Santiago!

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Day 34 (10.2 K)
Lavacolla – Santiago

Somehow, in the dark, we missed the trail outside of our Hostel this morning and ended up walking on the side of a busy road until we can make a turn back onto the Camino.  I did however observe that this main road had a previously used “old” road, to our left, reminiscent of the old Roman road we walked so many days ago…so maybe, just maybe, we were on the actual/original trade route. (Case in point, it was less steep and more direct, than the path we should have been on, for the most part.) 

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Once we rejoined the yellow arrow marked (and TP’d) Camino we soon found ourselves 6.7 KM from the Cathedral, at Monte del Gozo where there is a monument commemorating the visit of Pope Paul the second. From here we get a good glimpse of Santiago and the spires of the Cathedral peaking above the urban sprawl in the near distance. A little excitement begins to build.

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As we look down on the city and Cathedral, we have sought for so long, we laugh and shake our heads over the fact we have one more “hill” to climb, after, of course, we make our way down this steep hill. The Camino continues along a road aptly named Rua do Peregrino. We walk by large traffic circles, a university, stores and tall (new) buildings and enormous private albergues. The city, for the most part, is just waking up.

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“New” structures fade as we enter the “old” and well preserved heart of Santiago. Before we reach the Cathedral, we, just by chance, run into Sue and Jerry browsing a book sale set up in a plaza.  Paul walks up to Sue and says, “Make sure you buy the heaviest book”, upon which she turns and to her surprise sees Paul.  It was a joyous reunion.  Seeing they had the lay of the land, they usher us to the Pilgrim Office where we get into a relatively short line to show our credential (covered with stamps acquired from our journey), and be issued our Compostela, or certificate.  We heard that you needed to get two stamps per day from Sarria (the last 100km) in order to receive your certificate, as apparently the other 700km doesn’t seem to count for much.  Not sure who made that ridiculous rule, as it would seem to me that walking that far should count for something.  Earlier in the trip, we met a young man who had started from his home in Poland.  What if he neglected to get his stamps the last 100km because he camped most of the way?  Then what? 

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So… we wait patiently in line outside the Oficina de Acogida al Peregrino.  Sue tells us that the line we are in is the shortest she’s seen “so far”.  20 minutes later Paul, Dave and I are “summoned” into the office by a bell and a LED screen that indicates which of the 7 “clerks” is now available to examine our credential.  It is interesting that for such an ancient route and the simplicity by which you make this pilgrimage, that the issuance of one’s Compostela has become just short of automated. Simultaneously, at separate booths, we present our credentials.

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Dave’s credential was filled out in honor of his son who had died 5 years prior.  In fact, Dave had carried his son’s ashes the entire time.  The only places he got stamps were from churches and albergues. Dave was worried, but the lawyer in him was prepared to “take it all the way to the Bishop”, if he wasn’t given a Compostela because he didn’t get two stamps a day from Sarria. His worries were not necessary as both he and Paul were issued their certificates without much examination or questioning.

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She has examined and flipped over my credential several times as I write my name on a log-in sheet

