So what happens after you get to Santiago de Compostela? Once you arrive and collect your compostela things can go a number of different ways. Here’s what I did.
Many people have to arrive in Santiago by a particular date because they have to catch a flight back home. I didn’t have any such restrictions, so I gave myself a day in Santiago before going to my next destination of Portugal.
There are a lot of pilgrims who continue on to Finesterre after making it to Santiago. Finisterre, aka the end of the world, is a town on the Atlantic coast of Spain. For many people this is the real end of the Camino.
For centuries many pilgrims would continue walking for three to four days to the end of the world after arriving in Santiago. Today it has become a common question along the Camino: “Are you going to Finisterre?”
My answer: No.
I thought about it, and by all accounts it’s a wonderful experience. After arriving some people will burn their Camino supplies: boots, walking sticks, clothes, etc. And it looks like a physically stunning place.
But for me once I got to Santiago I was FINISHED! The Camino had been a great experience, but I didn’t want to walk anywhere else after that. It’s possible that I missed out on something cool, but my legs were grateful.
I had two nights booked at The Last Stamp, and after 16 days of waking up early I was looking forward to sleeping in and chilling out. I should’ve known it’s not that easy to shut off Camino time because I still woke up at 7 am the morning after I arrived.
I went to the post office that morning to pick up the boxes I mailed from León and Astorga. The Spanish postal service, Correos, provides such a great service. With the receipts I kept in my backpack picking up my boxes was a breeze.
I arrived in Santiago and picked up my boxes from Correos within the timeframe for which there is no storage fee, so I didn’t have to pay anything other than the initial shipping charge. There are other companies that provide storage services if you ship items ahead to Santiago, but I was pleased with Correos.
I left the post office and walked with my boxes back to The Last Stamp. As I crossed the plaza in front of the Cathedral I saw my Italian grandmas, the three Italian women who stayed with me in Villafranca del Bierzo and Las Herrerías. I screamed, they screamed, we all screamed, and I dropped my boxes. And just like grandmas they gave me great big hugs and a million kisses on my cheeks.
Arriving in Santiago is like the best family reunion. People you thought were lost are found again, and it’s a beautiful experience.
I put my boxes back in the albergue and went to the Cathedral. Rumor had been spreading among the pilgrims that the Botafumeiro would be used at the noon Pilgrims’ Mass. If this was the case I wanted to see it.
The Botafumeiro swings incense through the church. Hundreds of years ago pilgrims would arrive dirty and often sick. In addition to its spiritual uses the Botafumeiro was used for cleansing. These days we can sleep indoors and shower along the way.
The Botafumeiro is swung on certain days of the year, Christmas and Easter among them, and whenever it has been requested (and paid for) by certain groups of pilgrims. If, in fact, it was going to be used on this day it would be a big deal.
The Cathedral was already full when I walked in after 11, and it was buzzing. It was a much different scene from the previous night’s Pilgrims’ Mass.
I was able to squeeze in and find a seat, but I was one of the lucky ones. It soon became standing room only. I once again started seeing familiar pilgrims, including my Japanese friend Makoto.
While it was nice to have a serene Pilgrims’ Mass the night before I enjoyed feeling the energy of a church full of pilgrims that I was experiencing now.
The service started after a couple of announcements. One of those announcements was that only those who have been confirmed in the Catholic church should receive communion. That answers that question. The other important announcement was to put cell phones away and not to take photos or video.
The service commenced beautifully. When the time came for communion I kept my seat.
Then came time for the Botafumeiro. The rise in energy and excitement throughout the church was palpable. Before the first swing the no cell phones rule went out the window as everyone, including me, tried to capture the moment.
As the massive Botafumeiro swung over our heads I started tearing up. Apparently I still had tears remaining to leave in Santiago.
It was a truly amazing scene. I was able to capture it on video, but it was subsequently lost (more on that in a future post). Below is video from another pilgrim who captured the Botafumeiro.
Once the service was finished I went back out to the square to see if I saw anyone I knew who might be just arriving in Santiago. In the plaza I saw the woman who comforted me the day before.
I found out that her name is Rosemarie, and she was with her husband Michael. They started their Camino in England! They started walking along the coast in England, took a ferry to Bilbao, and continued walking from there.
I had been trying to find them since my crying fit, and it turns out they were trying to find me too. As the saying goes, the Camino will provide.
After talking to Michael and Rosemarie I continued walking through the plaza and saw Mercedes! These reunions were really filling my heart.
Prepping for Tomorrow
My next destination was Porto in Portugal, so I booked a bed at Bluesock Hostels and tried booking a bus ticket online. The ALSA website wasn’t working, which turned out to be for the best because it forced me to buy the ticket in person and figure out how to get to the bus station ahead of time.
I went back to The Last Stamp to pack up things to mail back to the US. My compostela, guidebook, hiking boots, and DSLR camera among other things. I wanted to lighten my load for my remaining travels and shed anything I didn’t absolutely need.
I continued running into pilgrims I know the rest of the day, which was my favorite part about Santiago.
Later that evening I saw Tina again, and we went to dinner at Cervecería Dakar with Du and Junior, the Brazilians. It was part of our whole group from dinner in Melide. Dinner was delicious, but most of all it was a lot of fun.
My seat at dinner was next to a window, and at one point I glanced out and saw Makoto. He came in and joined us for a bit. It was a perfect last night in Santiago.