This blog is a record of my observations, experiences and crazy thoughts about my 800 kilometer pilgrimage across northern Spain: the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (April-May 2009).
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Day 41 - Santiago - Saturday, 30 May 2009
Monte do Gozo -> Santiago de Compostela = 3K (I arrive!)
It is the dark of night. From my bed by the window in the albergue at Monte de Gozo, I see pilgrims walking past all night long. Like horses nearing home these pilgrims seem to chomp at the bit and rush to arrive at the cathedral.
I do not sleep well. At dawn, I grab my things and go to the common area to pack up.
I see many familiar faces and exchange hugs and some farewells from those who have been here a few days. Already there is a bitter-sweetness in the air. We are all about to end an adventure. (Or is it really just the beginning of a bigger adventure as many people seem to think?)
I walk alone on this cool, crisp morning. It is Saturday so there is not much traffic. The streets are empty.
I arrive in Santiago and stand gazing up at the cathedral by 0800 – I have the huge plaza to myself. It is a lovely moment, though honestly the moments leading up to it did not seem to set the proper tone. Somehow, I managed to lose the trail when I was just a few blocks from the cathedral. After 500 miles of following the little yellow arrows over through all kinds of terrain and weather, I felt pretty foolish losing my way just footsteps from my destination. Another opportunity to feel humble. 8-)
Then, just as I was about to round the corner to the plaza, I managed to walk right into the path of the spray as the huge street cleaner completed its circuit of the plaza. I almost cried and then quickly chose to laugh. And then I laughed hard.
So, I stand in front of the amazing cathedral, alone in the middle of the enormous plaza. The cobblestones glitter with the morning sun catching the water drops and making them look like diamonds. I stood there, awed by the cathedral and totally forgot about my wet clothes and my aching leg and all the other petty details that could have ruined the moment.
Following my private moment in the square, I found my way to the pilgrim office. Standing there, smoking in the morning sun, was Robert (the “Flying Dutchman”). I grinned like a kid. We went for coffee and waited for the office to open.
Standing in line at the pilgrim office was a delight. The line wound up three flights of stairs. Pilgrims coming out stopped frequently to hug people or to talk to pilgrims they never expected to see again. It was like a school reunion. Outside the building many pilgrims who arrived days ago, lingered to inquire about other pilgrims.The atmosphere was festive. It was like a graduation event.
With my official credential in hand, I headed over to the cathedral to attend pilgrim mass.
I stood in the back, feeling uncomfortable in my walking clothes and with my pack. The cathedral was filled with tourists and pilgrims. Pilgrims were acknowledged by country. Many people wept. The huge incense burner swung across the front of the cathedral. I observed the disembodied arms of pilgrims hugging the Statue of St James high above and behind the priest at the front of the church.
It was wonderful.
Following mass, I realized just how exhausted I really was. My left leg was still swollen and painful. I had to find accommodations for the next two days, I needed to call my spouse, get bus tickets to Madrid, etc. It was hot and I suddenly felt alone. I should have checked into a nearby hotel, taken a shower, and simply relaxed and recuperated in a private room, but instead I walked to an albergue across town. It was a monastery on a hill and the sleeping room was a big open-bay and a stunning view.
Instead of celebrating, I simply laid down, elevated my leg and went to sleep among the snoring and grunting of 50 strangers. Like delivering a baby after a long pregnancy, I was exhilarated, but exhausted. I slept.
I felt a little let down…like post-partum blues I guess. I did not expect to be so tired.
In April 2009, I began my 500-mile trek across the rocky paths and mountains of northen Spain. I finished my walk on the the ancient Way of St James (the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) in early June 2009.
I consider this a pilgrimage of gratitude. Each step was an opportunity to express gratitude for the abundance life offers; each footstep, one of finding joy. It was a humbling experience. It was a character-building experience. It was a spiritual adventure and a physical one too - who knew I was such a mountain goat? I hope you will enjoy my rambling, stream of consciousness obeservations of my experiences as a pilgrim on this historic pilgrimage route that really is only the begining.
Of course veteran pilgrims know: the Camino never ends - once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim. So, wherever YOUR path takes you, I wish you "Buen Camino".