Our group arrived in Santiago de Compostella on September 22 ina timely fashion; we were able to attend the Pilgrims Mass at Santiago Cathedral. I was feeling rather dazed when I entered the cathedral. I had just been to the Pilgrims Office to request my Pilgrim´s Certificate ...¨"Not the Compostella" I said ... I accompanied my friend, who was unable to walk, from Arca in a cab. I went to Monte del Gozo and walked to Santiago from there."
The kind lady looked at my passport and my credential listing all the stamps from St.Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and asked if I had walked most of the way. Yes I said ... not mentioning the group´s occasional bus detours through the Meseta and up O´Cebreiro. Amazingly she issued me with a Compostella certificate not the other tourist credential!
"No!" I wanted to shout ... "I am a sham .. I am not as deserving as these other hard walking, sun-burned pilgrims with blistered feet and aching bones!" The eager crowd of anxious pilgrims was pushing forward, breathing down my neck ... I thanked the official, took my Compostella and tearfully exited the building.
So I was already in a certain frame of mind when I entered the Cathedral ... too late to find a seat I stand while the nun with the voice of an angel leads the throng of worshippers in a rehearsal of the responses. Then the actual service starts and among the celebrants is the priest from the first pilgrims mass I attended in the tiny town of Rabanal del Camino. At the end of the service a surprise ! The bishop of El Salvador is there with a group and thay have paid for the great incense burner , the legendary Botafumerio to be lit and swung ... a rite usually reserved only for occasions of special religious significance. I feel altogether too blessed !
We all meet in the square in front of this magnificent cathedral and hug and kiss each other ... as do other pilgrims who have bonded along the way. We retire to our accomodations in the medieval monastery recently partly adapted as a modern hotel ... its small cell-like monks rooms ideally suited to pilgrims but whose grand lower rooms, once cloisters and refectories adding a touch of regal grandeur. We have two days in Santiago to adjust to not walking and to get used to the idea of returning home. We shop for souvenirs and eat at fine restaurants (The Casino certainly stands out for fine fare and exceptional, friendly service).
On Friday night, the entertainment in the streets turns the city from sacred to profane ... music, dancing, Galician pipers, medieval troubadors, flowing wine, cerveza and the mysterious flaming cauldron of liquer, spiced with coffee beans and orange peel around which witches chant their incantations! A true bacchanal ! What a town ... what memories!
On Saturday morning I leave early and catch a train to San Sebastian. I have said final farewells to Sylvia .. our wonderful angel who has guided us through the spiritual and physical ups and downs of this journey, to Bell ... a perfect room-mate in every way; little Bell the Gazelle, always energetic, well organized and ever cheerful; also to our other South African companions .. Theresa, Zuretha, Jill and Janette who have joined us for the last two weeks ... strong, good natured and always there to help an exhausted companion carry a heavy bag up a flight of stairs or retrace steps to meet and encourage a faltering walker onward. Christine ... whose has been a vast source of knowledge and help with translation in times of dire need and who has also received her Compostella! YEAH! has already left. Alan , always an eager Tapas companion and curious about sampling new cuisine and exploring nooks and cranies of each new town and city has departed early as well.
On my long 11 hour journey I fly through some of the areas I have slowly walked over ... revisiting Astorga and turning north at Leon has we head over the Pyrenees to the coast. I can see from this vantage point why I spent all of the day walking to Roncevalles in a mist ... the mountains are perpetually covered in grey clouds. When I land in San Sebastian late at night it is lively and filled with fast cars and beautiful people. I see no sign of dirty, exhausted pilgrims. It is a bit of a shock ... all this fast paced activity.
But I will adjust and enjoy the warm sunshine and smooth beaches ... there is great beauty here too ... perhaps the greatest gift of this Camino has been to bring a greater appreciation of life in general. I feel I know my place in this universe a little better ... it´s not that I have experienced a monumental life-changing experience. If anything ... I am more like myself than before ... with one difference. I know I have done something rather exceptional and I am pleased ... very pleased and amazed. Everyone should try to do one exceptional thing outside their comfort zone ... and with companions like I have had on this journey, the outcome can only be positive. Ultreya dear friends!! Judy ...The Pampered Pilgrim