Things started to get a little crazy on the homestretch into Santiago – the Camino had become a zoo!
I had been duly warned, but was blissed out on the last few days of walking and really didn’t pay attention to what I had been told! The guide book warned me, a tour guide in O’Cebreiro had warned me, but I blissfully head off in the morning, relaxing in the green surroundings and the road ahead. After all, this was Galicia and I had fallen in love with the region.
It turned out that I would be walking with the hordes of tourist pilgrims that join the Camino for the final 100K of the trek, for that is all you need to receive your Compostela at the end of the journey. The home stretch had become a business, and “touregrinos” were everywhere. (Pilgrims who have their bags carried and all arrangements made by a tour company.) To further compound the matter – I was on track to finish my Camino de Santiago on a national holiday. Joining me were (what felt like) zillions of Spanish nationals and school groups on a one week vacation, all planning on arriving at the finish for the long weekend! I had long since given up calling ahead to reserve a room and got a shock when I arrived in Triacastela to find the dreaded “completo” sign. Basically, no more rooms at the inn. I walked further into town, trying any and all accommodations that I passed. Panic starting to set in, for the next town was a further 12K away, I sat down and systematically called every number in my guide book, each time, the answer “completo”. I was looking down the barrel of a 33K day and was quickly running out of daylight. With what felt like no options left, I called ahead to the next down and booked a room – if I was going to be walking into the dark, I wanted to know there would be a bed waiting. As luck would have it, as I was walking out of town, I tried one last hotel – they were not listed in my book but were worth the try. Someone was watching out for me as they had one last room. Barely able to resist the urge to kiss the lady behind the bar, I quickly paid up and took the room.
My walk the next morning made me so happy to have been able to stay the night – the walk was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I could not have imagined doing it in the dark. I would have gotten lost for sure. The terrain was gorgeous as I walked through farmland, but the markers at time were a little less than clear! Being a little pedantic about directions, there were some challenges.
I was back to booking ahead and had a bunk booked in Sarria. The old quarter of town was packed with pilgrims and I was beyond delighted to catch up with friends from the road, basically table hopping my way through tapas and dinner.
Sarria marks the final 115K to Santiago. While hard to believe, the numbers of pilgrims and the crowds on the trail continued to rise. It was getting harder to have a quiet stretch as the pilgrims marched along, at times almost like a line of ants on a mission. Coffee shops were packed to standing room only. The number of pilgrims with small day packs considerably out numbered those carrying all their possessions. The feel of the Camino had undergone a radical switch. I contemplated my options – get off the etapes of the Camino as outlined in the guidebooks? Take an extra day and try to get away from the masses of people finishing on the national holiday? Having been on the Camino for so long, I had a strong desire to finish – could I live with the crowds? It would also be nice to finish with my friends – celebrate together in Santiago de Compostela.
I pushed on. I shifted my walking til later in the day and found the crowds more manageable. I was consistently one of the last to leave the albergues in the morning which suited me just fine. As summer had turned to fall, the sun was coming up later and later and I was not a fan of walking in the dark. I could take my time at breakfast, leisurely enjoying my tea or hot chocolate. I booked my rooms the night before and was not too worried.
I ran into a little trouble in Portomarin with a Spanish “touregrino” who snored. He stayed up late, making lots of noise and keeping people up. He was a tourist on the trail and the feeling I got from my fellow pilgrims was that this influx of pseudo pilgrims were not overly welcomed, but more on that story another time!
Day by day, the kilometres wound down, the atmosphere changed and there started to be a new excitement in the air, each way marker a countdown to the goal: the Cathedral and virtual finish line. The weather was also starting to change – the rain Galicia was known for was threatening to fall. Ponchos were at the ready. I lucked out as I walked in to Castaneda – I made it to the albergue, but the heavens opened up! I watched from my room as people continued by in the pouring rain, thrilled to have stopped one town earlier for the night!
If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain – Dolly Parton
Let’s just say – the rain didn’t stop that night. My second last day on the Camino and it poured with rain! I should have been ok with it. After all, I had very little rain over the entire walk, and it was only rain. I wasn’t going to melt, but it just poured all day. The mud caked on my shoes and everything was gloomy. We looked like drowned rats as we walked along the route. The forest offered some shelter, but nothing could compete with the rain. Once again, thrilled to have a room booked, I was confident all would be well! And it was….but I learned that so many book rooms at the end, that if you don’t get in at a reasonable time, your booking may still be at risk. Some of my friends were booked at the same place as me. They were about 20 minutes behind when I arrived and the owner was contemplating giving their room to someone else who had just walked in. So many people book and don’t show up – you can hardly blame the owners. I quickly confirmed that they were coming.
It was hard to believe, that after all these days of walking, I had reached the home stretch! Tomorrow, I walk to Santiago!