Stage 36 – O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela
Total Distance – 19.8 km (12.3 miles)
Adjusted for Climb – 20.4 km (12.3 miles, accrued ascent 160 m = 0.6 km)
High Point: Monte de Gozo at 370 m (1,214 feet)
After almost two years of writing in this blog I finally get to the last stage!! As a recap, I started walking the Camino de Santiago in late May of 2013. Immediately I started blogging about it but my blog posts at first were sporadic and not very detailed. It’s hard work walking the Camino the way I did, waking up at 8:00 a.m. and taking a long lunch and many stops along the way to talk to people, while trying to write a blog post every day. I eventually gave up and concentrated on the Camino. At the end of each day – usually at 6 p.m. or even as late as 7p.m. – I was only focused on a hot shower and dinner and too tired to write. I soon decided that I would do periodic updates instead of a daily blog.
After returning from Spain I decided to continue my blog. My idea was not to only write about my walking but also to write about the villages and towns I encountered. I also wanted to give my followers a sense of the hidden history of the Camino so I included as much history as I could from many sources in English and Spanish. I also was determined to write about each and every stage of my pilgrimage.
Frankly, I also was not in a hurry to finish writing – it was as if I would lose the magic of the Camino once I stopped to write about it – I wanted to savour the experience. Silly, I know, but it was nonetheless a real worry for me.
With that out of the way, here is the account of my last stage of my 2013 Pilgrimage to Santiago! The immediate sensation that one has when starting out on your last stage to Santiago is one of sadness coupled with an intense anticipation. Only 19 kilometers separates you from your goal and you can’t wait to get there but also you wish that it wasn’t the end. You are immediately struck by the huge number of organized groups on the Camino – especially the youth groups. It’s as if they came out of the mists because you were not used to seeing them before Sarria. They resemble groups of soldiers on the march – with backpacks – as they steadily move forward.
When Sue and I started walking that day she was in heaven because of the eucalyptus forests we had to go through. She loved the smell as it reminded her of Australia and all the walks in the bush country there. Our first stop for coffee was at the Café at Amenal. It was here that while we were sitting down having a leisurely cup of cafe con leche that Shamus, the Anglo-Irish doctor, and his mother caught up with us and we all sat together. His mother started to describe and to tell me about an Italian peregrino that they recently saw on the trail. This peregrino was badly, badly limping and Shamus’s mother made him go and talk to the him. Shamus told the peregrino that he needed to stop walking immediately because he risked doing permanent damage to his knee. The Italian however was undeterred and said that he would continue on. As I sat there listened I wondered what I would do if I were the Italian. With that thought in my mind Sue and I left them to their coffee and continued walking.
As we approached the hamlet of Lavacolla I saw the Italian peregrino that Shamus’s mother had described to me. He was resting on the side of the trail and in typical Italian fashion smoking a cigarette. I went up to him and asked him how he was faring and his gave me a pure Italian shrug of his shoulders. You know the kind – the shoulders move upwards with a simultaneous pursing of the lips and contraction of his eyebrows. I pointed to his knee and asked if he was going to continue and he said, “Yeah, what choice do I have”. I couldn’t fault him for his answer and envisioned him crawling to Santiago.
Brierly in his guide describes Lavacolla as, “the place where medieval pilgrims came to wash lavar and purify themselves before entering the city”. Since lavacolla in Spanish translates to “wash your tail” his description is a polite way of saying, without graphically describing, what they actually washed. This place was a ritual and obligatory stop for ancient pilgrims. In those days people washed much less than we do – if they washed at all – and this was the place where they had to wash and “purify” themselves before entering Santiago. While they were washing there were plenty of merchants shilling their goods – inns, taverns, restaurants – in a multitude of languages.
From Lavacolla to the Monte de Gozo I remember two things. First, it was a long and hot ascent and secondly when we got there I noticed Sue keeping a watchful eye on me. This was because she had for days been telling me that she was going to be watching me as we approached Santiago. She was anticipating an emotional reaction from me and was duly diligent in her watchfulness. For the record I didn’t cry at Monte de Gozo when I first laid eyes on Santiago de Compostela. I did expect to see the cathedral from there but it was not to be.
Monte de Gozo means Mountain of Joy in Spanish and it is a 5-km slope up from Lavacolla. Here is where many experienced joy and euphoria because of seeing the Cathedral towers for the first time. Medieval pilgrims used to race up this mountain with the winner being proclaimed King for a day. Even those on horseback that arrived here had to walk up the slope.
From the Monte de Gozo we could see the city of Santiago de Compostela and little did we know that we’d have another hour of walking through the city streets before we’d see the Cathedral.
I told you before that Sue was keeping an eagle eye on me waiting for an emotional reaction on my part. That watch was re-doubled as we walked through the streets of Santiago. Entering Santiago we first came upon a statue of a Templar knight. I was pleased because I’m an avid student of all things templar and thought it only right and proper that their historical role of protecting pilgrims should be recognized at the entrance to the city.
Not far from the protective gaze of the Templar knight was another monument to the Camino. This is the Porta Itineris Sancti Iacobi, a triumphal arch that celebrates the famous peregrinos throughout the ages.
Since we we’re going to be arriving after the daily mid-day mass at the Cathedral we were in no hurry to get there. We planned on immediately visiting the Cathedral and then going to our palatial lodgings at the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos. This was a pilgrim hospital that, Magnus Fernandus: et grandis Helizabeth: peregrinis: divi: iacobi: construi: Iussere: anno salutis MDI (The great Fernando and the powerful Isabel ordered to be constructed for pilgrims. The year of their health 1502). For our health and as a grand reward we planned to stay there.
I still didn’t cry when I first saw the spires but the anticipation was building.
As it turned out we entered the Cathedral via a side entrance on the Praza da Inmaculada and not through the main entrance on the Praza do Obradoiro. At that point I really didn’t care how we’d got there I was just so happy to have gotten there. I was euphoric but in a quiet way – but still no tears, those would come the next day.
After quickly seeing the inside of the Cathedral – we knew we’d be spending plenty of time there in the next those two days – we hightailed it to our lodgings, got cleaned up and went to get our compostelas.
The day that we arrived in Santiago was July 4th, 2013. For me, even though I was away from home and my loved ones, it was a truly memorable way to spend the 4th of July!