18km to go. That was all we had left, and after breakfasting on more of the rock hard bread the Galicians seem to adore, we set off in the dim pre-light of early morning, on the road by 7:40, and there was already promise in the smell of the pine and oak and gum trees (yes, gum trees – there was a gaggle of German pilgrims who excitedly stopped to take photos of said trees on Tuesday -they’re a weed here, everywhere you look), that it was going to be a scorcher.
We were 4 and a half kilometres in when the sun finally made it over the horizon, and the distance markers mysteriously stopped, leaving us guessing at how far we had left to walk.
There was a hill to climb, the airport to skirt around, one last church to get a stamp from, and yet another hill to climb up and down. Halfway down that final decent my right calf decided it had had enough. If I hadn’t had James to keep a tempo, I’m not sure – I would have been crawling, I guess.
But words cannot describe my loathing of cobblestones. And the last 4km through the back of Santiago de Compostela was all cobbles, and 34 degrees as the pharmacies we passed proclaimed.
And then, at 11:50, desperately following bronze shells embedded in the uneven stone path came our first glimpse of those mediaeval spires.
The end was indeed in sight, and the second wind kicked in. 5 minutes later, we turned into the central square, and there it was: the third most holy site in Christendom, and we’d just finished one of the oldest pilgrim trails in the western world.
Getting our credentials checked and signing our declarations took about 25 minutes of standing in a queue, and there we are – both bona fide pilgrims with Compostela to prove it. One more thing off my bucketlist, and it feels good.
The afternoon was spent wandering aimlessly, before heading into the cathedral and taking a look. It is immense, and old. Many alcoves and crypts.
I completed the pilgrimage with a visit to the crypt of Saint James, with his faithful disciples interred on either side, and then a tour of the high alter to touch the statue of Christ, in gold with diamonds, rubies and emeralds as big dollar coins. I lit a couple of candles for loved ones, absent friends, and the dearly departed (as you do), and listened to a little mass in Spanish, and that was that.
I am still ruminating, and there will be a post or two on that, but for now, it’s bed time, and more things to cross off that list tomorrow.