CF21 Day 26 – Santiago

What do you do when you wake up in Santiago and have nothing to do, nowhere to go, and can’t seem to get back to sleep after waking up at pilgrim o’clock? Well, if you’re staying in the Pinario, you can go down to the Obradoiro square just to see dawn changing the colour of the old stone buildings from blue to pink to yellow.

Guests checking out from the Parador Reyes Catolicos, the arguably first purpose built hotel and one of the grandest destinations in town, pilgrims taking the street past the impressive entrance on their way to queue up outside the Pilgrim Office, or escape the city altogether by heading out to Muxia or Fisterra, once thought to be the End of the World. A few early birds were already arriving, presumably from Monte do Gozo, the massive albergue complex up on the last hill before the city. It was magnificent, it was magical, and it was strangely quiet.

I went back to the stone corridors and my tiny little room just as the day started, to have my breakfast in the old hall. There was coffee, tea, juice, croissants, cake, toast, butter and jam, cheese and ham. I took a table in the far corner and enjoyed the noise and bustle of hungry pilgrims and tourists after the stillness of the square and the streets outside.

There were two things I had to do: Firstly, find out where the new bus station is and how long it would take to walk there with a pack. I knew it was by the train station and thought I knew how to get there, but asked a lady in a shop to be sure. She told me to start from the Cervantes square – just up the street from the Obradoiro square, the same way you come in from the Francés – and walk straight down Rúa do Preguntoiro, which turns into Rúa das Orfas, out of the old town, across the road at the lights by Praza Galicia, onto Rúa do Hórreo and carry on straight ahead until I reached the roundabout where I could see the station. It was easy. There were roadworks that would have made it longer, but I went down to the train station and then up to the beige-yellow building you see below, across the grey bridge over the train tracks, down to the bus platforms. It took about 15 mins, so I made it 20 for morning slowness and 25 to be on the safe side, basically I would leave 30 mins before my bus. I double checked that my bus was on time and my seat allocation was correct, and then returned to town.

Feeling rather pleased with my little expedition, I went to the Obispo tapas bar, where groups of hungry people couldn’t get a table, but one single peregrina could! So I stuffed myself with Padron peppers, seafood wrapped in bacon and other deliciousness. Bit too early for albariño though, I thought, so I’d save that for the evening.

Secondly, I had to double check that I could get a covid PCR test at Porto airport, and fill in my Passenger Locator Form with the test result on it. Basically, that would be leaving it very late to fill the form in, so what if something went wrong? I double checked the info on Porto airport testing, and … they didn’t do PCRs! At least I wouldn’t get the result on time! Panic set in, I rushed back to the hotel to ask at reception what they recommended travellers do – they must have this all the time. And sure enough, they had a phone number for a local clinic that did tests – only not on Sundays, and guess what day this was? I tried to call the number but no one answered. I googled the main number for the clinic and tried to ask for an appointment, but the earliest one was at eleven, and my bus was at twelve. Now I was on the verge of taking it as a sign, giving up on the whole thing and walking out to Fisterra to spend some time until the UK dropped the PCR requirement in a week.

In a last attempt at solving the problem and making it home, I headed to the Pilgrim House, where I would normally go to ask about practical things, but it was closed. So I sat down at the Rua Bella bar again with a serious thinking coffee. What to do? After a quick brainstorm I took a chance and sent a Facebook message to Sybille, a veteran peregrina who now lives in Santiago and helps pilgrims and locals with issues big and small – you can donate to her Neighbourhood Pantry here. To my relief she replied instantly with a list of clinics and even better, cleverly suggested I should go to the tourist information and ask them, it should still be open. Why hadn’t I thought of that? (Because panic, that’s why.)

I paid for my coffee, ran outside, took the shortest route to the turismo, and got to speak to someone straight away. They recommended the testing site at the airport, which was open from 07.00-19.00. There was still time! I called them, they weren’t busy, I got cash out on my way to the taxi rank and went straight to Santiago airport, which felt really weird since I was planning on flying out from Porto. The driver was very impressed, he had seen people travelling light before, but never this light! All I had was my small bag with a passport and wallet. Short story: I arrived, downloaded an app, booked an appointment, chose the cheaper test that would take 12-24 hours, paid at the desk, got tested straight away, and jumped in a taxi back again. I know, I could have waited for the bus but I was so relieved and wanted to get back! The negative result came back in an hour, I emailed it to the hotel and they printed it out for me, along with my now complete Passenger Locator Form. Phew! I was set. Now all I had to do was relax and enjoy my last evening in Santiago.

So naturally I headed straight back to the Rua Bella, after my sudden and speedy departure an hour earlier, and got a a seat, a drink and generous tapas. While I was there I got a message from the Musicians, who had arrived, checked in, cleaned up and got in line for mass. Afterwards they met me at my little hideaway bar, away from the crowds, for a catch-up, celebration, and farewell all in one. I had very much enjoyed their company in the evenings, discussing politics and religion, food and wine, life, love and long distance walking over a meal. Such camino friendships are a truly wonderful gift. Thank you both!

But even after saying goodbye to the Musicians I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Santiago just yet, so I decided to make one last stop on my way back to my room. As I went across the Praza Quintana I heard someone playing guitar and singing at the bottom of the stairs and I could see people still sitting outside the Café Literarios, a big table full of pilgrims of different nationalities by the sound of it. I hadn’t seen any of them before so I sat down on the other side of the patio heater, turned towards the cathedral, and ordered a nice crema de orujo for a night cap. While admiring the buildings, watching the light stream out through the Holy Door and enjoying the end of my evening I overheard snippets of conversation at the other table, then it went quiet, and then … a loud gasp as I assume one of them got up, maybe went down on one knee, and proposed to his beloved! We all held our breaths for a moment before she gave him her answer, and the old square echoed with jubilant cheers. I lifted a glass to them, to us, to Santiago and the camino and to all who dream about it and walk along it, and went to my room with a smile.

On my way to get some snacks for the long hours on the bus the next day, I bumped into the Musicians again on the Obradoiro square – I always place my hand on the inset shell slab in the middle of the square to mark my arrival and departure, and there they were, with their compostelas! So I had a coffee and croissant with them before we went our separate ways one last time. Then off I went to the bus station, getting there absurdly early of course, but it’s better than being late. The day had started so well, with cotton clouds on a blue sky outside my tiny Pinario window, but by the time I boarded the ALSA bus with my last Aquarius, Santiago was as grey and cheerless as I felt. The Post Camino Blues was already nipping at the edges of my mind, so I got my guidebook out one more time and started on the plans for the next one … Buen camino!

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