Santiago de Compostela
September 2016 – Day 1
I travel a thousand miles or so to a little town that turns out to be a jewel. Santiago de Compostela is the end point of the Camino and I’m meeting a pilgrim in the cathedral (as you do!). The airport is tiny in terms of flights but clearly has huge aspirations.
I’ve just learned The Pilgrim has already arrived and is busy with the objective of becoming the outside container of what had been a glass of wine so I walk past the bus and hail what turns out to be the Louis Hamilton of Spanish taxi drivers. This, you understand, is an attempt to save her from herself (and also join in the celebrations).
I think negotiating a flat fee has pros and cons. The pro is that you know what you’re going to pay whereas the con is that he wants to get you to where you want to be and return to the airport for another fare without the benefit of understanding the concept of space time continuum or even the rudiments of a flux capacitor.
The fact that you’re reading this is evidence of my current state of health and the welcome at the hotel calmed my nerves as the receptionist watched ‘Marty’ leave smoking rubber on the cobbles.
I’d asked for a nice habitacion doble and what she shows me is top notch. A bedroom with en suite as expected but also a small sitting room and a bed the size of a football pitch! I express my gratitude and offer a tip but she waved a hand and insists this is all part of the service. She even throws breakfast in! I think I like this place.
As I leave the hotel Shara is once more at my service, I’m meeting The Pilgrim, appropriately, in The Catedral Igrexa Catedral Metropolitana, (most folks call Santiago Cathedral), and I ask for directions. She produces a map and draws the route in black pen then takes me out to a quaint cobbled road and explains the route in detail, just priceless the people here.
I pass numerous churches and wonderful old buildings. The town is on many levels so the vista includes pan tiled roofs in various shades of red. There are white and grey washed buildings with wrought iron around windows and balconies and below me there are ornate steps down to cellars under both houses and churches. they’re all decorated with images of saints, Spanish heraldic crests and the odd gargoyle.Before I know it I’m at the cathedral, well at least that’s where I think I am. After 10 thoroughly enjoyable minutes wandering around the cathedral square I venture in to be told this is the museum and I must turn left, then another left and then left again to the square and this is the location of the main entrance to the cathedral. In fairness I’m asked by numerous pilgrims at the end of their trek to take their picture with the “cathedral ” in the background. I do oblige but only after availing them of my new found knowledge I become an expert guide and by the time I access the square I have a whole caravan of pilgrims complete with walking sticks, back packs and numerous types of footwear from boots to sandals. About 80% of them are in tears. The emotions at the end of these various Camino walks from Spain, Portugal and France have been finely tuned especially over the final 24 hours and they just let it go! It sounds a little bit depressing but it’s not, in fact it’s joyous.I’m surplus to requirements now and duck out of the way by virtue of some steps. This action rids me of any guilt that may have accrued by fraudulently inferring that I’d just walked 800 kilometres. It would have been impossible to commit this deceit anyway; they looked like they’d just walked that distance whereas I looked like I’d just stepped off an aeroplane.
The main entrance is 50 metres or so and I make a big arc around the true peregrinos and make a subtle entrance and pause for my eyes to adjust to the reduced light. I am tempted to use the word ‘gloom’ to describe the darkened atmosphere but that implies sadness and, in here, it’s anything but that.
There’s a steady buzz of voices and one of the culprits is The Pilgrim who has cornered two people from Holland. They’re in a pew that’s roped off at one end so can’t escape and The Pilgrim is creating a metaphorical donkey with a limp, its hind leg may not, at this point, have been removed, but it is well on the way.
I’m introduced and after a brief hello to the Dutch I receive a wonderful welcome from The Pilgrim in the form of a smile accompanied by the best hug!
