The Last Day


 Track on the last day

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...

Waiting on the Cathedral steps... encountering angels...

The final walk into Santiago was, in many ways anticlimactic. From Arca I walked in the dark along the soft earth of a path through an oak forest and began a gentle climb. By the time the sun rose the towns were becoming frequent and had taken on a particular character, that of subsidiary settlements to a large city. Around 11.00 I passed the Santiago city limits but still had 11 km to go before I hit the big smoke. Soon it was kilometre after kilometre of senda path following a straight two lane tarmac road, then an amazingly ugly sculpture on the top of Mt. Gozo, then the suburbs. I crossed motorways, walked past and through shopping centres, waited at pedestrian crossings, dodged cars on roundabouts. And without much warning, after an hour or so of suburban trudging there were the towers of the cathedral looming on my left and the old town all around me. Beggars and buskers both of the very highest levels of professionalism. Smart young men and women in bright colours. Pilgrims everywhere. People, people, people. And round the corner my Clemency on the Cathedral steps where she had been waiting all morning. We embraced and cried and slowly walked up the steps and into the place which had been our symbolic goal all these 500 weary miles.
Rush hour in the tomb of St. James

Whatever it was that I was expecting in the tomb of St. James it wasn´t what I found. The place was packed. Tour buses disgorged their cargoes every few minutes. People stood everywhere, popping pictures on cellphones and tiny pocket cameras. The custom is that pilgrims ascend the steps behind the altar and embrace the statue of St. James, then descend to the crypt to pray before the relics of the apostle. There was a queue several hundred long to do this. I was hungry. We had nowhere to sleep. You could not turn around without banging into someone. The cathedral police continually asked, very reasonably, for silence to respect the sanctity of the place, and to remind people that taking photos or talking on cellphones was not allowed, but people yakked on and emptied their tiny flashes into that vast space. People we had met on the way kept greeting us, enquiring after Clemency´s health, which was wonderful though not what either of us wanted to deal with right then.

We left in company with a friend of ours, Marie, from France, went to the pilgrims office and queued for our Compostela, the certificate of achievement for completing the pilgrimage. It used to be worth an indulgence, but I´m not sure if it is anymore. Then we found a restaurant. It was a pleasant Edwardian sort of affair with big comfy chairs, and a high ceiling and wood paneling. We ordered paella and sat exhausted and were greeted by one of those angels who pop up from time to time on the Camino. Lisa is a Canadian, traveling with her mother, Shirley who was walking the Camino in celebration of her 70th birthday. Look up the word "extrovert" in the dictionary and there will be a picture of Lisa. She made herself known and talked about her time in Dunedin and her fondness for New Zealand. Around 3 we decided we had better start looking for a bed, and made our farewells to Lisa, Shirley and Marie.

Beds in Santiago on a Saturday are in the hens teeth category. Every place we poked our nose into had the same story to tell. Completo. Lo siento. Clemency could hardly walk. I began to have a new sympathy for St. Joseph. About the time I was about to hail a cab and ask him to take us to the next town back on the track with an albergue, a loud Canadian voice called our names. Lisa bounced up and told us we were only 5 minutes from her hotel, and maybe they might have a room. I left Clemency with Shirley and followed to a small, not exactly up market hotel just out of the historic district and yes, it was possible they could have a room and yes they did have a lift and yes we could have the room for two nights.

So here we are. Six floors up. Everything new and clean. Only five minutes walk from the Cathedral. And a bath!


Anonymous said…
Llegaste. Enhorabuena!

Now come & do the Pilgrim's Way to Canterbury! :)

VenDr said…
We're seriously considering it Brian. or the way of St Martin from Hungary to Tours. But the front runner in consideration for the next one is the Camino Norte, to Santiago From Bayonne along the coast of Spain. its tougher than the Camino Frances but more beautiful, by all accounts. And I wouldn't have to learn Hungarian.