Just off the path, June 12th
Tuesday -- a day early -- we walked into Santiago completing our journey of 38 days and an undetermined number of kilometers. It turns out that none of the guides agree with one another regarding the distances (and the differences are pretty substantial), there are numerous detours and, not to forget, the many excursions searching for the elusive arrows. Walking through the outskirts and then into the heart of the old city to finally reach the cathedral is a strange experience knowing that you are now done and the purpose of each day is redefined.
On Sunday, the Camino del Norte merged with the Camino Frances in the town of Arzua. The Camino Frances is considered the main route from the Pyrenees and has the most traffic. Having walked that route before (first time in 2000), we were prepared for a big change in pilgrim traffic and atmoshpere. But not prepared for the crowds! The window from our room in the pension looked out over the path and it was a steady stream of walkers for hours. Most of the time when we walked the final 2 days there were always other pilgrims in sight... as well as garbage cans at regular intervals to collect pilgrim detritus. It was nothing like this 7 years ago and a huge contrast to the the Camino del Norte when we seldom saw another person. At this point it seems like the Germans are close to outnumbering the Spanish. It wasn´t until our last day that we met some other Americans.
The last week of walking there was a small group of about 10 moving at the same intervals. We didn´t see each other during the day very much but then would all congregate at the albergue for laundry, wine and meals. Often we slept in the same room that loked like a bomb had exploded when backpacks were unloaded and the next morning were immaculate again. One of the last nights it occurred to me that the pilgrim lullaby should be "Strangers In The Night."
Carving of Santiago the Moor Slayer (the un PC version)
We spent one night at a huge cathedral and monastery in the town of Sobrado. Evidently it had been restored in the early part of the 1900´s but the cathedral had also been deconsecrated and was completely empty. We toured it during a massive thunderstorm and downpour, you could see the plants once again beginnng to overtake the domes. The old kitchen (from the 13th century) was open with a huge central firepit and chimney, home to many birds. Very strange and eerie. That night there was chanting with the monks -- Laurie said there were close to 20 and many were young, some Asian -- but I elected to enjoy some time alone amidst the 48 beds.
Our last day of walking we passed through a small farming village with wooden plows in the barns, oxen out back and then up the hill to skirt the airport runway, around the broadcasting stations for the two big news channels, by some tired villages, over a freeway bridge and into town. Experiences and places that are only a few minutes or hours away by car are suddenly so distant. It´s odd to be done but I am glad to have arrived and very happy at the prospect of coming home. Very happy!
A few miscellaneous shots:
above: preparing for the giant marshmallow harvest
below: the view from the laundry line at the hostel in Tapie de Casareigos