I on the other hand had a quite thorough examination.  The young gal looked at each stamp and date.  She then flipped it over several times with a look of perplexity.  I too am becoming perplexed and frankly a little concerned.  ‘Is there a problem?’, I ask.  ” You do not have two stamps for each day from Sarria “, she replies.  ‘It rained on me for three days, since Sarria. Of course I didn’t get two stamps a day’, was my reply. Are you SERIOUS?! THis CAN’T be happening!, I say in my mind through nashing of teeth, as I recall Paul’s admonition, ” You better get a stamp”, as each day he dug his credential out from under his sopping wet pack cover, to which I would respond, ‘Naw, it will be okay’. Seeing my befuddled expression, the clerk states once again, “You did not get two stamps each day from Sarria”. I nod and smile. ‘It was raining, so it was kind of hard’, I tell her. ‘But I started, and walked from St. Jean’, I continue.  It appears that out of the 7 available clerks, I have gotten the one who is a stickler for rules. Why didn’t Paul get her? Argh! ” Well you still needed to get two stamps”, was her reply. About this time, I am thinking of all the sharply clad tourigrinos and peregrinos who walked portions or took cabs and/or buses, and begin to remove my shoes so I can show her my tattered shoes and feet (if I must) as proof of my journey. Of course I could have just shown her the pictures on my phone, but then that’s not very dramatic, and this situation calls for a bit of drama, I thought. She must of sensed my exasperation, or maybe she saw my clenched jaw, and promptly said, “Okay, next time you have to get two stamps…I understand the rain.  It rained here too.”  ‘So that means I get my certificate?’, I confirm with her.  “Yes, next time two stamps a day you must be sure to get.” Oh honey, there won’t be a next time…at least on this route, I smile and think to myself.  I graciously accept my Compostela and Proof of Distance certificates and quickly exit the office before she changes her mind. When I finally emerge from the office with certificate in hand, I am asked, ‘what took so long?’.  I tell them that apparently it IS true, you DO need two stamps a day from Sarria, and that she wasn’t going to issue me my certificate. Dave starts to laugh.  This guy did not get two stamps a day. He started in the middle of nowhere, initially without a credential (or map) and when he did get a credential, he had it issued in his son’s name (which is cool and ballsy).  Go figure. I on the other hand miss getting two stamps and I get the third degree. The irony is hilarious. As we have arrived early enough, we are able to check into the Last Stamp albergue where Sue and Jerry have been staying for the past two days, and freshen up a bit before the Pilgrim mass at noon.

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The Cathedral entrance from which Martin Sheen and his companions entered in the movie, The Way, is closed for rehabilitation, so the best we can do is get our obligatory photo standing in the Praza do Orbradoiro.

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We will enter from a side entrance, from the Praza da Quintana. The interior of the Cathedral is spacious and lined with confessionals with placards attached indicating languages spoken by the attending priests tucked away inside. The Cathedral is packed already with peregrinos, tourigrinos, and plain old rubber necking tourists (who have no clue that they will be at an actual full Catholic Mass). In the wing to the left of the alter, over which the Butafumeiro will swing, (if they do it during this Mass) we sit upon worn wooden pews whose kneelers are smoothed and indented with undulating ripples from years use . The story and practice of swinging the Butafumeiro (incense burner) is said to originate from the need to “fumigate the sweaty and possibly disease ridden pilgrims”. The size of the Butafumeiro requires at least six people (tiraboleiros). Paul heard that they sometimes let pilgrims assist with swinging the Butafumeiro. This is true, but only after a ” donation” of over €300 (Euro). So, Paul will sit and watch with me. Jerry and I hold seats, while Sue shows Paul and Dave where the statue and tomb of St. James is at. I will check it out later when the crowds have abated. I am exhausted and frankly a little overwhelmed. My foot is screaming in pain, and as most know, I am not a fan of crowds. I sit with my head bowed, to more fully ignore the perfumed masses, who ask if I can move over and make room for them to sit (instead of my husband). I also take time to reflect on our journey, and the transformations that have taken place. The peace that has replaced turmoil, and the prayers of healing for loved ones that I have offered daily on this pilgrimage. I now pray for continued peace as I am now seriously annoyed that Paul has yet to return and take his seat. It is 10 minutes before Mass is to start and I have been staving off people who want his seat for nearly 30 minutes now. Jerry is equally annoyed. Sue reappears, followed by Paul and Dave. I fend off one last person who has attempted to forcibly climb over me to take Paul’s seat, just as Paul returns. Once Paul is seated, I breathe a sigh of relief. Mass begins with a “warm up” from Sister who admonishes the crowd that you are not at a museum or secular event, but an actual Mass, and that their phones and cameras need to be turned off and put away.

