Into Santiago de Compostela
At 5:30 we were up, headlamps on, and powering through the darkened streets. With the dawn, we realized the trail was streaming with folk! Tour buses of Spanish teens, older hikers, retirees on a jaunt, tourists for the day — all wanted the experience of arriving in Santiago on foot. In a way, it seemed daft — this was the worst day of the trail! It was through the suburbs along roads, the glorious mountains were behind us, and there were crowds. Why join for this day, of them all? It seemed a shame that the ‘real’ pilgrims were lost in the floods of amateurs. That those who had started in France were mixed in with the daytrippers.
We stopped at a cafe, and as we were sipping our coffee, a compact, feisty Italian lady, about 65 years old, roars into the bar with her walking sticks and pack. Here was a real walker. She’s jabbering away and has a cohort waiting for her at each table. We hike ahead as she gets breakfast, but soon she catches up with us, moving a million miles an hour but slowing to say hello. She is caught off guard when I respond in Italian, and soon we’re in a mad-paced conversation. I’m practically sprinting to keep pace, but am too excited to have someone to practice Italian with to stop. Glenn, seeing that I’m having fun, picks up his pace as well. We keep this up for an hour, until we realize she had led us 7 or 8 km, mainly uphill. We slow, and she starts chomping at the bit and finally breaks away to Santiago, leaving us in the dust. Glenn and I realize we’ve strained every muscle in our legs. We take another break. We’re almost there.
The last 3 miles were hellish. Our legs ached, the traffic zoomed around us, both on the trail and on the road, and at no point was there the expected majestic view of the city from a distance, the view we’d been awaiting for a month. Instead, the city arrived gradually, the suburbs wrapping us in and the sidewalks leading us around a hill before, quite suddenly, the cathedral with its two Gothic towers was right ahead. We slip in from behind, and enter the plaza. With that, the cathedral rears skyward. We stand near the pigeons for awhile, just staring, then with packs and sticks and sweat and everything, walk up the steps for mass.