Pedrouzo to Santiago – Arrival at last!

Pedrouzo was shrouded in mist as we set off to reach Santiago de Compostela. Day 41 of our Camino, and it’s All Saints Day. Some time ago we wondered if we could reach Santiago by this date, knowing that it would definitely be a day on which the famous Botafumiero (giant thurible, or incense burner) would be swung in the Cathedral. Would we find the fabled ‘secret pilgrim’? To find out, we need to do some walking!

Leaving Pedrouzo

It had rained overnight and there was still some water on the track. We left Pedrouzo at first light, initially testing our night-vision as we glimpsed the dark shape of the town through the trees amid the encircling gloom.

Pedrouzo

We passed some Camino graffiti: ‘Se Siempe tu mismo’ which translates roughly as ‘always be yourself’, next to an outlined yellow arrow. I think that if you have walked the Camino, then by now you are already aware that you walk your own path on the Camino as in life – so it’s probably a bit of a statement of the obvious. Nevertheless, it seems some people feel the need to leave pop psych wisdom daubed over people’s walls right along the Camino. I suppose it beats profanities and expletives, but it does detract from the ancient ambience we find right along the route.

graffiti

We found an official Camino marker ringed with a cyclist’s inner tube. Was it symbolic of an inner deflation? Or a speedy repair to enable a mounted pilgrim to continue, perhaps with the lesson that where there’s a wheel there’s a way…

Camino marker, Galicia

Not long afterwards we passed a more traditional older-style Camino marker, beautifully carved from stone by an unknown skilled stone mason. A couple of offerings had been placed on top, probably quite recently.

Camino marker, Galicia

The path took us through delightful woodland and the going was gentle. We appreciated that, as the cumulative fatigue was taking its toll.

woodland path

Interestingly, we found ourselves walking in this scenery, barely noticing that the woods off to the side cleverly concealed the fact that we were walking around the end of the runway of Lavacolla airport. It was peaceful, and unseen birds sang in the morning sunshine.

Nearby we encountered what appeared at first sight to be a dump. We were next to a foetid, polluted stream and in a small clearing every tree and every shrub was festooned with ribbons and bits of clothing, and boots and picture mementos. An orange chemical substance was oozing into the stream. I puzzled for a while, before realising that this desecration of the landscape was the fabled Lavacolla, the traditional bathing spot for pilgrims over the past thousand years, just a few kilometres from Santiago. You would not get very clean by washing in this place!

Lavacolla

According to the Codex Calixtinus, it is customary to wash oneself thoroughly in the river at Lavacolla, so as to be clean when arriving in Santiago:

There is a river in a wooded place two miles from Santiago called Lavacolla, in which French pilgrims, out of respect for the Apostle, wash not only their private parts but, stripping off their clothes, clean all the dirt from their bodies.

I took one look at the orange ooze seeping into the river and decided to hold off until we reached our hotel….

This semi-fortified chapel stood in marked contrast to the informal bathing spot we passed a few minutes before.

Capilla San Rocque

And we were clearly beginning to head into civilisation in the form of the hamlet of Villamaior. This Horreo was one of the better-maintained ones, possibly owned by the church, as shown by the cross surmounting one end.

Horreo

We passed a house with stylised plaster heads depicting children on the gateposts. They were striking in their simplicity. I wondered what message they were supposed to convey, or indeed what they properly represented.

Lavacolla

Soon we were climbing again, heading up to Monte del Gozo. The Capilla san Marcos stood gracefully beside the path as though to wave to the passing parade of pilgrims, gradually becoming more numerous as we approached Santiago.

Capilla San Marcos

Near the church was an ancient cross and it appeared that the Virgin Mary was pierced with a sword – the anguish of a mother who saw the death of her son.

ancient cross

And then the famous ‘Don’t STOP Walking’ sign providing encouragement to exhausted pilgrims. Not far now! This must be one of the most photographed road signs on the Camino!