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Couldn't help myself...had to take a picture of the people taking pictures

All the while you see phones and cameras extended, capturing Sister’s admonishment. I watch as Cathedral ushers, in yellow vests, try and police the “photographers”. In the middle of mass, a large Asian tour group (like 50 people) with flags a-waving pushes its way through the crowds standing in the wings around the pews. A sole, yellow vested Cathedral usher first tries (to no avail) to intercept them and is joined by another usher. They both try to quietly redirect them. They are summarily ignored as Mass reaches the point of the ‘Our Father’, and the group continues marching through Mass, pointing and snapping photos whilst nodding to the obvious tour narrative playing in their earbuds. This is surreal. I’m not sure I am enjoying this. I walked all this way for THIS? I then remind myself that this too is part of the journey, and begin to chuckle. We have been to so many Masses in Spanish that we are pretty comfortable with the flow of today’s Mass, and can almost understand the translation… or at least portions of it. Once time comes for Communion, the uninformed people standing see this as an opportunity to take a seat, and are sadly disappointed when they are told we’ll be back.

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As Mass comes to a close, out comes the Botafumeiro. Awesome! This should be good! They load it with the incense and light it up. Sweet smelling smoke oozes from the three foot tall, artfully adorned, silver Butafumeiro. Paul calls it the “Stanley Cup” of the Catholic church. Slowly it swings from left to right across the alter, extending further and higher with each pass. Hundreds of arms extend upwards with phones or cameras, set to video mode, to capture this spectacle. With each pass of the alter, the Butafumeiro reaches further out and over the throngs of people gathered and stuffed into the wings of the Cathedral to witness this. The Cathedral is said to hold over 1000 people, and it appears filled beyond capacity. “Oooohs” and “Aaaahhs” are the sound effects generated as the Butafumeiro extends higher and higher toward the Cathedral’s ceiling.


The nerd in me begins to calculate its velocity (which is reported to reach 65 mph), as well as its trajectory, along with the torque and mechanical advantage of the pulley system and the 6 tirabolerios. Do they need 6 guys? What if they only had 4, would it not go so high or travel so far? What if they had 8, could they and have they hit the ceiling? What if there were only 2 really strong guys and not 6 older guys. Would the outcome be the same?…these are some of the many things I unconsciously ruminate upon as the Butafumeiro passes with a “Whooosh” overhead. Eventually, after it has reached the edges of the interior, the tirabolerios slowly reign in the Butafumeiro. With each pass it retreats back from whence it came, until it finally comes to rest adjacent the alter. The Butafumeiro is removed and Mass is ended…”go in Peace”. We filter out of the Cathedral to the Praza da Quintana which is now crowded with just arriving peregrinos in search of the Pilgrim Office (Oficina del Peregrino). Since we have already gotten our Compestella, we wonder if we had the same wide-eyed look upon entering Santiago as do they. With not much to do, but wander about, we peruse the shops laden with Camino “memorabilia”. We note that “siesta” time does not seem to be observed here. We find some items we consider purchasing, but hold off in order to “price check” said items at other shops. The price difference and selection between shops is negligible. This afternoon we have a decision to make. To walk to Finisterre or not. Paul wants to and it has been our loose plan from the beginning, but my foot still hurts and a massive rain storm is forecasted for the area we are headed. I am tired of being wet, but we hear that the route from Santiago to Finisterre is supposed to be the most beautiful route of the whole Camino, and that a “full” pilgrimage requires you to continue to “the end of the world” where you “shed” your previous life, in the form of removing your pilgrim clothing and burning it. A dip in the ocean completes the symbolism of the “cleansing” of your “sins”, previous life and/or way of living. Sue, Jerry and Dave plan on going to Finisterre as well, but they will take the bus. I do my best to entice Paul into a bus ride. But with most of our adventures, we like to take the ” less traveled ” route and increase the degree of difficulty, just for the challenge of it. In keeping with this ethos, I acquiesce and agree to walk with him to Finisterre… as far as my foot will take me, AND as long as he carries a portion of my pack weight to ease some of the stress off my foot. With that, we look for a NON-PILGRIM, breadless lunch, and plan our next morning’s egress from Santiago. We complete this momentous day “dining” on Tapas with Sue, Jerry and Dave. First “leg” down. Now to the “end of the world”.

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One Response to Santiago!

  1. Rosanna Lippe says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! I SOOOOOOO thank you for sharing your adventures with us!!!! I just love you two and feel as if I have been on another GREAT ADVENTURE with you!!!!!! Looking forward to the last leg. 😄

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