October 24th (Thursday) – 6 pm
A Concha Café, Lavacolla
Today’s Walk: Salceda to Lavacolla
Like the walk into Sarria, J’Nell and I get rained on from the moment we step out the door this morning until we reach our hostel in Lavacolla. But thankfully it is mostly light precipitation and not much wind until the end, and there are plenty of covered forests to help lessen the wetness. It also isn’t that cold, I’m going to say maybe 60 degrees.
However, as far as culture and beauty goes, today’s walk, when compared to the rest of the Camino, is lacking. Though it isn’t all bad, and there are appealing trees with overhanging branches showing off fall foliage, a few pretty green fields, and it’s mostly flat except a couple of steep (and long) hills. The best part of the day is the delicious soup, sandwich and beer we have at the warm and friendly restaurant at Hotel Amenal, about 25 minutes from Lavacolla. The next best thing is once again there are hardly any people!
For the first 1.5 hours we only see two other pilgrims. Reaching O Pedrouzo, we get a coffee and a stamp at the only unfriendly place we have encountered in Spain. I mention it because it is so out-of-character to what we’ve been experiencing, and the owner is maybe just a few notches above hostile. Though I will give him the benefit of the doubt that at heart he’s a good person (and not mention the name of his establishment), as he likely was just be having a bad day. But with the poor attitude and lackluster espresso, I am very happy to get back on the road.
From there we will encounter maybe another dozen people the rest of the day. Getting off the normal start and end points of the book during the final 100 kilometers has been a great move. We arrive in Lavacola wet, but excited to know we’re only about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Santiago.
After showering at the very nice and modern Pension Doretea, the sun comes out! Our room is spacious and comfortable, but it has an odd feature in that the heat comes up from the floor tiles. We look all around for another source, but there isn’t any. So we lay our wet clothes and boots under the bed, where we discover it is the hottest, and hopefully everything will be dry come morning.
J’Nell and I now sit at this wooden table in a nook at A Concha Café, the only pilgrims in this local’s bar. Nice we didn’t have to go far for a beer after a long, rainy day of walking. So nice, in fact, we’ll have another.
Lavacolla is where medieval pilgrims would cleanse themselves (and their private parts according to legend) in the stream here before reaching Santiago. This was to have earthly purification before reaching the pilgrimage destination, where they would be absolved from their sins and have heavenly delousing. The book says the stream is very small and hard to reach in the forest, and a website I read says it is polluted and advises against touching the water.
The only place we’ll wash ourselves is in the shower at Pension Doretea. There isn’t much to see in the town, but we chose this as our stopping point to have an easy day into Santiago tomorrow. And it gives us some extra time to contemplate the journey.
J’Nell and I began the Camino on September 12th back at St. Jean Pied de Port in France. It’s been a long way to travel (about 480 miles thus far) on only our feet over 44 days. We had 6 where we rested, so after tomorrow that will mean 38 of heading westward. I’m proud that we are so close, but we’re not there yet.
October 25th (Friday)
Palacio Del Carmen Hotel Room 203, Santiago de Compestella
Today’s Walk: Lavacolla to Santiago
J’Nell and I did it!!
Tonight in Santiago was about celebrating and getting our Compestelas, the church’s official recognition of walking the Camino de Santiago. We probably had too many big beers before going into the pilgrim’s office, but I think we earned them. But now let’s rewind back to today’s walk . . .
We leave our place about 9:15 am, our clothes mostly dry from the heated floor. With six miles between us and our ending point, we first get a coffee at the bar across the street where we had beers last night. We meet a nice group of guys from Houston there (originally from Colombia) and chat with them a bit before setting out. They had splits of champagne to celebrate when they got to the end, and that incepted us to do the same.
And not too long afterwards we run into our friend Mattias from England! We met him back in September, and he is now walking with his girlfriend who joined him in Sarria. So great to see him again, as there are not many of us left who started way back when we did.
For the first hour or so it is fairly busy on the Camino. We will reach Monte del Gozo, the park where you can first see the Santiago’s cathedral spires, and stop on the hill to take in the view. We also check-out and snap some photos of a kind-of-weird/kind-of-cool Holy Year Monument sculpture from 1993. Before continuing we go inside the simple and small Capila de San Marcos, a modern church on the site where places of worship go back centuries, for our last stamp before arriving into town.
Heading down out of Monte del Gozo, the crowds thin, and we walk past the huge and sprawling dorm-style albergues that will help accommodate the holy year (2021) crowds expected to descend on the city. The backside of the park, with its trees and view of Santiago off in the distance, is a pleasant stroll until you reach the busy roadway that thankfully has concrete barriers to shield you from the cars.