We take a walk around this beautiful place then make our way to a bar that’s well placed for ‘people watching’ and are beckoned in by a smiling Spaniard. A couple of beers later and the stress of the early morning drive from South London on the M25 followed by a two vehicle misunderstanding that stopped all of the anti-clockwise carriageways and the certain knowledge that Michael O’Leary’s aeroplanes most certainly wait for no-one are not even a memory.As we amble around the town and make our way back to the hotel I’m introduced to numerous peregrinos and the nicest thing of all is we meet them in a bar for a great meal tonight. One particular guy stands out as we share our stories. Otto had walked with the Pilgrim for a while but had only reestablished contact here in Santiago. I ask him his story and he frowns then laughs and tells me that’s his line. He lost his dear wife Maria to cancer about the same time as I lost my own dear wife Linda and we laugh and even end up a little moist eyed as we swap happy and joyful tales of our time together. I’m rather hoping that we stay in touch and time will tell.
The bar has been recommended by our host at the hotel and, whilst the service is slow, the meals, beer and wine are firstrate.I’m astonished at the stories that these people have to tell and may well share some with you if I can get my fingers tuned in to the keyboards on this phone, I haven’t brought my laptop as we’re doing a bit of city hopping.We’re only asked to quieten down once at this bar so you can appreciate we are on our best behaviour.
Nice opener and tomorrow’s looking good with blue skies and 26 degrees.
Santiago day 2 – The Saint and a party!??
We rise at 9. It’s blue sky and sunshine. Breakfast is being served and the coffee is divine.
The Pilgrim (Cecilia Kennedy) needs to see her perigonese friend following the 1030 mass so we make our way to the cathedral.
The noise from several hundred pilgrims and tourists is building when a rich disembodied voice piped through the cathedral commands. “Por favor “. “Shhhhhh”, “Silencia, por favor “, the place goes quiet, God has spoken! Well whoever it was certainly had his authority.
We tour this magnificent building stopping from time to time to gaze in amazement and awe at the artefacts which are spectacular in their detail and every one depicting an event or person.
We join the short queue that leads up some steps behind the astonishingly ornate alter to variously, touch, admire or embrace the gilded statue of St James. The atmosphere is highly charged and the lady in front of me hugs the image and breaks down in tears. Not tears of grief but deep sobbing tears of, relief; passion; dedication; belief? Who knows? I’m not sure that she does but she’s not alone, I see this several times.I am happy to just walk past, after all, I’m not a pilgrim, but I have to admit to a surreptitious touch of his shoulder as I squeeze by.From here we descend the uneven steps and are guided by ropes into a crypt that is reputed to have the actual remains of St James in a small silver casket behind locked gates in an anti room. The atmosphere in the room is emotionally charged and a lady is crying in the corner.
Whether you believe or not, and I don’t mind provided nobody gets blown up or hurt, I have to admit that there is some serious passion specifically in this room and generally in this cathedral. It’s both challenging and fascinating and I’m so glad I’m here.
A little later we’re sitting in the sun doing some quality control testing on a Mahon grande (large beer) which passes with honours.
We’re people watching when The Pilgrim spots some fellow peregrines, this becomes a social and endearing theme! This time it’s our host for the party tonight. Manuela is full of energy, very animated and very loud in fact, in the U.K. a full risk assessment and contingency plans would be required prior to the event. We do no such thing but I am considering ear defenders as a precaution.
The Pilgrim confirms the time with Manuela, 7:30, now that’s civilised and gives us plenty of time to get showered and appropriately dressed then cross this tiny city to her ‘house’.
So…. we arrive at her apartment at 8:00 and I’m a little uneasy being late when we’re suddenly in a crowd of wonderful peregrines who are invited to the same gig.We’re admitted to the apartment following numerous attempts to gain attention using the security system by Lilly, a peregrine from Brazil who just happens to be staying with her.
