Thursday, October 02, 2008


The alarm went off at 5:00 AM. We showered, got ready and left Pension Orca at 6:00 AM in total darkness. We could feel the heaviness of the air outside. The humidity was unbearable, and as soon as we left, we started to hear thunder in the distance. It was pitch black, so I took out my little flashlight, our life saver that day. We turned into a forest almost immediately, sprinkle soon turned into rain. This was the first day we had had rain in the entire walk. Still in the dark, we spotted a house with an overhang, so we stood under it for a few minutes until it let up. We could hear people coming behind us, but could not see them. They caught up to us and soon disappeared in the mist. They wanted to rush to get to Santiago for the noon mass in the cathedral. We had left without breakfast, so by the time it turned light, we were very hungry with a few km. to go before the first cafe. Finally, around 8:30 we saw the place, but there were lots of people having breakfast, many waiting to be served by a lone cranky waitress, who seemed to go into a fit with every order she got. After more than a half hour wait, she finally took our order, we had our coffees, OJ's and croissants and continued on our way in the constant drizzle of the day. The leg had some short uphills, quite a few, but they did not seem bad, since there was no sun or heat beating on us. We walked along the back of the airport and 2 hours later we arrived at Lavacolla, a crystal clear brook of reddish sand, where according to tradition, the pilgrims would wash to be presentable for their arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago. Hence, the name--Lava(wash) -- colla(rear end-behind.) Of all the legs on our walk this was the least pretty. From Lavacolla on, the presence of the urban area is evident, even if it cannot be always seen. The traffic noise of the highways is forever present. The last climb before Santiago is to El Monte de Gozo or Joy Hill. This was the place from where the city of Santiago could be seen below, and evidence of only few minutes until our arrival. Today there is a large monument at the very top and down below, the small chapel of San Marcos where we had our next to last stamp placed on our credentials. From there, it took us an hour to get to the Plaza del Obradoiro, the beautiful and imposing square where one enters the cathedral. We went to take a picture and found out the battery the camera had run out of juice. It was almost 2:00 PM and the noon mass was still going on in the Cathedral. On this day, the 23 of July, the mass was special, full of folklore and tradition. It was the Mass of the Floral Offers so many adults and children were dressed in the different costumes of the regions and there was Galician bagpipe music and lovely singing. I guess that the shock of our sudden arrival and the fact that we were sort of thrown into this spectacle we did not expect, kept us from feeling what I anticipated would be a feeling of euphoria. After all, we had been walking for 12 days and we had reached our destination!. No small feat, but I guess no big deal, either.

As we left the church and were coming down the steps, we ran into our young friends Francisco and Alex, the ones we had walked with to O'Cebreiro. We were all so excited to see each-other. They hugged and kissed us and told us they were staying at the refugio in Monte de Gozo one hour uphill from Santiago. They were going to stay 3 nights and had to have their gear with them all the time while in the city. They were going to attend the next mass and enjoy the city. The most beautiful feature of the cathedral which is the Portico de La Gloria, the enormous and beautifully carved tympan whose main column holds the statue of Christ was blocked off due to restoration for the Holy Year which will be in 2010. That means that the 25 of July, the day of Santiago de Compostela, Patron of Spain falls on a Sunday and The Pope himself will be there officiating the Pilgrims' Mass.

Justo was waiting for us in front of the Cathedral to take us to lunch to celebrate our arrival. Lunch was at the restaurant in Los Reyes Catolicos, the Parador Nacional in Santiago, a five star hotel and a band former monastery. Needless to say, the food and wines were spectacular, and after a meal of almost 3 hours, we walked to Justo and Stella's hotel, The San Francisco and got a taxi to take us to our hotel The Gran Hotel Santiago, close to the University in the modern part of town. The hotel is excellent, in the architectural style of the new Hyatts with center courtyard and waterfalls and balconies with overhanging plants. We showered, rested, did our laundry and changed into our dresses. In the evening we were meeting Justo and Stella for some tapas in the Casco Viejo--historical center of town. We did so under the magical mist of Santiago. Time flew, and before we knew it, it was past 11:00 PM, we took a taxi and went back to our wonderful hotel.

A wet stop before Santiago

Walking up to El Monte de Gozo

A Templar Pilgrim

The Cathedral of Santiago upon our arrival

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