We get up early and set off in the dark. It is better to get some distance done before the heat of the day.
The first part of the walk is through dense Eucalyptus forest which by now feels like home. By midmorning we stop for a quick coffee and sandwich before heading out again. The road is getting very busy and it is amazing how many people are actually on the route.
The walking feels quick and easy today and soon we pass the airport and head into indigenous forest. A bit further on we encounter the “shrine” where everybody leaves something to symbolise letting go of the unnecessary and we also leave our mark.
We continue on and reach the high point for the day (literally), Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy). There is a huge monument on top of the hill which signifies the visit of Pope John Paul II and Francis of Assisi. It overlooks the city of Santiago down below and is really something spectacular to witness. Off to the side there is a small chapel where we can get our stamp. As we enter the chapel the man who man entered before us walks to the altar and starts singing the most beautiful hymn in what I think must be Latin. A huge big lump starts forming in my throat as I stand there frozen, totally mesmerized by his beautiful tenor voice. After he’s done, I walk up and thank him for touching us with his singing. He tells me that it was the hymn that was sung in that exact chapel by the first monks who ever completed the pilgrimage. He asks us our names, where we are from and to write a little message in his notebook in our native language. The little book is already almost full and I find it is a nice way to remember your pilgrimage and all the people you meet along the way.
We were discussing maybe stopping here for the night, but it is still so early and we are feeling energetic enough to carry on. We make a quick stop near San Lazaro for an ice cream just to cool the blood and continue on down the hill.
Today we’ve met up with a lot of our friends we’ve met over the last few days and it feels nice to head into Santiago together.
We enter town and pass the Museo Pedagoxico which bears witness to the leproasarium that existed here in the 12th century.
Once in town we have the usual job of finding a place to sleep and end up at the last paroquial Albergue of the trip – “Fin del Camino” (trust our luck). Our host is the quirkiest little chinese man that doesn’t stop talking and resultantly convinces us to stay the night. The rooms are not too big and the place is very clean and quiet enough. (This is evidently not the busy season.) We take off the backpacks and for a moment it feels unreal to think that this was the last day of the big walk. I had no more trouble with my back today and I’m very grateful that it was the worst problem I experienced the whole trip.
We shower, get dressed and head into the old town with great excitement. It is still a good few kilometers walk into town, but free from the backpack it feels so much lighter.
We reach the cathedral and the plain is full of pilgrims, some look as if they have literally collapsed in front of the cathedral, others are taking photos and there is a lot of posing for selfies. One thing is sure though, they all look happy and relieved. I stand staring up at the enormity of the cathedral trying to process its beauty and the fact that we have actually arrived in Santiago. It is somewhat overwhelming and I feel a little bit like a deer caught in the headlights. This is the culmination of a lifelong dream, a whole lot of planning, saving, lots of walking and an armful of experiences along the way. I have done it!
We wander around the old town aimlessly, as there is nowhere to be and nothing to do but to enjoy the moment.
We eventually settle down at a café for a glass of wine and run into Yvonne, a woman we met up with the previous day in Andaina. She is staying in the old monastery which has been turned into a hotel (or as they call it Hospedaria) and convinces us that we have to stay over there tomorrow night. We follow her back and I’m blown away upon entering this beautiful old building alled San Martin Pinario . To top it of it is literally right across from the cathedral. We are lucky to each find a room of our own for the next night (a first since leaving home) and all of a sudden I cannot wait for tomorrow.
We settle in for supper and as luck would have it the menu contains “pulpo” again and tonight’s is even better than the plate I had in Malide. We spend the rest of the evening enjoying the atmosphere and soaking in the bliss of reaching the end of our pilgrimage. There is such a wonderful relaxed atmosphere around town and one can literally see the joy and relief on most faces. When we eventually head up the hill back to our sleeping place I am exhausted and have no doubt that I am going to sleep like a log tonight!
Andaina to Santiago – 25km