Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Camino de Santiago (Part 8)

Day 33 (Santiago de Compostella...0 km!): For the first time in 33 days, we woke up without an alarm set, had a continental breakfast (compliments of our amazing hotel), and further explored the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostella...without our backpacks weighing us down! And yes, we enjoyed every minute of it.

Day 32 (Arca do Pino to Santiago de Compostella - 20 km): After a mere three hours of sleep, we once again set off before daylight. For our last day, we decided to walk with our group of friends (about 15 in all). After taking numerous pictures together upon reaching the city limits of Santiago, Mom and I took off at a slightly quicker pace in order to make the noon mass at the Catedral de Santaigo (St. James' Cathedral). With only 20 minutes to spare, we made it to the cathedral and found seats in a pew next to a lovely Danish couple that we had met a couple weeks before. It truly was an incredible site to enter the cathedral and see hundreds of pilgrims - many of whom we had encountered along our pilgrimage, and many of whom we had not seen since the very first week of walking. Mom was blessed at the alter by a Spanish priest, we witnessed the swinging of the Botafumeiro (the largest censer in the world, weighing about 80 kg!), visted the catacomb of St. James and in the tradition of the Camino we hugged the bust of Saint James. After mass we went to the Pilgrims office and were issued our oficial Compostelas in Latin, proving that we had in fact walked the nearly 800 km to reach Santiago de Compostela. In celebration of our arrival, we checked into our hotel, took two very long showers...and then caught a taxi - our first car ride in nearly a month - with our dear friend Nacho to get full body massages!!! Mom and I both felt as if we had died and gone to heaven... :)

Day 31 (Ribadiso to Arca do Pino - 22 km): One day outside of Santiago de Compostella. As usual, Mom and I took off bright and early, but with nerves and excitement running high, took off a little earlier and a little quicker than normal. We passed through the small beautiful towns of Arzua and Santa Irene, but there were few towns in between. The countryside continues to be awe-inspiring and beautiful at every turn, and while we are excited to arrive in Santiago, it is also bitter-sweet knowing that our month-long trek is nearing its end. In a moment of craziness, a friend and I decided to sneak out of the albergue (after hours) at midnight to lie under the stars. It was a chilly evening, but we sat in the center of a quiet country road staring up into the sky for over an hour. Every moment was worth it; I saw two shooting stars. The perfect ending to a marvelous journey.

Day 30 (Palas del Rei to Ribadiso - 28 km): For the first time, we left well before sunrise this morning. It truly was a unique and incredible, although slightly nerve-wracking, experience. With flashlights in hand, we wandered carefully along the narrow trail through the forests in an attempt to beat the rush of pilgrims heading to Ribadiso, a small river-side town about 40 km outside of Santiago. The albergue in Ribadiso was rumored to be one of the best and most beautiful albergues in Galicia, and thus we were certain there would be a lot of pilgrims heading that way. While it only has one restaurant nearby, the albergue itself is set right next to the river, and there is truly no reason to leave the serene riverside. It was well worth the hurried and long walk through the winding hills of Galicia. And, as it turned out, we were the first to arrive at the albergue. Once in Ribadiso, Mom and I went immediately to the riverside to soak our feet in the FREEZING cold water trickling by. As our friends began to arrive, we stayed by the river, and cheered several of them on as they braved the frigid water...and went for a dip. The water was so cold, in fact, that one of our friends wedged a bottle of orujo (a typical Spanish liquor) between some rocks in the middle of the river in order to allow it to chill. Of course, we enjoyed the chilled Orujo later on that evening.

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