Thursday 28 September 2023 – I suppose it’s no surprise that we woke earlier than the alarm today, so, rather than try to enact our previous plan of a slightly later start, we got up a little early and Got On With It. You can see the Relive route summary and photos here.
This turned out to be a good plan, in small but telling ways. For example, it got us to breakfast earlier than we would otherwise have arrived. Breakfast was served in the café/pizzeria next door and was administered by one very busy lady, who had to provide some form of breakfast for each person in the queue. We were second in line, so had a relatively short wait before we got our toast and jam. By the time we had finished it
the queue was out the door. As we left our hotel, at a few minutes past 8am
it was no better, so it was worth getting there a little bit early.
Much to my surprise, the crowds of pilgrims I had expected to encounter from the word “go” today failed to materialise, at least immediately.
That was a welcome surprise; less welcome was rain, which hadn’t been forecast, and which varied between a fine drizzle and something a little wetter. We never needed our rain jackets, but a hat was useful to keep my specs dry.
“Red sky in the morning” proved to be a reasonably accurate warning, and the day was dull and cloudy and occasionally damp.
It wasn’t long before the path filled with people
and it stayed that way pretty much all day, with one very notable exception, which I’ll cover later. As well as regular peregrinos, there were also large groups of teenagers giving every indication of being on school trips. The crowds, the rain and the routine nature of the trail we were on meant that there were only a few photo opportunities which engaged my attention as we went along.
We passed the border of Santiago parish council,
a place called A Lavacolla,
a location where the pilgrims of old washed and purified themselves in preparation for arriving at the cathedral; and a mad piper, the “Piper at the Gates of Santiago” (about 10km away).
A few kilometres after that we reached a tiny woodland chapel, the Capela de San Marcos,
where there is a significant diversion possible from the main Camino, which simply carries on towards Santiago. The diversion takes one to the “Monte do Gozo”, which logic says should be marked with a Maltese cross*, but which translates as the “Hill of Joy”, reportedly where pilgrims could catch their first sight of the cathedral in Santiago. It’s marked by the statues of a pair of enraptured pilgrims
who are carried away with joy at seeing the cathedral.
Yes, really. It is there, under the right-hand pilgrim’s right armpit.
Sadly, the weather was disappointing; “it would have been better if it were clearer” applied therefore to the first and last days of our Camino.
Apart from its not-insignificant cultural value, the interesting thing about this installation is that, despite all the crowds of people trudging along the Camino, we saw fewer than half a dozen people who seemed to have bothered to read around the Camino enough to know that the pilgrim statues were there and to take a look at them. Jane had, of course, done this, which is why we were there. We were accompanied by a nice American couple from California, Susan and Bob, with whom we’d fallen into conversation a while back. With them we looked at the various other items on display in the (really quite extensive) park that surrounds the Monte do Gozo; four large displays, in an offset-diamond formation;
a largish amphitheatre and swimming pool and, just outside it, a bonkers sculpture garden, the Skulpturenpark von Jose Cao Lata, which, though closed, had some weird and wonderful pieces on display that one could see
as well as some interesting and amusing items carved into its walls.
All those pilgrims trudging by on the main Camino missed out on these things, which is their loss.
It was rather nice to have Susan and Bob to chat to, to distract from what became a fairly dull walk through the outskirts of Santiago.
This is not to detract from the place – every city has its industrial and residential outskirts.
There were a couple of things to note: a sculpture of a Templar Pilgrim;
the Porta Itineris Sancti Iacobi, a modern and decorative gate
and, eventually, the more attractive buildings of the old town.
We wended our way through these handsome streets, which offered the occasional tantalising glimpse of what might be the cathedral, and then
arrived at the Cathedral, along with hordes of other people, which made for great atmosphere but poor photography opportunities, so we took our leave of Susan and Bob and headed off to our hotel, the very nicely-organised Moure hotel, where we were cordially welcomed by Manuel. Initially, it seemed that our room wouldn’t be available for a while, but as it turned out we didn’t have long to wait for our room or our bags, delivered by the ever-reliable Jacotrans.
It’s worth extolling the virtues of Jacotrans; it organises the transport of pilgrims’ effects from pretty much any A to any B along the Camino in a very flexible, cost-effective and, importantly, utterly reliable way. On each of 40 occasions ever since St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, our bags were collected, transferred and deposited exactly according to the schedule that had been laid out. It’s also possible for people simply to arrange transport day by day if their plans are not as baked-in as ours were. It’s a terrific service which removes a lot of the worry from a long-term expedition such as ours.
We couldn’t just relax for the rest of the day, as we had a Very Nice Lunch to go to. Asador Gonzaba was recommended by a friend, and we had booked a table for lunch. We did have time, as it turned out, to visit the Pilgrim’s Office to see if we could pick up our Certificate. When we arrived, the queue seemed rather daunting
but it’s very well-organised and, thanks to Jane, so were we, with our Credenciales fully filled in and stamped as needed. Within 15 minutes we had our Certificates of Distance and, much to our surprise, Compostelas; we hadn’t expected the latter as we’d stated right from the off that this wasn’t a spiritual exercise for us. Anyway, we got our awards and they got their €6, so everyone was happy. We then had a really properly Nice Lunch, too, so we were delighted. (We have another recommendation from the same friend for tomorrow, so we’re looking forward to that, I might say.)
We did a certain amount of wandering about and gawping at the number and size of ornamental and religious buildings in Santiago. The cathedral is utterly vast, much bigger than those of Burgos or León, and there are all sorts of other buildings to admire as well. We have a guided tour of the city arranged for tomorrow, so I’ll save today’s pictures for an entry about the city which I hope to be able to publish tomorrow.
For now, here are our stats (for the last time): we covered 21.4km today (including the diversion to Monte do Gozo) and so our total has risen to 810.km – 503.6 miles. The official figure for our mileage, as given on the Certificate of Distance, is 779km, which is 484 miles; but we have done a couple of route variations and diversions, so I’m going to assert our figures as the distance I shall be bragging about for quite some time to come, I suspect.
So now our Camino is over, and I really don’t know how I feel about this yet. Will we miss the relentless get-up-pack-breakfast-walk-lunch-write-sleep routine? We still have some time in Spain to enjoy ourselves, so be assured that I will include any philosophical musings on this in future updates about our time here; stay with me if you’d like to find out what else we do whilst we’re around Santiago, eh?
* go check Google Maps for Malta if you don’t understand this joke.