Day 34 - To Santiago

June 30, 2014 - Distance Traveled: 4.7 km

This morning I awoke at 6:30. This was nearly an hour and a half later than what has been normal for me on the Camino. The extra rest was much needed. By 7 am, we were walking the last 4.7 km to Santiago.

Almost immediately we were making our way into the city. We passed the city sign and stopped for a photo or two. I cannot speak for the others, but I was getting giddy.

We then made our way into the older part of town. While winding our way through the streets, Mark and Sam passed a cafe where there was a man who they had walked with for 14 days. He had pushed forward days ago and they hand not expected to see this member of their previous Camino family. There were smiles, hugs, the exchange of stories, but mostly joy. Pure and abundant joy.

We then made the final push to the cathedral square. We had arrived! There were feelings of gratitude, satisfaction, disbelief, and joy. Over the past 34 days there were so many relationships, stories, laughter, kilometers walked in silence, and deep meaningful conversions. It was overwhelming. It was also very early, and the square was almost empty. It was like we had it all to ourselves. This provided us with the internal space necessary to savior the moment and to begin to let it all sink in.

With so few people in the square, we did not have to compete for an unobstructed view of the Cathedral, unless you want to count the scaffolding. In that case, it definitely had the upper hand.

We enjoyed the solitude while it lasted. We knew that very soon this space would be filled with people.

Because we arrived so early, we were able to get breakfast, store or packs, receive our compostela, and enter the Cathedral while it was still empty. This allowed us to explore the space in silence.

By 11 am, it was beginning to fill up. The ladies form Texas had found an albergue and changed into dress and were ready to participate in the Pilgrims Mass. Soon, I would discover we had many more friends here with us as well.

The priest putting the incense in the Botafumeiro is Father Stephen. I don’t remember the first time we crossed paths, but I had the good fortune of walking much of the Camino with him. It was meaningful to have someone who walked with you, helping to lead the worship service. It made it much more personal.

After the Mass was over, we discovered many of the people we had walked with were worshiping with us. Here I am with Jay and Deb from Arizona. They were very encouraging to me when I was laid up in Sarria and had given me wise advice. I was grateful to see their delight at having discovered I had made it. Though he never let on in Sarria, Jay had thought I would not be able to finish. I was thankful to be able to express my for their help and encouragement.

We discovered the men from Philadelphia were here as well; Walker, Hayden and Kyle. We shared dinner in Roncesvalles and they were woven though out my entire Camino experience. It seemed fitting to be with them in Santiago.

This is the nucleus of the group who walked with Father Stephen. I cannot tell you how many days we walked in sync with one another, but I definately would call them our Camino cousins. There are the children of Seán, who is not pictured, Meadhbh and Donal, along with Aoife, Katie, Johnny and Christian. All were wonderful companions along the good way.

The day was like a big reunion. Every time you turned a corner you bummed into someone you knew. Smile and hugs were exchanged. Photos were taken. I could add many more pictures to this post. I treasure each one, and the moments the captured.

This is one of my favorite photos of the Camino. Earlier in the day, I notice Rolando posted on facebook that they would be arriving in Santiago today, around 2 pm. It sounded too good to be true, so I had to find out for my self. When the time approached, Sam and I tracked them down at the pilgrim’s office. Helen and the others were in line waiting to receive their Compostela. They did not see us when we entered the courtyard. When Helen finally turned around and saw us, a big simile came over her face, and joy descended on all of us. The rummer had been true, and it was indeed good.

After they had received their Compostelas, we gathered in front of the Pilgrim's Office for a group photo. Along with Rolando, Helen, Rachael and Amy, Alice is here too. Having begun the Camino with her it was nice to see her in Santiago. Joining them is Catherine (in the pink), who is from Canada. I met her first in Portomarin and though I did not have the opportunity to get to know her well, I was happy she was here to share this moment. The couple from Germany, who walked with their son, is also here. Unfortunately I do not remember their names. Along the way, they decided to leave their life in Germany and move to India.

This is the last photo I took today. While walking in the streets near our albergue, I turned the corner and there was Brant. I had not seen him since day four or five. He and Litsa took a side trip for a few days. Afterwards, she returned home and he went back to walking. Running into him again allowed us to exchange contact information and celebrate the fact we were both standing in Santiago. He went on to travel around the world after this. I was grateful for the part of his journey I was privileged to share.

Not long after this photo, people from every stage of my Camino gathered for dinner. It was a time of celebration, laughter, stories and blessings. Afterwards, I said my third and final goodbye to Amy, Helen, Rachel, and Rolando. This time I knew it was for keeps, but how could I be too sad, I had never expected to be sharing this meal with them. I felt as if I had been given a double portion of blessing. We said good by to others, like Alice as well, embracing each and everyone of them and expressing gratitude for being able to share the experience of the Camino.

Alex, Shaylee, Sidney, Jeff, Mark, Sam and I were all staying in the same albergue. It was nice not to have to say goodbye to them just yet. We walked back to our hostel and instead said, good night.

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