We left our suitcase at the bottom of the stairs, locked the door behind us and braved the drizzle. It was our final day of walking.
“Goodbye Rua de Francos” we joyfully cheered, wiping away the morning sleepiness from our eyes. With just 11km to go until we reached our final destination, we were psyched.
Our goal was to get to the cathedral by 12pm for mass and perhaps then get to see the famous botafumeiro.
As we neared Santiago more and more people appeared on our route. To think that they all had the same end-goal in mind was pretty cool.
Our general rule had been “don’t follow the pilgrims, follow the arrows”, but we eventually found ourselves standing dumbfounded in front of two arrows; one pointing left, the other right.
Santiago de Compostela was in the distance. We could see it but we had no idea which road to take.
Quite quickly a pilgrim pile up appeared at the intersection with none of them really sure which one was the shortest route. And then…
Cue Dieter to the rescue!
A German who we had met on and off through the journey arrived on the scene and whipped out his guidebook. It was meticulously sectioned out with highlighted tabs with him concluding that “left is shorter”.
We hitched our rucksacks back up and strode towards the city with gusto.
The outskirts of the city centre began to take shape around us and a wiry woman caught up to us and nattered away in Spanish. She was quite something.
We nodded politely as she whizzed off right through roundabouts; j-walking like the road was hers! I don’t know what she said to us but I feel sounded like “ye’d better hurry your arses to the cathedral because I’m going to get front row seats!”
A short sprint later, we were there.
I hugged Mom. We stood outside Santiago de Compostela Cathedral breathing in relief. It had been quite the journey.
The square in front of the cathedral was buzzing with people, with pilgrims flooding in from all directions.
If you’ve seen the film The Way – spoiler alert – there’s a moment when they arrive in the cathedral where each of the pilgrims has a moment. It’s like a huge intake of breath. We too had that moment.
I’m by no means religious. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ve no interest in religion really at all, but I think the feeling of utter relief to have made it almost felt like a spirit taking over. That probably doesn’t make a huge lot of sense to maybe someone reading from the outside but believe me, I definitely felt something.
We plonked ourselves down amongst the pilgrims and listened as the priest went through the countries the peregrinos had travelled from to be there today.
The botafumeiro, the gigantic incense holder, swung across the pews with the haunting voice of the choir singing in the background. It’s a moment that I will never forget.
As is tradition for pilgrims, we went to the back of the cathedral to embrace the large statue of St. James – to which the Camino is named after. We queued like silent monks in prayer and edged along, not caring that we probably stunk of sweat from our journey.
The woman in front of me cried as she clasped the back of St. James and held her head down for a few seconds before moving on.
I too felt a few tears welling up. From where you hug the statue you can see all the people below milling around and I couldn’t help but feel in awe of what we had achieved with so many of them.
Afterwards we rested and met up with our Australian friends for a celebration tipple in the Parador which still today holds the tradition that if you’re one of the first 10 pilgrims in, you get a free breakfast.
It was fantastic to be able to share our experiences with people who understood what we had gone through.
The next day we queued up in the pilgrim office to receive our final stamp and our certificates of completion. It’s in that office where they calculate the distance you’ve walked and look through your pilgrim passport to check you’ve done it.
We walked 101km, thankfully just above the threshold of getting the cert (you need to have done at least 100km!) and we proudly displayed them for all to see.
It was official. We had done it.
Thank you for following our Camino de Santiago adventure! Below is a video I made while we were walking. I’d love if you took a look:
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