It is getting serious now as tomorrow is our last day of walking. We are getting to be pros now at “Hola” and “Buen camino”, we are used to everyone’s pace and particularities, and used to being encased in our little pilgrim world – a special pod of pilgrims – blessed somehow to have found one another, each of us traveling for our own reason – together, but alone.
Today we have a wonderful picnic – there has been some competition as we noted how delicious either Ria’s or Jason’s “feed the pilgrims” skills were….wine with lunch gets extra points. 11 miles and exquisite scenery – a good day. We arrive at our accommodations for the evening to discover it was once a modest palace, now restored. We enter the gateway to find a large courtyard – our rooms lining each side and a chapel and main building before us. It has been in the family for 13 generations. This is good. Our rooms don’t quite match the palace theme, but the cottage windows open to beautiful lawns and lots of flowers. We have our last “meeting” on the terrace to discuss tomorrow’s last walk and then into a wonderful Galician style dinner…bread, wine, cheese – life is good.
Wednesday…the peregrinos (pilgrims) are coming home…
We pack our bags and heft on our backpacks trying to deny the sadness within. We walk away from our palatial aubergue (pronounced Al-bear-gay in Galician) and move out. Today will be a long walk in more ways than one.
The various paths to Compostela converge and there are more and more pilgrims on foot and bikes on the trail. We meet Lana from Germany in her 20’s whose backpack tells us she is a serious walker. She has done the entire camino from the French border and is now 5 miles away. “I want to run the rest of the way I am so excited about being there” she said with great emotion. We pass by the Santiago airport light stanchions at the end of the runways, but with our path still in shaded forest – the modern world is at the margins of our current existence now and getting closer. We pass by Lavacolla – literally “wash the bottom” – where pilgrims would wash up in the river before entering the city. Going over a rise we can just see the city with rooftops and spires peeking up, but not our spire yet.
We had a wonderful picnic on Monte de Gozo, a beautiful spot marred by a dreadfully large, quasi-industrial statue dedicated to the visit of a recent pope…and freshened up at the large aubergue (hostel) $10/night, which will be upstaged soon by a larger, more modern aubergue near the cathedral. Jason announces that we will all walk into the city together and we feel how right that is. Down the hill, across the busy road and traffic circle, by the memorial to those who have honored Spain, and onto mean concrete sidewalks which suddenly become metaphor for all that is wrong in the world. We trudge on toward St. James ensconced in his cathedral which now covers what was the “field of stars”. The city is ok, but the walking is difficult and has no peaceful rhythm, and our goal is so close….we enter the old city – winding, narrow, stone streets running at all angles into small squares with ancient fountains. There are quaint businesses along the way, apartments on the upper levels, and the number of souvenir shops increase as we near the cathedral. We go down stairs, thru an archway with a resident bagpiper, and are suddenly in a huge plaza at the front of the Cathedral of St. James (Sant Iago) at last!! There are pilgrims everywhere – collapsed, backbacks off, taking photos, exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. Some have been on the camino for months and seem dazed by being at journey’s end.