Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Amigos on Camino -- Finally, Day 11 Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela

Things happen in the blink of an eye.  I couldn't quite imagine that twelve days had passed and that we were on our last day of walking the Camino.  In a few hours, we would reach our final destination and achieve our goal.

Ruta Jacobea Hotel along the highway in Lavacolla had all given us a good night's sleep.  That plus the memory of the paella we had all enjoyed the day before gave us the boost we needed to get ourselves out of the hotel's front door and back on the Camino.

The last day of walking the Camino was the first time the Amigos were no longer complete as a group.  Two of the Amigos had gone ahead, walking in the darkness before dawn. They would enter Santiago while we were still having our cafe con leche and desayuno.  Because they were leaving for the US early the next day,  they opted to take a morning tour to Finisterre and needed to be in Santiago by 9:00 a.m.  We would all meet up again later in the day.

Lavacolla has a Romanesque church called Iglesia de Beneval.  It was our first stop of the day and we were able to catch these two British peregrinos who asked us to take their photo.

A good deed begets another good deed.   Here are the Amigos in front of the church, photo 
taken by our new found friends.

When you google translate the "Camino",  you get "road". I think it can also easily mean the "way".

Lavacolla is one of the places along the Camino with an interesting story.  The name of the 
town itself literally means "lava" - to wash and "colla" - a derivative from the word that 
means one's backside or bottom.  
The rituals of bathing and hygiene were not top on the ancient pilgrim's priority list so just 
before entering Santiago de Compostela, they took a bath and cleaned themselves in the waters 
of this town,  hence the name Lavacolla.

 Was this the very same stream where pilgrims washed themselves from top to "bottom"?
If it is, perhaps that is the reason why it has been reduced to this thin trickle of water.

Now that we were so close to Santiago de Compostela,  I noticed that we were passing through modern and newly built "subdivisions".  The ancient stone houses were nowhere to be found.

There was even a mirror on a post so peregrinos walking through the village could see if
there were any vehicles coming their way.

This giant yellow lab looked at the passing peregrinos without any interest whatsoever.

Even the woods near Santiago de Compostela looked newly planted and were neat and 
orderly -- with the trees all lined up like in perfect rows.  Gone were the overgrown forests 
of giant oak, chestnut and eucalyptus trees with tangled vines and ferns covering the ground. 

We met up with the rest of the Amigos at the San Marcos Camping Grounds.  They say you 
can  find Filipinos all over the globe and true enough, we met  "kababayans" who were also 
finishing their Camino.

One last steep uphill climb on this Camino.  We were walking on paved roads by now -- 
half of the nine kilometres would be on totally cemented roads.

This is the marker at the entrance to Monte de Gozo.  It used to be the highest summit 
before the town of Santiago de Compostela.  Ancient pilgrims would race from Lavacolla 
to see who could reach the summit first.

Here are the Amigos celebrating our  conquest of Monte de Gozo.  This big monument commemorates Pope John Paul II's visit to the hill in 1989.  

Monte de Gozo means Mountain of Joy.  This is because from this summit, the ancient
pilgrim could look towards the town and see the spires of the Cathedral, certainly an occasion
for joy and exultation.
 Today,  modern pilgrims like Jay and myself  can stand on Monte de Gozo and only see how sprawling and expansive Santiago de Compostela has become -- which is also the reason why
the cathedral spires can no longer be seen from this point.

We could see Santiago de Compostela right in front of us.  Thankfully there were no cars passing
by this steep downhill back road -- we could walk zig and zag across the road on our way down.
This is a tip for tackling those precipitous descents -- walk crablike or zig and zag your way
down, much like a skier would.  It will save you from injuring your knees.

At the end of the road was a staircase going down to the main highway.

We had to cross this wooden walkway which took us over an eight lane highway.

 The entrance to the town is marked by a large pilgrim arch and the sign that says Santiago de Compostela.  Here we met Aris, another "kababayan" peregrino and he was happy to join
us for a photo.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Spain's northeastern region,  Galicia. The old town
is  a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It also hosts the University of Santiago de Compostela,
one of the world's oldest centres of learning, dating back to the 15th century.
We would have to walk through the urbanised parts of town before we would even catch a
glimpse of the Cathedral.

Instead of mogotes or flechas amarillas   the roads in Santiago de Compostela were marked by bronze scallop shells, to show you where to go.

It was noontime when we arrived and I was grateful for the shaded sidewalks.

We finally reached the Old Town.  Can you see the spires of the Cathedral in the distance? 

"Europe made a pilgrimage to Compostela".  The whole world makes a pilgrimage to Compostela.
By doing the Camino, the Amigos have joined one big global confraternity.

The traditional route for peregrinos  is through this street aptly named  Porta do Camino.
From here it would be just a few hundred meters to the Cathedral.

Finally -- we made our way to the Praza do Obradoiro, the magnificent square  facing the main entrance of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  This is where pilgrims end their Camino.
The main facade is covered by scaffolding, with repair and renovation work currently going on.
But no amount of scaffolding can mar our jubilation and triumph upon reaching our goal.

Directly beside the Cathedral's main entrance and occupying a prime corner of the Praza do Obradoiro is the Parador Dos Reis Catolicos.  This five star hotel is in a building that used to
be a royal hospital,  built in the 15th century.
We would be sleeping not just in luxurious but in historic surroundings.  This was a
surprise for the Amigos ...  I had planned that the Parador would be our home for tonight,
as a fitting reward for completing our Camino.

After the initial shock of "Is this our hotel?", we checked in and were completely won over by the Parador's attentive service and of course, our elegantly furnished rooms.

The crisp starched linens looked so inviting -- my muscles cooed, "Come on, jump in" but wait ...
I had more important things to do before I could lie down and take a nap.

When  you arrive at Santiago de Compostela, you need to head to the Pilgrim's Office,
along Rua do Vilar to get your compostela or pilgrim's certificate that confirms you have
finished your Camino.

We join a line of pilgrims waiting for their turn.  This is where you show your credentiale or pilgrim's passport where you have collected all the sellos that prove you indeed walked the necessary number of kilometres to qualify for the compostela.

This is the Compostela or Pilgrimage Certificate given to all qualified peregrinos. The wording
is in Latin and they have even translated my name.  The Pilgrim's Office sells these little tubes
for 2 euros so you can keep your compostela  from getting all crumpled on the trip home.

Later in the afternoon, I take out my tiny Japanese henro for a tour of Santiago de Compostela.  
As I mentioned in a previous post, we found each other in Koya-san, the most sacred mountain 
for Buddhism in Japan.   He has dangled from my walking stick for the entire length of the 
Camino -- his little bell softly tinkled with every step I took.  Here he gets a pilgrim's blessing from the fountain at Praza dos Praterias. 

Together, we sit on a stone ledge right outside the Cathedral, taking in the sights and sounds.
Am I imagining it?  It seems his  smile is wider and sweeter than ever.  I guess if he could talk,
he would tell me "Subarashii"!!!  Amazing!
I can only reply  "Yes, it was amazing indeed.  Thank you for walking the Camino with me."

NB Photos number 2 and 12 were taken by our millennial Amigo, Mayk

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