Don't stop walking

We climbed and saw off to one side a famous landmark – a monument to the pilgrimages of Pope John Paul II and St Francis of Assisi. We were at the Monte Del Gozo – the Mount of Joy.

Monte del Gozo

From here, it is said, you can see the twin spires of Santiago cathedral on a clear day. Follow the gaze of the statue of two pilgrims, but the cathedral is not easy to spot among the sprawl of Santiago.

Then it was down a long flight of steps to meet the road and the bridge over the railway line. There were disturbing gaps among the rotten wooden floor to the footbridge and I made sure to stay within the line of the steel support girders clearly visible beneath the loose boards. It was not the best sight for two tired pilgrims.

And then we were on the outskirts of the city. We passed a statue with a plaque labelled El Templario Peregrino – the pilgrim Templar. Perhaps these days he was there to protect the pilgrims from the Spanish traffic.

El Templario Peregrino

We saw a sign to beware of walkers, tractors, mopeds and horses and carts. We decided to be vigilant because you never know when a horse and cart will come bounding out in front of a speeding tractor or moped!

road sign

Just beyond a roundabout, we passed a modern monument to prominent people associated with the Camino. It was like a portal and we passed beneath across the park.

pilgrim monument

And we found the way marked with bronze camino shells – our guides in many towns. The converging lines symbolising the coming together of all the various pilgrim routes to meet at Santiago de Compostela.

bronze Camino shell

Soon we were walking the city streets, past shops and cafes, with a spire of the cathedral tantalisingly ahead.

Santiago de Compostela

Embedded into the path we found an inscription from UNESCO. It read: ‘Europe was made on the pilgrim road to Compostela‘. The field of stars. And at once it became clear. Here is a path that transcends national and local boundaries and has brought people together in common cause. It is a path that brought artisans, craftsmen and philosophers together to exchange ideas and to open our minds beyond the narrow parochialism of our individual countries. It is a path that today brings people together from all over the world, from Australia, Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Latvia. Italy, Slovenia, South Korea, Japan, China and Spain – and that is just some of the nationalities we met along the road. All bound by an ideal, and a sense of altruism. All walking in the footsteps of a thousand years of pilgrims from across the world.

Europe was built on the pilgrimage to Santiago

We soon lost sight of the Cathedral spires among the buildings around us. We followed the bronze markers and tried not to get lost in the maze of a town built on medieval streets.

Santiago

Then we encountered some steps, and a piper was playing. I grabbed the phone and tried not to take a tumble on the stairs. We descended past the piper, then all at once we entered the square.

I looked around and saw the Cathedral for the first time. We both burst into tears and embraced. We had done it.

Whether we wept from exhaustion, or from the realisation that we had accomplished something truly extraordinary is immaterial. We had walked a million steps and traversed 800kms/500 miles, we had crossed three mountain ranges and we had walked an ancient path to give thanks for a good life. And we had walked the ancient Way of St James.

Somehow, we are no longer the people who started out on this journey. Our perspectives have shifted. And we have learnt many things about ourselves, and about our fellow human beings. And it was good.

We set off to find our hotel – we have booked a week here and hope to meet up with some of our fellow pilgrims, our Camino family. At the hotel we were congratulated and welcomed for one of the best hotel stays on our entire trip.

Hotel Rua Villar

With a light drizzle in the late afternoon, we were amazed and blessed by a spectacular rainbow over the Cathedral! Some might take that as a sign. There is no doubt we will return here. But for now it is time to rest, then tomorrow we receive our Compostela certificates, meet some friends and attend the Pilgrims mass. Until then, Buen Camino!

Santiago Cathedral

 

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Melide to Arzua and an encounter with raspberries

It was the end of daylight saving, and we awoke to find Dawn almost upon us – an hour earlier than we had expected. So we breakfasted quickly and headed out of town, realising that the kilometres were rapidly counting down. Arzua beckoned.

Melide

We headed out into majestic woodlands, then fields of cows – of which much evidence lay on our path.

