Day 26: Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compestela: 12.5 miles
Wednesday, October 5, 2016: Departed: 7:15am, Arrived 12:15pm
While it was still dark, we quietly left our albergue with breakfast snacks in hand and joined the quiet procession of dark figures moving through the streets and forest lanes toward Santiago. A beautiful sunrise soon greeted us, and we only made a brief breakfast stop after getting further down the Camino. There’s really little to note about the Camino or the towns it passed through during this stretch, for this stage more than any other is about the destination, more so than the journey. Whether you started in Saint Jean Pied de Port, or in some other city nearer or farther, we all felt Santiago getting closer and pressed steadily on. The pace downhill seemed to increase as we entered tidy suburbs and descended into the older section of the city.
We really hadn’t studied the map or photos of Santiago that much, so we really weren’t that sure what we were looking for and how far away it was; we just knew the way marks of the Camino would take us there. We wanted to be surprised by it. And so we were not necessarily prepared, when walked under an arched staircase filled with a busker’s Galician bag-pipe music, and immediately nearly swallowed into a moving tour group, and found ourselves standing in the expansive Plaza Obradoiro with the massive Santiago Cathedral overlooking, half covered with scaffolding. We were indeed surprised, not by awe, but by how unsurprising it was. It’s not that architecture wasn’t grand, nor was it that we weren’t proud of the physical accomplishment, nor did I expect to be greeted by trumpets. It’s just that we weren’t really sure what we were looking at, and found ourselves in the middle of lots of people – tour groups and other people milling about. There were a handful of other pilgrims there taking pictures and quietly celebrating the finish, so we knew we were in the right place, but after taking our own pictures, we just sort of found ourselves standing there saying to ourselves, “OK, now what?”
We did start to orientate ourselves by securing lodging at the Albergue Azabache, one of the few right in the middle of everything, getting two of the last remaining beds – actually in an excellent room with windows overlooking the final stretch of the Camino. There were other tasks to work on. We needed to figure out where the Pilgrim’s Office was (it had since changed locations from our guide book and maps) and to figure out if we could take a bus or tour to Finisterre, and what the train timetables were to get to Portugal. So we spent a good bit of time just wandering about, a little confused about the best way to go about it. After doing some of our research, and a little bit of souvenir shopping (we permitted ourselves none while we were on the Camino for the sake of not carrying anything extra) and hugging the statue of Saint James and viewing his supposed tomb in the Cathedral, we went to the Pilgrim’s Office, where we waited in line for 45 minutes to show our Credencial with all the stamps we’d collected at ablergues, churches, and restaurants along the Way, and have the final official stamp placed upon it, and receive a certificate of completing the Camino. Amid all these errands, we ran into Roxana and Magnus, and we made plans to meet up for dinner after the evening Mass.
We went to the 7:30 Mass, along with hundreds of other pilgrims who filled the main nave and the transepts to standing capacity. While I can’t say that I got a lot out of the service, not being too attentive to the Spanish, I actually was moved by it and so glad to be a part of it. After all the running about on the streets of Santiago during the day, and waiting in lines, and shopping for gifts or food, or getting travel information to plan our next day, we got to finally just sit still, and be among all the other pilgrims who finished that day. It did feel sacred, and a more fitting end to our Camino, inside the Cathedral, rather than the bustling plaza on the outside. We were also fortunate that they got out the huge golden incense “thing” that hangs from the center of the Cathedral and swung it from side to side. They don’t normally do this, but on Fridays. And then the service ended, and we followed the masses outdoors, onto the streets, and to our own journeys elsewhere.
I think later I will write more about this. More about the Camino in general and what it has meant. I’m not sure I can even answer that now. So let it suffice to just say, “We have finished.” On to other journeys. Perhaps it is fitting that today somehow felt anti-climactic, and lacked a sense of closure or awe. Maybe it means that walking the Camino is not in order to complete your journey, but to prepare you for the “next” journey – the pilgrimage of everyday life, wherever that may be.