Like in every good movie and story, the long expected moment, where all the bits and pieces come together for the final wrap of a unique journey, was going to be unfolded on my last Camino day. Day 15 was going to mark the end of another chapter in my life with the happiness of accomplishing my objectives and the friends I made on the Way. It wasn't without nostalgia of these amazing moments we lived, that Andrew and I were to face our last ride with some longing.
We joined our recent Nebraska friends (see day 14) for our good old habit of a fresh breakfast. To our surprise, Father Nolte offered us our first supper of the day to which we were really grateful. Having the other "Ondiñas" members leading the troop from a further away village, we still had to catch up our slowed down pace caused by our latter "Pulpo" day (check back on day 14 to discover this tasty regional dish). Although it was going to be our last day, we were still about to meet much more friends than we could have expected.
With our belly replenished, we pedalled away from the Galician cheese capital (Arzúa), to reach the capital of the Galician region itself, the pilgrim destination of thousands of people from all around the World: Santiago de Compostela, which is the centerpiece that united all of us in this journey. And even if it was the first reason for this adventure... the most meaning ones were soon to be discovered.
Going on with our path, even if the hills were not as hard as the ones we passed, every little hurdle seemed to be the biggest obstacle ever, and sometimes my legs didn't seem to respond. You might think that is probably due to the 14 days riding without rest, but the real reason behind my fatigue didn't seem to be physical, but rather mental. The amazing people and experiences I lived in these two weeks were so emotional to me that I knew my brain didn't want my body to finish... therefore, we simply stopped for our 2nd breakfast ;)
It seemed like the hotspot for pilgrims' breakfast, it was a small house with a garden which was filled with people from everywhere. We had a great Galician "empanada" (info here, in Spanish only), a typical regional dish that's similar to an English pie but much more thinner and bigger. My favourite ones are with "Pulpo" (=Octopus), cod fish, cockles and the really tasty "Zamburiñas" one, which are like small scallops. We added to this a good "cafe au lait" which was served with another typical Galician product: a Sargadelos like coffee cup. Sargadelos is a renowned pottery brand of Galicia (discover it here), which is distinguished by their typical blue-white colour pattern and high quality ceramics; it is often used for gifts and special occasions.
After this good treat, early morning cold made us go back to our path through the magnificent woods of Galicia. Among the many "Ring rings, we're coming!" and "Buen Camino!" (=have a safe pilgrimage), one pilgrim made us slow down to walking pace thanks to one of the simplest, most universal and sincere ways of human interaction, a smile! To what seems so obvious, but is often forgotten in our stressed urban lives, was the reason to make another friend on the Camino, Steph from Australia. She started her Camino in Sarria after a few months backpacking around Europe, visiting her motherly origins in Greece and simply discovering the Old Continent. It wasn't going to be the last time we'd meet and the next one was going to be sooner than expected.
Having still to make up for the lost "Pulpo" time, we continued and at Salceda's municipal borders, we arrived to a quite unique place which can't be spotted at simple glance. First we only saw a terrace and a bar, after quickly dissolved doubts, we obviously went in for our 3rd coffee of the day. Once inside, it turned out to be a magical place full of history, where apart from wall messages and carvings, the most striking thing were... T-shirts! Yes yes, T-shirts hanging everywhere from the ceiling, there were at least 100 of them in all possible colours, left by pilgrims, visitors and friends from all around the World. In addition, the friendliness and energy of its owners, Sonia and Quique, made the experience even better. Obviously, under these circumstances, one of my photo interviews was mandatory; the recent story behind this unique place was both moving and interesting to hear. However, as all the other photo-interview stories, they will be published later within their own context.
After this surprising and positive moment, and going for my now very cold coffee, I joined again Andrew and... Steph! Yes, the happy Aussie we met before caught up with us and joined our coffee moment (and you're right, our longing was making us reeeally slow). Since we were near Santiago, we exchanged selfies and whatsapp to meet up again and celebrate together our Camino arrival!
With only a few kilometres to go for Santiago, Andrew and I pedalled away... but still with some nostalgia of the finishing adventure, hunger kicked in and Andrew stopped for some bacon and eggs, while I resorted to my beloved Galician beer, Estrella Galicia. There, we met two more Aussies, Sam and Jayne, and also some horsegrinos; horse pilgrims. If you're thinking if they qualify to be called pilgrims, yes they do. The requirements to be a Santiago de Compostela pilgrim state that it can be done walking, on a bicycle or riding a horse.
Once we were arriving to Pedrouzo (last hill before Santiago), the spectacular skyline of Santiago awaited us in all its beauty and with a completely blue lit sky, pierced only by the unique towers of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the famous Santiago Apostle rest. Which is precisely the reason that motivated this famous religious pilgrimage for many centuries.
The feeling of accomplishment, happiness and satisfaction of entering my studies town, where I spent almost 10 years of my life, with just the strength of my legs on my dear 20kg heavy bicycle, was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. I was so happy to see my hometown again that I even jumped on its sign (check out the cover picture above)... going down the cobblestoned streets, passing by the "Museo do Pobo Galego" (Museum of the Galician people), then going up to the "Plaza Cervantes" (named for one of our greatest Spanish writers) and the last descent to the magnificent cathedral of Santiago made all my memories and feelings mingle into a big burst of joy. Best thing, I was received by my parents and one of my best friends, Jorge, to share together this unique achievement. We then went to another nostalgic place for me, the "Hostal de los Reyes Católicos", the 5 star hotel just next to the cathedral and where I did one of my summer internships some years ago. After the Cathedral itself, it's probably one of the most iconic and historic constructions of Santiago, which used to be a hospital for pilgrims (find out more about its history here). We were very well received by my former colleagues and we had great tapas at the "Enxebre" restaurant.
While my parents had to leave, Jorge, Andrew and I had lunch together before we went for our "Compostela", the certificate issued by the Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which certifies the completion of the pilgrimage. In order to obtain it, you must do the journey with the Pilgrim's credential (see mine below), which you need to have stamped during your pilgrimage in any church or albergue you pass by. There are also distance requirements, at least 100 km walking or 200 km on your bike are needed to obtain it (find more information here).
So we went then to the last step of our pilgrimage and to one big...queue! The "Oficina del Peregrino" (=the Pilgrim's office, where you get your certificate), was full of people, but contrary to what you'd expect (specially for those who do it in August, month of greatest pilgrim arrivals), it wasn't due to too many pilgrims, but because of German "Hollywood"(which we first met on my Day 11). Therefore, patiently as a pilgrim, we waited for them to finish their few scenes and observed those immaculately clean "pilgrims" carrying featherlight backpacks... so after some "Action!" moments, we finally could write the last dot in our journey.
Last dot...? Not quite yet, heading back to the "Obradoiro" square, where the Cathedral is, I reunited with 3 of my faculty friends, Pablo, David and Martin. They came to say hi before Andrew and I headed to our Albergue and joined our "Ondiñas" friends for dinner and pilgrimage celebration!
So what started as a "Let's pedal to Santiago" finished by being one of my greatest adventures and eye opening experiences. There's not one unique reason to do the Camino, there are as many as people and stories you can find while doing it, and as with most travels and adventures, what matters are who you encounter, the journey and what you will learn for your own life.
Therefore, I will finish my last day with my Sixteenth recommendation for the Camino:
Start the Camino with your own personal reason, forget it on the way to indulge the journey and get inspired by the people you will encounter.
"Buen camino" my dear friends!