Day 33: Santiago


It started in the fog over the Pyrenees and ended in the fog over the Cathedral. 33 days, 790 kilometers (give or take 75 – those signs are all off), a billion churches, a trillion bocadillos, and two zillion Coca-Colas later, we have made it.


Last night, we were fortunate to have our own rooms, and we all had a restful night without snorers. B the Impatient woke up at 4:30 per usual to the sounds of pouring rain and chilly air. By 5:30, the rest woke up. Kat the Rational, who was fighting another tickle in the throat, suggested waiting for the sky to get at least a bit lighter. The albergue in Santiago did not open until 1:30, so Z the Wise noted there was no point waiting in the raining in Santiago, so we might as well leave later, have breakfast, and wait in the dry indoors.

Good point.

B played by herself with her Galaxy tablet, while the rest fell back asleep for two more hours, when the sky got little lighter, though just as wet.

After a light breakfast, we put ponchos on our packs and ponchos on us, and began our final 10 km. B reached the 5 km mark and waited for the rest to walk into Santiago together.


The 5km mark was Monte de Gozo, home of the 800+ person albergue and where, from the monument to Pope John Paul II, you are supposed to see the Cathedral in the distant. But just as we could not see the Pyrenees in a clear sky, neither could we see the Cathedral clearly. Nonetheless, it was simply amazing to stand all the hill together, look down at the Santiago skyline, and know that we have just walked across a country together.


We continued the last 5km together, the rain finally tapering off. Z the Wise was right.

We walked through cobblestone streets into Santiago, other pilgrims with the same look of satisfaction and excitement at seeing the Cathedral.


The Cathedral, where St. James, Apostle, friend, and likely relative of Jesus, is buried, sits on an open square buzzing with happy pilgrims and tour groups. We took a while to soak it all in.

Lying down on our packs in the middle of the square, looking at the Cathedral, was pretty darn cool.


We entered the Cathedral for mass at noon, and the entire place began to fill. The service was nice, with one of the priests reading aloud the 23 different nationalities of the pilgrims that arrived the day before. A nun sang, her clear voice dancing over the crowd, leading the entire cathedral in hymns.

A few of the younger studies wore yellow and blue, like the arrows that had guided our way.

Finally, eight men in brown robes came out and got the giant botafumeiro swinging in the Cathedral. This huge silver incense burner, thought to be the largest in the world, filled the altar with smoke (it used to help with the rather odiforous crowd of unwashed pilgrims). It was an incredible sight.


After mass, we headed to the charming streets filled with pilgrims who looked all glowing, clean, and satisfied. Everyone looked relaxed and fulfilled. We stopped at a cafe on the recommendation of Sean and Melody, the adorable couple from California, who both were glowing. The seafood soup was perfectly soothing, the salmon was beyond fresh, and veal tender.


We then headed to the Pilgrim Office to receive our Compostelas, certificates of completion. We had heard that they gave some people a hard time about not getting stamps twice a uYday, but as we started in St. Jean, they did not give us a hard time. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait at all. We received the tradional one for people who do it for religious or spiritual reasons, rather than the tourist one. This was, after all, quite a spiritual journey.


We then went to the Seminario Menor, a huge, 300+ person albergue with wonderful views of the city. Kat had reserved ahead of time, which was good because the place had already filled up, turning away many tired pilgrims. Except for the limited laundry service, the place was open and airy. We were fortunate to have a room at the end with five beds (no bunk beds), so the four of us were pretty much in our own room.


Alex went off to take photos, while Kat and Z took a nap. B was (again) left alone to entertain herself on her Galaxy tablet. We met our fifth roommate, Anne Catherine, from Denmark who had also started in St. Jean and commented how her last few days walking was less enjoyable because of how the pilgrims now are comprised of 80% tourists. Still, she found the experience overwhelming.


We showered, and wandered around, wanting to pick up a few souvenirs at the multiple shops, we ran into friendly faces: Claudio, the Italian who saw us on the train in St. Jean, the Australian we met going down the Pyrenees, the Czech couple, Mar. What should be a big city of strangers is an intimate gathering place of fellows.

It is also a good place for food, as lunch had already intimated. While many folks say they lose weight on this trip, we may have actually gained weight (how is that possible after walking every day for hours)? Could it be the fries? The Lay’s? The cookies that B keeps in her pack at all times?

Or the 4 kg of perfectly grilled ribs we ate at the splendid San Clodio?


Who cares? Almost every meal we have had has been shared with fellow pilgrims or strangers eating at the next table who quickly become friends, just like the three Italians (why are we meeting more Italians in Spain) who are now calling us for another drink.


A long way to come and many friends made. A road to fellowship, to living life, to humanity. A road to Santiago.