Day 41: Lavacolla to Santiago De Compostela

Distance to go: 11.4 Kms

Lavacolla to Santiago - 04

A shameless selfie as we begin the walk to Santiago city.

We set the alarm for 7am, a real luxury. We dressed, packed, ate breakfast and set off at 8am for our final destination, the cathedral at Santiago De Compostela. It was a cool and overcast day. Could it really be the last day? For so long Santiago seemed so far away. Since Sarria the kilometres seemed to pass by at an ever increasing rate. We were excited, apprehensive and at times a little sad that our Camino was coming to an end. Or was it?

Lavacolla to Santiago - 05


We climbed out of Lavacolla on a minor road. It was quite steep at first which got the heart and legs pumping so early. Some friends of ours, Ingram and Whitney and Silvia stayed in the albergue at Vilamaior, the next village along. As we passed through a voice called from behind. It was Silvia. She was about to have breakfast. We hugged and promised to meet her in Santiago.

We moved on. We continued to climb on the roads passing the Galician TV building and huge transmission mast.

All the cafes we passed were closed at this hour on a Sunday. We kept going being drawn closer to journeys end.

We came to Monte Del Gozo, Mount Joy. Here a huge albergue lying on the outskirts of the city lies sprawling across the hillside. Capable of housing 500 people this is a purpose built self contained facility. On the highest point stands a huge monument commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II. 

Lavacolla to Santiago - 07

Pope John Paul II monument on MonteDel Gozo.

Over to one side stands another monument that has no signposts and which was bypassed by most pilgrims. We caught a glimpse of it in the distance and decided to go over and investigate. I am so glad we did for it is of two large bronze statues of pilgrims pointing. Follow their hands and for the very first time we saw away in the distance the twin spires of Santiago cathedral. We felt very emotional. For 6 weeks we had walked and finally our destination was visible. No wonder it is called Mount Joy. Pilgrims over the ages must have felt the same emotions as us at seeing those same spires.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 12

Pilgrims Monument.

A steep descent into the suburbs of Santiago brought us across the motorways and railways into the city where we found a group of college students whooping and laughing at a large sign declaring the name of the city. We had out photo taken and moved on eager to get to the cathedral. 

Lavacolla to Santiago - 19

Nearly there. 4.5 Kms to go.

We entered the old city and holding hands walked down the stairs to the north of the cathedral through a portico under which a Galician piper was busking. At that sound my Mum was right beside me. I could hear her laughing. The last time she saw us before she passed away she thought we were crazy. Now she was with me laughing and dancing to the pipes. As soon as we set foot into Plaza Do Obradoiro, the Golden Square in front of the dramatic West entrance to the cathedral the huge bell in the clock tower struck the first bong of 10 O’Clock. We entered faced the huge doors and magnificent facade of the cathedral. It was covered in scaffolding for restoration work but that did not matter. We hugged each other and laughed and smiled. Our family was with us. Our 2 boys were with us. We imagined them sitting on the steps saying “not bad for two old guys, not bad at all”. We laughed and hugged again. Other pilgrims in the square all around us were laughing. Some were crying and hugging each other. Others sat on the ground with their legs crossed and chin in their hands and just stared at the cathedral. We joined them and just stood in silence and absorbed it all. We both wished that some of the people we had met way back were with us. We looked around. There was nobody we knew.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 22

West entrance to Santiago Cathedral.

After some 20 minutes we went to the pilgrims office to present our pilgrim passport and get our certificates of completion, our Compostelas. Also our hotel, Rua Vilar was right opposite. We would do our papers and check in, drop off our packs and go for a wander. We wanted to attend the pilgrim mass in the cathedral at noon.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 23

Debbie on the steps of the cathedral 

Lavacolla to Santiago - 25

….and me. Exhausted but totally content.

We lined up in the queue at the pilgrims office. Just before it was our turn to enter a voice called out. We turned and looked to see a man waving at us. We did not recognise him and turned to the man behind us in the belief the figure was waving at him. I looked back. The figure was waving at us. We could not believe it for it was Pablo. An American of Spanish and German parents from Houston Texas was standing there larger than life and much slimmer than when we last saw him exactly one moth earlier in Viana on our wedding anniversary. He was also the first pilgrim we ever said hello too way back in the pilgrims office in St Jean Pied de Port on the 4th June when we lined up to be issued with our pilgrim passports. He called us his Founding Fathers.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 27

At the Pilgrims office waiting our turn to get our Compostelas.

We got our Compostelas and went over and hugged him. Here was someone from our past and not just anyone but the first pilgrim we ever said hello too. This was too much. We agreed to meet him in the cathedral for the mass at noon. By the time we got there the cathedral was packed and we stood at the back. As we stood somebody else waved. It was a young couple Silvia and Lucas whom we first met the first night of our Camino in Orisson and had not seen since day 12 in Navarette. We hugged each other. They had arrived 1 hour after us. This was getting very emotional now. Oh how we laughed and swapped horror stories. We were told to shhhhh by some Spaniards. I told them to shut up. Churches were supposed to be happy places and we were happy. They limped away. The Mass started.

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Swinging the Botafumeiro.

I did not understand anything as it was all in Spanish but got the jist. The huge Botafumeiro was swung by the 6 Tiraboleiros. This is a huge incense burner that was originally used to fumigate the smelly and often diseased pilgrims. Nothing changes. We were smelly. Maybe not so diseased. I hope the video shows the dramatic effect of this. Excuse the ladies left ear. I was not tall enough.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 53

Lucas, Silvia, Pablo, Debbie and I outside the cathedral.

The rest of the day was spent walking the city with Pablo, Lucas and Sylvia and catching up on our Caminos. We were not able to see our German lady friend Silvia. We could not find her but hoped we would see her maybe tomorrow. 

We talked of our missing friends.  Of the people that enriched our Camino and shared our path and lives. Keith and Tanya, Marisa, big Damian, Naughty Angus the Australian, Gerald the lovely Irishman, Jimmy and Antoinette also from Ireland, our two ninjas from Korea and Artur from Costa Rica who is not far behind as he wanted to wait in León for his wife who would accompany him to Santiago.  Of the Sharratts in Sydney and the Turnbulls in the UK who offered encouragement. There are so many more. 

We rounded the day off with our friends in a bar to watch the world cup final. What a day. An emotional roller coaster. It will take time to make sense of everything that has happened and what we managed to do. We have another day In the city tomorrow before we fly home on Tuesday. I hope that more pilgrims we know will make the same arrival as we did. It is one we can never forget. I will write more tomorrow once I make sense of it all.

Distance walked today: 11.4 Kms

 © Mark Dexter 2015