Thanks to the clocks springing forward, it was still black outside at 8am when I had to leave the hostel. Misty, damp, half-drizzling: it was all a bit anti-climatic. Er, anti-climactic. Well, both, actually.
I slipped downhill and along trafficky roads through dreary outskirts, and followed my nose to the cathedral square and my entrance-finale. Here I was: Santiago de Compestela’s mighty cathedral, the destination for pilgrims from all over Europe for thousands of years. I was standing on the shoulders of history, and in a very big puddle.
The square was half-deserted except for scurrying umbrellas and the odd German touring party keen to finish and take their morning coffee. I took some underexposed pictures in the shelter of a colonnade and thought, er, what now…?
What now turned out to be an excellent coffee, churros and croissant, and shot of fresh orange juice in a cafe with wifi just behind the cathedral, while I waited for the tourist info to open. I felt a mild, modest elation. I was close to the heavens, particularly the part of the heavens responsible for rainfall.
After dripping over the floor of tourist info I wandered back into the square and who should be there but my old chum Carlos from a few days ago, who was just arriving. We high-fived and spent a few minutes in the cathedral being awestruck, and dry, before he had to whizz off home.
I had the rest of the day to explore and celebrate gently: sightseeing strolls punctuated by a pavement-cafe beer here and there. For lunch I invested seven euros in a pilgrim set lunch in a tiny local place down an alley off Cervantes square. A basket of fresh bread; a huge steel vat of help-yourself hearty soup (cabbage, potato, bean featured strongly); a second course of tender pork slices with onion dressing and handcut chips; that regulation pudding, a flan; a cafe solo; and a bottle of xoven Galician white. I was very happy.
I’d fixed up a bed in the hostel Roots and Boots, in a dorm which had a fine view of the cathedral. I wound down in the common room with fellow pilgrims, all a bit demob-happy. In enjoyed chatting to a humorous Czech couple, Mirek and Lenka; I enjoyed rather less being chatted to by young Belgian hiker who had to top any story: if you’d seen someone doing the Camino with a black dog, he’d seen someone doing it with an even blacker one.
But it was a fittingly convivial finish to the trip. We swopped stories about our Caminos: the villages, the churches, the getting losts. The dog that bit everyone. The crazy German woman doing 60km a day. The Chinese guy with a hole in his foot big enough to put a finger in. Quiet and meditative during the day, lively and social during the evening: that’s the Camino protocol, and it had worked for me.
A week and a half of mixed weather, mixed emotions, mixed surfaces, and mixed drinks, but rewardingly so. I didn’t find myself between Pamplona and here – nobody answered the description – but I’d had a wonderful experience.
Miles today: 2
Miles since Pamplona: 475
Cafes con leche: 24
Potential pneumatic catastrophes averted: 1
Storks spotted: 187
Times I wished I’d stayed at home: 0
Total expenditure inc all transport and bike hire: 650 euros