Today our big day arrives, our final day of walking to Santiago de Compostela. Five hours of walking remain after 30 days of hiking, with 180 hours walking now behind us, during sunny, raining, foggy, cloudy, a little cold, freezing cold, and occasionally windy days. Firstly crossing the Pyrenees mountains of southern France and into Spain, the flat and rolling masetas areas with the orchards and wineries, and now the green fields, hills, and forests of Galicia. All the way contemplating the colors of autumn and being so blessed to have most of the days with wonderful weather, apart from last week which gave us a memorable day of rain and wind.
I remember the different kinds of tracks we walked: mountains, hills, roads, straight and long paths, up and down hills, across streams, rivers, and deserts. The paths that were paved, stone, dirt, mud, grass and everything in between. The yummy foods the Camino gave to us: grapes, blackberries, raspberries, apples, nectarines, kiwifruit, and nuts. Fields of sunflowers, corn, many vegetable gardens, and it was also the season to plow the fields so we got to see the tractors digging furrows through old crop paddocks. Also the Spanish food was absolutely delicious: tortilla patatas, chorizos, ham, wine, pinchos, tapas, paella, bocadillos, café con leche, croissants, baguettes, freshly made bread, ….
I think about the big cities, the towns and small villages we visited. Small white stone towns where all the houses had matching orange roofs, houses with hanging grapevines, houses made in the old style out of stone or handmade bricks, houses with cows as pets wandering around in the backyard. The animals we encountered like boars, cows, sheep, dogs, cats, birds, insects, fish, deer, and the occasional snake, these were all things that crossed our paths on the Way.
I think about all the great people who are now our friends, and who came from all over the World: my Spanish friends, French, German, Denmark, Austrian, Belgian, English, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders, Venezuelan, Argentinian, Italian, American, Korean, Croatian, Hungarian, San Salvadorian, Uruguayan, Cuban, …
I also think back to the places we stayed and that most of the albergues were great, some more comfortable than others, some with people who snored, ha ha ha , some with amazing hot showers, fast internet, kitchens, chapels, massage machines for the feet, big gardens, and wonderful common areas to sit and read or make friends with other pilgrims. Some were donation only with communal cooking, most of them were with bunks beds, and in the last few albergues with disposable sheets they handed out when you checked in (which I liked very much because it guaranteed they were clean).
There were experiences which have no words to express and how much they have taught me during these six weeks. I am sure I will miss the routine of a pilgrim: to wake up at 6:30am, do some stretching to prepare my legs, have our coffee, start walking around 7:30am before sunrise for 5 to 8 hours regardless of the weather, stop twice during the morning to eat something and arrive to the Albergue just after lunch, get the passports stamped, have a hot shower, wash the socks and t-shirts, relax, cook or have dinner, and before 10pm go to bed. A simple routine but so complicated to follow some days. As I read in one of the albergues: to do the Camino we do not need to begin as pilgrims, the Camino coverts us into pilgrims along the Way.
The famous expression used often on the Way of “No pain no Glory” is something I will remember forever. The blisters, sore hips, aching shoulders, and fairly rare but always nasty food poisoning are the common problems of this journey. But also the pain in the heart for something meaningful or for others a quiet, calm, and reflective nothingness, it is a strange feeling.
Today we decided to leave early to arrive in Santiago well before lunch time. We left in the dark and we were in the middle of a forest with big eucalyptus trees for the first couple of hours. We could appreciate a magnificent sunrise, fog and mountains. The fog looked like a mattress between the mountains, it was an amazing landscape for the morning.
It was said that Santiago de Compostela is the rainiest city in Spain, and we had seen in the news how the pilgrims arrived in the city with ponchos on and fighting the wind. But, how we are absolutely blessed, today was gorgeous, with a beautiful blue sky and no clouds. It was one of those perfect days to walk, get warm from the sun and enjoy everything.
Close to Santiago there is a monument erected when the Pope came 20 years ago. It is an impressive sculpture and just after this stop to take photos and eat something we could see for first time our goal on this journey – the Cathedral in central Santiago. The city is big, with a popular old university and more than 100,000 inhabitants.
