The reward for my swifter-than-expected pilgrim’s progress on the Inglés was that most precious of all commodities – time.
After my earlier Caminos had concluded, a clock had been ticking, with planes and trains to catch, places to be and people to see.
This time, I’d built in some space for myself to arrive.
There would be no rushing from one state of mind to another.
Instead, I would drink in every last drop of this experience as deeply as I could.
Having marvelled at Muxía, there was something else that I had missed on my first Camino to see.
Five kilometres east of Santiago lies Monte do Gozo, the Mount of Joy, which overlooks the city.
From high on this hill, pilgrims on the Francés would catch their first sight of the cathedral, ecstatic with joy at the end of their long journeys.
The Monumento al Caminante marks this spot, two impressive statues of medieval pilgrims standing with arms stretching into the sky towards their goal.
Somewhat unhelpfully for modern-day pilgrims, this landmark is about 500 metres off to the left of the marked trail, and easily missed as a result.
I’d walked past it once, but now I was on a mission to see it at last.
It meant another early morning start, catching the coach back to Santiago, but my effort was rewarded as we chased the sun to the city.
Galician clouds seem to leave me be more than might be expected.
There’s a puritanical streak in me that briefly considered walking the five uphill kilometres from the coach station to reach the statues.
But the misty sunshine caught my eye and I opted for a taxi to speed me there while the light looked lustrous.
It was the right decision, as I had the monument to myself, spending time with my ancient predecessors.
In suitably ethereal light, I thought of how their experiences might have varied from ours, and whether they worried as much about what socks to wear.
From here, it was a pleasant downhill stroll back to Santiago, where I would arrive in the Praza do Obradoiro yet again, but not filmed this time.
I checked my socks, just in case.
An hour later, I entered the sun-dappled square and there I stayed for three blissful hours, munching Spanish pears, witnessing all the happy arrivals and assisting with pilgrim photography.
It’s a rare privilege to give yourself the present of being present.
Not moving for three hours, observing countless moments of joy, achievement, resolution and affection, I was beatific.
But I managed to remember to put on some Factor 50, which was just as important.
Later, I lit a candle in the Cathedral for my grandfather, possibly the last person in my family who would have come here for the original reasons.
It seemed appropriate.
Feeling peckish, I considered the Parador for dinner. It was the first time I had ever crossed the threshold of this slightly intimidating pilgrim hospital turned luxury hotel.
I was given a very warm welcome, particularly for a man in dusty shorts and scuffed walking boots, but I quickly decided to look elsewhere for my last pilgrim meal.
Wandering Santiago’s bustling streets, I took a chance and discovered Taberna Fuego Lento, where I had the best meal of the week.
The dish? Zamburiñas – grilled scallops, highly appropriate for a pilgrim, of course.
125km in a week made me feel that I also deserved flambéed pancake for dessert as well. You would have done it too.
It was the sort of meal that makes you order one more drink and then leave an enormous tip. Well deserved, too.
My last morning was spent almost entirely within the Cathedral, filled to the brim with Palm Sunday pilgrims.
After attending Mass twice, I must now be considered to be a rubbish atheist.
But perhaps there was a reason for me to be there.
In the pew in front of me, a silver-haired pilgrim, wobbly on her feet even with sticks, stayed standing through a particularly long section of the service.
I recognised that look – the dazed, drained expression of a Peregrino at the end of their physical strength, spiritually overwhelmed by the splendour of the setting and the reverence of the atmosphere.
It nearly did for me and my friends when we first arrived here in 2018.
She needed permission to rest, and a light elbow touch to suggest she should sit was all it took.
That’s why I was there.
Later, I saw Oliver, who had spent 40 days on the Vía de La Plata from Seville and now had that look on his face that suggested he didn’t know what to do next.
From experience, I knew that he would figure it out, sooner or later.
Then after one last look, it was time to catch the airport bus.
There, I bumped into Jonay, who had been the first pilgrim I met on this Camino, way back on the first day on the walk to Neda.
Now here he was, catching the same plane back to the U.K., the first and last fellow pilgrim on this journey.
Coincidence? Or just another test of my atheism? Who knows?
The last hurdle was the question of Stick’s survival.
After a week of deep emotional bonding with this inanimate object, I wasn’t going to leave it behind unless I had to, but there was an inevitable outcome.
Senora Security was sympathetic, but it was a big blunt object, and airlines frown on those.
Adios, Stick. We came a long way together.
I was quite emotional after the abandonment, but I was quickly lifted by the sight of one more little yellow arrow, a sign that I was going the right way again.
And then it was all over, once again, with a big shiny metal can whisking me homeward to “normal life” once more.
But a week on the Camino has worked its magic.
These last nine days had reminded me of the base simplicity of human needs.
An orange juice, a café con leche, a slice of tortilla, an Estrella Galicia at the end of the day, and friends to talk to about shared experiences.
Away from the Camino, life is fuller of more unfulfilling details.
That’s just the Way it is.
8 thoughts on “One More Night”
You write so beautifully of your experiences. Thank you.
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Ah, I’ve only just seen this! Thanks so much! When will you be back in Spain?
Such a good writer… Thanks for taking me back to the Camino!
Those were magical photos of the two pilgrim statues, capturing the joy and relief of past pilgrims reaching their goal! The light behind the two ecstatic figures was very sensitively portrayed by your eye seeing the halo light effect. Can you imagine what it was like in thin shoes and no wool socks although pain was part of the religious atonement for sins – no wonder there were hospitals along the Way! So glad you reached all the special and significant places this time. That photo of you sat resting in front of the church by the beach with crashing waves was very poignant to me.
Welcome home dear and may the beauty and inspiration of the Camino live within you forever Xxx Love and blessings Mum
Lois Lloyd BSc(Hons) http://sacredgrovewesternisles.co.uk
Hi John…really enjoyed reading that….it takes me somewhere better
Thanks for sharing
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Thanks Mark – the Camino is certainly one of those places!
Thanks for sharing! You are a great writer! Will be doing this camino in July. I am a bit worried about those hills after reading your posts🧐
Don’t worry too much. I’m not fit, have a nerve issue in my right leg and am about 15kgs overweight. If I can do it, you can do it. But get some sticks…