If you expect a brass band to be playing when you arrive in Santiago exulting your most excellent achievement, you will be sadly disappointed. I didn’t necessarily expect that, but I expected some knowing looks from people as I passed them on the street, or maybe a head nod of respect from a shopkeeper as a I made the final walk through the side-walked outskirts of Santiago. I guess it’s a case of my hubris again, but I was a bit miffed that I didn’t at least get a solid Buen Camino during the last 3k. Most likely it has something to do with the fact that 200 thousand pilgrims receive a compostela every year, so giving out nods left and right might get a little cumbersome after a while.
Originally I hadn’t planned on making it to Santiago yesterday evening. When I left in the morning, I planned on stopping in O Pedrouzo, about 20 kilometers away from my starting point of Azura and then walking into Santiago the next day. I was determined to take my time. I had spent the last two days clicking my poles on the ground at a hurried pace to outrun the other pilgrims to the Alberuges (hostels) by the end of the day. They say that the real Camino starts when you get home; meaning all the lessons you have learned along the way need to actually be implemented. I would be damned to forget to slow down before I even got to Santiago.
Matt, Sven and I arrived in O Pedrouzo around 2 pm for a late lunch, or right on time for the Spanish. I asked the owner of the bar to make a couple inquires about accommodation. After 3 unsuccessful calls, I took off, deciding to try my luck further down the Camino. The Euclyptus trees towered above me and a patterned carpet of light and shadow led my way for the next three kilometers. The throngs of people had reduced to a trickle of Peregrinos. When I arrived at Amenal 18k from Santiago, they told me the same story. They were full up too.
At that point, I made up my mind to go the whole distance to Santiago. After 40k I would be tired and aching and thought the sight of the Cathedral would be more cathartic that way. After some time, I found myself alone, the sun glancing off a wheat field that was swaying with a warm breeze to my left. It was nearly the end of Siesta time, I was still sweating, but the hottest part of the day was behind me. It was quiet except for the sounds of my boots gently plodding on the dirt road. I thought about the 800k, all the blog posts i had written and the photos I had taken. I thought about how I was going to blow 100 euros on a seafood dinner and a bottle of good Rioja in Santiago. I wouldn’t be opting for the watery fermented grape juice that they normally serve with the Peregrino menu. I knew I had made it. It was then that I had a cathartic moment; the seafood dinner represented the acknowledgement I had given myself, which although not as visible as a head nod, was maybe even more satisfying.