After crossing a bridge, we reach the outskirts of the city and enter a park called Praza da Concordia. There’s a cool Santiago de Compostela sign and we get a picture with it, as well as admire a tall (maybe 50 feet high), modern sculpture/portal called Porta Itineris Sancti Lacobi. We walk through this gateway, which welcomes all pilgrims entering the city.
Passing a grocery store about a mile from the church, I go in for a bottle of champagne, prosecco, or cava. The thought is to pop a bottle and have a toast in the square to commemorate our achievement while looking at the cathedral. But the plan is thwarted when they don’t have any cold ones available (no vino frio), though I’ll buy a bottle that we can chill in our room later.
Soon we reach the covered passageway to the cathedral square, and J’Nell and I clasp hands. There is a guy playing bagpipes in the tunnel, and I catch my first glimpse of the hundreds of people in the plaza. I get a flash of strong emotion, and for a second feel some tears welling up. I am not expecting this, but even stranger is how quickly it stops. No tears come, but I instead experience an overwhelming feeling of contentment when I first see the majestic cathedral.
J’Nell and I walk step-by-step together right up to the church and touch it. This is a special moment.
I wondered how I would feel and react to finally reaching the end of the Camino, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The night before in Lavacolla, I thought about it quite a bit. But in keeping with my mantra of having no expectations, I decided not to put any pressure on myself to inflate the moment. By the end, I came to think of it kind of like graduating high school or college.
The culminating moment of those achievements, getting the diploma and crossing the stage, is the ritual to symbolize what you’ve done. But what’s truly important is the knowledge you acquired, the experiences you had, and the totality of your life leading up to that point.
The Camino is the same for me. The nearly 500 miles of walking didn’t give me any revelations or even anything specific right now I could point to that changed me. At least not yet, maybe looking back months or years from now, I’ll notice it. But I can say with absolute conviction, the Camino has brought about positive change within me . . . even if I cannot define it.
Having that deep conviction as I looked up at the cathedral was good enough for me. And getting that quick flash where some tears welled-up, even for a couple of seconds, was nice. It truly is all about the journey, not the ending.
We ended up seeing June from Australia in the square (and getting some selfies with her), and also run into Mattias as well later on in the day. We hope to see others we have met along with the way. But the best is that our friend Jeremy is there in to welcome us when we arrive at the cathedral!
He had charged onward after we saw him at the bar a few days ago, and got into town yesterday. The three of us chat, take some photos, and all touch the scallop shell in the square. We make plans to meet up with Jeremy later on, but now it’s a ten or so minute walk to the posh Palacio Del Carmen to ditch our backpacks and shower. We’ll be here three nights and the hotel is well worth the splurge.
We rendezvous with Jeremy for lunch, and he introduces us to Paul from Australia and Maria from Hungary. This turns into a bar crawl, and we decide to get our Compestelas (we originally thought we would do it tomorrow,) and head to the pilgrim’s office for our ticket. They have everything extremely organized there. Your ticket has a barcode, and you can go to their website on your phone to see when it’s your turn, instead of having to wait in line.
We take this opportunity to have dinner and celebratory cocktails across the street from the pilgrim’s office with Jeremy and Pedro, a really cool guy from Mexico he had been walking with. We are drinking these huge mugs of beers, and the table of fun Germans next to us show us how they tilt them up using your forearm as to take the strain off your wrist. We keep checking the website for when our numbers will be coming up, and keep on toasting.
And then Trevor walks in! So awesome to see him at the finish, and we will toast with him and all follow along with the ticket numbers on my phone. It is truly lucky that J’Nell and I get to share this special day with friends we’ve been walking with for a long time. Too bad our Meseta crew have all already gotten their Compestelas and have left town. It would also be great if Butterfly was here, but she’ll be reaching Santiago in the next couple days and we’ll get to celebrate with her then.
As happy and excited as I am to reach Santiago, in my heart I know this cannot be the end of our Camino. Going all the way to the ocean at Finisterra (or Fisterra in the local Galician language), has always been what I wanted to do. J’Nell at first isn’t quite in agreement, due in large part to the forecast that shows lots of rain ahead, but after spending a few days of not walking and exploring the town, she’s fully on board.
Can’t stop, won’t stop. Time to set out for the coast, and it will be four more days of backpacking. Our destination is what Medieval pilgrims called the End of the World.