Today was our farewell visit to Santiago Cathedral. We have not seen the giant incense burner, the Botafumeiro, swung, but that is fine. In ancient times it was used to send the prayers to heaven and to cover the odours of the unwashed pilgrims but now it is more for entertainment at the end of some Pilgrims’masses. If groups wish to pay a sum of money, the Botafumeiro will be lit and swung for them.
Santiago is a lovely, old city. The citizens of Santiago are very aware and proud of its religious significance and also, they are cognizant of the impact of the Camino pilgrimages on the economy. The Camino and the pilgrims are treated with honour and respect, despite our sometimes coming in droves. We have heard of no altercations but we have known pilgrims who received free medical care. Everywhere we went, people were kindly and would go out of their way to help us. All pilgrims we met have encountered the same hospitality and goodness.
The origins of St. James’ tomb in this remote Galician village date from between 788 and 838 AD, the exact date lost in the mists of time. What is certain is that these events changed the history of what was a sleepy village with cows in the streets and made it into one of the most important pilgrimage sites on earth. There is so much in Santiago. It is a museum unto itself. Over our three days here we have managed just a glimpse. It is almost overwhelming. Despite tourism somehow Santiago remains a special place….hopefully, it always will.
Later today we, too, did a bit of tourist shopping but mostly just enjoyed the various pilgrims arriving in the square. Some arrived singly, others in large groups and every other configuration. Today there were those on horseback and others on scooters. It was a celebratory moment for all when some physically handicapped pilgrims riding hand propelled tricycles arrived with their caregivers on bicycles. Emotions are high whenever pilgrims come into Praza do Obradoiro. There is singing, chanting, sobbing, applauding and laughing. Some pray, some are just quiet. Pilgrims kiss the ground, prostrate themselves, hug one another, lie down looking skyward or with eyes closed, sit leaning against their backpacks, dance and, literally jump for joy. It is a time of jubilation expressed in so many different ways.
On our arrival a few days ago, we were among the hot and weary celebrants, who touched the shell in the centre of the plaza, gave each other a hug and sought the cool of our hotel quickly. It was when we attended mass and walked about the old town that the fact we had arrived in Santiago and had finished our Camino became real. However, even now, we still have moments of disbelief.
It has been an amazing adventure in all ways. Would we do it again? Well, not right away. We have met pilgrims who have walked all of the various routes to Santiago and some who have walked Camino Frances many times. Would we recommend it? Yes!!
This is our final blog from the Camino. Thank you for sharing our walk. Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement and your patience with the blog. Some of you have taken every single step with us and we felt it. xo
Although a pilgrimage is not a vacation trip, we hope you enjoyed the bits and pieces about what we saw, the people we met, and the traditions and customs of this part of Spain. Perhaps, some of you may even consider a similar journey.
We leave the Camino unable to adequately describe what it has meant to us. Neither of us experienced an epiphany, but we feel it was good for us in every way. We are committed to living the rest of our lives remembering the things we have learned on this journey together. Hopefully, at a later time we may have an occasion to be able to tell you more.
Until then, quoting a kindly greeting of the Camino: “Ultreya” — go forth with courage.
We were up early enough to see Praza do Obradoiro completely empty.
The cathedral highlighted in the glow of dawn was stunning.
Today we took a day long tour out to Finisterre, which until the discovery of North America, was thought to be where the world ended. This was an hour and a half trip one way, through a lovely countryside and along the northern coast of Galicia. Enroute is was evident that this area of Galicia is more prosperous than any we have walked through. Perhaps, it is the proximity to Santiago or the success of their off shore fishing industry. It was good to see. The coast is beautiful. The many indentations called “rias” are said to have been made when God rested and put His hand down— His fingers creating the rias. Low granite mountains green with scrub brush and fern rise above the sea. Gigantic granite boulders cover the mountains, some doing incredible balancing acts. It is understandable that so many myths and legends abound in this area.
All the coastal villages are fishing ports. One, Muros, is renowned for razor clams that they grow off rafts in the ria. Rod had the clams for lunch and said they were delicious but tasted a bit different from other clams.
