Day 16 (15/Sept/2019): Dornelas to Santiago De Compostela

I started this blog update on Sunday evening – after a celebratory meal with Michael, Ewa, Michaela and Santiago. It’s great that we were all able to meet up again in Santiago de Compostela. Santiago got here a few hours before us. Apparently, Umberto was here a day before us and is now on his way to Finisterre.

We had a pretty tough challenge for our last day – a 30km walk from the As Eiras albergue in Dornelas to the cathedral in Santiago in temperatures exceeding 30℃.

We set off after a breakfast of toast and coffee at the albergue. First through farmlands to Ponte Ulla, where we ran into some kind of sports festival with runners and cyclists warming up in the streets. We paid a visit to Bar Juanito, where the barman remembered Michel Cerdan and his Camino de Piedras project.

Climbing out of Ponte Ulla, we passed through woodlands with many eucalyptus trees. We passed the isolated albergue at Outeiro, where Santiago had passed the night. We took a break for lunch (chick peas with veal) at the bar / albergue Reina Lupa – the albergue was under construction when I passed this way in November 2017.

Reina Lupa marks the start of the “home stretch,” to the cathedral. But how far is it? Everyone has a different answer. Antonio Retamosa’s guide has the distance as 14.5km, the sign on the wall of the Reina Lupa states 12.5km, and other sources put it as 10km. On a normal day, we would not be so troubled by such discrepancies. In the end, I think we found that it was closer to 14km.

In the last few kilometres, we were anxious to get our first glimpse of the cathedral, to hear the bagpipes under the archway, and to plant our feet on the stones of the Plaza Obradoiro in front of the cathedral. But the left and right turns between the fields of vegetables and vineyards seemed to go on forever. The humid heat became truly oppressive. I was conscious that I had finished the water in my reservoir and my mouth felt parched. I felt my pace increase as I willed myself over the last hills and obstacles in a mad dash to the finish line and the first, refreshing, beer. Michael reminded me that this wasn’t a race.

The gargantuan national archive / library buildings of the “City of Culture of Galicia” are visible long before the cathedral, which came into view just as we were losing hope of seeing it. Michael was the first to see it as we rounded a corner into a residential street on the outskirts of Santiago. Soon, we were in a commercial district. We stopped for a cold drink – our arms and faces glistening with sweat. Ewa collected another stamp for our credentials and decided that it would be good to try to fill the last page with stamps – prompting visits to several other businesses in the last kilometre before we hit the historic centre of the city. Roadworks prevented us from taking the direct route, so we zigged and zagged a little to reach the Plaza Galicia. From there, our pace slowed in the narrow and crowded city streets. We went to the north side of the cathedral to be able to enjoy the walk through the archway with the bagpipe music into the Plaza Obriodoiro. Michaela and Santiago joined us there for celebratory selfies and some time just sitting in the square among the other pilgrims, with tourists looking on – picking up on some of the joyous exhaustion. But you can’t feel the full extent of it unless you’ve lived it.

Time for me to publish this update now – It’s Monday. We collected our compostelas this morning and signed up for the limited places to see the recently restored Portico de Gloria. The rest of the cathedral is off limits for restoration work. We attended the pilgrims mass in the nearby Iglesia de San Francisco. Ewa was delighted to hear Polish during the mass. Tomorrow she might attend a Polish mass in the same church – there are services in many different languages.

The weather appears to have turned at last – there are clouds in the sky and the air is cooler. We’re expecting rain tonight and thunderstorms tomorrow. Having been in Galicia before, I have some idea what that can mean. We are fortunate that the rain stayed away for the entirety of our Camino. My good luck with foot health has also come to an abrupt end – Early this morning, on our way to join the insanely long queue for numbered tickets to get a Compostela, I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the bottom of my right foot. This is a sign that my old plantar fasciitis is flaring up again. I changed from sandals into my walking boots, which don’t flex as much and I’ve avoided walking as much as possible today. I really hope that I can avoid a full-blown return of PF.

Overall this Camino has been a very positive experience. Different from my solo Camino of two years ago. The group dynamic is interesting and stimulating. It takes work but it can make for an entertaining and sociable time.

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