Our last walking day on the Camino started as bright and sunny as the others. We had been told where to go from Pedrouzo to rejoin the trail, and it was strange to walk somewhere completely new on a walk that I now know so well. Is this what first timers feel all the time? Then suddenly we turned a corner, and I recognised the buildings, that café, the trail disappearing into the woods – it was like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen for ages, I knew where I was again. I kept thinking about the previous walks, places where I had stopped, parts that were tough, how long that last day was when I started from Salceda – three times I have done 30 km from Salceda on the last day and every time I have sworn I would never do that again – and how much better, brighter and stronger I felt now than I did back then.
Coming to the Camping bar on the corner (they do have a camp site and lots of seats out the back, but it looks like a little hut from the road) I knew how much further I had to go and how long and how much energy it would take. So it was only fitting and fair that I decided we needed a glass of Albarinho to celebrate! Which of course we did.
B and I got two glasses of the finest and coldest Albarinho known to pilgrims, plus stamps in our credencials, sandwiches and a good rest. A was far ahead of us as always, with the booking number for our rooms in Santiago.
The rest of the walk from the Camping bar, I will not lie, is pretty unspectacular and a lot of it is on tarmac. You know you are getting closer to a big city, back to civilization, back to our time and the real world we left behind at our doorsteps, or in St Jean or Leon or Sarria. I still think they have done a great job of making the walk pleasurable. Even walking around the airport is in fact quite pretty, and the twig crosses on the fence is a moving sight. I always imagine these are put there while someone sent a heartfelt thought out – a greeting to a loved one, a wish for something in life, a fond memory, a note to self to be a different person from now on, perhaps. There are so many of them.
Then onward we slogged, B and I, with perfectly synchronised pole strides, up to the massive barracks looking albergue village of Monte Gozo with its 400+ beds, restaurants, farmacia and other ameneties, filling up no doubt with pilgrims who want to stop 5 km before the cathedral to enjoy one more night on the Camino, get a good clean-up and a good night’s sleep. The next day they can be in town before noon, and have time to register at the Pilgrim Office and get to the mass to hear themselves be read out in church. Not names, just numbers and nationalities, but still. You have well and truly arrived then – and when mass is over, it is time for a celebratory lunch.
Neither B nor I thought it looked like a good plan, and personally I would never stop so close to the goal. We went past it, down the steep slope, over the train tracks, and then there it was: The sign saying we were now indeed entering Santiago de Compostella. We took pictures of each other, we took pictures of other singles who came along, we chatted, we seemed to stick there for a while. For B this must have been quite a moment, after so many weeks. To be so close and still have a small piece of Camino left. I can’t remember how I felt in 2012 when I arrived at this sign, but this time I have to admit I was thinking I could easily have got a taxi past the tarmac … But we walked on.
A bit further on we met up with M again, and all sat down for a drink and a tapa of rich stew, it was delicious and really refuelled dusty and hot pilgrims. Then we carried on, together – what luck! or Camino Magic? – through the streets filled with normal looking people, pilgrims who had already arrived and were now clean and beaming, and a steady stream of pilgrim faces with broad smiles, tears in their eyes or faces that were hard to read: elation? contemplation? dread? relief? Perhaps a mix of everything.
There are arrows pointing all the way into the Praza do Obradoiro, but in the sudden movement of people in all directions, not just straight ahead, it can be hard to spot them. I always feel certain I will lose my way at this point, but somehow I just carry on straight ahead … and then suddenly I see the little vaulted tunnel bit and hear the bagpipes and I know I am there. Less than a hundred steps now, and it is over.
And still we keep walking, past the people, into the tunnel, through the throng and noise around the bag pipes, and are born into the sunshine of the square of the cathedral we have been walking towards for so long. Into the square we go, towards the middle, before we turn around and see the well known facade with its two bell towers and St James statues.
Everyone stops, everyone stares upwards, some get their cameras out, some cheer, some cry, some pray, some just sit down and reflect. All around us are tourists, citizens, students, yesterday’s pilgrims, talking and pointing and walking back and forth, and even one of those little trains, and the odd car. But in the centre of all that movement is quiet and peace. I love this square, to me it is like sitting watching the sea. I very rarely go into the cathedral; to me the square represents the heart of my pilgrimage.
After we had sat down, taken some pics, seen some familiar faces, watched some reunions and were getting ready to eat, drink and celebrate, we went up to our home for the next few days: San Martín Pinario. Single rooms at pilgrim rate were booked and I really looked forward to it. Not too shabby, is it? And right next door to the cathedral.
After actually putting things in places where they would be staying for a while and a quick shower I separated laundry and clean clothes and got dressed in my finest Camino Chic attire (ie: adding a scarf). Then we went out to meet up with some other pilgrims to go for a drink and then a meal. It was as usual a great night, the first night in Santiago; a night of celebration, excitement, tiredness, emotion that covered the spectrum.
On our way home we even stopped for another drink before bed, and by sheer coincidence and pure Camino Magic our pilgrim friend The Vinogrino came walking past not a minute later and sat with us one last time. The skies sparkled and shone over the city of Campus Stellae, the field of stars, and on its peregrinas.