When we reached Finisterre we were confused. The Finisterre we were expecting was the one in the film, “The Way”. The real Finisterre has a lighthouse, chapel and a granite cross. It is significant for pilgrims arriving at Cabo Finisterre to bathe in the waters ( carefully, as there is a serious current),watch the sunset at the Cape and burn their Camino clothes. Finisterre is an adjunct to the Camino and many come here because they cannot face the farewells yet or they do not wish their Camino to come to an end. Our next stop was near Muxia on the point called “Pedra dos Cadrises”—this is where the final scene from the movie was filmed. Here are the two ” magic stones” believed to be the boat and sail of the stone ship that brought the Virgin Mary to St. James when he was anguishing about his mission in Spain. Her encouragement inspired him to continue, although his discipleship here was not hugely successful. Part of the story has to do with back and kidney problems. If you circle the “sail” of the boat a certain number of times, touching it, you will be healed…also, apparently this stone moves — the tide does not reach the stone and it must weigh at least a ton, so it is not the wind….
There is a small chapel up from the beach, ” Sanctuary of our Lady of the Boat” which has several model boats hanging in it to honour the Virgin’s boat and the seagoing vessels of their village. It is a simple and welcoming place.
At one point, gazing out of the bus window we passed some pilgrims walking to Finisterre. For a moment we both had a sense of guilt that we were not walking with them and actually wished we were. However, we stayed on the bus and the “Camino fever” moment passed.
An interesting bit about our hotel. As it was once a pilgrim hostal built by royalty, the mandate for it to assist pilgrims still remains. Each day at 0900, 1200 and 2000 the first 15 pilgrims to arrive, on presentation of a copy of their Compostela certificate are given a free meal. This is allowed for 3 days after a pilgrim’s arrival in Santiago.
We had a little glitch in our itinerary, as the baggage handlers in Madrid are on strike. Ryanair will take us but not our checked baggage. It is a bit iffy to send your baggage by bus or train unaccompanied, especially if you need it within a couple of days. So, now we will be going to Madrid by train which should be a nice journey.
There were more stars tonight and they shone brightly.
This is a “cruceiro”, a distinctive Galician landmark. They are usually simple, stone crosses on long, slender shafts.
They are found in plazas or at crossroads and sometimes, what appears to be randomly, in a field. Cruceiros mark significant events and date back to the 14th century.
After a luxurious long sleep and a wonderfully relaxed breakfast, we were off to the Pilgrim’s Office for our Compostelas. The line up was not too long. We were in and out within 45 min, much less time than the several hours about which we had been warned. We had the distinction of, today, being the oldest pilgrims to receive a Compostela for walking the entire Camino. A young Boy Scout from Portugal who was there with his troop asked to have a selfie with us. We can imagine the commentary to his presentation “….and these are some old people from Canada.”. The Mass was long and primarily in Spanish and Latin, but the meaning was clear—- gratitude for a safe journey, prayers for a good life on earth following the steps of our Lord, and life Eternal. With Mass there was also, communion. It was amazing how efficiently 2500 could receive the sacrament without the loss of sincerity. Truly, practise makes perfect. Centred at the back of the high altar there is a large statue of St. James. There seemed to be movement there. Every once in a while the top of a head would appear and then disappear. The oddest happening was when a pair of hands would encircle St. James’ throat. Finally, after our being quite diverted from prayer with watching this, Rod solved the mystery. There is an area to see both the sepulchre of St. James and the statue. All during the service people were entering a door behind the altar and either kissing the statue of St.James’ feet or embracing him from behind—the latter, from the pews looked like they were choking St. James. Surely, the church officials must know this happens…or are we the only ones to find this distracting….and we must admit, sort of funny? The cathedral is a large, cross shape with a very ornate altar. The organ pipes, alone would fill our little church in Ladysmith. St. James is variously depicted throughout the cathedral as either a gentle pilgrim ( sometimes by his expression he looks lost) or on horseback killing Moors with a large sword. At our service the cathedral was full with many standing or sitting on the floors. There seemed to be as many tourists as pilgrims. Regardless, it is a prayerful place and exudes a sense of awe. After the service, the prayers we have carried from home were put in a small wooden box and placed in the sacristy. They will be opened, read and prayers will be offered for each individually. Again, thank you for entrusting your prayers to us. After a little shopping followed by dinner ( remember dinner is at 8pm and later in Spain) we went to a Galician Folk music and dancing show. It was free and in a quaint old theatre just a few blocks from our hotel. We think it may have been a quasi political rally for an independent Galicia judging from the emotion and response of the audience. The musicians played drums, the gaita, an accordion, and tambourines. The melodies were all reminiscent of Gaelic music, the lyrics in Galego, and the dancing was a mix of lively footwork, individually and with partners. The solo dance resembled an Irish jig. The crowd and performers related so well that the gaiety was contagious and we enjoyed ourselves very much. Walking home we looked skyward for stars since this is Compostela, “the field of stars” but there was too much ambient light…..perhaps tomorrow night we will see the stars.
