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Published: October 22nd 2016
Thursday 20th October
The sky cleared, the sun shone and the wind blew as I made my way into Santiago.
The day started well as I rose in Salceda having made it there yesterday from Melide. It was dark as usual but like a lovely spring day. I walked along the edge of wood, through little villages and the odd farmyard and across flat areas with far reaching views over the green fields dotted with the occasional dwelling.
I took photos of hens nesting in trees, sun glinted wood lined tracks and I felt the freshness of the breeze and the beauty of the day. I wasn't sure if I would make it into Santiago and had it in mind to stop in the albergue on Monte Gomez due to dodgy ankle. That would also mean I could march in (in a hobbling kind of fashion) fresh on Friday with the other hundreds of pilgrims. (The albergue sleeps 400 and is a popular place to go from). I made much better progress than expected and it was still quite early when I sat outside the bar in San Paio for coffee.
There were hordes of pilgrims on
the track and a feeling of excitement. Some were plodding wearily but many seemed to have a renewed spring in their step. Terry spotted me and came to say hello. We started a conversation in a bar a few days ago, by coincidence stopped at the same albergue last night (Boni), had dinner together and went our separate ways. We both agreed we had made better progress than expected and it seemed daft not to go into Santiago, but that we would play it by ear. He carried on and I continued with my tea, joined by a very pleasant lady from Brazil. We held a bemused but warm parallel conversation in our separate languages.
As I made further progress Spain became a bit more like Spain again and I felt happy. For the past few days it could easily have been a little bit of England transported somewhere else. I started to notice the little red rooved white houses, trees of a tall narrow poplar shape, (though most likely conifer) and the seemingly random planting of a single tree now and then.
I stopped briefly at a rustic church near a massive modern pilgrim monument on top
of a hill and before I knew it I was on the outskirts of Santiago. The sky had become cloudy by now but it cleared more and more till the sun shone out of a clear blue sky and the gentle breeze made it a perfect day.
As is the way of these things on the Camino I hear my name and there is Terry. We walked into Santiago together.
As with all the towns/cities it starts with the new part first and goes uphill towards the old town where you move away from the modern commercial and less affluent areas to the historic buildings and medieval stonework of the old town. The buildings become older and taller (4 stories), the streets narrower. The shops become more artisan and of the gift variety sprinkled with mouth watering bakeries displaying their Santiago cake, tarte tartin type confections amd madeleine's amongst other tempting treats.
The cathedral is topped with pointed spires like an over ornate fancy in hard royal icing atop an over ornate main cake. None of your soft fondant here. There is a big rectangular main square behind sided by imposing official looking buildings, overgrown town hall style.
But the sun is shining, the square is flooded with people talking, posing for photos, selfie taking, picnicking and sunbathing. As we walk down the steps to the square a young man is playing a spirited and rousing tune on the bagpipes. Normally an instrument I don't like but on this occasion it was perfect, upbeat and jig inspiring.
It was a lovely day but I was feeling a bit disappointed that there was no one I knew when we turned the corner and there is Belgian Jean with his arms outstretched for me. He has had a scallop shell tattood on his upper arm.
Terry's done the Camino before so we went to the pilgrim office and got our certificates, then got the last two beds in separate rooms in Roots and Boots a lovely old albergue with views at the front of the spires of the cathedral. I am on the back, still with lovely views.
I had a text from Reinhold and he, Julia and I had our last dinner together on Friday 21 st and said our goodbyes.
Somehow I managed to attend a mass held in Czech this morning. I went to the cathedral intending to follow the rituals described in Brierley's book but as the Portico de Gloria is closed for renovation I was unalble to go through it and look at the tree of Jesse in the stonework or to headbutt the saint to get some of his inspiration. Shame.
However I did have a little walk round and admired the blingiest of bling massive golden shrines to our lord full of multiple sculptures of all kinds of cherubs, full blown angels and other figures. You have to see these to believe them.
