Finishing Touches | Days 39 to 42

Can barely remember the three and ½ days before reaching Santiago. It’s a vague memory of walking, talking, visiting with new friends, meals, but the details are foggy. We were so excited with the idea of actually finishing this trek that all we could think about was the Hill of Joy and Santiago, the finish line, woohoo! So we plead “euphoria” as the excuse if level of detail in this part of the journal is not as good as it has been in the previous entries.

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October 3 | Day 39

Portomarin to Palas do Rei

Stats | Hiked: 24.8 kilometers;  Weather: threat of rain;  People Met: 0;  Time on Trail: 7h/50m

Route: We left Portomarin after having breakfast on the patio. The albergue does a nice breakfast in the cafeteria-style eating area. We were pushing for a big day hoping that the weather would cooperate. We were now 68 kilometers from Santiago and the anticipation was building.

Our morale was high. When we started this journey, Tracy had never hiked before and Alan hadn’t done anything like this since he was in his 20s. We felt stronger than we had in years.

Our friends Jeffrey and Michelle had already made it to Santiago yesterday, we were so very excited for them. Tracy cried when she saw their Compostelas on Facebook. It would have been great fun to finish together, but we’ll be there soon.

We’ve been having a good time trying to guess who had just started in Sarria, played the game nearly all day yesterday, and some more today – easy game, we’re right 98% of the time!

Today we would spend a little more than half the day climbing up to Sierra Ligonde in total about 450 meters (1,476 feet) but it was gradual and we stopped in Gonzar and Hospital for coffee breaks. On the downside of the hill we passed through Ligonde then stopped in Eixere for lunch. Cannot for the life of me remember where we ate or what we ate.

About half the day was spent on natural paths, the other half on quiet back roads. We managed to get all the way into Palas do Rei at nearly 25 kilometers in just under 8 hours. Not too bad at all.

We were headed originally for the Xunta albergue, but for the life of us couldn’t find the place. Then after checking into a private albergue, we decided on dinner in a café we passed on the way into town. Walking back toward the café we found the Xunta albergue – oh well!

Doug and Stephanie had also found the “Buen Camino” our albergue for the night and we were very happy to see them. We hadn’t expected to see them again. Doug gave us a copy of “The Pilgrim’s Prayer.” He said that he figured the Lord kept putting our paths together for a reason and hoped that someday he’d know what for. We’d like to know too, maybe someday. Stephanie had received some news while in Sarria and though she wasn’t to share it with anyone just yet, she told Alan and I figuring that we wouldn’t be sharing it while still hiking. We were very happy for the two of them and hope that everything met with their expectations and that the situation is still one of profound joy for them.

We had run into Alex again from the albergue in Sarria. He seems to have found a group of people his age to hike with. He waves each time we see him and has introduced us to some of the others in his group. He apparently likes the fact that we have eight children and it seems that he shares this fact with his new friends. A couple of them have mentioned, “Alex says you have 8 children! Way to go!” It must be cultural thing, most people we know mention the Brady Bunch rather than saying “way to go” or “good for you!”

Sites: Today was all about talking with fellow pilgrims and just enjoying the view!

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October 4 | Day 40

Palas do Rei to Arzua

Stats | Hiked: 28.9 kilometers;  Weather: overcast w/ light sprinkling;  People Met: 1;  Time on Trail: 10h/15m

Route: Started out at sunrise after breakfast at the restaurant in the albergue. An interesting morning that included another first for our Camino.

As the early risers were getting going this morning, one gentleman got up and just flipped on the lights waking everyone in the dorm. After 40 days on the Camino we had not had this happen before. We are not in the group of those that leaves in the early pre-dawn hours though we usually wake when they start moving around getting ready. But the blinding light hitting our eyes this morning was by far the rudest wake up we’ve had. We didn’t say anything but another person walked over and turned the lights out telling the guy, “Some people are still sleeping.” The guy walked over and turned the lights on again saying, “Well that’s too bad because I need to see what I’m doing.” There wouldn’t have been any issue at all except that the dorm room held 12 people, only 3 of which were ready to get up that early. Several other people told him to turn off the lights and repack his stuff in the hall. He was adamant stating, “Well everyone has to get up eventually anyway and I need the light right now!”

It is embarrassing to admit but each time we have run into someone that rude it has been an American. We got up and started packing, but tried not to speak to anyone hoping they would think we were Canadian or something.

The day was beautiful even though it had started out kind of rocky. We hiked to San Xulian – saw the Camino Fairy again, her boyfriend had us go into the cemetery at the back of the church to check out the view . . . spectacular!  And, then through Casonova and stopped in O Coto for a break. Afterwards we passed the Church of Santa Maria, 13th century Romanesque, then walked over the medieval Magdalena Bridge. There are some really beautiful medieval bridges and churches in Spain. It leaps to mind every time we cross one that these beautiful bridges are older than our country. A large percentage of the churches along the Camino existed in Spain when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella hired Christopher Columbus to sail to India and he ended up in the Americas. It really is just mind-blowing when you think about it.

