I woke up in O Pedrouzo knowing it would be my last day on the Camino. I wanted to feel rested, so I didn’t leave at the crack of dawn, although the Italian ladies in my room did.
As I got ready that morning I still wasn’t sure how I actually felt about getting to Santiago. I started feeling ambivalence teetering towards disappointment at the thought of arriving. The Camino ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and doing all of this just to stop in front of a building seemed like a let down.
Beginning of the End
I walked out of Arzúa along with many other pilgrims. As I got into the woods I started feeling teary-eyed. They weren’t tears of joy for being so much closer to my destination; they were tears of sadness. I was sad that this would be my last morning walking and this experience would soon be over.
It’s not that I didn’t care about arriving in Santiago, but the arrival didn’t seem to be the point of the whole thing. The real magic was in the walk and the people and the experiences, and that was all about to end.
In the midst of light rain I continued on through the woods. I came to a clearing and saw a rainbow. It was such a magical and encouraging sight that forced me to pause and reflect for a moment. I needed that.
Because of the passing rain the landscape looked soft and dewy, like the world had been freshly washed. The countryside looked like a painting as the sun rays cut through the moisture in the air. What a treat.
I continued walking feeling uplifted and stopped to eat breakfast at Hotel Amenal. I got my usual bocadillo and zumo, and the bread on my bocadillo looked like it was in the shape of a heart. It was like everything along my path was conspiring to make me feel good about my last day on the Camino.
The world was about to get even better because Debbie and Venita walked up! This was really turning into a great day.
It made my heart swell to be able to have breakfast with them. We talked about life and the Camino.
Venita told me that she and Debbie had been reading devotionals each morning on the Camino. She wanted me to have one of the devotions they read, and I was so touched.
I once again felt like my goodness cup had been refilled to finish my walk to Santiago. Debbie and Venita were going to stop for the day in Monte de Gozo and walk into Santiago the next morning. I said goodbye and hoped to see them the next day.
Ever since Sarria there had been a lot more people on the Camino, but on this day it felt like overload. There were lots of huge groups of kids/teenagers, and it was a little jarring.
It was a little hard to have a personal, introspective experience on the way to Santiago in the midst of groups of teenagers literally running around and chasing each other through the woods.
It didn’t seem like they were doing the Camino the “right” way, but I had to remind myself that there is no one right way and their experience doesn’t have to be the same as mine. No one’s Camino experience has to be the same as mine.
As I continued toward Santiago I saw Gianmarco and Lisa at a café. It was nice to continue to run into Camino friends on this last day, and little did I know this would be an ongoing trend.
On this day I stopped for breaks with more frequency than I had before. As I had to recently learn I didn’t beat myself up about it; I just went with it.
I finally made it to Santiago! Woohoo!
Getting to the city of Santiago is such a tease though. Once you’re within the city limits you’re still not there. You still have quite a ways to go before arriving at the Cathedral in the old quarter. It felt like it took forever.
As I walked through the city I ran into Sooah, a pilgrim I met way back on Day 4 in Foncebadón. The people I met on the first half of my journey had already arrived in Santiago, and I thought I’d lost them for good.
Most of the walk through Santiago de Compostela is like walking through a regular city and is fairly uninspiring. Although I was feeling good about the day overall I still wasn’t feeling anything special about the final step of arriving at the Cathedral. When it feels more about the journey than the destination getting to the destination felt a little empty.
At First Sight
I got into the old quarter of Santiago de Compostela and closer to the Cathedral, which meant closer to the end. I still wasn’t feeling anything. There were pilgrims all around me who were excited and laughing and joyous, but I didn’t share that feeling.
And then…I saw the first spire of the Cathedral poking out above the other buildings.
In an instant without knowing what was happening a single tear rolled down my face. I no longer felt in control of my body, and my legs sped up of their own volition to get to the Cathedral. I apparently hadn’t realized how much this moment actually meant to me.
