Colourful row boats floated in the shallow turquoise harbour, and lines of white sailboats were bobbing gently in their moorings. A group of small fish was visible in the crystal clear water. Across the bay the hills of Galicia rose and receded into the distance, and behind us the colourful buildings marched in rows up the hill. We stood at the base of a statue dedicated to Galician emigrants, and said a last farewell to the beautiful Atlantic from Europe.
By 9 am we were waiting in line outside the Monbus station for the bus that would depart at 9:45 for Santiago. The bus was full of happy pilgrims, laughing and exchanging stories in at least five different languages. Some people expressed disbelief that they had actually made it all the way to Finisterre. Others exchanged stories about which Camino they had hiked, how long it had taken them, and what their favourite places along The Way were. Quite a few people asked for information about routes they hadn't hiked yet, clearly thinking about which Camino to do next. We were glad to recommend the Via Podiensis and the Caminho Portuguese to several pilgrims who had just finished the Camino Frances, and to describe how we thought each experience differed from the Camino Frances. A Japanese pilgrim sitting beside Sean saw his camera, and asked if he was a photographer. The man then proceeded to share some truly stunning photos of his own from hikes he'd done in Japan. It was a lively and thought provoking bus ride, but it was slightly depressing to realize that the express bus got us back to Santiago in only one hour.
Although we had tried to Google where the bus station in Santiago was, we weren't able to determine an exact location (or even an approximate one for that matter) before arriving. As such, it took us a few minutes to figure out where we were once we arrived. Mostly we just followed the crowd of other pilgrims for a few blocks, and then we found the familiar yellow arrows of the Camino Frances to guide us back towards the central square and the Cathedral.
We hadn't booked anywhere to stay, but wanted to find somewhere nice for our last night in Spain. As a general rule of thumb prices tend to increase the closer you get to the Cathedral, so when we saw the Bonaval Hotel, and found that it was extremely reasonably priced, we ducked inside and booked a room. It was still early, and we couldn't check in until 3 pm, but the very kind staff allowed us to stow our backpacks until the afternoon.
Having no particular destination in mind, we wandered the streets and parks of Santiago, stopping to explore parks and alleys that were new to us. We purchased a few postcards showing scenes from the Camino Portuguese, as well as quite a substantial pile of chocolate, cookies, wine, and locally made bell-shaped cheese to send home as presents.
Around lunch time we stopped in at a wonderful wine bar for some lunch. We were seated in what looked like an old bank or theater - with a domed ceiling and carved wooden pillars. We lingered over a lovely lunch consisting of a huge quinoa salad, white wine, and a slice of Santiago cake, content to sit and observe for a while, and somehow reluctant to return to the hustle and bustle of the streets outside.
Around 3 pm our meanderings took us back to the square outside the Cathedral, and there we were in for a bit of a shock. The square was absolutely jam packed with pilgrims, tourists, buses, and the sightseeing trams. There were hundreds of people sitting and lying in the square, and hundreds more milling around. When we finished our own Camino, just four short days ago, it was nearly empty by comparison. This would explain why many of the albergues and hotels were listed as 'completo' when we looked earlier, but we hadn't expected to find this much of a change in only a few short days.
Shortly after leaving the crowded square we came across an art exhibit offering free admission down one of the side streets. Deciding to try something new, we climbed the steep interior stairs to the exhibition on the upper floors of the building. We were greeted with a fascinating display of street-scapes from Santiago de Compostela. Some were done in ink while others were done in watercolour, and some were a combination. The artist was also an architect, and there were city plans and letters mixed in as well. Seeing the colours and perspectives the artist used to create different moods in his city-scapes was very interesting, and many of the set-ups were very similar to those Sean uses in his photographs.
Wishing to visit the Cathedral and perhaps give Saint James a final hug, we ventured back to the Cathedral to see if it was any less busy than before. If anything, the crowds in the square were denser than before, and when we made our way into the Cathedral we found that it too was packed. The line to hug Saint James stretched all the way around the Alter and out the door. With all the construction going on inside in the Cathedral, everyone was funnelled together - pilgrims, tourists, and large tour groups alike. We found there were simply too many people, even in the smaller side chapels, to find any space for peaceful contemplation.
There has come a moment on all our pilgrimages when we know the transition from pilgrim to tourist has occurred. You enter the city as a pilgrim, seeing the Cathedral for the first time, and sharing the moment with all the others who have arrived on foot after a similar kind of journey. You recognize some of them, and you celebrate together. One day, or perhaps two days later you've cleaned up, spent your time exploring the museums and shops, and you don't recognize anyone anymore, even though you still look. When you finally head out of Santiago in a car, bus, train, or airplane, you leave as a tourist. Although you cannot predict exactly when the transformation will occur, you know unmistakably when it has. This afternoon when we no longer felt we belonged in the Cathedral we knew our pilgrimage was complete.
We sat at an outdoor patio and enjoyed a cold pint while watching the procession of pilgrims walk past. Then we headed back to the hotel to check in. We were shown to a gorgeous room that was actually more like a mini apartment in a sub-basement. Unlike our previous pilgrimages, when we were headed back to the comfort and familiarity of our own home when we finished them, this time is a bit different. Before setting out we sold our house and donated most of our possessions to charity. We have no home to return to, but instead will spend a few weeks back in Ontario, and then fly out to Newfoundland to begin a four year hike across Canada. This was our warm-up hike. As a result, although it is our last day in Santiago, doing laundry is still important to us, because these clothes are all we have for a while yet. So, we headed back out and washed everything we owned that wasn't on us, including our rain gear.
By 7 pm we were back in our room, packing our things and our new purchases in preparation for our 4 am departure tomorrow morning. We felt too tired to venture back out into the town, but it was still too early to go to sleep. We decided to settle down with a bottle of the famous monk-made Galician Herbal Liqueur, watch Martin Sheen's 'The Way', and reminisce about our Caminos. As the time passed we laughed, cried, and reflected on our own walks along the Camino Frances, the Via Podiensis, and the Camino Portuguese. We remembered the places we'd been, the crazy things that had happened, and the wonderful people we'd met. We were surprised to see new parts to the movie that we didn't remember, despite having watched it quite a few times before. Then we realized this was because it was a different version of the movie, with a slightly different ending. Only extremely rarely do either one of us like a remake better than the original. However, as this stage in our journey comes to an end, it felt right to watch the movie that inspired us to begin walking this path. Here's to the unknown, new adventures, and new beginnings!