we thought. We of course said yes. He grabbed my pack. Moved it to the side and lay down with his head on it next to my beloved. His wife lay beside him and his son took their photo. He wanted to be like us! It was hilarious. It was a wonderful end to our journey. They struggled to stand back up. How amazing to think that people wanted to be like us!
The rain had disappeared, the sky was clearing, it was cool enough and warm enough all at once. It was 11am so we headed down about one hundred metres past the Paradore (the expensive hotel on the square) to our hotel, a converted Monastery – San Francisco Monument Hotel. It was perfect. The staff were wonderful and we discovered we had been upgraded to a suite! We decided not many guests were actually walking pilgrims so we were given special treatment. The stuff we had sent on to lighten our loads had been delivered to our room. We dumped our gear and headed up for the 12 o’clock Pilgrim mass in the Cathedral. We were hoping to see the Botafumeiro Swing.
The mass was fantastic. Before it started a nun with a beautiful voice was singing and engaging the congregation to join in. It was all in Spanish and sounded angelic. We managed a standing spot right behind the last row of seats on one of the wings where the Botafumeiro would swing if it was used. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks. I still couldnt believe my aching feet and legs had made it. I did have to keep lifting my right leg off the ground as we stood throughout the service. That heel was killing me and I needed to sit down – the tourists had all the pilgrims seats. Luck was on our side. The Botafumeiro was going to be used. After a whole mass in Spanish the Bishop spoke in English and told everyone how it used to be used to hide the smell of the Pilgrims but it wasnt needed for that anymore. (He obviously couldn’t smell us or the rest of the pilgrims we had been meeting.) “Now it is swung so it can send our prayers straight to heaven”. I cried. The music played, the Botafumeiro swung. Apparently our prayers went straight to heaven!
With that we headed up to buy that champagne. We held a few toasts to friends and family at home and to us and our new Camino friends. It was such a fantastic day, we went to the pilgrim office and received our Compostella and a certificate of distance (which I’m quite sure was nowhere near as far as we actually walked). We caught up with quite a few people over the afternoon, husband saw the Japanese fellow we had first seen at Mansilla, the American ladies from the mist, Michelle and JC, the girl from the Czech republic, Adam from Slovakia, there were a bunch of Germans we had met, a Canadian, our new Spanish friends Jorge and Lola etc etc.
I went back to the 7.30 mass and realised there was no line up to visit the Sepulcre of St James. I went straight in and lit some candles for friends and family. I then went up behind the high altar while Mass was in progress, and came upon the statue of St James that everyone wraps their arms around and whispers why they came into his ear – I had heard you usually line up for hours to see him. I walked straight in. I touched him on the shoulders and realised it was a great place to sit for the mass. I sat down on the stairs and peaked through the ballustrades at the congregration. Me feet were so sore I couldnt possibly stand through another mass. It was a great place to see the Botafumeiro from a different angle. Other people were standing behind there also. I wasn’t the only naughty girl. It swung again after communion and it was so majestic. I cried again.
The night came to an end when we finally walked past the Cathedral square where a local group were playing guitars in traditional attire and engaging the crowd to sing along in Spanish. There had been wonderful buskers all day, harp players, opera singers, guitarists, bagpipers. Santiago felt quite magical. We went to sleep about midnight in our big comfy bed fortunate to have celebrated our Camino across the world with new and old friends. Thank you for sharing our journey.
How it really felt!
Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · wanderingaussies.com
The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.