Our last day on the Camino was an interesting one, and full of anticipation about arriving in Santiago. The weather was once again fairly perfect for walking, and initially the Camino seemed almost crowded as we set out from Pedrouzo. Eventually, the “crowd” thinned out as we all reached our own paces, and our group settled into our own rhythm, just as we had done all week.
After lunch we began a series of ascents that would ultimately take us to the top of the hill that overlooks Santiago. We had been told about this hill, and the view available from the top, and that filled some of our group with great energy. So much so, in fact, that two of our number set out ahead of the rest of the group determined to reach the promised view — though the actual top of the hill was further on than we knew. I became a bit concerned when, after an hour, the two who went ahead hadn’t stopped to allow us to catch up, as had been the practice all week when anyone ended up ahead of the group. More time passed, and my expectations of seeing them just around the next corner continued to be disappointed, and my parental instincts were becoming increasingly unsettled. We made a couple inquiries as we passed people who had stopped to rest, but no one seemed to have seen them. I had the sense that they were fine, but still, the father in me wanted visual confirmation. Finally, the rest of our group reached the top and the view (which is, indeed, well worth the effort!), and there they were. The group was reunited after two hours, and all was well.
As we were resting at the top of the hill, before beginning our descent into Santiago, I overheard a woman next to us whom we had never seen say to those she was walking with, “I hear that Chris and Keegan have been found, so that’s good.” Well, these were our two pilgrims who got a bit ahead of us! It seems that after making just a couple of inquiries about them, word had been quickly spread along the Camino that we had been asking after them. I had the thought that this is exactly what Christian community is supposed to be: an extended spiritual family who have a commitment to looking out for each other. It was another moment on the Camino that reminded us of how we belong to each other.
Upon reaching Santiago, we became increasingly excited as we made our way through the city toward the cathedral. Interestingly, once one gets closer to the heart of Santiago, the Camino becomes less obvious. All those big yellow arrows go away, and the only way you know you are on it are the occasional bronze shells that are embedded into the pavement. On the way, we passed what we understood to be our hotel and noted it for later. Finally, we reached massive square in front of the cathedral, took a photo, collapsed, and then went inside. It was overwhelming for some, underwhelming for others. We will return there today for a more proper visit, and to attend the daily Pilgrims’ Mass. We will also have our Camino passport, or credential, reviewed. Since we started in Sarria, they will check that we got at least two stamps for every day of our walk. Once they have verified this, they will enter our names in the book of those who have completed the pilgrimage, and give us a certificate of completion.
After our initial visit to the cathedral, we stopped for some refreshment and then proceeded to follow the Camino in reverse to get to our hotel, the one we had passed earlier. Except we lost track of the Camino, and got off of it. At that point, we had to ask for directions a couple of times, and finally found the hotel again. Only the hotel said they didn’t have a reservation for us! We told them the address, and the woman at the desk directed us elsewhere. Only when we tried to find this elsewhere, we were unsuccessful. So I called the number of the hotel that was on our voucher, and it was the same woman we had talked to earlier, who had told us we had the wrong hotel! At that point, I called for the first time the emergency number for the tour company in Ireland that had organized the trip for us. Interestingly, the woman who answered was the same person who had been our agent. She made some calls, and then sent us back to the original hotel that had said they didn’t know who we were. It seems that this hotel has switched us to another hotel without informing the tour company. Finally, at 9 pm, we made it to our hotel. We shared Eucharist together and reflected on the meaning of the day’s events.
We were struck by the symbolism of having stepped off the Camino and gotten lost in what can sometimes be the chaos of life. In some ways, it seemed a fitting end to our pilgrimage, as we all now face the task of having to transition back into our “normal” lives and somehow preserve the heart of the experience. As our pilgrimage comes to its conclusion, this perhaps more challenging pilgrimage begins.