Monday, May 13, 2019

Teo to Santiago de Compostela

We awoke around 6 am to the sounds of pilgrims hurrying by outside our window, their joyous excitement evident in the sounds of their footsteps. It brought to mind our first hike into Santiago in 2016, when we finished the Camino Frances. That morning we sprang out of bed at 4 am, desperate to arrive in time for the noon mass, stunned by our success at completing our first 800 kilometer journey, and every bit as excited as the pilgrims outside. Although we were still very excited to be returning to Santiago again today, this time our anticipation was tempered with a much stronger reluctance to bring this journey to an end, and a desire to fully savour every last moment.


We waited for the breakfast of coffee, orange juice, toast, and jam that was served at 8 am. A short time later we emerged from the albergue with the other pilgrims who were equally shell shocked by the unexpected and entirely exorbitant cost of their last night on the Caminho Portuguese.
We emerged into a morning of rare beauty. A thick mist was hanging above the grassy pastures, turned golden by the rising sun. The shafts of light transformed the dew on the tall grasses in the pastures into sparkling jewels and decorated the delicate spider webs. The birds sang in the surrounding forest, and the rolling green countryside on either side of the gravel track seemed completely peaceful. For a few moments we shared this idyllic setting with a young lady we hadn't previously met, who was also photographing the scene with a DSLR camera, a relatively rare sight on the Caminos, where most people value lightweight packs.

As with the approach from the Camino Frances, we walked through scented Eucalyptus forests this morning. As the sun warmed the bark of the trees, releasing their spicy scent, I realized I will always associate the strong, fresh smell of Eucalyptus with Spain, and with walking Caminos. I wished I could take a small sample with me to transport me back here in the future.


The trail soon brought us the outskirts of the city. Our first glimpses were of red roofs dotting the lush green hills around us as we passed older homes and abandoned farms. Then we found ourselves in well to-do suburbs, with large houses in well landscaped yards that enjoyed a view of the city across a valley. Then the density of houses increased, and we soon found ourselves on the busy streets of the city. We picked up our pace as we passed a strip of very large hotels, and a huge, ultramodern looking albergue. Then we were walking down a busy road bordered by shops, the university, and a large park with a lovely green space.


It was very interesting to approach the Cathedral of Santiago from a different angle, and to see more of what lies beyond the old quarter of the city. As we walked past the university we began looking for a place to stay for a couple of nights, hoping to drop off our backpacks before continuing on to the cathedral. We settled on St. Martin's Hostel, which was recommended in our Brierley guide, and which let us drop off our things, even though it was still only late morning. We checked in at the bar, got our keys, and then walked down the street to the accommodations. Our room seemed to be a university residence, and although very simple, it met our needs admirably.


We dropped off our packs and with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and sadness walked the final 10 minutes to the Cathedral square.


When we reached the square nothing could dampen our thrill of excitement at seeing the Cathedral and knowing we had arrived. We had made it! An added bonus was that construction on the exterior of the Cathedral is now complete, so the scaffolding has been removed, and we could see the magnificent building in its entirety. Sitting in the square in front of the Cathedral, watching the expressions on the faces of the steady stream of arriving pilgrims is always an amazing experience. We sat for a while, watching and sharing the pure joy, and the whole range of other emotions on the faces of the new arrivals.
After sitting for a short time, we walked over to the Pilgrim Office.


We had hoped that it wouldn't be too busy in the middle of the morning, during the pilgrim mass. The line wasn't too long, but it nonetheless snaked around the hall and out into the interior courtyard. It took just over an hour for us to receive our Compostelas, purchase our travel tubes to protect them, and emerge onto the sunny pavement outside once again. We hadn't realized that we had begun this pilgrimage on April 13th and finished on May 13th.

After leaving the Pilgrim Office we made our way back to the Cathedral, and ventured inside. Although the outside has been completely restored, the inside is now under construction. All the seats are gone, there is scaffolding on the Alter, the Botafumeiro has been removed, and large partitions and sheets of plastic are hung throughout. We made our way up to the Alter with the other visitors, many of whom had lit candles. We visited the side chapels, and joined the line to give Saint James a hug, pass on our gratitude for a successful journey and the lessons we learned along the way, and ask for his blessing on our next endeavour.

As we stood in the familiar Cathedral that has now been taken apart, we thought back to our first visit here, when the outside was covered in scaffolding, but the inside was intact. We were lucky enough to attend mass here with many of our Camino friends and fellow hikers, and even got to see the Botafumeiro swing. In 2016 it was an unexpected Holy Year, so we were also able to enter through the Door of Forgiveness. Today was a very difference experience, but no less full of blessings.

We headed out into the sunny and warm square behind the Cathedral for a celebratory salad and beer. Afterwards we wandered the cobblestone streets of the old town, passing several familiar faces as we went and pausing to congratulate those we knew. We wandered the streets for a bit, reminiscing, and looking at the souvenirs and crafts. In the late afternoon, when the sun was getting very warm we stopped for gelato, and then returned to our room for a break.

In the evening we wandered back to old quarter, and enjoyed a dinner sitting outside on the square. For old times sack we had vegetable paella and white wine, a meal we had consumed countless times on the Camino Frances, but not once on the Caminho Portuguese. As we sat there we realized that all day we had been thinking back to our first visit to Santiago, remembering the places we'd been, and the people we'd been there with. Sean says that for him arriving in Santiago is about unfinished stories and ghosts.

We have walked three Caminos now, and each time we've met many amazing people along the way. When we finished the Camino Frances we were fortunate to arrive in Santiago with many of those we'd grown closest to, and to meet them for the pilgrim's mass and then again for dinner. When we finished the Via Podiensis many of the people we'd begun our journey with had stopped hiking before reaching Roncesvalles, and we met a whole group of people who were continuing on to Santiago when we passed through Saint Jean Pied de Port. When we reached Santiago today we arrived mostly alone, some people having taken a different route, others having pushed ahead or held back to meet up with friends and family. On every trek we've ever done there are always people we are left wondering about. Did they finish the trek? Did they enjoy it in the end? Did it change them too? What stories do they have to tell? None of the people you meet on the Camino are ever truly gone, because they live on in your memories, but some of them leave you with unfinished stories.

As for the ghosts, we saw them everywhere, even while trying not to. As we wandered the streets we remembered the places we'd visited last time, and thought about all the people we'd spent time with there. We saw people that reminded us strongly of fellow pilgrims we'd met along the Camino Frances, the Via Podiensis, and this hike. They brought back memories we didn't even remember we had. Perhaps this is because we'd only been to Santiago once before, and our connection to this place is deeply entwined with the people we shared all our journeys with. As when anything beautiful comes to an end, it is a bitter sweet feeling. Maybe next time will be different.

As the evening wore on the exhaustion of a month's hiking with only one real rest day began to catch up with us, and we headed back to our room. We had intended to venture back out after sunset to do some night photography and perhaps enjoy some music and dancing. However, when 9:30 pm arrived and the sun was still up, we decided to call it a day.  


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