St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

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Chapel used for English Mass

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

Please listen to my interview about my adventure with Steven Frampton at http://psychicaccesstalkradio.com/showarchives.html   Go to the June 26 show– A Pilgrim’s Journey.

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Worn out shoes

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Day 38 Santiago

We got a bit earlier than usual and headed out while it was still dark. The trail was muddy from the rain and there were storm clouds threatening. We walked about 3 km until we found a place open for breakfast.

We had our usual 20 km to walk but today was so different, it was our final day of walking.  The morning was the usual tree lined lanes and fields. Both of us felt a bit emotional about our final walk. We have loved it so much, we can’t believe it is over.

A plane flew low over me and scared me. I haven’t seen a plane in so long. It was strange to be reentering the modern world after five weeks in a totally different dimension as a pilgrim. Pilgrims live in a strange isolated world within rural Spain. The outside world rarely touched us.

After our final hill we enjoyed this large monument to pilgrims and St James. It is on Mount de Gozo, hill of joy, where pilgrims got their first glimpse of the cathedral.

Mount Gozo

The walk into Santiago was long as we followed a line of pilgrims headed to our final goal.   It was so exciting to finally see the cathedral. We both felt we had really triumphed.

Cathedral of Santiago

Cathedral of Santiago

We found the pilgrim office and got in line for our Compestela, the official certificate, and celebrated with our friends. It was a long wait with our packs still on so we were totally exhausted and hungry when we finished. We struggled  to find our hotel so we finally got a cab and we so glad to finally take off our packs.

Cathedral of Santiago

A hot shower and a rest helped us revive enough for a 7:30 pilgrim’s Mass. The priest reads a list of the starting points and the number of pilgrims from each country who started there. It was said very rapidly in Spanish but we heard our starting town of Roncesvalles, 750 km ago.

The Cathedral is beautiful with the most elaborate Retalbo I have see yet. Totally gold and silver with enormous angels holding the canopy over St James.

Golden Retalbo

Our big adventure is over. We made it safely to Santiago after 750 km and five weeks.   We are so grateful that we had no injuries or blisters and were able to enjoy every step.  Both of us have this strange feeling that it was easy but yet I know that we worked hard and sacrificed for this journey. We will miss the walking, friends, animals and the beauty of Spain. I loved being in nature everyday, all day for 5 weeks. We feel privileged that we were able to walk this ancient path. We are forever part of the Camino and the Camino is forever part of us.

Blessed are you pilgrim who knows the the real Camino starts when you arrive home.

I want to thank all who helped us on this journey.

My Dad who taught me to love walking. My mother  who gifted us airline tickets. Hamilton who has been so supportive of our dream. Laura and Leslie who healed my ankle. Jane my walking partner and dear friend. Bert who helped us get the perfect equipment.   Valarie who volunteered to pick me up in Santiago, and my lotus family where all epic adventures begin.

Camino Day 37

It was a very breezy, overcast morning and rain was in the forecast. We have really had incredible weather on this trip but in everyone’s life some rain must fall.  I didn’t take any pictures so I’ve sent some random ones from other days.

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The trail is now very busy with big groups of people and a long line of pilgrims in front and behind. The large Japanese group has a bus strategically following them in case someone can’t go any further.

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Late morning it did finally start raining so we ducked into a worn out bar for some lunch of an omelette and tomato in a baguette and a coke. We suited up to head back out in the rain. The pilgrims had scattered and the trail, which was more like a stream, was ours again.  The whole day was mostly tree-lined lanes and a few bits along side the main road.  The last few miles our feet we soaked and we were ready to stop for the day.

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Our Albergue was brand new and large to accommodate the increasing flow of pilgrims. If IKEA built an Albergue it would look just like this, modern and efficient.  What it lacks in old Spain charm it made up for in lights, electric sockets and hot water.

Albergues

Dinner with friends and a bit of shopping, since we don’t have far to carry our treasures, finished off the night.  Back to our bunk beds for one final night of communal living.  Tomorrow we arrive in Santiago and have a hotel.  I think we had 25 nights in albergues so we definitely had the whole pilgrim experience. Albergues and pilgrim’s food are the two things we won’t miss but without them the Camino wouldn’t be the same or affordable.

We loved many of the albergues and had a wonderful sense of community there. Others were just a place to sleep and a few were grim and depressing. Some albergues have made for great stories and stand out in my memory and are tales to be retold.

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One more day to Santiago!

Camino Day 36

We started the day with a cuddle from this sweet little one.  She and her many siblings were in a yard next to the hotel. She kept following us around for more love. It was hard to leave her behind.

kitten

By mid-morning we were in Melide where we had a snack, got some tissues and more money. The local delicacy is octopus- “pulpo.”  They boil it in large vats in the restaurant window to entice you in. There is probably nothing in the world that could entice me to eat boiled octopus  so we headed on down the road for a tomato and cheese sandwich instead.