I noticed a group of excited people in some pews and thought I would join them and see what it was all about - maybe there was going to be a mass and the botafumeira be swung. Or it might be a tour I could tag onto.
The excitement mounted and they started to walk somewhere else so I followed. I ended up in the 4 th mass I've attended and not understood a word
Initially I thought it was Spanish then noticed it had a more Germanic sound to it. I said to the young lady next to me ' Is this Spanish?' 'No Czech' As I'd got this far I thought I might as well go up for a blessing. I've been told if you don't want to take bread but just want a blessing to cross your arms. However there may be some miscommunication as three times out of four I have had the bread thrust at me and this was no exception. So I took it. The priest looked even more bemused than I was and I noticed later that everybody else let him put it in their mouth (eugh, the hygiene) whereas I took it off him with my fingers and fed myself. The young lady next to me decided to take more of a shine to me and struck up a conversation explaining bits and pieces of what was going on albeit a bit late in the service. We had a nice little chat and both agreed we had been pleased to meet each other.
So I went to mass at 12 noon where a nun, past the first flush of youth, sang like an angel throughout the service - it really was divine, more like a recital it was so beautiful and with the acoustics of the cathedral exaggerated the pureness- and towards the end the butofumeira was swung.
What a spectacle. About six youths in maroon pull on a rope and a golden casket like an ornate giant salt cellar is filled with burning incense. As the butofumeira raises then swings from side to side, high up into the side aisles, towards the ceiling the smoke and sweet smell of the incense puffs out filling the cathedral with its heady fumes. Its original purpose was to disguise the stench of the unwashed and diseased pilgrims, but it's now paid for by the tour companies, I am told.
I turned round and Julia was there. She had attended mass and said Reinhold would join us at the exit. I hadn't gone up for communion this time but wish I had as Reinhold was one of the priests taking part in the service and offering it. We arranged to meet for dinner that night and had a lovely time in a delightful little tapas bar.
Later Penelope and I arranged by text to lunch on Saturday. It would have been nice to see some of the others I had connected with eg Maura, Tom and a number of others. There is a possibility Felicity and Rob may be back before I leave tomorrow but its slight. But I can't complain its been a wonderful experience.
So what are my overriding memories?
The sights: the spectacular scenery of the first day; folds of mountains up close and in the distance; birch trees; golden fields; medieval bridges, crosses and bell towers; the magnificent walk up to O'Cebreiro, the English countryside transported, the beautiful little blue bird.
The sounds: birds chattering in hundreds, in Galicia as at home, blackbird and robin; the hum of bees/wasps nests; the shrill whirr of the cicadas; the whirr of bicycle wheels (not unlike bees at times); church bells; cow bells; people wishing us 'Buen Camino' and buenos dias in different versions.
The smells: citrus wafting from the bushes especially at the beginning and then again in the last week; scent of cinnamon, sweet mint and fresh mint as well as sage and pine. The soft sweet musky warm smoke of the woodburner. In the last weeks the farmyard smell of sweet fresh cowpat with the faint waft at feeding time of bran pellett. The freshness of shampoo and soap every afternoon after a shower.
The taste: vegetable soup - big lumps in water stock tasting wonderful; garlic soup; lentil soup; stewed chicken; pastela de la casa - opposite albergue gaucelmo in Rabanal; tarta de Santiago; Napolitan (pain au chocolate); cafe con leche; te negre; fresh figs from the tree, pear from the tree and grapes from the vine.
Touch: agony of blisters and rucksack; hair like plastic; showers hot and sudsy, coming out clean and fresh, feet clean and cool out of socks; the hug of fellow pilgrims.
Last not least is the warmth of strangers bound together by a unifying factor. We are all separate as individuals but are bound together in a positive and warm way.
Finally, its nice to be away and have such a wonderful experience but it will also be nice to be home with long lasting friends and family.
I could go on and on and I have stringently edited what I have put due to limits with WiFi, time and memory.
So here ends my blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as i have enjoyed writing it for you and I will see you soon.
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