Melide

We encountered a small crudely fashioned wooden cross – dated 19 October 2016 – someone had perished nearby even as we walked!

And then we passed through villages with ancient Camino marking crosses and a wonderful old Romanesque church.

stone cross

Church

Ascending through more farmland and woodland, we climbed a scenic hill.

tree tunnel

where we encountered the ‘Donkey pilgrim’ in a clearing. He was travelling with his donkey, and had set up a small donativo stall selling fruit and drinks. The donkey looked resigned, if relieved, at being temporarily freed from the cart’s traces.

Donkey

The Donkey pilgrim had his own stamp for our credential. And all this was next to a stream traversed by what appeared to be a neolithic style bridge – it was a beautiful setting. The bridge, surprisingly, had a name – the Puente Rio San Lazare.

neolithic bridge

We passed horses in fields – they took an interest in us – I guess they hoped we had picked up some of the apples that had freshly fallen from the trees. I was just glad none of the apples had hit us on the head!

horses

We stopped at a kiosk selling fruit and bought some raspberries. We asked where they were from and he gestured behind – there was a field full of ripe raspberries – the freshest I think we have ever tasted!

fruit kiosk

The raspberries were wonderful – and they were freshly picked that morning!

rasberries

Meanwhile, the stallholder’s dog lazed on the path in the sunlight.

stallholder's dog

At Boente we were able to stop for a cafe con leche and a bite to eat.

Boente

We went into the Boente Cruce Igrexia Santiago – the church of Santiago, which has an image of the Saint above the altar.

Boente Cruce Igrexia Santiago

The church itself is well looked-after. And we were told that the local priest regularly comes out to bless the pilgrims

Boente Cruce Igrexia Santiago

Then it was out via Cruceiro and beneath the underpass which took us into the Boente valley. We celebrated passing the 50km marker.

Boente valley path

Heading into Castañeda we saw a horreo with its door open – and again we could see the corn cobs drying in the interior.

Castañeda

A sign heralded the township

Casteñeda

As we came into the town itself, we were passed by a group of horse riders on a tour. One rider was even carrying his dog on the horse!

Castañeda

According to my Brierley’s Guide:

“It was here in Castañeda that the pilgrims would deposit the limestone rocks they had brought from Triacastela to be fired for the lime used in the building of the Cathedral at Santiago.”

 Then back into the rural countryside. But not for long.

Next to the river Iso, we came to Ribadiso da Baixo. And here, just over the medieval bridge, we found a renovated ancient pilgrim hospital – one of the oldest still in existence.

Ribadiso da Baixo

medieval bridge

We headed out through the tunnel under a major road, then onto a track that ran parallel to the road all the way to Arzua. And we stopped to smell the … um …  dahlias…

Dahlia near Arzua

As we climbed towards Arzúa (yes even now there are hills(!)) we heard the sound of sleigh bells and sure enough, a covered waggon, pulled by two horses came down the hill towards us at some speed. It seemed courageous to us, but I guess the driver knew what he was doing as they negotiated the steep downward gradient with great skill and the horses didn’t seem worried. I pulled out the phone and videoed them passing.

By now many of the friends we have met or walked with have arrived in Santiago – we are among the last of our cohort, but using social media and text messages we were able to congratulate our friends on completing their Caminos. It will be our turn soon.

Entering Arzua, we passed a building festooned with philosophical musings collected from passing pilgrims.

Arzua

I felt it strange to be coming towards the end of this extraordinary adventure. And bittersweet too as, despite the pain and the walking, we will return to return to modern life changed.

Arzua

We will be armed with new insights about ourselves and the country through which we have passed – perhaps like ghosts – visible for but a moment, then gone in an instant. Our lives too, are as an instant when measured against the millennia of continuous human occupation in this region.