We walked through more lovely tree lined lanes and over this rock bridge. There are many eucalyptus forests that smell amazing.

foot bridge

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The trail got much more crowded today as larger groups are now walking the last 100 km.  It has change the atmosphere some and makes beds harder to find but it is part of it. We were able to find a lovely Albergue and shared a room with six French women.  I was lucky enough to be first in line for the washing machine.

stone house

We found friends we hadn’t  seen in many day and ate dinner together, swapping trail stories and talked of our lives before the trail. We don’t have any idea how are lives will be after we finish, probably not obviously different but I know my appreciation of life and the simple things is forever changed. Everything on the trail is brought down to the simplest form; clothes, food, sleep, friendship all wrapped up in the beautiful package of the natural world.

stone bridge

Camino Day 35

The morning started with a light misty rain which soon lifted. We stopped for second breakfast then elevenses before finally having lunch with some American friends.  I treated all to Spanish hot chocolate which is the consistence and taste of hot pudding.  Thick and rich, a little went a long ways but was delicious .

The afternoon part of the walk was by this charming ancient church and this adorable hobbit house.

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hobbit house

The last few miles were on these beautiful tree lines lanes, next to wild flower meadows, with mountains in the distance.  Combine that with my sweet daughter just ahead and a soundtrack and I had a bit of bliss.

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We had booked a hotel ahead and I was very glad of it. Turns out I have a bit of a cold so an afternoon nap was needed. My cough was worse so I was relieved I wouldn’t disturb a whole Albergue. The room had old stone walls with a niche and tiny  windows with green shutters and lace curtains, so charming.

Just three more days and 60 km for 36 total days of walking.   We hate for it to be over and yet at the same time are ready to reach Santiago. The good news is the Camino will be part of us for the rest of our lives.

Camino Day 34

I was happy to leave the grim Albergue and get some eggs and toast at the bar next door.   We reserved a much nicer place for the night.

Portimarin

By mid-morning we crossed this beautiful lake into the town of Portomarin. We had coffee, visited the church and got a stamp, saw this pilgrim statue and got a few groceries for a picnic lunch.

Pilgrim

The walk today was nice but had times of really smelly barnyards. These unique small buildings are everywhere.  We tried to guess what they are used for but finally asked. The farmers use them to dry corn. We found a cow willing to be petted and of course the usual cat worship.

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We stopped and had a picnic lunch of cheese, sausage and bread which we shares with a fellow traveler.  We then continued on together talking about opera when we came across this lovely spontaneous art instillation where I added my bit.

Pilgrim art

By 3:00 we were at our nice Albergue  The room had a view of sheep so later I was able to finally have a sheep and lamb encounter. One mama sheep was so friendly and insisted we keep petting her.

sheep encounter

Alexandra found made some friends her age and enjoyed their shared experiences.    I shared a picnic with my friends. I unfortunately have more allergy problems so had to manage another cough but I was tired enough to sleep well. Not so sure about my fellow roommates, a bit of revenge on the snorers.

Camino Day 33

Since we were in a hotel and tired after our extra long day, we slept in a bit. Our clothes hadn’t dried over night so I put them in a bag hoping that the next Albergue would have a clothesline.

Our first town was Sarria which is the official start of the Camino for those who walk just the last 100 km for their Compostela. This takes most people a week to walk and is popular for those who don’t have time or desire to walk more. The Camino gets a bit busier and more commercial now but still very pleasant.

ancient tree

We needed to get new credentials-the official document you get stamped everyday to prove you walked—ours were full and we have to have at least two stamps a day for the final 100 km. No cheating from now on.  We also have worn through our trekking pole rubber ends and so were finally able to find replacements.

I stopped at this beautiful monastery, cloisters and chapel dedicated to Mary Magdelene. The central garden was beautiful.

Monastery of the Magdelene

mossy rock wall

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The rest of the day we walked over hill and down the dale through farms and by friendly cows. The towns usually have German shepherds laying around but in the morning and evening they are hard a work as traffic cops for the cows coming and going to the fields.

We finally passed the 100km mark, a big milestone for pilgrims, we are a long way from our original sign with 790 km. Alexandra added our names to the makers too.

100 Km Marker

We stopped for the night soon after the maker.   I was too tired to go further so we had to settle for the basic and depressing Albergue that had room.  There were clothes lines for our clothes by the big trash dumpsters.  Oh well, I must confess I’m a bit tired of the public bathrooms and sleeping arrangements but that is part if the experience of being a pilgrim.