October 21: Well, we made it. We’re in Santiago. We left at about 7:20 in the dark this morning about an hour before dawn. It is sometimes challenging to make out the way signs in the dark and this morning it was hard to even see the path. But were the stars ever bright! Orion glittered in the sky above us as we made our way to Santiago.
We reached the old city about 10:20. We dropped our packs off at a pension run by the owner of Apartamento Lola which we are renting for two nights through Airbnb. Then we headed to the cathedral in time to get a good seat for the daily pilgrim’s mass at noon.
I wrote yesterday that I didn’t know what to expect when I reached the end of my journey but that I wanted to just be open to whatever happened. I think that was a good plan. As soon as we reached the first square bordering the cathedral I just wanted to sit on the stone wall there and be present. I found myself on the edge of tears with no rational explanation for it. This state continued throughout the mass and afterward. Even now, as I write this, I can feel the tears starting to well up. This was unexpected and I think it will take some time to process it.
Perhaps I am just now starting to realize what I have done. As I have walked day after day I got into the rhythm of walking, not counting my progress, just walking another day because that’s what I do. And then, suddenly it seems, I am at the end of my journey and a bit surprised by it. Only a few short years ago I wouldn’t have imagined myself walking nearly 800 km in one go. A short time before that I couldn’t have imagined wanting to.
An interesting thing happened at the pilgrim’s mass. I know that canon law requires that noncatholics are not allowed to receive the Eucharist. But a noncatholic may go up with everyone else and if you place your arm across your chest the priest will give you a blessing instead. I considered simply taking the host (bread) as no one would know I’m not Catholic, but I decided against it because I would know. When I put my arm across my chest the priest made no move to give me a blessing but seemed determined to give me the host. So of course, I took it. I realized then that the practice in the cathedral was to offer the host to every pilgrim. I truly appreciated the inclusiveness of this gesture, the first time I have felt completely accepted in a Catholic church. It does seem to be consistent with the spirit of the Camino.
We weren’t sure whether it would happen this time, but at the end of the mass the huge incense burner (the Botafumeiro) was lit and swung wildly across the nave. It takes six attendants to make the thing work. It was originally used to fumigate the sweaty and potentially disease-ridden peregrines.
We still don’t know what happened to the hoards of pilgrims we were walking with five days ago. Today we met a few people we have connected with just in the last couple of days, including some who have celebrated the election results with us.
It has been very good to have Susan here to share this day with. Her physical challenges have plagued her less each day. She calculated that she walked 101.9 km after subtracting the bus and taxi rides, considerably more than she thought she would manage. She’s a real peregrino, too, and I’m proud of her.
Tomorrow we’ll do a walking tour of the old city and visit some museums. Friday we will take the train to A Coruña and fly out early the next morning – another long, four leg flight (the best that Aeroplan has to offer).