Steve : We’re here! Sometime after 11am this morning the three of us ran – yes, ran – the last half km into the square outside the Cathedral in Santiago.
The day started very early. Our plan was to make it to Santiago in time for the noon pilgrim’s mass. We reckoned we had around 20km to go from Pedrouzo so, given our current storming form, we reckoned 5 hours max. But to be on the safe side we were up just after 5am.
It was wet and very dark. We headed back into town and picked up the Camino trail again and headed into the woods. Within minutes we hit a new problem. It was simply too dark to see the trail. The sky was black with rain clouds and we were still an hour before dawn. On previous early starts this hadn’t been a problem as we could see plenty under a starry moonlit sky.
Somewhat disappointed we had an emergency committee meeting during which some jovial Spanish peregrinos who were wearing head torches passed us. So we dissolved our meeting and simply followed them. They were a little slow but they got us to Breakfast #1…
…after which time the sun had come up enough to be useful. Off we went. It rained on and off and within a few hours we passed the airport and came upon the ‘Santiago’ marker.
It always surprises me just how long it takes to walk through a large town’s suburbs. Santiago is no exception. We cross big roads and pass carpet showrooms and the typical big shed retailers of the modern world. Eventually we reach a pilgrim monument on top of a hill…
…and there it is, Santiago Cathedral. Blimey.
I am nervous! 31 days of constant walking plus another few months of planning and there’s the target. Visible with our naked eyes through the mist.
We walk on, down the hill.
We nip into a cafe to use the loo and have Breakfast #1.5 and I meet a man who went to school in my village back home in Scotland. He’s come out to Santiago to join his wife, who has walked from Leon, and I can tell he’s simultaneously impressed and baffled.
We walk on into the old town.
Jen vaguely recognises where she is from her Camino trip last year and she dares us to run the last half km. I demur but she wins and off we go.
So we race into the square, to find the last 10m blocked by a group of tourists who can’t seem to move out of the way.
We arrive in front of the scaffolding covering the front of the cathedral. There’s a man with an angle grinder making one heck of a noise half way up that scaffolding. Most of the square is closed off for some military event taking place later. We try and take it all in and collapse..
Jen just sits down. I wander on a few metres and Hamish a few metres more. I don’t know what either of them are thinking and, to be honest, I don’t know what I’m thinking either. My thoughts return to the two people who should be here, Muriel and Ali, and my sadness returns.
But then I think of my legs! And I get Jen to take a picture…
I ask you, dear reader, are those not particularly fine specimens? Muscles. And muscles on top of those muscles! Excellent legs in excellent socks in excellent shoes. Excellent.
We round up another peregrino and ask her to take a picture. Thankfully it’s a good one and here it is again. Happy memories already.
Overcome with something or other we retire to a cafe to eat churros dipped in chocolate. Diabetes on a plate. Very tasty.
We queue up for the noon pilgrim mass and find ourselves having to sit on the floor. The place is packed. The mass is long, in Spanish, and a bit baffling but we are glad to be there.
You may have heard about the swinging incense holder – you can see it in the centre of the above picture. Sadly that wasn’t going to happen at our mass. Apparently, if you pay enough (rumour says 3 or 4 hundred euros) and organise it in advance the church will do the swinging incense thing. I’m hazy as to what it’s all about but I can imagine that it’s very effective in removing the aroma of filthy pilgrim from the building.
This is a major Catholic cathedral and the quantity of gold around the supposed tomb of James the Apostle (Sant Iago) is considerable.
The mass finishes and we limp out back into the square. The rain has stopped and the sun threatens a return.
We find our albergue, ‘The Last Stamp’ (a reference to the stamps we collect in our ‘Pilgrim Passport’ or ‘Credentials’ at every albergue since St Jean) and go for a wander.
Central Santiago is a lovely old city full of tourist tat and interesting shops.
We stock up on souvenirs (we don’t have to carry it much further now!) and Jen buys two new dresses.
The albergue is quite pleasant, though the ‘easy’ ways of the rural albergues have gone. This one is very much ‘business’. We make our beds and set out our stuff, then head out to collect our certificate and find some dinner.
The Pilgrim Office below the Cathedral is the final port of call for the peregrino. Here you show your ‘Pilgrim Passport’ and answer a few questions about your trip. Hand over 5 euros and you are given two documents, a ‘Certificate of Distance’ stating how far you have walked, and the all important ‘Compostella’ with your name scribed in Latin (sort-of). We queue up for around an hour and a half to get ours.
One of the hospitaleros tells us that yesterday they did 1400 ‘Compostellas’ and today they were expecting to do 1600. And the Camino ‘season’ hasn’t really started yet.
We walk out into the square and feel much contentment.
Dinner is at an excellent veggie-friendly restaurant where we blow the budget and eat like kings.
We are back in bed at around 10:30.
Sadly Santiago is a party town and the drinking starts early. Along side the peregrinos who are walking the trail with purpose are the tourigrinos, who are basically here for a party. Some didn’t even bother walking at all – we saw quite a few folks with boots and backpacks get out of taxis and only walk the last 100m into the square. Not cool.
The noise outside the albergue is incredible. I sleep fitfully until the last drunken idiot staggers into bed in the room above ours around 4:30am. In the morning I take great delight in not being quiet and revel in the ‘shhhh’s from the hangover brigade. Sorry, mate, you should have thought of that earlier…
Tomorrow we are no longer peregrinos. We will not walk. We’ll be on a bus to Finisterre, ‘The End of the World’, and we’ll watch the sun set over the Atlantic.