Arzua sign

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Sarria – Beginning of the final leg

Sarria

The next significant place was Sarria – 110kms to the end-point. We missed the arrows when coming into Sarria – fortunately, the GPS and map component of the TrekRight app soon saw us back on the path. It is a largish town, and we climbed the hill and steep stairs (!) to the old part of town. We decided to treat ourselves to a Pension to mark the occasion of reaching the last 100kms.

Sarria

But we did not find Sarria to be a warm and friendly place. At the top of the stairs we found a pension – one of the less dilapidated buildings, but that wasn’t saying much. It looked clean, so we booked in and climbed two floors to our room. The curtains hung half off the curtain rod, and there was no light to the bathroom so we had to rely on the streetlamp outside. The place claimed to have laundry facilities, but when we asked, we were directed to the Municipal Albergue across the street.

With our credentials nearly full we went in search of new ones, and were directed to the Office of Tourism. Up the hill some distance, perhaps half a kilometre. They might have mentioned it was closed for the season (Oct-March). We tried two albergues until one directed us to the church. The pilgrim office was only open during mass times.

Church in Sarria

At 6.00pm we attended mass, and afterwards, we were able to see a priest about a stamp and a new credential. In contrast to our previous experiences with the church, it was purely transactional. We paid our two euros each and were handed our follow-on credentials. No blessing, no smile or wishing us luck. Just take the money, stamp the passport and out of there as quickly as possible. We got the distinct impression we were tolerated, rather than welcomed. Perhaps it was just that we were at the end of the season, but it was clear that the pilgrims were little more than a (major) source of income for the town.

Sarria

We found a supermercado and bought bananas for tomorrow – we weren’t going to hang around in the morning. Then we went in search of dinner.

Walking the length of the main street we tried three places – either not serving yet, or their kitchen was closed for the season. At the point of giving up, we finally found a place – good roast pork and medicinal vino tinto. Well fed, we felt a bit better. When we emerged, it had rained and Sarria was deserted.

The wall murals were quite spectacular, and the encircling gloom added a piquancy to the images of tired and exhausted pilgrims. We felt for them.

wall mural at Sarria

There was a statue of St James in a niche by the side of the road – we wondered what he had done to deserve being behind bars 🙂

Sarria

After our food, we headed back to our room. There was one desultory bar of wifi. We decided this was not a place to linger, and next time, we will be happy to pass through as quickly as possible. We were glad not to have this as our first experience of a Camino. But then, perhaps we were just being influenced by the sense of an ending to our Camino, amplified by the weather and the multiple misdirections. There is no doubt that we were very conscious that we had only a few days left of our amazing experience.

Thoughts about endings

The sense of an ending is actually an important consideration – and potentially a useful thinking point in our Camino. I thought about the idea that ‘all good things must come to an end’. And it may be a way of galvanising our thoughts into how we best take the lessons of our Camino forward into the rest of our lives.

St Augustine once said:

“Who can deny that things to come are not yet? Yet already there is in the mind an expectation of things to come”

By casting forward, we distance ourselves from what is happening right now, in order to see the relationship between what is now, and what is to come.

 This sense of an ending is a bit of a crisis point that enables us to step aside from the present. It gives us a moment to consider what has changed and how we have changed. And to think about what we will take forward once we return to our day-to-day lives.

It is like the way the fish does not see the water in which they are immersed, but if they were to cast themselves above, only then can they see the water in which they swim. Hmmm, it’s time I started thinking about my Camino lessons and what I will take with me on our return. Will I be kinder, more tolerant of others? Will I have a new relationship to ‘stuff’? This is not closure, rather it is the start of a new beginning, and time to consider who I am becoming. I might need another vino tinto on that!

Conclusions

As for Sarria itself? To the locals we are like ghosts passing through, perhaps to touch their lives briefly, before moving on. And I can’t blame them for seeking respite after catering to a record number of pilgrims in this Holy Year. I’m sure I too, would be tired of dealing with the public under such circumstances, and looking forward to closing at the end of the season.

Sarria

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INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the start, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
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