Camino de Santiago: Day 30, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Distance from O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostella, Spain 23.2 kilometers
Given the nature of the weather in northern Spain in May, we had been extremely lucky while walking the Camino de Santiago but, it looked like on our last day, our luck was about to run out. The forecast had called for rain, again, and we heard thunder in the night, so we put on all of our rain gear and started walking. We could see puddles and evidence that there had been some heavy rains, but all we encountered at first was a little drizzle.
Like yesterday, we honestly weren’t that into today’s journey. We were excited to be arriving into Santiago de Compostela, but walking every day with a distinct destination in mind had become ingrained in us and we didn’t like the idea of stopping. Just as we were entering the woods outside of O Pedrouzo we came upon two German ladies we had encountered from time to time and become friends with. Their dog that had made the entire journey with them and watching the energetic little pooch, sniffing every corner and greeting everyone that we came by, lifted our spirits a bit and served as a good reminder to live in the moment.
We stopped with many other pilgrims at the first place we came upon just out of town and had, of course, café con leche, and a Spanish “tortilla” of eggs, cheese and potatoes. We started talking with many of the people around and they fell into two camps; those that were ready to stop and those that never wanted to stop. It seemed that most of the ones that wanted to stop had only been walking the minimum 100 kilometers since Sarria and the ones that wanted to continue, like us, had started further back. One man who wanted to keep going said he had begun his “camino” from the front door of his house in Germany. Others had walked as far as from Finland and said they didn’t want to stop.
Even though we were getting close to Santiago, there were only a few places where proximity to town was obvious. We couldn’t even tell we were walking around the airport until we heard planes departing and walked through the approach lighting system. For the most part it was forest, a few small villages and hamlets, and the trail.
The skies were again starting to look threatening and the wind was starting to blow, so we ducked into yet another coffee shop just as big fat drops of rain started coming down. I had had enough caffeine for the morning, so I took the lead from a group of Italian pilgrims at the next table and had a beer. Despite the downpour, the atmosphere was festive and, even though no one had met before, we all shared a familiar sense of similar experience and accomplishment.
About 10 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela we walked by a tiny stream near the hamlet of Lavacolla. Because it is the last settlement before Santiago, Lavacolla was known to medieval travelers as the last place to wash up before arrival at the cathedral. The meaning of the Lavacolla of the town itself comes from Lava (to wash) and Colla (meaning one’s “intimate” areas). Naturally there is a lot of humor associated with a name like that, but the residents seemed to take it all in stride. Yes, we were still dragging our feet, so we stopped in yet another café; this time I had coffee.
There was one last mountain to climb, Monte do Gozo, or the “Hill of Joy”. Monte do Gozo known for being the place where pilgrims on the Way of St. James can get their first glimpse of the spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Modernity has caught up with Monte do Gozo. There is a modern sculpture depicting visits by Saint Francis of Assisi and Pope John Paul III and the tiny chapel of San Marcos, but of the view of the old city has been obscured by eucalyptus trees and buildings on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela.
We were only about an hour from our destination of 30 days and even though Monte do Gozo was pretty, but not a “Mountain of Joy”, it did give us an idea of how close we were and, for one last time, we started walking. From here into Santiago de Compostela the Camino de Santiago was busy paved roads, modern shops and restaurants, and concrete. It wasn’t unpleasant, but the contrast with what we had been experiencing was a bit startling. As we approached old town things started to get more agreeable.
From about a kilometer away we could finally spot the triple spires of the Middle Ages Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. We picked up our pace as we approached, hiked on the cobblestones through an ancient portico and simply entered old town next to the cathedral at Praza de Quintana de Mortos. There was no official finish line. There was no one to hand you a medal or give you a “high-five”. There weren’t even many other pilgrims around. We had arrived, but somehow we felt a bit disoriented and lost. The walking was over. We had completed the Camino de Santiago.