Now here’s a Spanish trait. Manuela had invited all of the people she’d met on her latest pilgrimage to the party starting at 7:30 then, quarter of an hour before the gathering will commence she goes out for a few glasses of wine with her friend! You see, ‘tiempo de ingles’ is somewhat different to ‘tiempo de espana’! Fortunately, Lilly is familiar with the stash of wineThe Pilgrim had sent me instructions to get some English cheeses as our contribution to the party so Jose, a high ranking attorney from Curiciba, is opening them on to plates that he’d acquired from secret cupboards in the kitchen. Coincidences are rife, Jose’s home is in city where I did some presentations at the University of Parana many years ago, small world! I remember a train journey from Curiciba through the jungle and down to the coast. Quite a bit of it was on ledges blasted and hewn by hand out of the cliffs and ridges thousands of feet above the jungle, but that’s another tale. Jose, like the other peregrines, is a wonderful, friendly man and he too, is on a mission but tonight, he has more important responsibilities, he’s in charge of wine and cheese!Manuela’s veranda is long and wide, scarred with various plants, a table and a few chairs. We settle round the table with John and Lyn, two Canadians, oh, and a bottle of wine.
By now Jose has the table inside decorated with bread, our English cheeses and a wonderful local soft cheese in a thick rind. It’s challenging to skin it but the cheese within is soft and flavoursome.Its a little bit bizarre but also a reflection on the hospitality of the Spanish who continue to give without any expectations of return. This is especially true of the peregrines. It’s half-eight now, still no sign of our host so we drink to her generosity and open some more wine.About 8:45 Manuela arrives with friend and it’s like being hit by a road drill. The volume is increased and ear defenders would have been a good plan but the atmosphere is magical. Everyone is talking at once and all of them with Camino tales. I tune in and out then begin a wonderful conversation with Otto. Like me, he lost his wife of 40 years a couple of years ago. We traded thoughts and memories and I made another Canadian friend.
The focal point of the evening is pulpo (octopus) and Manuela reminds us again that her Mum makes the best pulpo in the world. It is various parts of an octopus cooked to perfection and served with various breads all of which are torn apart and shared. The little sucker thingies on the tentacles could have been challenging for the squeamish but know one in this group shows any reluctance. Now here’s some advice, even if you like something more than anything else on the world, don’t tell a Spanish host. I’d had the best part of a whole plate and was stuffed but when Manuela asked if I liked them I said yes but I was now full. Within seconds I was proffered another plate.
“No gracias”, said I.
Then began the fight.
“But you said you like”
“Er, yes but I’m full”
“You said you like”, pulls sad face.
“Er, lleno, full, completo”, I rub my stomach and feign it’ll burst.
“But you said you like”
I’ll not go on, she’s a wonderful host but you really need to beware what you say you like.
There are more tales of adventure on the Comino and off. It’s a fabulous night and the time has shot by.
Manuela is at work tomorrow at a hospital 60 km away where she deals with litigation so everyone begins their respective farewells. It’s relatively easy for me, I’ve had an excellent evening with them whereas they have had a profound experience together and there’s a hint of sadness as we leave.
It’s still warm outside and there a few bars and the odd shop still open. We part from the peregrines at their hostel to more warm embraces and buen Caminos. Otto walks us to the direct route back to the Cathedral then more hugs and farewells.
This emotionally draining but now we’re on a cobbled street lined with ornate lamps with the Cathedral illuminated at the top of the hill.
We turn left before the main square to explore another route and hesitate at a junction. The Pilgrim, being a geographer thinks it’s right. I’m happy with that but not sure about the route being indicated as the gps on my phone is suggesting a route further on.
The Pilgrim accosts a man wearing high vis jacket and hard hat (I think she thinks he’s a stripper) and, in her best Spanish, asks the way. He confirms the route but then another act of kindness that seems second nature here, he escorts us up a significant hill, up steps and through a park whilst The Pilgrim extracts his life story. He’s a stone mason working on the Cathedral. He’s also a generous and helpful man similar to many others in this wonderful town.
A great end to a glorious day.
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
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This is life after an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm open repair. Don’t be afraid of the operation, it set me free. Please be encouraged and inspired to walk, it’s liberating.
You can read about it here: https://www.yorkshireramblings.com/short-stay-hospital/