This is THE day! We cannot believe we have finished the final kilometers of our Camino.
The weather was good for walking, not too warm and with a little breeze. Best of all, although the trail was through eucalyptus forests, we walked under gnarly, old oak trees which provided excellent shade. There were other pilgrims around, bu far fewer than we were expecting at this point. Sometimes, when we were on our own for awhile without seeing other pilgrims, we were certain we had missed a Camino marker.
Enroute we stopped for a break at Lavacolla which is the place pilgrims of old would have a good scrubbing before continuing on to Santiago.
There were more climbs today than stated in the guide books…. Finally, when we reached Monte do Gozo ( Mount of Joy) which is 5 km from Santiago, the guide book did say “last climb”. From there we could see the steeples of the cathedral. For many this was an emotional few moments. We both felt disbelief that we were almost at Santiago. It is interesting that ancient pilgrims were expected to continue their pilgrimage barefoot from here on.
There is a large monument on Monte de Gozo called ” the Pope’s monument”. It was built to commemorate Pope John II speaking to youth on this spot at an international youth conference. Many dislike the monument considering it too modern. Actually, the four bronze panels at the base are very nice depicting St. James, Pope John, pilgrims and youth. The top is a bit odd.
By the time we once again climbed, yet another hill into the old town of Santiago, we were weary. At the gates, we could hear the gaita gallego being played. We were being piped into the main square!. What a grand surprise!! Our fatigue fell away.
There was a free outdoor concert with the Santiago Municipal Concert Band on the steps of the cathedral in the evening. While Delana saved our spot on the stairs, Rod conjured up a picnic supper. What a perfect close to our first day in Santiago and the end of our walk.
We are treating ourselves and staying at one of the paradors, The Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. Our room opens onto the Praza do Obradoiro and is directly across from the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. Until bedtime we were serenaded with the happy sounds of Galician melodies.
Tomorrow we officially end our Camino, after receiving our Compostela certificates. We will continue the blog for a few more days as Saturday we go to Finisterre, ” the end of the earth” in Medieval Times.
Today’s casa rural is a lovely stone manor sitting on a water driven mill built long ago to grind corn. The hydraulic source is the Rio Mera which runs through the property powering the mill and providing irrigation by way of a series of aqueducts. The whole lower level of the large old stone house is a museum with artifacts some very old and some newer ( 60 year old radios) – all in need of a curator who could make the collection something very special.
Our room is comfortable and last night’s dinner was a feast. So often we have found the casa rurals and pensions being run by multi tasking persons, often only one with a part time helper.They work very hard and their hours are long. This place is no different. It seems the young woman is the concierge, clerk, chef, server, maid, gardener and on and on. She is cheerful and does an amazing job. We almost feel guilty for not weeding the garden.
The day began grey and misty. We spent a restful time, planning for our time in Santiago, doing some admin things and walking around the property. Later when the sun came out, we crossed over the road to the local bar for coffee. Every hamlet, even if there is not a store, seems to have a bar. We liken these to the English pub—a neighbourhood tavern. Spanish bars serve all sorts of beverages but most also serve food. Many pilgrims eat their breakfast at a local bar or buy “bocadillos” ( sandwiches ) for the road. Men do gather in the bars, but women and children are often there as well. In good weather, outside seating is popular and people may linger as long as they wish. The bars are a vital part of the social structure in these rural village. Pilgrims are very grateful for them, too.
With the advent of the sun— our laundry dried!! Hallelujah!
There has been an interesting phenomenon along the Camino the past few days. During the walk we have noted taxi company numbers posted on kiosks, trees, and such. We were glad for these, as a pilgrim never knows if or when they may need a ride. However, as the end of the Camino nears pilgrims are weary, in pain and some are behind schedule for various reasons. Now the taxis are very visible at junctions and wherever pilgrims must cross a road. It is like the taxis are circling for vulnerable prey. The drivers even call out their prices as they pass by.
Tomorrow will be our last few kilometres on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. These days of walking the Camino have truly been a life within our lives. It has been a wondrous journey.
