Day 42: Santiago de Compostela. The Last Post.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 56

Morning in Rua Vilar.

Distance to go: Nada, zilch, zip Zero!!!

We woke and had breakfast on the terrace outside our hotel. We watched the first pilgrims arriving at the Pilgrim Office. There were smiles and hugs and laughing all around. Some people were limping in with bandaged knees and feet. Some walked stiff legged like robots. This is the pilgrims shuffle. We all go through that. We just sat and watched and enjoyed every single minute of it.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 65

Old friends together again.

At 09:15 we met up with Pablo and Lucas and Silvia to go to the Cathedral and hug the Apostle and pay our respects in the relicry of St James beneath the alter. We tried yesterday but the queues were huge. This morning we were alone.

I climbed the stairs to the figure of St James who gazes out from the alter and put my arms around him. I had my mums bible with me and showed it to him. I had my scallop shell and put it briefly on him. I said a few words in his ear. Very personal things. I confess to not being a deeply religious man. But this was just the right thing to do here and now. If you asked me to explain, I cannot. I climbed down from the lofty height and descended below to see the silver casket in which it is said St James lies. It is set back behind protective bars and glass in a very small room. I showed him my mums bible and my scallop shell that had come all the way from my birth town of Portsmouth in England and had been on the steps of St James church where I was christened. Now here it was actually in front of the very Saint after which the church is named. It will travel in my backpack from now on. For I am a Peregrino and am entitled to where the shell.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 40

Not the best photo but it shows the finger holes worn in the granite my millions of pilgrims hands.

We saw the Portico Da Gloria. The link will tell you more. Suffice to say that you can only stare in wonder at its magnificence. The worn finger holes are from the hands of millions of pilgrims touching the Tree of Jesse to indicate their arrival in the Cathedral. It is behind a barrier now to protect it from further damage.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 72

Up on the roof….

We took a tour of the Cathedral roof. That was most interesting. Stone roof slabs enabled soldiers to run back and forth to defend it in days past.The views over the city were of course simply the best from this lofty perch. As the hours ticked by we saw more people we had encountered in days past entering the city. That meant more whoops of delight and laughter and hugs.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 74

A lofty perch

As the day came to a close we knew we had to say farewell to our Camino friends for journeys home were imminent. We had dinner together and said our goodbyes. There were tears. Emails were swapped. Phone numbers were exchanged and suddenly we were alone. I was exhausted.

So our Camino has come to its conclusion. It has been a journey of self discovery.

I have slept with total strangers. We have walked around dormitories in our underwear and not batted an eyelid. I have listened to snoring that could vibrate a bunk bed at 20 paces. I have consumed more white bread in the past 6 weeks than in the rest of my 53 years. I have tasted some pretty good Vino Tintos. I have tasted some appalling ones too but said they were excellent to my gracious hosts. I have shared meals with people from every corner of the globe. I have sat and listened to people play guitars and sing because they thought they were good and told them how fantastic they were when wishing I had my earplugs. I have laughed with people. I have moaned and groaned with people. I have ached with people. I have panted and sweated my way up hills with a 12KG backpack and collapsed in a heap at the top in fits of laughter in the company of total strangers doing the same thing with me. I have sworn and cussed and questioned a thousand times whose idiotic idea was it to walk 800 Kms across Spain in this damn heat, rain, humidity and all of the former combined and with a backpack and drip dry clothing and whilst climbing up and down hills. I have comforted people in pain and hugged people in distress. I have done the pilgrim shuffle with people. I have lanced and dressed blisters on feet that really ought to have been cut off and thrown away they were so nasty. I have had total strangers come up to me and show me the way when I was in doubt. I have eaten bocadillos (like french baguette sandwiches) with indeterminate fillings because I was so hungry. I have come to know and love my feet. I have come to love blister plasters, corn plasters, vaseline, liner socks and anything else the Pharmacist sold me to bung on my feet and knees that kept me going. I have grown to love the people that went out and painted yellow arrows everywhere to show me the way. Up hills and down in valleys, in woods, in towns and cities they were always there.

But most of all I love all the people that came into and out of my Camino. Some for weeks, days or hours. Some for a fleeting moment. Fellow Pilgrims, the local people in the shops, Cafes, albergues, out in the fields, in the pharmacies or the tax office in Melide who left her desk to show me which street to go down when I went into it to ask for help even when I was not smelling or looking my best. My faith in the Human spirit is stronger now than it ever was.

Finally, I love the woman who nursed me through the bad times both mentally and physically, never questioned once our reasons for doing this, washed our clothes every night when I collapsed in a heap on my bunk, dressed my blisters and rubbed liniment into my knees and feet and with whom I shared the glorious moment when we entered the cathedral square.

Lavacolla to Santiago - 69

My guardian angel.

So there you are. I hope you have enjoyed the journey and if in time you find yourself on a Camino questioning what on earth you are doing there remember this. You are not alone. You are never alone on a Camino.


Distance walked today: a lot.

Mark Dexter 2015