The End is the Beginning

Monte de Goza – Santiago de Compostelo

Once more we wake before the sun, not that extraordinary when the sun doesn’t really rise until 8:30am.

Pam is very insistent that the blog be up to date before we enter Santiago, she wants us to be ‘in the moment’ with ‘no thoughts of that which needs to be done’ interrupting our stream of consciousness. I had stayed up typing until just after 11:00pm last night as per our previous post and Pam had fallen asleep to the quiet clicking of the keyboard.

We add photos to the text and submit the last post watching the sun rise through the condensation misting the inside of the window glass of our room.

We pack our bags to ready ourselves for the short march remaining to complete the Camino Frances. One last scan of the little room, we close the door and enter the fresh morning air.

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The sky is grey and low however I do not sense rain for the day.

We can see the outskirts of Santiago de Compostelo from the Albergue/Barracks where we have spent the night and rejoining the Way is quick and easy.

On the corner where we turn left to recommence our march there is a house with grounds full of stone statues in various states of repair. Some of these such as the stone beast on the lower corner facing the road are quite bizarre.

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I could have spent some time looking at this stone menagerie however Pam is stepping from foot to foot just watching me take a few photos. She is eager to commence the final march.

In no time we are crossing the wooden paved bridge leading us to the footpaths of suburban Santiago and heading into town. I am having trouble matching Pam’s walking speed as we pass large groups of suspiciously fresh looking pilgrims in matching walking gear who are straggling into town stopping at nearly every coffee shop.

The Way into Santiago is clearly marked, we have no trouble following the brass scallop shells embedded in the footpath and each street corner we come to has Camino insignia and arrows pointing out the Way.

We wind our path through Santiago until suddenly down the slope of the road in front the largest spires of the Cathedral of Santiago appear around a slight curve.

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We are nearly there however the Camino still has a little rough stuff left in it’s arsenal. Just a little further we come to road works that have torn up the entire street surface for about one hundred meters ahead of us with narrow muddy footpaths leading under scaffolding and over temporary metal bridges.

Visions of collapsing scaffold tubing piercing through my body length as I stumble after tripping off one of these slippery little bridges with the Cathedral in sight pass through my mind, however we both pass unscathed.

Back on the sure footing of the concrete footpath we stride on.

We crest the hill leading down to the Cathedral and walk down with the Cathedral on our left. As we draw level with the Cathedral entrance we see Diana, her bruised face mending well, and she congratulates us and advises us how to find the pilgrim’s office to obtain the final stamp on our credential and the Compostelo that is awarded on proving the completion of the Camino journey.

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We congratulate Diana as well, she finished the previous day and is looking fresh, then move on to circle the Cathedral on route to the pilgrim’s office.

Just after we traverse the steps leading down through an archway beside the cathedral we are greeted by Neil who congratulates us and chats with us for a short while.

We are eager to complete the journey and get the packs off our backs so we make our way round the church without pausing further.

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We have made the Cathedral by 11:00am, the pilgrim’s office is completely pilgrim free and there are five people eager to help us inside. We strip off our packs and present our credentials which are laden with many many stamps from our long journey.

After filling out a line on a page giving our names, country of origin and reasons for doing the Camino we are presented with our Credential stamped with the final Santiago logo and our Compostelo bearing our names translated into Latin.

Pam had been a little concerned regarding obtaining the Compostelo as she has heard the pilgrims office is getting stricter with issuing the document.

One last stress for the road.

My darling should have had no concerns at all for should the stamped credential have been inadequate we could have easily stripped and shown the bruises on our shoulders from the backpack straps, or the rash I have as a tramp stamp across the top of my arse from the pack rubbing, or the healing blister marks on our feet, or the sunburn on my lower legs and the backs of our hands.

We have gathered stamps on our bodies that are much harder to fake than the stamps on our credentials.

We exit the pilgrims office and hug and kiss each other. We have completed the Camino de Santiago.

I had expected Pam to begin crying or at least get some smoke in her eyes however she is strangely quiet.

I ask her what is going on and she tells me ‘that she is happy and excited and just feels like taking in the moment’.

We speak to many other pilgrims we have met on the Way over the next couple of days and many of them state they felt flat and unmoved walking into Santiago. Phrases such as ‘where were the trumpeting horns and marching bands to meet us’ are repeated often.

I had only one goal commencing the Camino…….to make sure that I supported and protected Pam until she has completed her Camino……and my small goal is done.

I have never had any expectation of reward or recognition and in my mind, though we have done something that is huge to each of us on a personal level, when you extrapolate our achievement into the infinite universe it is tiny beyond words.

Magnificent when viewed thought the microscope, less than microscopic when viewed through telescope. Kind of like bacteria 🙂

The misquoted words of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon filter through my mind and erroneously spill out …….’more than one million steps for a man, unnoticed by mankind’.

