Canadians on the Camino, Day 30: Destination Santiago 

Cathedral in Santiago swathed in scaffolding
Cathedral in Santiago swathed in scaffolding

(October 3)

We start out early and in the dark from the albergue in O Pedrouzo this morning for our final destination in Santiago. It is fitting somehow that a guy on the other side of our thin wall gave a night long command snoring performance — so getting up at 5:00 a.m. was not that difficult. 

Stumbling in the dark

This morning the way is not well marked and at one point we call out to Erica, a Hungarian woman who travels alone, that she has taken the wrong path. We have met her number of times but cannot talk to her because she speaks neither English nor Spanish. Hers is a solitary journey.

We stumble along part of the perimeter fence for the airport in the pre-dawn darkness and have to cross several roads. Once we do reach the outskirts of Santiago, the walk among early morning traffic through the industrial and business areas seems long – they all do.

Anti-climatic

When finally we reach our destination — the cathedral and its large and ancient square — we find it to be anti-climactic. The cathedral towers are swathed in scaffolding because they are being repaired. The crowds are huge and surging and there are a good number of beggars in the streets and in particular around the church and its square.

We attend the noon sung mass along with too many other people. There are far more of us than the seats can accommodate and there is scaffolding mounted inside the church as well. The workers’ activity up there never quite stops during the mass, which offers an added distraction. Near the end of the service, they swing the giant incense burner (called a botafumeiro) in a large arc across the transept of the church. It is said that in days gone by the smell from a thousand sweaty pilgrims was so rich that the incense served a practical as well as a religious function. And then it is over. We have no more prescribed walking to do today so we wander quite aimlessly through the old city centre feeling at a loss and a bit empty.

The deflating arrival at our destination is a good reminder that it is not the destination but the journey itself that matters most. That journey for us was at once a challenge and a privilege.

Extended family

Fortunately, any flatness is short-lived. By late in the afternoon we have connected with Lucia, the cousin of our son-in-law Salim. His mother is Spanish and from Galicia and he had sent word ahead to Lucia that family members were on their way to Santiago.

We meet her in a square just outside of our hotel, just a couple of hundred metres form the cathedral square. Lucia is warm and friendly and although she speaks little English the three of us get on well. She tells us that her husband Salvador works in a town that is not far away in Galicia and that he is on his way home for the weekend. We are all to have dinner together, and we do at a seafood restaurant owned by a friend of theirs. It is a wonderful way of coming down.

Exploring Galicia

For the next two days, Lucia and Salvador take us in their car to various corners of Galicia, including many stops along its rugged and lovely coast. They know their home region intimately and are proud to show it off to visitors. They are especially friendly and considerate. They consider us family – and that is just fine with us.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament