Sunday, April 21, 2013

Day 31: O Pedrouzo - Santiago de Compostela (20 kms)

We are here! We have arrived and finished the Camino de Santiago!  Our pilgrimage is over.  We are sunburnt, windburnt, blistered but happy-- no, ecstatic!  We hug and congratulate each other in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

For me, it took 31 days and about 764 kms from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain doing the entire Camino Frances a pie or on foot. For my sister Sonya, it took 22 days and about 598 kms from Logroño, also completely on foot.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Upon our arrival at the plaza of Santiago de Compostela -- Sonya and I with our Irish friend, Joe
We woke up this morning at 5:30 am and left at 6:30 am from O Pedrouzo, determined to arrive in Santiago for the 12 noon pilgrim mass.  It was still dark but luckily there were some pilgrims in front of us who knew the way at the start through the forest trail as the yellow arrows were pretty hard to see in the dark even with my flashlight.  We went pretty fast on the trails which had both uphill and downhill portions.  The sun rose while we were walking.  Again, another beautiful clear sunny day.

Sunrise along the way

Twig crosses on fence

Ancient pilgrim bath before Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrim shadows

We arrive in Monte de Gozo at about 10 am. Here we see Joe, the Irishman, who then joins us in our walk. We hardly stop except for a coffee at San Lazaro close to Santiago, where we also have our credentials stamped.


And then, the spires of the Basilica appear through the streets and I know we are there.  It is 11:30 am.  We race to the Plaza, have some photos in front of the Cathedral and go directly to the pilgrim office on the right hand side street of the Basilica near the fountain with the horses.  Luckily there are no queues.  Our pilgrim passports/credentials are checked and we get our Compostela certificate with our names inscribed in Latin.

From there, we go to the Pilgrim Mass at 12 noon at the Basilica. There are other pilgrims but I do not see any other familiar faces.  During mass, the huge botafumeiro is swung from side to side, controlled 8 brothers in brown robes. What a sight!  We are lucky to have witnessed the botafumeiro ritual as it is only done during special occasions or when it is sponsored (for about 400 euros, I hear).  It was said that this incense burning ritual was actually done in the olden days to cover up the smell of sweaty pilgrims crowding in the church.

After mass, my sister and I pay homage at the tomb of Saint James in the Basilica, the end point of the pilgrimage.  We join a long queue to go up behind the altar to hug the statue of Saint James.

After this, we check in at the Hospederia Seminaria Mayor then have  lunch at their comedor.

For me, the Camino is a metaphor for life.  In the space of a few weeks you go through different seasons, different experiences.  You are tested with hardships and difficulties which you need to endure as you need to go on.  In the morning you look out or ask about the weather, but does it really matter? As one pilgrim told me, whatever the weather, you still walk anyway so why ask.  If the day is windy and cold, you put on your jacket and an extra layer and trudge on.  If the day is sunny and clear, you revel in the warmth and have an extra spring in your step.  You take whatever comes.  It is a voyage of acceptance and accepting. 

Part of the experience is the journey with fellow pilgrims -- you are all in one quest.  You pass each other, leave each other, talk and share stories with each other.  You do not know if you will meet again on the trail or even in life after the Camino but you are all the more enriched by having met. Each one is their true self, free of the dictates of society.  You may not speak the same language but you understand each other anyway.  All that you bring with you are your clothes and the pack on your back.  You are vulnerable by having shared a hall of bunk beds and maybe food in the kitchen.  Truly, the Camino is a voyage of self-discovery. 

So have I found what I am searching for?

This I have found -- the answer is not in the Camino -- it is within yourself.

This journey is not yet over for me.  I plan to go to Finisterre, what they call Fin de la Tierra or the end of the World.  It is 100 kms away and I start tomorrow.  The journey continues.




At the 12 noon pilgrim mass

Botufameiro with 8 men controlling it

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