Next we hiked through a rather large industrial area and quietly laughed at the “new” pilgrims who had pulled out all the rain gear for the few sprinkles that dropped and had to stop 5 minutes later to put it all away. Next we passed through Furelos and into the suburbs of Melide. We found a café/bar and stopped in to have lunch. We knew there was supposed to be an excellent “pulpo” (octopus) restaurant in Melide but we weren’t sure if we were ready to try it. We ran into Doug and Stephanie who joined us for lunch and found that the odd group of Australians were already inside, but we were fine dining on the patio.

We had seen the “Group of Six” from Australia a few times since Sarria. They were loud, they were rude, they were not nice to the servers and we didn’t really interact with them too much even when we saw them. They dropped a glass at one restaurant on the outdoor patio and the guy who did it said, “Well that’s what they’re paid for, I guess it’s their problem now.” At another stop though there was plenty of seating at tables of 2 or 4 they loudly drug tables all over the courtyard to make enough seating for themselves and their gear. They were overheard on several occasions by others and ourselves being rude because the people serving them didn’t speak English. They were just not a very nice group of people – so we were happy to sit outside. [Note: the Group of Six were the only rude Australians we met on our journey. And other than a few individuals, nearly everyone we met was pleasant.]

Alan has always made a point of busing our table so that it was ready for the next customers. He does this at home in Carcassonne, but it was especially appreciated while we were in Spain because the small family-owned cafes and bars usually only have one or two people working. He always got a nice thank you from the owners/employees. Tracy noticed that once Alan bused his table, others would do the same. It’s one of those Camino Kindness things!

After lunch we set out again. The weather kept threatening us with rain but in the end it was just bluster and though we had a few sprinkles no rain fell. We made good time to Boente and Castaneda then into Ribadiso. We could have stopped for the day in Ribadiso, but decided to press on to Arzua. We were still feeling really strong and figured it would get us into good position for the following days hike.

We were turned down at the first two places we tried to find accommodations, but lucked out with the third, which was the Xunta albergue. We got the last two beds. Dinner was great, we found a restaurant nearby that had pasta with the pilgrim meal. We didn’t have any luck finding wifi though. There had only been two days out of 40 that we couldn’t find wifi – not too bad.

We chatted with some cyclists while doing laundry at the albergue, a restored townhouse that is just stunning.

The last few days we’ve been running into a pilgrim from Jamaica. She is an older gal, maybe mid 60-ish, with that lyrical Jamaican accent. Tracy is nearly convinced that she’s appearing on purpose to slow our progress. We only seem to run into her when our pace becomes frantic, she will appear right around the next corner and once our pace settles into our natural hiking rhythm, she will outdistance us and we won’t see her until it happens again. Alan is convinced that it just seems that way since our pace gets faster when we start talking about finishing.

Sites: Today was more about chatting with new pilgrims, wasn’t a lot of the traditional sites we had earlier on the Camino.

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October 5 | Day 41

Arzua to O Pedrouzo

Stats | Hiked: 19 kilometers  Weather: sunny with a few clouds;  People Met:Time on Trail: 7h/0m

Route: We left our albergue in Arzua right at daylight. Stopped for breakfast at a little café on the way out of town. They had wifi so we updated Facebook with photos from the day before. We chatted with the three Irish gals, Jo, Marie and Kathryn, (the Irish Trio) we first met in Morgade a few days earlier. They had also stayed at our albergue but were in the other dorm and we hadn’t seen them the day before.

Though we hiked for seven hours, the day seemed to fly right by. We passed through several tiny hamlets that didn’t even have a sign up with the name of the town, stopped in A Calzada for more coffee. Later passing A Calle, Salceda, and several other small towns. Most of the day we chatted with other pilgrims who we were passing or who were passing us. There was a lot more people on the trail, but this close to Santiago everyone was happy and smiling. We stopped again in Santa Irene were we ran back into the Irish Trio while stopping for a beer and a sandwich, which was followed by a second beer as more and more people were stopping and chatting.

We eventually made the short climb up the hill then descended into O Pedrouzo. After a few minutes of confusion on the direction of the albergue we found and checked into the Otero, a private albergue. Once we showered, we grabbed our journals and found a bar across the way that was open and had wifi. We checked in with family and friends on Facebook and enjoyed another beer. It was warm, but slightly breezy and eventually we headed back to the albergue for our jackets.

Dinner was delicious, though I cannot remember exactly what we had. It was slightly more exotic than the pilgrims’ menu we had become accustomed to and we split a bottle of the house wine, a deep burgundy red that was a bit on the sweet side. The waiter told us it was a family wine. I remember that it was delicious.

We went to bed early, though the anticipation of reaching Santiago the following day made it nearly impossible to sleep.

Sites: Today was more chatting with fellow pilgrims rather than site seeing, everyone is happy and excited. We are just one days hike from Santiago and everyone we meet has a big smile, we are all ready to arrive!