I am replete in the moment of completion, my small task is one hundred percent done and for me that is more than sufficient.

We find our way to the Cathedral steps and sit down to gather our bearings, we have to find our hotel and that can often be a chore.

As we sit the Swedish lady we had met in Sarria spies us from above and calls out to us in greeting before rushing down the steps to congratulate us.

We return the congratulations, she and her husband have also just completed their Camino. We had not learned their names and she introduces herself as Ingrid and then proceeds to give us her address and details and says should we find ourselves in Sweden we are welcome to come and stay at their house.

Now this is what the Camino is all about for me, not the Compostela or the walk itself. The fact that you can meet someone for ten minutes and this new friend can feel such a trust that they will invite you into their house and share their life and time.

This is the real Camino Way.

We have met many people and made similar offers during our journey and would be comfortable welcoming nearly all the people we have met into our home.

I reiterate, ‘shared pain makes for fast friends’. Most of the people we have met have shared similar traits such as being highly educated and successful though they have come come from diverse backgrounds.

Perhaps even more importantly, by walking the Camino they have demonstrated a commitment to less tangible rewards than the societal norm. Walking the Camino forces you to ask questions of yourself and perhaps the fortunate find answers.

Our hotel is close by the steps where we are sitting and we are stripping off our packs and showering in next to no time.

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We set off into the Santiago streets after organising our immediate laundry with the hotel. First stop is breakfast/lunch and we run into the Irish crew we met in Villar de Mazarife. We swap congratulations and shake hands with them all before ordering our meal.

From there it is back to the large square in front of the Cathedral where we run into Anne who congratulates us and advises us not to miss the Pilgrim Mass.

We are planning to go to as mass as many times as we have to to see the swinging of the Botafumeiro, starting tomorrow. The Botafumeiro is an 80kg incense burner that hangs from the roof of the Cathedral, it is lowered and swung , by eight robed tiraboleiros who work the ropes and swing it over the heads of the pilgrims and from one side of the Cathedral to the other. Legend is that the burner was originally used to hide the scent of the stinky pilgrims. There is already standing room only in the cathedral so for today we are content with the exterior.

We roam the streets of the Old Santiago city which are full of cafe/bars and restaurants along with shops selling Camino trinkets. Pam is keen to buy a Camino Snoopy badge for her backpack however they seem hard to find.

Our hotel/pension is delightful, it has the usual bedroom along with a sitting room with a large couch and a huge bathroom with a free standing shower that has a head in the ceiling as well as a head at the end of a flexible hose. It really is quite special and we spend a little time resting before heading out into the late afternoon to meet Bob and Margie who we have arranged to have dinner with.

There is still about quarter of an hour until the time we have arranged to meet our Canadian friends by the time we arrive in the cathedral square. The arch we had walked through in the morning beside the cathedral is a favoured busking spot.

In the morning when we arrived their was a man playing Beatles tunes on a child’s wind instrument, later in the day a bagpipe player and as we wait for Bob and Margie a male and female opera duo are singing a beautiful rendition of Ava Maria before moving on to other classical pieces. I wander over to get a closer look and watch the emotion they both project bringing the tunes to life.

The arch lends it’s own reverb to the occasion and my hairs stand on end all over my body as I listen to their hauntingly powerful voices spill in harmony.

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Suddenly the occasion hits me and I have smoke in my eyes as I listen in awe.

Bob and Margie soon arrive and we head off to one of the many restaurants lining the Santiago streets. We spend the evening talking candidly about our lives at home as well as our experiences on the Camino. Bob and Margie are lovely and we share food, laughter and conversation into the night.

We are the last to leave the restaurant with all the other tables cleaned and chairs stacked so time has flown by. We agree to repeat the experience tomorrow night as well.

In my dreams I march and march. Each time I wake I am surprised to still find myself still in bed in Santiago.

Santiago – Day 2

We have organised to catch up with Jo in the morning and have a breakfast in the cafe/bar of the pension we are staying. I have a croissant and churio’s dipped in a thick hot chocolate which is indulgently sensational.

We chat about the Camino experience with Jo for quite some time and then head out together to attend the midday pilgrim mass. We meet up with Amr and Rosie and swap congratulations. I thank Amr and Rosie for their medical advice in managing my knee pain for the last few weeks and we make our way up the cathedral stairs before taking a pew facing the ornate cathedral altar.

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Prior to the mass beginning a nun with the voice of an angel runs the congregation through a practice run of the simple hymns that will be sung during the mass. She encourages the congregation to join, marking time with her right hand, and little by little the congregation gain confidence until finally she is saying Muy Bien to the response she receives.

There are many priests involved in the service and the initial welcomes are intoned by priests from different countries with the English speaker having a strong Irish accent.

