Day 35 (to Santiago de Compostela): To Be Continued !!!

My last day on the Camino, I head out …

2014-05-08 07.41.05
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… to a foggy morning. The path crosses the major roads so some caution is in order. Last night the hospitalero told me that its precisely 27.1 km from his albergue to the cathedral gate in Santiago … he measured it with 3 different GPS devices.

After a breakfast in the next bar ahead it through the forest again.
An interesting thing at the next village … a talking commercial. It appears someone rigged a motion detector that plays “Le Mer” when activated, followed by a greeting in Spanish and English from some albergue in Santiago.

Small villages in the forest follow in sequence and a light crowd of pilgrims slowly forms on the Way … all roads seem to lead to Santiago.
Next break is at the bar where I spot Natasa and Zrinka.

Another forest, another uphill climb. There is a donativo bar on top set up by an Italian couple. After a brief chat I continue onwards.

Forest, forest, forest followed by hill, hill, hill .. but the main one eludes me so far … Monte Gozo, just before Santiago.
What doesn’t elude me is a bar next to a picnic zone, where I join Mathias, a couple from New Zeland and two ladies from as far back as Mauritius. Its 7 km more to Santiago … according to the waiter.

Next up Monte Gozo with another pilgrim monument and a huge albergue with 500 beds. A lot of people stop here in order to be in Santiago first thing in the morning.
A bit further down the road … downhill … a city in the distance … Santiago de Compostela.
Step by step I inch closer …. to a huge sign and a map of the city.
Still more to the cathedral.
In a restaurant along the road … Aviva, Allison and Tanya are just finishing lunch.
Yellow arrows lead ahead.
Down the street of the old town I catch a first glimpse of the cathedral towers.
Just a little bit more.
There it is … the Cathedral … but wait, where is the huge square from the movie. Its a bit further down … I entered through a side door.
I arrived at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at 15:30.

I need some time to restore my bearings.
The arrival is not a … flash bam alakazaam moment … a cliche often heard (for a very good reason)  says … Its not about the destination, its about the Way
I will definitely need time to process this experience.

I sat down for a while until a guard warned me it forbidden to enter the cathedral with a backpack. Right … there is the exit to the main square.
An old pilgrim custom is to embrace a statue of St. James and to knock your forehead 3 times with the statue of master Mateo, the architect of the cathedral in order to soak up his wisdom. Alaas both statues are surrounded by a fence.

I leave the cathedral in a sort of daze looking for a pilgrim office. The line outside is not too big.
New Zelanders are already here … and so is Nan Jon.She is feeling proud for arriving the day before me (since we started from St. Jean together). I chat a bit with a group of Englishmen who started from Saria and am soon joined by Allison and Aviva.
As the line slowly move along Allison asks me … “Why don’t you take off your backpack” … why indeed, now that I am back in “civilization” I don’t need to carry my backpack all day.

Its my turn to give my stamped Credential to the lady at the pilgrim office. When I got my Compostella (in Latin) I started reading it … instead of my name its says  … clown ?!? … what is this?  As I took a closer look I realized its actually a pretty good Latin translation of my name (and no, it didn’t say “clown”). I’m impressed … excellent database of names.
I also got a a newly issued certificate of distance … officially I walked 775 km. At this point I could say … it felt like more … but it didn’t … after a first couple of days I lost the sense of past mileage … for me it was all in the current step.
I leave the pilgrim office and then the whole thing partially hit me … I say partially because I remained coherent … more or less.
My Camino buddies outside are naturally curious to see how the Compostela looks like.

I head outside looking for a tourist office … I would appear I’m a tourist now … imagine that. At the next bar along the street I join Keith, Jan, Andrew and Matt. We warmly congratulate each other. Keith is trying to persuade me to move to the US, apparently he thinks I would fit well there. Thanks but I’m a sentimental sucker for my little corner of the globe … which also happens to be the most beautiful one … if you think I’m exaggerating … come and see for yourself why I’m right.

Keith and the Aussies are continuing on to Finistere and I am looking for accommodation … with bed-sheets. I found a small boarding house right next to the cathedral, almost as cheap as a local albergue.

As I stroll around the town I bump into a lot of familiar faces … Paolo and Eliah … Elisabeth and Martina … at the dinner with Keith, Aviva, Allison and Tanya,  I even spot Claudia from Brazil.

I am serenaded good night by outdoor tunes … everything from On The Beautiful Blue Danube to the soundtrack from the Godfather.

That was day no. 35.

The next day I went to the morning pilgrim mass … the cathedral was packed … more familiar faces … Luz and Jake, Mick, father and daughter from Rhode Island …
A group of German pilgrims paid for Botafumeiro service … a large incense burner, symbol of the Cathedral. There is a nice video here.
That where the additional part of the whole thing hit me.

What to say at the end … mere words aren’t enough to describe the entire Camino experience. (although I’ve used quite a few). Camino is so many things … pure, unadulterated joy … unforgettable encounter with God, your own soul and so many wonderful people … a humbling and vivid reminder of what life is all about.
The only catch is in learning how to apply its lessons in everyday life.
Poor student that I am, I will definitely need to go back (many, many more times, and as soon as possible) to really learn my lessons well.

Buen Camino !!!

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