Walking to Santiago
Hoping to savour my last day on the Camino de Santiago, I left my final pension in Arca rather late. With the rains of the day before finally past, the trail had an ethereal and misty presence in the morning. It was the perfect atmosphere for my final day of walking into Santiago. With such soft light, I couldn’t help but take tons of photos. I wanted to soak it all in and remember the beauty along my journey. Was it really over so fast? It was like I had barely started and I wasn’t ready to be finished!
The morning walk started through the eucalyptus forest. A drier continuation of the day before. Everyone was jubilant – today was the big day! Today we were all walking our different journeys to Santiago de Compostela. For many, the Way of St James was coming to an end.
I was filled with mixed emotions as I walked along. There was a party atmosphere amongst those walking in groups, everyone was stopping for photos along the way. In some ways, this was the destination that I was walking for – the end goal was in sight. But was it really? After all, it is about the journey – not the destination! Had the Camino changed me? What had I learned? Did I know why I was walking?
These thoughts were quickly eaten up with excitement as I left the tranquil forest setting and walked towards Santiago. Civilization started to rear its head as I walked past the airport. Another reminder that this journey was coming to an end. Next milestone - Monte del Gozo. At 370m above sea level – Monte del Gozo was the highest point of the day. It had a pic nic feel to it and a huge monument commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit. Sprawling out for under this vantage point – the suburbs of Santiago lay ahead.
The last 4.7K (there was a sign posted just past the crest of the hill) were the longest 4.7kms ever! Perhaps it was the excitement and anticipation of arriving in Santiago, but this stretch just seemed to take forever! My mind was playing tricks on me – would I ever get there already??? Did I want to actually get there? I didn’t necessarily want it to end. Walking the Camino had become a way of life for me – each day packing my backpack and moving on to the next village, the simple daily rhythm moving only to the pace of my feet. Slowly, I wound my way through the suburbs, mingling with locals and tourists out on their national holiday under I finally saw them….the spires of the Cathedral of Santiago.
The excitement I felt as I set eyes upon the church is hard to describe. How do you describe it? I read somewhere that the Camino de Santiago takes approximately 15 million steps (although I can no longer find that quote online to double check). The culmination of 43 days of traveling the Camino welled up inside me – I had made it! I was almost there! My feet felt lighter as they made their way through the final maze of streets…I almost grew impatient with the people I was walking with – they may have actually taken more photos than me! I wanted to be there! I could hardly wait to get there – to stand in the middle of the Cathedral plaza (Praza Obradoiro) and soak it all it. It had been a personal journey, and while I had planned on arriving alone – I couldn’t wait to share it with the people I had walked with.
My heart beat and mind were racing as I walked through the final passageway. A man stood under the arch playing the bagpipes. The music was so fitting as I stepped back out into the sun. Stretched out before me was the plaza. Then I turned to see the Cathedral – it was so grand, it took my breath away! I don’t know how long I stood there, but I just stood for a while in the Praza Obradoiro, looking at the Cathedral, soaking it all in!
Suddenly, there was noise all around. People were arriving and cheering, celebrations and reunions could be heard from every corner of the plaza. We had all done it! Hugs and excitement all round before cameras went into overdrive.
Next stop – the oficina del Peregrino to register my arrival and receive my Compostela. Not far from the Cathedral, I got there to huge lines of pilgrims and the volunteer suggested I come back later when it was quieter. With that, I head off to find my hotel and a well deserved shower.
I returned a few hours later to much shorter lines. Everyone was excited and buzzing as we waited in line, slowly climbing the steps to the office. My feet were on fire and I could hardly wait….one step at a time, I climbed with my fellow pilgrims until finally, it was my turn.
A few simple questions later and presto….I had my shining Compostela certificate in my hot little hands! I had done it….I had walked 800 Km across Spain, following in the footsteps of millions before me as I made the St James pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela!
A few interesting Statistics from the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago for Pilgrims finishing October 2012
- 18,085 pilgrims were received in the Santiago Pilgrim’s office
- 87.7% of pilgrims arrived on foot
- 7,767 (42.4%) were women
- breakdown by age: <30 years old: 19.4%, 30-60 years old: 58.5%, >60 years old: 22.1%
- 639 Canadians, including myself, finished in October
- 3,657 (20.2%), including myself, started in St Jean Pied du Port in the French Pyrenees to complete the Way of St James, also know as the Camino Frances
Statistics on the Camino de Santiago taken from the Pilgrim’s Office website: The Pilgrimage to Santiago