Today we would reach Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. The city of Leon, where we started our Camino, seemed like a distant memory. In reality, it was only 13 days ago.
We packed our bags slowly. I think we were all in disbelief that today we would reach the end of our journey. It was pitch dark when we headed out to the path. There were a couple of other pilgrims with some headlamps ahead of us. We had planned to stop at a camp for some breakfast, but they weren’t open yet.
We continued on in a haze towards Monte de Gozo where there was a large sculpture commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II. Next to it was a small church. We paid a short visit and got our first pilgrim stamp for the day. A little further down, we saw the albergue where the Korean pilgrims had stayed. We wondered if they were in Santiago already, or if they were still sleeping inside.
The scenery started to transform around us. Santiago was a modern bustling cities, full of apartments, trains and houses. We found a cool fountain on the sidewalk made for pilgrims to refill their water bottles.
It was still early and the city was quiet. As we got closer, we started to see more pilgrims. Some pilgrims had just arrived, some had already spent the night, and were picking up their Compostella. It seemed like a long walk before we reached the older part of the city.
Soon the pavement made way for old cobblestones. We walked through an arch, turned a corner and there it was, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, covered in scaffolding and blue netting. We laughed, it seemed a bit odd to end the journey with a building under construction. I wasn’t disappointed, the 300 km. walk to Santiago, was such an amazing experience. I have a lifetime of memories packed with pilgrims that we met, delicious food and gorgeous scenery.
We took our mandatory celebration pics in front of the Cathedral, and gave our hugs to St. James. The church was still quite empty. It was nice to have a chance to take it all in before the crowds came. Afterwards, we checked into Hospederia San Martin. It’s a beautiful building that used to be a Monastery, conveniently located next to the church. Once we settled in, we made our way to the Pilgrims office to receive our Compostela. We got a bit lost and finally found the office on Rua des Carretas. We arrived early, so we only had to wait about 30 minutes in line. The volunteer that checked my credencials wasn’t too impressed that I had no dates on my passport. After checking with another volunteer, he un-enthusiastically wrote my Latin name on the Compostela, which according to his search was “Milfred”. Now that was a bit disappointing!
Meanwhile, my husband was all smiles about his experience. After getting his Compostela, he ran to me saying that we had to attend the 11 a.m. mass. The volunteer had taken our group information down and they would announce it in mass. We hurried back to the hotel and tried desperately to find some church clothes in our backpacks. We settled for clean clothes and since sandals didn’t seemed appropriate, we wore our hiking shoes.
The Cathedral was packed. We ran into some pilgrims from Brazil that we had met along the way. The mass started and they announced the pilgrim groups that had completed their Camino that day, and where they started. My husband was right. They called out Canada, starting from Leon! We cheered at the recognition! Soon a group of eight men in red robes came out. I couldn’t believe it. We were going to see the Botafumeiro swing! The church filled up with the scent of frankincense, cameras started flashing everywhere. This doesn’t happen in every pilgrim mass. I read that it was only on special days for the church. It can also be requested, but it cost around 400 euros. The experience was icing on the cake for our time on the Camino.
We left the Cathedral in a high, and my husband spotted Gerrit. We last saw him at Foncebadon, when he said he would check out Manjarin. We’ve always wondered if he stayed there the night. He said that after seeing the place, he decided to walk to the next town. It was a little too rustic for him. It’s always such a surreal experience to re-unite with people you meet along the Camino.
There’s a sense of community having walked the same 300 km. with so many people. We’ve walked through heat and rain, and passed the same towns. We were all plagued by some sort foot, knee or hip pain. I’m sure at some point, we all questioned our decision to walk the Camino. Now that we’ve arrived at Santiago de Compostela, we can share in a feeling of accomplishment. All that’s left to do is wonder… what’s next?