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October 6 | Day 42

O Pedrouzo to Santiago

Stats | Hiked: 20.1 kilometers;  Weather: warm and sunny;  People Met: 6;  Time on Trail: 7h/0m

Route: Last day. 20 kilometers to Santiago. Tracy had reserved us a room for a few nights at a hotel last night. Our first reservations in 42 days of hiking! A real hotel, a real bed, a real shower – yep, we were excited.

Our emotions were in overdrive. This had been a very long journey. We were beyond excited to finish. But, we did actually have to get started first. We were up early, a lot earlier than normal, adrenaline mostly. We had gotten detoured yesterday while winding our way to the albergue. We needed to catch back up to the Camino route. When we caught back up to the trail it immediately became obvious it was too early to start. After 100 feet into a dark, dense wooded area we knew we would have to turn back. It was too dark to continue safely. We turned around and headed back to the café we had passed right before leaving the road. They still weren’t open. We sat and waited for an hour before it was light enough to start. The café still wasn’t open. No coffee this morning, bummer that.

We did get to see some friends while waiting. They all had headlamps and could move forward into the dark woods. But once the sky lightened enough to tell the difference between tree and empty space, we took off and managed to get through the woods safely.

The rest of the trip is a blur. We passed by the airport, the Santiago marker – even took some photos for another pilgrim traveling on her own. She was tired of taking selfies. The day started at the woods and the next thing we knew we were at Monte do Gozo, the Hill of Joy, getting our first glimpse of Santiago. However, it would be another 90 minutes before we reached the cathedral, Santiago is a large town.

From the time we hit the edge of the city of Santiago, nearly every person we passed would wave, point the direction of the trail and say “Not too far now!” “Just a little further!” or “You’re almost there!” Once we reached the historic district we were offered congratulations from all pilgrims who had already completed their journey. It was an amazing welcome and created instant camaraderie.

There is no way to accurately describe the feeling of reaching the Cathedral in Santiago. It felt like high school graduation, childhood Christmases, and your wedding day all rolled into one feeling. 42 days, six full weeks, 800 kilometers, 500 miles hiked on foot through hills, valleys, heat and rain, we sat down in the plaza and just let the moment soak in. We had arrived.

We found our hotel, checked in and dropped our gear. Showered and refreshed we headed over to bar on the other side of the courtyard to have a congratulatory drink. We ran into Tammy and her friend, Mary Kate, they had arrived that morning. After visiting with them we finished our drinks and took our credentials to the Pilgrims’ Office. We waited in line for no more than five minutes before we were called to the desk. After asking our names, country of origin, starting point and the reason for our pilgrimage, our names were entered into the rolls and we were handed our Compostelas. We would be included in the list of pilgrims for the following days pilgrim mass said at noon.

We toured the Cathedral, visited the museum, and the Portico of Glory – though pilgrims are no longer allowed to touch the Tree of Jesse, it was still inspiring to see the grooves worn into the marble column by the thousands of pilgrims who passed this way before us. We spent time by the tomb of St. James, taking time to just stand and absorb the atmosphere in the crypt below the main altar. We climbed up behind the altar to the statue of St. James, laying our hands on the shoulders and placing our foreheads to his.

We came back that evening for mass. Though they do not do it often, the evening mass was going to use the Botafumeiro – an enormous incense burner that requires six men to swing it up and over, nearly 25 feet above, the people sitting in the pews below. It was a nice end to a long journey.

The following day we had time to soak in the sites, making sure to add our congratulations to each road-weary pilgrim who was just arriving. We found our way to the plaza in front of the cathedral several times throughout the day and each time would see someone we had met along our journey. We saw Doug and Stephanie early the next morning; Enzo and Elena made it to the cathedral around 11 am and we walked them over to the pilgrims’ office; Steve and Marianna we saw that afternoon, Mary and her friend, Paul, were there as well. We made friends with other patrons of the Italian restaurant in the courtyard by our hotel. We ate there each evening of our stay in Santiago. The food was delicious and nothing was served with fries!

The day we headed home was bittersweet, the journey was over and we had come a long way but we were both still missing our angel, Kiara. It is hard to be joyful when your heart is hurting that much, but we were also anticipating picking up our new baby, Sami, which helped heal some of that pain.

Our journey nearly complete, we took the train from Santiago to Henedaye spent the night and rode the morning train from Henedaye to Carcassonne, happy to be home.

Sites: Monte do Gozo (Mon Xoi in Galician/Galego) Hill of Joy; Praza Obradoiro, Cathedral plaza; Santiago de Compostela Cathedral; Porta Santa, Holy Gate; Portico de Gloria (Door of Glory), 12th century; Crypt and reliquary of St. James; Botafumeiro swung by six tiraboleiros (attendants) in the nave during service; Pilgrim’s Office for issuance of our Compostelas 

Thank you for following our journey, we apologize if it has been a long read, but we didn’t want to forget a single moment. We hope that you find inspiration for a journey of your own, either on the Camino de Santiago or something closer to home. 

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