Galicians say today is a typical June day—-overcast, with a mist of rain and 17C. We started out wearing our rain gear, but the mist felt so nice we soon packed it away. This was perfect walking weather. The path was described as “undulating” which translates to “hilly” which further translates to “steep”. There were a few inclines but nothing to veteran “caminantes”which being less than 40 km from Santiago we are:-)
Again, we walked through villages both derelict and well tended. Everywhere there were hydrangea in bloom in colours we had not seen— indigo blues, pure white and deep purples. Not quite as pretty were the rusting soda machines—- another one of the side stories of the Camino. Along the Camino, sometimes even historians have difficulty separating fact from fiction. During the Middle Ages the Camino was a noted pilgrimage, but by the 16th century, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in Europe staunched the flow of pilgrims for several hundred years.. Then in the 1970’s a pair of historians walked the Camino with some college students and wrote about it. The priest at O Cebreiro did his doctoral thesis on the Camino de Santiago and spent the rest of his life literally marking the route with yellow arrows. Being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and European Cultural Site increased interest in the pilgrimage greatly. Two visits by Pope John II in 1989 and 1993 were major influences as well. The small villages along the Camino prepared for the influx of pilgrims. They spruced things up, added many scallop shells and yellow directional signs, opened eateries and hostels and even installed soft drink machines outside their houses.. Pilgrims came in droves those years but the without the Pope and a holy year, understandably, the numbers dropped in the following years. The soft drink machines were no longer needed and so they lean, looking out of place and time.
We were happy to pass and be passed by our Aussie group today. We tend to pace ourselves by them and it turns out they pace themselves by us. Several of the Aussies are here celebrating 50th birthdays and they will be doing this tomorrow in Santiago. For some reason, we have become their “inspiration” and they want us to meet up with them in Santiago, which we will try to do. It seems we have been voted the tidiest and most well coordinated ( dress wise) walkers, which we find pretty funny. We think it must be Delana’s purple shoes. Whatever, it is a dubious distinction on a pilgrimage.
We also walked with two lovely Irish women ( one a nurse, the other a teacher of Gaelic).They are doing the 100 km but what a pace they set! While chatting with them, suddenly 8km had whizzed by.
We arrived at our most rural of casa rurals mid afternoon. With the skies overhead grey, the place looked dull and a wee bit derelict. We were hoping we were not the only guests. Our focus for tonight and tomorrow was to rest and do our laundry before Santiago. The young woman who welcomed us was discouraging about whether our clothes would dry in 36 hours. Mmmm……obviously, no electric dryer. Well, we are walking the Camino, a pathway of faith. We should at least believe our clothes will be dry enough to wear.( Slightly damp will be OK except we will risk losing our “tidiest and well coordinated” award). So, faithfully, we washed our clothes.
Another very warm day with very little breeze. Even the locals are finding the heat and the lack of rain unusual. There are times throughout the day that we are so hot a bit of rain sounds awfully nice. However, we should be careful what we wish for as some of the Camino here becomes deep mud holes when wet.
Today we walked through many eucalyptus forests, both Blue Gum and Rainbow species. As the trees are generally not lining the Camino path.they provide a fresh, invigorating scent but no shade.
We have entered the centre for cheese making in Galicia. Galician cheese is truly delicious and each village seems to have its own unique recipe. It is made from the milk of the Galician Blond or Galician Red cows, distinct breeds. We stopped for a cold drink in Boente, a village acclaimed for its cheese. It is very difficult to buy the Boente cheese as it is primarily made for the villagers own needs………perhaps the supply and demand have elevated the cheese’s desirability. We did not get to try it:-)
Over the past few days we have walked passed covered cement or stone structures filled with water. We guessed that these might be for the farm animals or even for pilgrims to bathe in. Luckily, we did not immerse ourselves as these are old clothes washing troughs for the village women.
We have also been curious about the chimneys and the horrereos with the carved stone crosses or steeples on them. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when people believed these carved stone images would protect their homes and crops from evil spirits. The decorations have become a trend lately and are now re-appearing on new or renovated buildings.
At one point today there were 16 other pilgrims in a space of 1/2 kilometer so the Camino is getting busier each day.. We still find that we are able to have as much quiet and private time as we wish. Pilgrims all walk at a different pace and take breaks at different times making it easy to claim solitude when you wish. We learned a new word to describe pilgrims walking only the last portion of the Camino–“sinmochilas” —meaning without backpacks. The sinmochilas, mostly are younger, excited and perhaps not as contemplative as those have walked the whole way. We find them a joy, and marvel at their exuberance and incredible energy.
Our hotel was off the Camino and, of course, uphill. We were hoping it was worth the extra kilometers and it was. The Pazo.Santa Maria was an 18th century manor house now an elegantly restored casa rural in a beautiful, park like setting. It provided a lovely respite. We wished we had had more than one night here but Santiago is calling.
