No, I haven’t reached it. I’m planning a step by step post today. Right now I’m sitting in the albergue, late as usual. The sky is grey and the air cool. Excitement and a little trepidation are playing chase in my stomach.
Now. The time is now. The steps I take now are the culmination of over a month’s work. I’m going to shoulder my pack for the last time (in the morning at least.) I’m going to pick up my sticks for the last time.
I’m a little annoyed because last night I did three blog entries and totally forgot about laundry. When I remembered I thought, “Tomorrow I’m wearing my Santiago clothes. It can wait.” I forgot I only have two pairs of good socks and I’ve worn both. So I had to put an already worn pair on.
Today I’m stepping out to tackle the final road to Santiago. In dirty socks.
I’ve stopped for breakfast. Toast and cafe con leche and a glass of orange juice. I paid a ridiculous price for it (over seven euros!) but I need fuel. I’ve passed.a group of pilgrims praying the rosary as they walked. At least I think that was it.
Today is gray and overcast, just like the day I started. It’s trying to spit rain, and I need to decide if I cover myself or my pack.
Today feels different. The pilgrims seem like they are being pulled in a single direction, like filings by a magnet. It is like that, straggling disordered lines all irresistibly drawn to a single place.
All throughout my walk I’ve been working on my symposium presentation. I think I might have the end. More later.
I forgot to get a stamp again! I have avoided souvenirs, but I bought 5 euros worth here. Two shells and a magnet. I got two stamps, both different, so I am good for today. But if I stop again I may get another. Only thirteen more k! My heart is pounding, and not from walking.
It’s more than spitting rain now. I stop to put on my jacket (which is at the BOTTOM of my pack, of course) and put the rain cover on it. I am near the airport. Planes that I have not heard in a month roar overhead. In six days I’ll be on one myself.
Rain has stopped. Jacket is off. I’ve just heard some pilgrims joyfully greet one another when they thought they’d lost each other on the trail. Wish I was one of them.
Stopped at a bar to use the toilet. Told you these people were serious. 11:00 am
I didn’t pee in that bar; the line was too long. Haven’t found a place yet I CAN pee; what’s happened to a bar every three kilometers? I’m in Lavacolla, the last town before Monte de Gozo, which is essentially a suburb of Santiago. There’s a little over 6 miles to go. Still alone. Got presentation ending though.
11:27 am This is so not fair. Men can pee in a cornfield. No, they’re not in this one. They were on the other side.I can tell I’m hungry. The pack gets heavier when I’m hungry. I’ve walked over seven miles on orange juice, coffee, and a piece of toast.
I’ve stopped in a little bar and gotten a pork sandwich. I don’t know how Ryan survived; pork is the meat of the Camino. If only the Spanish didn’t serve their sandwiches dry. This one’s pretty good.; the bread is toasty and the pork freshly fried. But damn it could use some aioli. Or some fried red peppers. That would elevate it to superb. I’ve wondered if the Spanish just LIKE dry sandwiches or do they not know better? 5.5 miles to go. Still have seen no one I know.
In Monte de Gozo. Three miles to go. For the very first time my boots are rubbing my ankles. It’s probably the dirty socks. I now remember what I did when this happened once before. I got the silk sock liners I bought and put them on underneath. Hang on a minute.
That feels better. I’ve gone all this way with no blisters (other than the one I self-inflicted) and I’m not going to start now. I still have seen no one I know and I’m losing hope I will. It’s okay. A stranger took my picture at the 100k marker and a stranger can take it again at the cathedral.
The pilgrims are either dawdling in bars or rushing on. Dalilah messaged me last night, and she and Davide are moving very slowly. She doesn’t want it to end. I understand, and I don’t have a relationship that may end when my walk does. Yet I can’t help a pang as I see the couples, hand in hand, finishing their walk together. (2021, Ryan. We’re doing it. But not on St. James’ Day.)
The weather is now beautiful. Clouds make their own solemn pilgrimage across the sky, and the sun peeps through windows of blue. My charger cord has decided to continue working, my knees are good, and my feet are tiredly resigned. Don’t bother telling them the walking is almost over. They won’t believe you.
I’m in Santiago. It’s weird to see people in suits and normal clothes, living non-Camino lives. A man passes me on the sidewalk, then looked back and gestures toward a fountain, making a drinking sign. I’m confused; the fountain which he indicates is dry. Then he holds up five fingers. What does he mean? Five minutes? My app says 1.5 miles; I’m not going to walk that in five minutes. I meet Elisa.
She is 17 and on Camino with a friend. She has her Compostela and is trying to find her albergue. She also wants to bus to Finisterre and walk to Muxia. She tells me there is a pilgrims’ mass at 7. We both plan to go. Maybe we can make plans then. I use the map feature on my app to help her with finding the street for her albergue. We agree the Spanish in general are terrible about directions. Of course, it could be a language thing.
