Day 33 — We made it! Santiago de Compostela!
We got up early in the morning, put on our walking shoes, picked up our backpacks and walked, fully aware that this was our last day. We knew that our daily routine would change imminently, that our long walking days would be over forever, that we wound find ourselves in a different world, with different priorities, going back to our families and to our work. We wanted to get to Santiago, but we knew that we would miss our Camino.
Early morning welcomed us with a wonderful sunny view and a fog raising from the valley. We took our phones to record this for posterity and then I saw in the corner of my eye a familiar figure. “Nyncke?!?” — I shouted! Yes, that was her, Nyncke, who we lost on the fifth day re-appeared on our last! That must have been one of the most amazing Camino bumps! We didn’t know it, but we were to experience another fantastic one!
The rest of the journey we walked with Nyncke catching up on our hikes. Apparently she was bumping into our friends along the way, somehow we never bumped into each other till the last day!
The path was packed with many tourists, the cafe bars were crowded. Everybody wanted the last coffee, tortilla, empanada. I was also stopping many times taking the opportunity to take some last photos of the journey, of the sunny horizon, of beautiful flowers and views. I will miss you, my dears. Stay here and look pretty, I will be back one day.
Finally we reached the Monte de Gozo from where one can get the first glimpse of the cathedral. Martin captured it in an extremely zoomed in photograph, but I couldn’t really see it with the naked eye. However only the thought that the goal was within reach made me a bit teary. OMG! Will I be crying like a baby when I reach Santiago?
Finally we got to the outskirts of Santiago proclaimed by an interesting looking sign with many discarded pilgrim items — walking sticks, scarfs, hats, tops and what have you! “Yes, we made it!” - I thought. Little did I know, it would take us another hour to traverse through the busy outskirts before we reached the old town.
My heart was beating the closer we were getting to the main, old part of the town. After the first glimpse of the cathedral from the hill we couldn’t see even one spire! Where is it? Before getting to the main event, to avoid problems with getting accommodation, we decided to first find ourselves a bed for the night and drop our backpacks and then go and see the cathedral. Don’t know if that was a good call, but that’s what we did. We went to the Seminario Menor — a huge albergue located in some ex convent not far from the cathedral. We had to wait in the queue to get our beds allocated, the place was enormous so plenty of beds were available. We got a bit of a shock when we saw our dormitory — rows on rows of metal beds in a huge room, all looking like some make shift military hospital. For many pilgrims Santiago is their final destination (although some carry on to Muxia and Finisterre) therefore the albergue extended its closing hours till 11.30 pm, so we just imagined all the young people coming at night and disturbing our sleep.
But there was no time to waste. We left our bags and rushed to our final goal! The cathedral! We took the shortcut, not going through the main gate often frequented by bag pipers providing back drop music to the achievement. Maybe this was the reason why we were a bit underwhelmed when stood on the main square in front of the huge newly refurbished white wall cathedral. There were lots of pilgrims and tourists, all taking photos, all happy and celebrating their achievement. We were also very happy, took many photos, but we weren’t as touched as I expected. No baby tears for me today. Don’t know what I was expecting — funfairs, choir of angels, saint James greeting us personally? Well, I think one should go to the cathedral first thing, with the whole equipment; never mind the accommodation! I think that would have had bigger impact.
After the cathedral we rushed to the pilgrim’s office. Obviously our physical exertion was not to be over yet, we had hours to stand in a queue awaiting our compostela — certificate of completion. As I mentioned people who just walked 100 km from Sarria get the same one, so the queue was long. Fortunately we have learnt that if there are at least three of you in a group you can fill in the form and come and collect your certificate later avoiding the queue. By our miraculous meet up with Nyncke, we were the group of three who started from St John on the same day! No queuing for us!
However Yvonne wasn’t this lucky, she started on a different day, and had to wait. We left her in the queue and went to the main cathedral square again. It was getting more crowded with many celebrating pilgrims, with large groups of people. And all of the sudden in this crowd we saw Barry waving at us!!! The Universe did everything possible for us to meet up again. Apparently Barry’s mobile broke, hence he wasn’t communicating with us, but we knew that he was due to take a ferry back that morning. However his ferry was cancelled and the earliest flight out was in the evening. What a happy coincidence that instead of waiting in a queue we could spent a couple of hours with Barry before his taxi arrived.
Between saying our farewells to Barry, meeting up with Yvonne and collecting our certificates we met so many pilgrims we got to known along the way. It was like a large family reunion. We bumped into Suzanne, Alex, American girls and many others. We forgot about going back to our dormitory and making our beds or even changing from our hiking clothes, we were way too busy walking around the town and talking to our friends.
We went to a famous tapas bar on Rua do Franco recommended by Alex with our friends and then for drinks in the local wine bar. By the time it was eleven we decided to rush home, only to find out that everybody in the albergue was already asleep and it was us who were the last people in!
This was the first night (and the last) where I didn’t have time or strength for a shower but went straight to sleep with my walking gear on! Never mind, tomorrow we are tourists sleeping in a normal hotel!