(May 23) Our last day of walking! Our anticipation got us up early and we met Perry for a quick breakfast before we started the last 14 miles of our journey.
We were surprised to find we were still on a beautiful wooded trail (photo 1) even though we were headed for an area around the Santiago airport. We stopped only once for coffee where I had an incredible apple tart.
Perry started with a count-down similar to New Year's Eve as we crossed off the kilometers on the stone markers along the way.
Just about 4 miles from the city, we reached Monte del Gozo, which is a 1200 ft. high peak overlooking the city. There is a monument commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II. (Photo 2,3)
For about two-thirds of the walk, we were on paths and small roads until we reached the outskirts of the city. Then we had to maneuver ourselves through the suburbs and modern city streets on pavement and sidewalks until we reached the historic section of town. Then the excitement began to build. We passed several old historic buildings and mistook the tower of one of them as a first sighting of the Cathedral.
But we continued on, ultimately going through the Arch of the Pazo do Xelmirez, holding on to one another with Perry in the middle, and there it was in all its splendor: the Cathedral of Santiago, our final destination. After all this time, the feeling of euphoria was overwhelming and actually brought tears to my eyes. We saw other pilgrims we knew and started to hug and congratulate one another. Others whose names we did not know, but whom we had seen on the trail over the past several weeks, joined in the celebration. (Photo 4 is me in front of the Cathedral, looking quite bedraggled in the wind.)
Afterwards, we went to the Pilgrim Credential office where we showed our passport stamps and were given an official Compostela, certifying that we had walked the Camino.
Exhausted, we checked into our lodging, Hostal Mapoula, a few blocks from the Cathedral and only 50€ for a spacious room and bath. This will be our home for the next 4 days.
Later Michele, Perry and I met our Dutch friends Sabina and Gerrie for a light dinner. The 5 of us have become good friends and have been together off and on for 3-4 weeks. The two women told us we have a special place in their hearts and wanted to give us something but only had two left for the three of us so Michele and I would have to share. It was a tiny pair of blue and white ceramic Dutch clogs tied with a red, white and blue ribbon, their flag's colors. They said we would each get one shoe. Actually, I rather like that because it also joins me and Michele -- I'll always know the mate to that shoe is with her. Then Gerrie reminded me that I had given her an extra pair of gloves I had when we were going into the mountains and she had not brought any. They said they were each going to keep one glove as a remembrance of our friendship.
Now it was 7 pm and we went to a high mass at the Cathedral in honor of a special feast day. (Photo 5-interior) It was like a theatrical performance, starting with a processional around the interior, complete with musical instruments. Then they filled a giant incense burner, a botafumeiro, and began swinging it from an elaborated pulley system high up in the ceiling. It took 4 men to pull on the ropes and control its movement. We sat on the side so it swung right over us. (Photo 6,7)
Next we were treated to lovely organ music and an awesome choir. Even the priest had a great voice. The service was all in Spanish but was so beautifully done that it was totally enjoyable. Afterwards, more drinks with friends and off to bed, our journey at an end.