It was like some other force was powering me as I tried to find my way around the narrow, winding streets of the old quarter. It was slightly confusing to figure out how to get to the Cathedral, but I had to keep moving.
As I got closer I started to see not only the Cathedral’s spires but the building itself. I knew I was just around the corner and this would finally be it.
I geared myself up for my final few steps holding onto this feeling when I was stopped. It was the Canadian couple I met on Day 1! I thought surely they’d be back in Canada by now. Amazing.
It was really nice to see them, but at this point everything had changed and I just wanted to get to the Cathedral. I wrapped up my conversation with them and bolted forward.
I rounded the corner and entered the plaza in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. When I stopped in the middle of the plaza and looked up at the Cathedral I completely lost it.
I started crying, bawling actually, so intensely it felt like my whole face was soaked. I cannot recall another time in my life when I’ve ever cried this hard. It was like I was crying with my whole body: I was sobbing, shaking, and gasping for air.
I had arrived by myself, but strangers who had also just arrived started coming up to hug me. I could feel myself trembling in their arms.
There was one woman who just stood and held me as I continued to cry and convulse. I wanted to thank her for being there and talking to me, but I wasn’t capable of speech in that moment.
I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I was feeling, but I’ve never felt anything so completely. When my dad later asked me to describe my experience I told him I didn’t think the human vocabulary contained any words that were fitting.
I was truly shocked by my reaction to arriving at the Cathedral. I’m not Catholic, and I hadn’t done this for particularly religious reasons; so I didn’t expect to feel so moved at arriving at this religious site.
As I look back now I realize the Cathedral represented the whole journey. It symbolized how far I had come and all I had done. It represented an undertaking that seemed so daunting and overwhelming and all of the doubts I had in my ability to get through it. It represented all of the people I met and the lessons I’d learned. Unbeknownst to me the Cathedral had been a beacon on the path of my growth.
I sat in the plaza for a while to be present being there and just being.
When I got to the office there was a line, and I followed as it wrapped around to find the end. As I made my way to the end of the line I saw Beth! This day had become pure magic! Beth had been such a source of encouragement for me, and it seemed serendipitous to see her at the very end of the journey.
As the line inched forward it gave me an opportunity to look at my Credencial and reflect on the places I had been.
When I finally got up to the counter I was so excited to get my Compostela! The guy I was dealing with, however, was a little curt. For many of the pilgrims this is one of the biggest days of their lives, but for the employees I guess this is just something they do all day every day.
The Compostela, which documents your completion of the Camino de Santiago is free and is filled in with your name and date of arrival.
For an additional €3 you can buy a Certificate of Distance, which is filled in with the city where you started and the number of kilometers you walked. I opted to purchase this as well as a protective tube.
After picking up my Compostela I was really hungry and went to get lunch. It was siesta time though so I couldn’t find anything. Instead of eating I went to find my albergue, The Last Stamp.
As I was navigating around the old quarter I ran into Debbie and Venita! I couldn’t believe it! I thought they weren’t arriving until the next day. After getting to Monte de Gozo they decided to keep going to Santiago.
We made plans to go to dinner later in the evening.
After checking into my albergue I went to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to visit the inside. I walked around and visited the tomb of St. James. Unlike my cryfest earlier I wasn’t too moved by the inside of the Cathedral
End of the Journey
Not being Catholic I was still a little confused about the proceedings in a Catholic mass and when I should sit, stand, kneel, etc. I also still wasn’t sure if I could take communion or not. I do when I’m regularly at church, but was it different in a Catholic church?
When the time came I decided to go up and take communion. I had done it at the pilgrim’s mass in León the night before I started, so it felt like an appropriate way to cap off my journey.
When mass was finished Debbie was waiting by the door to take me to dinner with her and Venita. We looked around for a place to eat and eventually found Restaurante Raxoi near the Cathedral. We had quite a feast, ordering various seafood dishes and sharing with each other.
Not only was it the perfect end to the day, but I was so grateful and overjoyed to share the end of the Camino with such wonderful people.