Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela
Wednesday 3 December
I didn’t start as early as planned. I was beginning to get tired. I only had twelve kilometers to walk, and was hoping to make the twelve o’clock pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. I climbed Monte de Gozo and was able to view the sprawling suburbs of Santiago. I soon joined the city traffic. On the outskirts was a large sign announcing my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I started to tear up. I was surprised at my reaction, I still had several kilometers to go, so pulled myself together.
I was walking in a daze, almost hesitating at arriving at the cathedral. The city became busier with people going about their daily business. I couldn’t see any pilgrims, but continued along the yellow arrows, getting harder to find in the city. I felt I was walking in slow motion. Slow emotion. The weight of history, of my own Camino. I couldn’t tell if the people around me were frozen in time or speeding past me, it was a very filmic experience. I could see the angels from ‘Wings of Desire’ atop the surrounding buildings. Their whispering and flaps of their wings drowned out any other noise. My steps were heavy. Getting closer, I slowed. An old man stopped and pointed my way. Again. I felt tears steaming down my face.
I arrived at the arch at the entrance to the plaza. A man in traditional Galician costume was playing the bagpipes. Haunting. Overcome. I slowly stepped down through the archway, entering the plaza below. The main face of the cathedral was in front of me, unfortunately covered in scaffolding for renovations, but that didn’t hide the overwhelming experience for me. There were no other pilgrims, in fact there was hardly anyone in the plaza. I needed to sit down and cry. Although long, the Camino wasn’t a difficult walk, but I guess my emotional response was more due to the whole experience of the Camino, not just the physical. It surprised me, but I couldn’t stop sobbing.
I looked up and saw another pilgrim approaching. I raised my hand in greeting. I didn’t know her, but she came over and threw her arms around me. She was on her way to Finesterra and had been in Santiago for a few days. She had met my Irish and Italian friends, and pulled out a T-shirt for me to sign that already had their messages. She said it was her dream to travel to Indonesia, so asked for my contact. That’s the Camino, she said. She took my photo in front of the cathedral. We hugged again, and she was off to the end of the world.
Even though I had arrived in time, I was now too late for the pilgrims mass. The magnificent and historic Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos was behind me, at the side of the plaza. Built in the fifteenth century, and said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world. My brother had given me a birthday gift of a night in its five star luxury, so I went to check in. Apparently in the past pilgrims could stay here for five nights in winter with medical and priest services on call for free. Five nights would be nice.
I then went to collect my Compostela, the traditional ‘certificate’ of completion of the Camino de Santiago. I don’t really need proof, as my Camino will hopefully remain with me, but it’s a nice piece of paper with a Latin inscription stating that I have arrived to honor Saint James.
Mass had finished, so I thought I would go into the Cathedral. The main entrance was blocked because of the renovations, and unfortunately the famous carved stone front door, the Portico de Gloria, was covered. I climbed back up the stairs through the arch, to the pilgrim’s entrance. Coming out of the cathedral was the group from the other evening, they had risen very early to make it for the mass. Inside, the cathedral smelt like I had imagined churches in Spain to smell. This was the first one that matched my imaginings. Centuries of incense. I again was overcome with emotion, and fell to my knees, not something I do often in a church.
After leaving the Cathedral, more earthy things were on my mind, lunch. I had arranged to meet my Dutch friend in a cafe. Miss Venezuela and My Camino angel had gone to Finesterra by bus for the day. It was nice to see him and hear his Camino stories. After lunch we went to my hotel for a tour, as I was a guest I had free roam. Four large cloisters, of which my room overlooked one, endless corridors with sitting rooms filled with art and antiques, exquisite details and luxury. When I am a rich old lady who lives out her days in a hotel, this is the hotel I want to do it in.
My Dutch friend left, and I went to enquire about a tour of the cathedral roof that he had told me about. They said it would only be in Spanish, and would start in half an hour. I said I would come later, as I wanted to go to the nearby Franciscan church as I was told they were issuing special compostelas to pilgrims as it was a six hundred year anniversary. I returned to the cathedral for the tour, and the only other people were a French couple who also had no Spanish. The guide said she would do the tour in English and French. We climbed the stairs high up to the roof. The light was fading, and colours filled the sky. The roof was stepped granite, and easy to walk across. The views were stunning, an angel’s eye view. The architectural and historic explanations were fascinating. A wonderful experience.
I wandered around the city some more, still feeing dazed and overwhelmed. I had made a half hearted arrangement to meet my Dutch friend and Miss Venezuela for dinner, but I hadn’t heard from them, so decide to return to the hotel to perhaps eat in one of the restaurants. As I walked through the arch to descend the staircase into the plaza, a new busker had replaced the bagpiper, and on a melodica was playing Hallelujah by Leonard Coen, a song I love. Again, haunting.
Returning to my room, I received a message from my Dutch friend, the three of us met, and went in search of food. Later, when we were returning, we again ran into the other group of pilgrims, so joined them for a drink. I was not in the mood for crowds, and wanted to make the most of my five star experience so soon returned to my room for a bath.