Lavacolla to Santiago de Compestela.
We made it! And look how excited Santiago was to see us. Fireworks everywhere!
(Or perhaps it was because tomorrow is the feast day of Santiago, their biggest party of the year?)
This is the destination we’ve had our eyes on for the last 25 days. So what happens when you arrive?
You get to Monte de Gozo, the Hill of Joy where pilgrims catch their first glimpse of the city – or in this case, where you catch a glimpse of suburbs, a gigantic monument commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit, and plenty of people eager to sell you crap.
You walk through the modern outskirts of the city, beginning to feel a little sad knowing that you’re done with the mountains and the peaceful green fields.
You pass into the old part of town, where apartment complexes give way to cobblestones and old stone.
You get to the cathedral – a muddle of steeples and street artists and sweaty pilgrims – in time for the daily noon pilgrim mass.
You do not have time to feel much in the cathedral, in the press of other pilgrims standing or sitting or leaning against pillars during the service, and the stream of tourists pushing through with their cameras.
You get a little excited when they pull out the famous Botafumeiro – the huge incense burner that swings terrifyingly high, spitting out sparks and smoke. You feel impressed – by the bells and the organ music and the sweet smoke mixed with pilgrim sweat – but not necessarily spiritual.
You wander out into the bright sunlight and get someone to take an after picture in the crowded plaza.
You stand in line at the Pilgrim’s office and get your Compestela – the Latin document that says something along the lines of: Good job taking that long walk, pilgrim, and here’s a get-out-of-purgatory-free card.
You find a menú del día that includes octopus, but maybe secretly remember Burgos (and the meal that now will hold all meals to an impossibly high standard.)
You realize that since tomorrow is the busiest day of the year for Santiago – the saint’s feast day – you probably should have booked beds somewhere earlier. You end up paying too much for yet another dingy private room – but outside the window are the steeples of the cathedral, cascades of bells, warm light and plate noise of a restaurant patio below.
You take a shower, take a nap, wander the city, feel a bit wistful about the journey receding behind you, now that you’ve reached your destination.
You soothe your existential crisis with tapas, at an incredible place where ordering two glasses of wine sets in motion a seemingly endless stream of little plates filled with delicious things. You watch Spain beating the U.S. at basketball, which seems unimaginable, so you talk trash accordingly.
You find a spot in the crowd with a view of the cathedral, to watch a crazy light show projected onto the ancient facade itself – making it change colors, catch fire, extinguish itself, dissolve into darkness, and rebuild itself several times, before the sky explodes into fireworks around it.
You try your best to go out and party with the rest of the city – and perhaps the rest of the region – but feel old and tired, once again defeated by the Spaniards’ party stamina. The Camino is done, and so are you.