I did it! I am here. Alone, as I knew I would be. As I walked the pilgrims who had already arrived cheered. It is apparently a tradition. Encouraging, comforting, and embarrassing.
The spires of the cathedral appear in the distance. But they soon disappear behind other buildings. I encounter pilgrim after pilgrim with their credentials. One is an older woman, perhaps like I would be with 5 years more and 20 lbs less. Our eyes meet, and I see in them the same tearful wonder I feel.
I cross the road with some sin mochillas, but all my animosity is gone. We are all pilgrims now, and this is the end. I walk and walk. The cathedral is gone. I still have the yellow arrows. I have to trust them. They lead me down the tunnel, and then…
Some pilgrims (the sin mochillas, actually) saw I was alone and offered to take my picture. I knew that would happen too. So here I am.
Now I have to go stand in line.
The line wasn’t that long. I handed the man my credencial (both, I filled one up.) “Did you walk the whole way?” he asks. “No,” I reply. We have to work out the distances I didn’t walk, and my official record ends up being 711 kilometers. That’s 428 miles. I’ll take it. I buy a tube and put the credencial and certificates of distance (the halfway one now sadly dog eared.) Then I find my hotel.
Guess what I just finished doing?
Not that either.
Shame on you! I’m not that kind of person.
No, it was…
Bathtub, bathtub, bathtub, bathtub, BATHTUB!
I’m in the cathedral waiting for pilgrims’ mass to begin. I’m too late to get a seat but the botafumerio is out. Sorry, pictures aren’t allowed. YouTube it.
I wish I could take pictures. The altar is…wow. I’m sitting on the base of a pillar. I can’t see a damn thing. But I’m sitting.
During mass I see Marlene and her husband. I haven’t seen them for a month. They are from Eddie’s group early in my Camino. They tell me they’ve been in Santiago for two days and are leaving tomorrow. This is their second mass. They tell me the botafumerio is supposed to swing tonight.
The mass begins at 7:30. It is mostly a sung dialogue between the priest and the choir. Both are incredible. If God deserves our best He sure got it. I try and stand next to Marlene, but my ankle hurts too badly. I sit on the floor.
The priest begins his homily. I can understand bits. Marlene, who is fluent in Spanish, says, “Oh this is going to be longer than an hour.” When it’s time for communion the priest asks, in English, that only Catholics take it. I go to the crypt of St. James, since with the crowd communion will take awhile.
The supposed bones of the apostle James rest in a silver casket. There is a prayer rail with kneeler before it. I don’t really believe these are the bones of James, discovered hundreds of years after his death. And I CERTAINLY don’t believe that he came to life 1,000 years ago and chased the Moors out of Spain.
But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people change their lives, open their hearts, become citizens of the world for a brief 30 days because of that silver casket. What does it matter what’s in it?
I thank Marlene when I return. “Moving is better than standing,” I say. Not long after that, the organ music swells, and the botafumerio slowly lowers. I can’t see how it is lit; there are too many people. But the sweet sharp smell of incense begins to fill the cathedral. My breath almost stops. Am I really going to see it? I begins almost hyperventilating with excitement.
The botafumerio rises and begins to swing. It’s path isn’t smooth, as I expect. It clunks and thunks a bit. I take some video (everyone else is) but I don’t want lose the moment by videoing it. I want to be IN it, experiencing it fully. So after a burst where I get the botafumerio at its peak, I stop and just experience the moment.
THIS moment. I have worked and walked and sweated for this moment. Tears course down my face. I think I’m the only pilgrim crying. I don’t care. The incense spreads over the pilgrims, spreading its benediction over the phones raised high. It seems the silver and gold will crash into the ceiling, but of course it doesn’t. The priests are too good for that.
It begins to slow, the arc lessening. It slows to a stop, and soon the mass is over. Although I still hope to attend the 12:00 mass on the 25th, my heart is content. More than that, it is full. I immediately send Ryan a text. “I GOT TO SEE IT!,” I trumpet. “Cool,” he replies. But I know what is behind that seemingly innocuous word.
I haven’t eaten since noon, and it’s almost 9 by the time the mass ends. I send a message to Beverly, but end up wandering the streets in search of food. I decide on an Italian place. I want the cookies dipped in wine they have for dessert. I’ve read about those. But the wine is strong. After the vino tinto I had with the meal, I am literally having trouble feeling the screen as I type this.
So when I’m done, I’ll pour myself back to my hotel (not far, I planned ahead) and maybe take another bath. Then I am going to sleep, in my PRIVATE room, where I can sleep in my underwear or nothing at all, as late as I want (well, kinda, I gotta do laundry in the am) and then head for Finisterre.
I can’t believe I did it. Can you?