To Santiago

The morning after the night before and there was a decidedly odd atmosphere at La Calabaza del Peregrino as people began to stir around 6am.

Albergue life requires a certain degree of tolerance, but it was becoming apparent that one or two dormitory denizens might have reached the end of their tether.

One of these was Peter, who was muttering darkly about yet another disturbed night and for a worrying few minutes, I thought I might have been responsible, perched as I had been directly above him on the top bunk.

I already knew that I had allowed my water bottle to crash to the floor right by his head at about 2am, thanks to an odd bunk bed design which didn’t do much to prevent such an unwanted slip.

We’d all probably been a bit noisy when we’d come to bed too, with Tim actually clambering into my bunk rather than his own while I was brushing my teeth, one bunk over to the right.

Oops.

All this hubbub had apparently turned another occupant, a spry German lady, into a seething ball of resentment and barely restrained fury, staring daggers at all of us the following morning and passive-aggressively stomping around.

More Oops.

It was unsettling and unnerving – her silent rage spread across the room and everyone in the dormitory prepared for their last morning on the Portugués under a bit of a cloud.

Peter later told us that she had actually stormed across to his bunk at around 4am, shining her mobile phone torch into his face and then storming back to her own bunk.

Quite a lapse in standard Peregrino decorum, it has to be said.

Time to leave all that behind, grab a naranja and tostados and prepare ourselves for the last 15km towards our goal, Santiago de Compostela.

Lise and Peter started out first, with Tim and I catching them up before too long, all of us a little concerned about the threatening clouds that were skidding heavily across the skies.

We’d dodged the worst of the forecast rain over the previous couple of days, but as we came closer to our final destination, the heavens finally opened.

It was a significant test of our raincoats and rucksack covers, all of which thankfully stood firm against the short, sharp shower that doused us as we reached the outskirts of the city.

Approach to the Cathedral from the south was rather different to the east-west trajectory of the Francés, which traditionally had inspired weary pilgrims with an encouraging downhill view of the enormous spires from several kilometres away.The Portugués instead took us on a less visually satisfying journey, uphill through mundane city suburbs with no sight of the Cathedral to lift the soul, until we were well within the walls of the historico centro.

For three of us, we knew a little of what to expect of ourselves as we stepped into Praza de Obradoiro, the “golden square” that lines the western facade of the Cathedral.

For Peter, on his first Camino, it was undoubtedly a moment of quiet satisfaction.

Arriving takes on quite a different meaning after such a physical, emotional and spiritual challenge as a Camino and everyone completes their journey in their own way – sometimes in silence, sometimes numbed, sometimes quite overwhelmed.

It’s best not to ask.

The faces tell the story.

After the photos had been taken, it was time to do the paperwork and collect our Compostela, the certificates that officially confirmed our achievement.

I keenly remembered how it felt to queue up for this precious testimonial – a heady mix of happy chatter, satisfaction, fatigue and uncertainty, knowing that in arriving, an important chapter in our lives had come to an end.

From now on, we would have to find our own way in life without the Little Yellow Arrows to guide us, while the current simplicity of our lives would soon start to be overtaken by the necessities of living in the Ordinary World again.

Such philosophical considerations could wait for another time – after an afternoon to rest and spruce up, we all met again to celebrate with drinks in a cathedral square bar and then onwards for a final Pilgrims dinner.

Funnily enough, I didn’t quite catch the name of the restaurant until we arrived there, only to find that Cristo had brought us to exactly the same restaurant that I’d celebrated with my Francés companions last September.

Not only that, we were seated in almost exactly the same place too and they were still giving out Magnums as a dessert as well.

How funny.

There was a secondary priority for one of our number, Gerard from The Netherlands, who was desperate to find a bar that would be showing the Ajax vs Spurs Champions League semifinal that night.

We let him go early so he could see the whole of the match, promising to find him in the nearby bar he’d been pointed to.

A little later, the rest of the party and I left the restaurant to find him, but he wasn’t immediately visible where we expected to find him.

Then I saw that there was a second sports bar just two doors down, with a large contingent of Dutch fans cheering on Ajax, who were doing very well at that point.

Coming into the bar from behind, I thought I recognised Gerard, so I called out his name.

Gerard turned around, but it wasn’t our Gerard.

It was another one, but with a rather similar hairline, certainly when viewed from the back.

After a muddled explanation to Gerard 2 and all of his friends, I returned to the first bar to rejoin my compadres and there, tucked into a little corner was our Gerard!

I couldn’t let this moment pass, so I dragged Gerard 1 to meet Gerard 2 in the other bar, so he could watch the remaining minutes of the match with his own people.

Job done.

Unfortunately for both of the Gerard’s, the concept of “job done” escaped their team’s defence as they conceded a last gasp goal to crash out in shocking defeat, silencing a previously raucous bar in a split second.

A harsh moment for our Dutch friends, hopefully one that didn’t sour the celebratory mood of a completed Camino too much.

Football is so often a disappointment, compared to other things.

The last knockings of my second Camino were spent in cheerful nonsensical chatter with Tim, set to the sort of poodle rock soundtrack that is surely intended to empty bars as quickly as possible.

We got the message.

Then it was time to part company with the last of my Portugués compadres and return to the amusingly named Hotel Windsor for my last night on this Camino.

It had been a different experience this time, a ten day stomp rather than a five week odyssey, and perhaps a little less of a spiritual journey, mostly for that reason.

There had been no dramas.

No Taiwanese women seeking midnight sanctuary this time, no German men collapsing with allergic reactions, no Irish drunks challenging us all at dinner, no Australian nuclear scientist/fantasists toting 17kg backpacks and tossing around submarine secrets.

Just a very long walk in some very beautiful places with some very lovely people.

Until the next time, Buen Camino.

Albergue Report:

La Calabaza del Peregrino, Faramello

Another classic albergue, complete with its own restaurant, where I fell a little in love with the patient, sweet, graceful woman who was entrusted with cooking and caring for about 20 noisy Peregrinos. Lots of drink was taken, lots of hubbub generated. Brilliant.

Health Report:

Tedious Cough: It’s gone! About time.

Blisters: 0 (1) Hurrah!

Trips, Slips and Falls: 0 (0) Hurrah!

Applications of Factor 50: 1 (14) Well, it rained today…

Filling of Water Bottles: 1 (13) – see above

Rucksacks ruined: 1 – still somewhat in mourning

Wrong turns taken: 0 (4) – there were lots of Yellow Arrows on the last ten kilometres

Number of times “Buen Camino” was said: Way up, for obvious reasons

Unsuccessful Requests For Parmesan Cheese: 1

Song Of The Day: Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac

6 thoughts on “To Santiago

  1. Connie

    High five with congratulations for reaching Santiago again! I enjoyed your commentary and descriptions very much and some day I just may walk the Portuguese Camino, when ten days may be enough. As the plan stands, I will attempt my 3rd Camino Frances next year. BUEN Camino-well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just finished reading all of your blog posts. Thank you so much for great descriptions and many thought provoking entries. I hope you will continue to write about any future adventures. We hope to complete our Camino next year. In the meantime, we head to your home country in a few weeks to walk the Cotswold Way. Good luck in all future endeavors

    Liked by 1 person

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