Being Sunday, our luggage was not picked up until 0900, which means we could sleep in a little. This was the happy beginning of Father’s Day for Rod. Then he got to walk 15 km in the very hot sun with Delana. How good is that? Such a way to celebrate!
There were definitely more people, pilgrims et al, out walking the Camino today. In Spain, Sunday after church it is not uncommon for families to go for walks, and here the Camino goes right past their door. We met up with the Aussie group again. They are all very nice and seem to be having a good time.
Earlier we were joined by the mother and 16 year old daughter of a family group ( the Dad had gone ahead a bit and would wait at the first watering hole). They are from Nashville, Tennessee and had started in St. Jean in May. What a delightful family. We look forward to seeing them again tomorrow.
Other than the heat— in the mid 30sC at times, the biggest problem is the increased number of cyclists on the Camino now. Sometimes they ride the highway, but often they ride the same path that the walking pilgrims take. The cyclists tend to be right behind walking pilgrims before giving warning and sometimes they appear without any warning, thinking pilgrims can hear them coming, which we cannot.
We were hot and tired when we arrived in Melide. In the centre of town right across from our hotel there was a market in progress. Normally, we would wander around as local markets are always interesting and fun. Today we just wanted to settle in our hotel and cool down. We like a bathtub in our bathroom ( for soaking tired feet) but there were none in the hotel. A few minutes after checking in there was a knock on our door and there was a lady with a big smile on her face, saying ” pies” ( Spanish for “feet”) holding a big plastic tub. Very kind people in this country.
Melide is a town of 7500 people with agriculture, meat processing and tourism ( the Camino) being its main industries. The hills surrounding Melide are covered in windmills for energy.
Rod chose a nearby local place for his Father’s Day dinner. We had the simple salad, potato tortilla, squid (Rod) and ham croquettes, followed by churros and coffee. We waddled back to our hotel very slowly.
It is still over a hundred kilometers from the ocean but there are “Pulperias” in every town. These are restaurants that specialize in all things octopus. With so much “pulpo” being consumed, it makes you wonder if there are any left in the sea. Delana does not like the suction cups…so does not partake.:-)
Today the walk was for the most part fairly easy. There were a couple of challenging pieces, once again over loose rock, always precarious on a descent. The sun was hot (31C) and there was only occasional shade. What a difference walking under a tree made!. Speaking of trees we are seeing more of the eucalyptus forests. During the Franco era, eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia to accommodate a huge pulp and paper company. However, the eucalyptus, despite its wonderful fragrance and beautiful blue green colour, is not popular with all in Galicia. It is fast growing, one of the reasons the tree was brought here, but it also requires much water and deprives other plants. The dryness of the eucalyptus predisposes it to fire and with the Galician thunder and lightening storms, forest fires are a problem in the eucalyptus forests. There are also concerns that the forests are not well managed.
Segueing from Australian trees to Australians—we met up with a group of Aussie tourigrims on a ten day Camino. To their credit, although a bus and lunch meal service accompany them, most of them do walk as far as we do. We often pass by as they are picnicking and are amazed that they are back on the trail after their wine luncheon.
Another segue, this time into food. At our request that we wanted to eat at a typical Galician restaurant, our concierge recommended a place and a few menu choices. We shared a simple salad ( that is what it is called) which is lettuce, onion,and tomato). The mixed salad is these plus carrot, corn, asparagus and tuna. As the mixed salad is always on the Pilgrim’s Menu, we have had plenty of those. Next we had “Zorza” — chopped chorizo sausage with fried potatoes and a sauce of some kind. It was quite rich but OK. The potato is the main vegetable in Galicia and they are creamy white and very delicious. Rod decided to also have Galician anchovies. He said they were good but more like a small pickled herring. Galicia has vineyards and does produce wine, although they are not as well known as those from the Rioja region. Both the white (Rio Baixis)!and red (Ribeiro) are quite dry but good.
We finished off our meal with Santiago cake which is sort of like a moist, very almond flavored pound cake, typically with a shell design in powdered sugar on the top. This may be something just for pilgrims and tourists. It is heavy so we share:-)
We were greeted at our hotel in Palas de Rei by the friendliest and most concerned staff we have ever experienced anywhere. Although varied, all our accommodation has been good and the posadero and staff very nice, but these people were truly incredible from the moment we arrived until we departed the next morning. We felt like family.