Pedrouzo and Santiago de Compostela: the final days of our Camino
The dreaded 32-kilometer day was finally upon us. The longest walking day of the Camino had been described as consisting of mostly flat terrain by Dr. Gyug (whose descriptions of ´unpleasant scrambles´ and ´rolling hills´ were often a matter of great debate throughout the trip). We decided to try and hit the road by 6:30am in order to get the day over with as soon as possible. Poor Gabrielle couldn't send her bag ahead to the next hostel and had to walk the first couple of kilometers with two backpacks. After a brief stop for our staple breakfast of café con leche y pan tostado, we all headed off again with a little more energy. This day was personally one of the most enjoyable days since the whole group walked together for a long portion of the day. The always fast-paced walkers (namely, Peter, Al, Melanie and Dr. Gyug) broke ahead, and the larger part of the group stayed together. Ellen and Sarah found themselves a little lost without a cell phone or a map and were overjoyed to have found that the group waited for them at a café to enjoy lunch. The whole group then embarked for the last leg of the journey to Pedrouzo. When we finally arrived in the town, the group passed by two reminders of home – pizzerias! - on the way to the albergue. After getting settled, the group then split some pizzas and siesta-ed after the long day. In the evening, the group all went to the restaurant right next to the albergue and ate dinner together in the back room. Everyone discussed their feelings about the upcoming final day of the trip and the arrival to Santiago. We decided to start walking at 5:30 the next morning and all fell asleep after a long, exhausting, but rewarding day.
And so it came. The last day of what for many of us felt an endless journey. It was a long trip, this is true, but when we rose early on our final day of walking, the reality of its imminent end began to sank in. It was dark in the streets of Pedrouzo when we left. Each of us had, surprisingly, gotten ready in a timely manner. Powering through the familiar pains in our knees, feet, and shoulders, we began hiking through the dark woods. The walk that day was a short 20 kilometers, and so we hiked on to el Monte De Gozo, the hill just outside of Santiago where we had agreed to meet so that we might enter the city as a group. After a quick look around the chapel and immense sculpture located at that famous last resting place, the group began its descent into Santiago. We didn´t see the Cathedral in the distance as we had hoped, and so we delayed our feelings of anticipation for just a while longer. Word quickly spread that Dr. Gyug had described the trek through Santiago's suburbs as a long one. Spreading into almost a single-file line, we followed the ancient way of St. James through the modern part of his city. We knew proudly that we were pilgrims, and everybody recognized us as such. Eventually the black-top streets gave way to cobbled roads. With many of us walking the fastest we´d walked in days, the group stepped fervently into the Plaza Obradoiro which spreads before the great Western facade of the Catedral de Santiago. Our reactions were as varied as our experiences on the road. Some of us choked back tears. Others smiled and laughed. All of us hugged one another and accepted congratulations from Dr. Gyug.
In pictures the early 18th century Baroque facade of the cathedral had looked dark and excessive. Perhaps it is those things. But to us pilgrims, to us who had walked half the width of Spain to see it, it was breath-taking. James, flanked by his loyal disciples, the discoverers of his remains, looked down upon us from the central gable. On the towers to his left and right, images of his mother and father greeted us as well. After dropping our things off at the nearby hotel, we rushed to get seats at the noon pilgrim's mass. Wisely, Dr. Gyug had us sit in southern transept so that we could see the immense censer, the famous botafumeiro, swung above our heads. After mass, we explored the church's interior. We peaked into the five radial chapels around the back of the choir, we took a look at what was visible of the 12th century Portico de La Gloria under restoration, and we stood in line to hug the 13thcentury statue of St. James above the altar. After the brief student tour of the city, we ended our day in Santiago with the drinking of a ritual queimada to ward off evil spirits.
So, what did we learn? What will we take away from nearly two weeks of testing our physical, emotional, and spiritual limits? For some, the experience was spiritual. They saw the face of God in the kindness of strangers and holiness in the solidarity of pilgrims. For others, the Camino was largely a matter of physical endurance. We learned to really feel ourselves move, to overcome pain, and to respect the power as well as the limits of our bodies. As a group, we became closer. We came to understand each other and human relationships in general in new ways. We gained a new perspective on geography, on wildlife, on the influence of history, and on the immense potential of the human will. Our trip was painful at times, but it was filled with pleasure as well. It was long, but it was far too short in the greater trajectory of our lives. Some of us will return, and some of us have decided to move on from the way. Will any of us forget it? Absolutely not.
So to all future pilgrims and to all people on their own journeys, Buen Camino!