Santa Irene – Santiago
Having resigned myself to walking into Santiago without seeing any of the old faces of the route today started with passing a French guy whom I vaguely recognized but did not remember, but he remembered seeing me in Roncesvalles all those km’s ago and we shared a kind of understanding which heartened me. This was followed when I later noticed someone walking toward me with their head bowed but something familiar in their gait. As the walker approached I saw a familiar green sleeping mat peeking out behind their backpack and realized it was CrazyFrench! I had not seen him since Leon and was overjoyed though I nearly had to rugby tackle him to get him to stop at my exclamations of Bonjour. When he recognized me his face lit up and we spent several minutes of hugging and back patting. He proudly showed off his new boots and told me he had arrived in Santiago two days before, spent a lot of time in the cathedral and was now hoping to walk back now to Toulouse to the house of his son, but again he never took it for granted that he would make it. Again he thanked me for my smile and we said farewells once more. This meeting had lifted me immensely and I joyously walked on towards Santiago. The surprises were not over yet though and I arrived at Monte de Gozo just outside the city from where the spires of the cathedral can be seen above the trees. I was sitting talking to a young guy with dog that was walking the camino over several months with little money. He was sleeping out and carried with him equipment to make items of jewellery which every so often he would stop and sell to keep him and his dog in chorizo. I heard someone shout my name and I looked up to see Veronika from Poland who was staying here with her parents til morning. She wished me well and I told her I would see them in the cathedral tomorrow and I happily set off into the city. Outside the old centre of the city I found an albergue with a very jovial owner who was planning a quemada at 10pm that evening. Whatever it was I wanted to see it but first I had to complete this part of the walk and leaving my pack behind I walked towards the cathedral. I was sitting in the sunny plaza in front of the cathedral as pilgrims flopped to the ground around me when I noticed another familiar face high on the steps of the cathedral looking out. I jumped up and started walking towards the waving Polish Cowboy, waving back. I hoped he was waving at me or it could have been a bit embarrassing. More hugs and congratulations followed and we stood looking out over the plaza for a while as he talked candidly to me about how the camino had affected him and what he had learned about himself. Not long after this I walked around by the pilgrim office and saw the French couple whom I had also not seen for a very long time. I was absolutely elated and once again they jabbered away in French to me amidst more back patting. I remained in Santiago for the following day to rest and during my time there I came upon most of the familiar faces from my time on the road and those I missed I saw again on my journey to Finisterre. It was poetic in a way and I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect ending. That evening I also got the scoop on the deal at the Hostal de Los Reyes, a luxury parador in the plaza. I had read stories about how this hotel was originally built for the sheltering of pilgrims by order of the King and when it later became a 5 star hotel the ancient decree meant they had to continue to make provision for pilgrims and fed them 3 times a day for 3 days after completion of the pilgrimage. I didn’t quite see how this could work now but it turned out that if you went to the car park entrance of the hotel at mealtime and if you were in the first 10 then you would be taken into the hotel for your complimentary meal. I did this for dinner and there were only 10 of us in total so no one missed out. We did indeed parade through the grand entrance of the hotel foyer and through the elegant courtyard which was being set for some canapé reception later. OK, so we didn’t eat in the restaurant and had to get a tray and fetch our food from the kitchen, but we had our own pilgrim dining room and were given a full three courses with several bottles of wine and we had an absolute ball. Early the next morning I went to the pilgrim office to get my compostela when who should walk up but one of Hot Spanish Guy’s gang. Sure enough he got on the phone and passed on the news and as I came out of the office with my latin certificate I fell into Hot Spanish Guys arms on the stairs. (there was nothing romantic in this before you get carried away, it is just standard procedure by now!). It was, in fact, wonderful to see them again and in true style I bumped into him all the rest of the day. In fact being in Santiago those two days was like being somewhere you had lived all your life. Around every corner you saw people who by now felt like your closest friends and even with the peregrinos you didn’t know you shared some kind of solidarity and understanding. It felt like a very special place indeed. Although most people were now heading home I was very pleased that my walk had not yet finished and I was keen to get on the road again. That evening back at the albergue our host put on the quemada display which was along the lines of creating a highly potent alcoholic ‘witches brew’ in a cauldron that burns in an immense display of rising flames and pouring fire while incantations are said. When it finally burned down we all drank the strong hot brew and toasted a safe arrival at the end of the camino. Life could not get better than this……slept sooooo well.