Day 18 – Irene to Santiago de Compostela (23.7 km)
Seven o’clock was my starting time after a breakfast in the Santa Irene albergue and I stayed in sight of a pilgrim with a headlight. He walked some distance ahead and gave me a clue of the direction to follow. We went through a forested, bushy landscape, with many twists and turns, so that at times the distant light was not visible, and this created some minor anxieties: I must not forget to take a headlamp the next time around.
It was dawn by the time I had my first coffee in Arca do Pino and being 450 km further west from my starting point certainly had an influence on daybreak. A little later in the day I had another coffee in Amenal – only four kilometres further on. To have two coffees within such a short distance was unusual and was inspired by the many pilgrims around this bar. They were all excited to reach Santiago – not really wanting to part and leave the Camino just yet, but glad to soon reach the destination of their dreams. I wanted to be part of this euphoria, share the excitement and exchange words. The path was still surprisingly beautiful, with lush greenery, large eucalyptus trees, a number of hills and one or two villages.
On waking up this morning I questioned the wisdom of sleeping over on Mount Gozo that evening and the longer I walked, the more I convinced myself that I should continue to Santiago, skipping the Mount Gozo albergue altogether. When I met Walter, Emil and Fräulein again in Amenal they also suggested I should continue. Walter, who knew most facilities along the route, insisted that the albergue on Mount Gozo could easily be missed; it would be an anti-climax compared to the places we had slept in up to now. So the decision was made and I was looking forward to reaching Santiago in the afternoon.
I attempted in vain to see the view from the top of Mont Gozo, which was so enthusiastically described by pilgrims in the past – the steeples of the Cathedral of Santiago, the goal after seemingly endless walking. It would have been a defining moment, but I could not see them. It appeared to me that from where I had searched, a stadium had been constructed in the line of vision. So much for progress! Subsequently I was told that statues of two pilgrims point to the steeples, but their site is 300m east from the tiny chapel before we descend. My walk continued down the mountain, over the highway, through the suburbs, up the incline to the historic centre, through the old streets, past palaces and old monasteries, then over a piazza with a fountain, past the far side of the cathedral, down the road and through a tunnel – the gateway to Praza Obradoiro on the north side of the cathedral, where a bagpiper played when I passed – onto the square with the old pilgrim’s hospital, built by the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, turning left into the Praza and straight ahead to the centre of the enormous square. I dropped my backpack and finally turned to face the magnificent portal of Santiago Cathedral. What a sight! For me, and I am sure for all other pilgrims, this was a great, memorable moment. It was the culmination of 470 km of walking and collecting fifty six stamps along the way!
I rested for some time before I made my way up the many steps to the entrance and into the cathedral, where I sat in the pew and let the moment sink in before offering thanks to God for having protected me on this, my first pilgrimage
Buen Camino to you