El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Final Section to Santiago

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From Arca to Santiago

10 June 1993 and 3 July 2002

The final 19km into Santiago was on both occasions treated as a sprint so that various formalities could be completed before celebrating the end of our pilgrimages.

1993. We had lots to do today but our efforts of the previous two days had put us within easy striking distance of Santiago. We rose soon after 5am and were on the road before six in the dark and the rain. There was no time to enjoy the scenery because we needed to complete the formalities of our documentation before the midday mass so we carried out a forced march along the main road. The cathedral, which was our final destination, was reached about 9.30 and we used a bar in the Plaza Quintana for breakfast while we waited for the Pilgrim’s Office to open at ten. More and more pilgrims kept arriving and soon there was a large pile of rucksacks against the rear wall of the cathedral as we lined up to enter the office one by one to receive our hard earned Compostelas. Looking along the line it was obvious from our weather beaten and patched up appearance which ones had completed the longest journeys and special praise was given to those like our group who had walked five hundred miles or more.

Cristina was there with a similar sized group to ours and I was once again invited to stay at their house. I was given directions on how to reach their town, Carballo, by bus and agreed to meet them the next afternoon. I also heard from Patrick that the English cyclists were in town but I was unable to meet them.

Botafumeiro

With the formalities over we went round to the front of the cathedral to attend the midday mass. The main square was filling up with coach loads of tourists who were soon decked out as pseudo pilgrims by the souvenir sellers. Their pilgrim’s staffs looked suspiciously like varnished broom handles. Since 1993 was a holy year in Santiago the cathedral was extremely crowded for the mass but we secured places in the transept for a good view of the botafumeiro as it was swung over our heads. We were then, as genuine pilgrims, allowed behind the altar to mount the steps and give the statue of Saint James the ‘hug of the apostle’.

Our hotel reservations had been overbooked but we secured three rooms on the first floor of the house next door that serves as a private hotel. Once again I was sharing with Tomas and Oscar and once again Oscar had to put up with a roll down bed. Cruz, Julian & Valdir shared another room and Victorino and Remedios a third. Our ninth member Santi had pre-booked another hotel because he intended to stay in Santiago for three nights. All we had time to do was get cleaned up before we all met outside the cathedral to go for lunch. I was collared by a group of school children to give a tape-recorded interview on my pilgrimage. They seemed to understand enough of my Spanish to make it worthwhile for their project.

After lunch we got down to some serious sightseeing and spent the rest of the afternoon walking about the city. Walking everywhere had now become engrained in our habits and it did not occur to us to take it easy now that we had completed our journey. We met lots of familiar faces on our wanderings as the other pilgrims were also out seeing the historic town. Oscar also met his great aunt who made a big fuss of him, much to his embarrassment. By 7.30 we had had enough of sightseeing and returned to our hotel for a short rest before the evening celebrations.

At nine o’clock we returned to the cathedral and we were now a party of twelve. Our usual nine had been joined by Javi from Santiago, who acted as our guide, and the two French naval officers, Josephe and Gerarde, who had been more or less on the same stages as us since Los Arcos. The chosen restaurant was El Camilo, which although quite full, was able to accommodate us all at a long table. This was another restaurant that served huge quantities of food and we started with their speciality seafood course. The table was laden with a variety of ‘starters’ including a whole crab each, sardines, empañada etc. The main course was just as generous but, whereas most of the party chose more fish dishes, Josephe and I had steaks that must have weighed over a pound each. All this walking had given us huge appetites. We were still fit enough to contemplate the sweet menu and, as we were choosing, Victorino called over the waiter to order champagne. He and Remedios had kept secret from us that they had judged their entry into Santiago to coincide with their 33rd wedding anniversary. This gave a new impetus to the party and lots of toasts were drunk and liqueurs ordered with the coffee. Now that we were free of the curfew restrictions of the refugios, no one was willing to go to bed early so Javi took us on a pub crawl around the university area of the city where the bars are lively until the small hours. When we eventually got to bed, at 3am (I think), I had only eleven pesetas left in my pocket.

2002. We were woken by Jann at 5am and she was already packed and ready to go. She called back through the window to us to say that it was raining heavily so, after a quick breakfast, I set off with Judith about 5.30. We were both wearing full waterproof gear and decided to walk along the road rather than follow the yellow arrows through the woods.

We soon met Moira from Kildare who had picked her way through the woods with only a small torch to guide her and we caught up with Jann as we skirted the airport runway. It was now light enough to follow the Camino and we were lucky enough to find a bar open in Lavacola for coffee and cakes and to dry off a little.

Santiago wet

The rain then eased to drizzle and mist as we slowly made our way past the huge refugio at Monte Gozo (refugee camp?) then down into the suburbs of Santiago. After a quick visit to the cathedral and registration office we managed to book rooms in the Hostal Suso which is a traditional meeting place for pilgrims.

We were back in the cathedral for the noon mass and were able to gather together the rest of the gang so we could arrange a celebration in the evening. Lindsey had been unable to find a room so Jann let her have her room in Suso’s because she already had a night’s stay booked at the parador Los Reyes Catolicos.

The afternoon and early evening were spent exploring the city and meeting lots of pilgrims who had been walking with us for the last few weeks. It was amazing how many had managed to stay within half a day or so from us without us realising how close they were.

Plans had been made for a large gathering that evening but every time we bumped into someone these seemed to have changed. In the end I went with a small party to El Camilo and found that the menu was to the same excellent standard as nine years previous.