The mass is powerful and a sense of camaraderie sweeps through the cathedral as we join in the choral response. As the mass draws to a close the moment so often talked about on the Camino begins. The Botafumeiro is lowered and solemnly lit as seven maroon robed tiraboleiros bear the weight in preparation.

The tiraboleiro who has lit the Botafumeiro pushes it gently to commence the pendulum swing path and joins his seven comrades completing the octet pulling on the thinner holding ropes that are connected to the thick main rope that passes over the pulley mechanism holding the Botafumeiro aloft, letting it swing from the cathedral roof.

As the Botafumeiro passes the nadir of its swing the eight pull simultaneously adding kinetic energy to the system. Just like leaning back on and pulling on the ropes of a swing as a child, converting the potential energy stored in the human musculature to increased kinetic energy of the pendulum.

The Botafumeiro swings higher and just beyond the nadir of the next swing the eight pull hard again and repeat the process with each swing until finally the Botafumeiro is rushing by with such force that it is nearly striking the arched ceilings of each side of the cathedral.

The burning incense is spilling scented smoke which soon fills the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Santiago has a floor plan that follows the shape of the Christian cross with the altar at the head and the long main congregation seated in front. The Botafumeiro swings perpendicularly to this line with the shorter congregation arms projecting left and right receiving the full velocity of the scented pendulums force.

We are sitting about half way back in the long congregation and only see the Botafumeiro briefly at the bottom of each swing path where it reaches its highest velocity.

Suddenly the eight pull against the swing and rapidly the pendulum arc is diminished until at last the person who lit the incense steps up to the centre and takes the last of the pendulum energy into his body with a pirouette as he grasps the Botafumeiro by handles on each side.

The mass is over and and congregation is encouraged to leave the cathedral in silence.

We run into Matthe and Elma in the church square, swap congratulations and organise to have dinner with them on Saturday night.

Pam and I return to our hotel soon after. We have spent the last two and a half hours in church and we have agreed to meet Bob and Margie for the seven o’clock mass in the evening so we spend most of the afternoon resting.

We are back in the cathedral at six that evening and run into our Canadian friend Sue inside, we swap congratulations on completing the Camino before Sue wanders off for a look around the cathedral.

Bob and Margie have arrived super early and have nabbed pole position in the front row of the left arm of the congregation. They wave us over to join them

We sit with them and have a chat as some of the congregation break out into spontaneous hymn singing before the church is hushed to silence and the little nun runs the congregation through the singing responses to the mass once more.

This service is not a pilgrims mass and only two priests are in attendance. The mass is still unique as there is a wedding group with the bride and groom, parents and flower girls sitting in special seats at the base of the altar as the mass progresses.

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The anticipation is palpable in the congregation as the mass draws to an end, will the Botafumeiro swing twice in one day.

Suddenly the maroon robed tiraboleiros are entering the altar, moving back the pulpit and microphones, before undoing the ropes from the column right in front of us and lowering the Botafumeiro to be lit once more.

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Soon the Botafumeiro is swinging full force with the arc nearly reaching the ceilings far above our heads. We are able to follow the full arc of each swing if we look back above our heads as it rushes towards and beyond us with scented smoke billowing with the increased speed.

All too soon the chief tiraboleiro is stripping the last of the Botafumeiro force with his pirouette and the mass is over.

Now we have arrived in Santiago de Compostelo.

We dine with Bob and Margie at a lovely Italian restaurant on the corner of the square in front of our pension. The conversation is friendly and funny once more, they really are a lovely couple. Bob is determined to take the lessons he has learned from the Camino back into his day to day life, an example I will strive to follow myself.

We wish them a safe journey home to Canada for they are leaving in the morning. They wish us safe walking to Cape Finisterre and for a great year to follow.

It is a short twenty meters from the restaurant to our pension.

Santiago – Day 3

We spend our day roaming the streets, buying food and fruit, taking washing to the laundry service, eating and drinking, writing the blog in cafes. Simple and unremarkable.

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In the streets of the old town of Santiago our Australian friend Ross greets us with a ‘G’day mate’ and we swap congratulations with him. He has already walked to Fisterra and to the end of the world Finisterre before catching the bus back Santiago. He is heading back to Australia tomorrow and we wish him all the best.

Having seen the Botafumeiro swing twice we decide to leave room for others and not take up space in the cathedral again.

Dinner with Matthe and Elma is great, we don’t like the first restaurant we try so it is ‘up stumps’ and head to another after seeking recommendations from the tourist office. The second place we try has a good menu however does not open for another quarter of an hour so we spend a little time in lubrication prior to entering the restaurant.

Matthe and Elma have also seen the Botafumeiro swing and we swap stories regarding the mass and the Camino as well as our lives at our homes. They are another lovely couple who have been kind and helpful to us many times on the Camino.

The laughter filled evening passes all too quickly once again.

PLL

Mick

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