Published: April 3rd 2011April 3rd 2011
With a sigh of relief I threw my bag down on the dark Galacian granite of the plaza, laid on the sun-warmed ground, and watched the shadows march down the cathedral spires as the sun slowly sank behind the hills.
Warm, Dry Greetings from Santiago:
After 550 kilometers (just under 350 miles), more blisters than I care to count, and almost three weeks I am in Santiago de Compostela. I had planned my last week to be the easiest of my hike; Relatively short distances and a cool eight days to make it the last 200 kilometers. The casual days of easy strolls were not to be. My guilt trip about missing a section lasted much longer than the actual bus ride. Somewhere rolling along in the bus I subconsciously devised a punishment. Instead of an anticlimactic arrival, I opted for around 40 kilometers (25 miles) per day in a five day blitzkrieg into Santiago.
It rained every day of my last week. Most days I would start out with no rain gear as a show of optimism but without fail I would be donning the rain jacket and pants within the first hour. It is surprising
Small stream in the dense forests
how little soggy days and long hikes matter when the trail opens up on a grassy bald and I could see miles of Spain with tiny hamlets tucked into the creases of the mountains. Most days I hiked solo but one day was spent with Gonzales, a older man from Barcelona. We spent about 4 hours having conversations in broken English and Spanish.
Many short distance hikers start around the 100 kilometer mark so naturally the trail was busier and the hostels were a bit more homogenized. The uniformity of the hostels, however, was not a reflection of the scenery. The last 2 days of hiking were full of dense eucalyptus forests. The large towering mint-smelling trees have signaled the beginning of the end for millions of pilgrims. The sweet smell leaves most hikers in awe while they consider the history that these forests represent. However, surrounded by Jurarsic trees seemingly forgot by time I was faced with the realities of my modernization. I closed my eyes, took a long deep breath, and thought, "ahhhhh Icy-Hot". I found myself in awe of how a substance could exist that heats, cools, and soothes all at the same time. To be
fair, my body was physically worn down and Icy-Hot had been one of my closest companions for the trip.
The last week gave me every bit of the physical challenge I was looking for. In fact, it may have given me more than I really wanted. The last day my legs drug me into Santiago just as the sun was setting. After a long contemplative sit I made my way into the massive Cathedral. Despite its enormity the Cathedral was quite peaceful. The people, many of them pilgrims having walked many hundreds of miles, quietly said their prayers. The intensity of the scene was impossible to deny; the solemnity, joy, and sincerity within the sanctuary was a display of the truest form of the human condition.
My hostal in Santiago was anything but predictable. Expecting a dorm-style hostel with little character I was quite surprised when I walked in to see two super-hippies in charge of a hostel that was a pantheon to the 1960´s psychedelic movement. Large colorful fabrics draped from the ceilings, the walls were an explosion of bright greens and yellows, incense was burning, some odd African drum beating music was playing, and I decided
Santiago as the sun goes down
this was where I would call home for the next two nights. One of the hippies had just finished his 12,000 kilometer of biking into Santiago from practically every country in Europe while the other was busy plotting his hike from Santiago to India. Needless to say, any bragging rights about a tough 550 kilometers were immediately ripped away.
I spent the next day touring Santiago and was able to attend the Pilgrims Mass in the Cathedral. It was a bland service until the end when the organs boomed and they lit incense in a 100 pound silver ball and swung it from the rafters with a rope as thick as my leg. The massive silver ball did not just sway peacefully. This thing was hauling ass dangling by a 50 ft rope. The incense swing only comes out on special occasions but apparently somebody in attendance paid a large sum to have it swung and I was lucky enough to be a witness. It was like church and an amusement park combined. I got my Compostela, which is the document saying I hiked the Camino, headed back to the hippie hostel and prepared for the early bus ride
to Madrid the next morning. Nothing like going to bed knowing that a 10 hour bus ride awaits you in the next day.
There are more photos below