The way to the cathedral took another half hour walking but this half hour was the most exciting time in the last few weeks. Everybody was concentrated arriving at the plaza in the centre of the city, everybody was focused and nobody was talking. I was focused on my walking and the signs, and when I saw for the first time one of the towers of the cathedral I started walking faster. I did not see anything around me, I could not hear anything , I just wanted to arrive to the square and know I had done it.
We were walking through the small back roads when we crossed the street which takes you to the old city of Santiago and I could hear someone playing the Scottish bagpipes. The unknown source of this music was taking us to our final destination. This music was absolutely gorgeous and after we passed through a tunnel to enter the cathedral plaza and saw the guy basking by playing the bagpipes, there we were. It was the central square, an enormous cathedral overlooking the plaza on one side, grand old buildings surrounding us, a blue sky above, and many pilgrims sitting in the square waiting for other pilgrims to arrive with a friendly ‘Buen Camino’ to greet them.
I could not believe that it took us 31 days of walking to experience this moment, to be here in Santiago de Compostela. According to somebody we met there is a saying that “One only goes to Santiago, one never arrives”. Simon and I were there at 11:38am on the 30th of October of 2013 - this journey was completed, this Camino was done, and a new Camino follows on, the real Camino of life for both of us.
“The true Camino begins when you reach the end”
I experienced millions of feelings at this moment: happiness, sadness, confusion, feeling proud of ourselves, tears, hugs, smiles, etc. It was really beautiful moment to experience. We sat for a while in this square and appreciated the cathedral and the arrival of other pilgrims.
After our arrival, we went to request our certificates for completing the Compostela. Honestly I thought it would not be significant for me, but when they gave us this certificate in Latin, it was another amazing moment. It is a scroll with our names in Latin, but it has a lot meaning, it does not show the hard work of the last weeks but it shows that once in our lives we took the decision to follow the steps of many pilgrims to travel to Santiago de Compostela, looking for something special.
We stayed in Santiago for two nights, visiting the gorgeous city, attending the mass for the pilgrims where they mention the pilgrims who had arrived the previous day, we also hugged the statue of Saint James (or Santiago, or Jacob) which is another tradition. In one of the five star hotels there is a tradition to look after the pilgrims from centuries ago; they give a free breakfast, lunch and dinner to the first ten pilgrims to arrive at the hotel. It is a tradition that King Alfonso VIII started as a way to contribute to the tradition of the way.
We went twice and it was a nice experience. The food is nice and simple, and is served in a special room which is decorated with old paintings of the routes to Santiago done a long time ago. We had to pass through many of the rooms and chapels of the hotel, which were luxurious and elegant, until we arrived at the room for the pilgrims.
After finishing the Camino we decided to walk another 3 days to Finisterra and Muxia which are on the western coast of Spain at ‘The End of the World’. Fortunately before we started our walk we were blessed to be in the celebration of the Saints’ Day on the 1st of November. It was a big mass in the cathedral and the Botafumeiro was swung during the mass. The botafumeiro is the greatest censer for incense in the world. It was used decades ago to clean the awful smell of the pilgrims who had reached the cathedral.
To swing the botafumeiro requires eight people, tiraboleiros, who pull the ropes and make it swing inside the church. It is really impressive to see this, and the music in the background was very uplifting.
Although we have decided to walk to the End to the World, it felt like we had missed something, knowing our routine is going to change soon. What we have planned for such a long time and now it is over. It was a magical experience, an experience with everything that we could hope for and much more than we could expect. We were blessed to learn to appreciate the beauty of the silence, the quietness, the noise and the power of nature; the life in small villages and in big cities; creating friendship with everybody, to smile for the little things, to share the little that we have without wanting anything in return, and understanding we did not need anything after all, and even joked that if someone was stupid enough to try and rob us we would have given them our backpacks and our boots gladly, ha ha ha.
I dedicate this journey to all of you, the angels in my life, the people who are in my heart, my prayers, and my thoughts. All the people who contributed to this dream and who with a Buen camino gave us the best energy to carry on until our end.
These two pilgrims have not reached the end yet, I think our real Camino starts now, and for all of you who are in my heart I wish you BUEN CAMINO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And carry on reading our adventures on our next Camino.