Day 17 (May 21)
On Tuesday, Lauren walked with a new friend she met named Perry who hails from the Netherlands. She and Perry hiked sixteen miles, pausing for a rest just 5 kilometers short of Arzúa. The weather was improving, and so was her cold, and Lauren was getting more and more excited.
By the time she reached Arzúa, she was just under 40km away from Santiago. She showered, washed her hair, and changed into her blue dress, then threw everything else in the wash. Teeth chattering, she huddled in the laundry room, where the heat of the dryer made the room feel like a sauna.
Day 18 (May 22)
Lauren grew nearer and nearer to Santiago. Halfway through the day, she paused to rest before reaching the airport that sits on the outskirts of the city. The countryside was slowly transforming to a more urbanized area with suburbs and towns as she moved closer and closer to Santiago.
Lauren was so excited for her arrival, she feared she was annoying everyone else around her. She’d joined a little group of solo travelers like herself, and they all enjoyed the excitement as they stopped in the town of Lavacolla to rest for the evening.
Day 19 (May 23) – A Journey Completed
Lauren was too excited to sleep and woke at 4 AM. She could hardly wait to get started. She packed her gear as quietly as possible, working by the light of her iPhone and trying not to wake the other pilgrims. She intended to do this last leg of the journey all on her own. She left her payment on the counter and slipped out into the pre-dawn light. Just 10km (6 miles) left.
She reached the center of the city by nine in the morning. The sun was shining, the weather was fair, and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela stood, an ancient edifice welcoming her. She entered just in time for the morning mass. Inside, she saw the enormous “Botafumeiro” which is a famous thurible (censer) that the Cathedral is known for.
After mass, she made her way to the Pilgrim’s Office, where she received her compostela, the certificate of accomplishment showing that she had completed the pilgrimage. The full text of the compostela is in Latin and reads:
CAPITULUM hujus Almae Apostolicae et Metropolitanae Ecclesiae Compostellanae sigilli Altaris Beati Jacobi Apostoli custos, ut omnibus Fidelibus et Perigrinis ex toto terrarum Orbe, devotionis affectu vel voti causa, ad limina Apostoli Nostri Hispaniarum Patroni ac Tutelaris SANCTI JACOBI convenientibus, authenticas visitationis litteras expediat, omnibus et singulis praesentes inspecturis, notum facit : (Latin version of name of recipient)
Hoc sacratissimum Templum pietatis causa devote visitasse. In quorum fidem praesentes litteras, sigillo ejusdem Sanctae Ecclesiae munitas, ei confero.
Datum Compostellae die (day) mensis (month) anno Dni (year)
Canonicus Deputatus pro Peregrinis
Outside of the Pilgrim’s Office, she encountered a tour group. The guide was explaining to the tourists (not pilgrims) the purpose of the office. Lauren showed them her compostela and all the tourists crowded around her in their excitement. Many hands were shaking and many pictures were taken, as the tourists insisted upon getting their photo taken with a real pilgrim. Lauren was in too good of a mood to be bothered even by something as distasteful as having her photo taken. (Anyone who knows Lauren knows that she HATES having her photo taken.) Instead, she just had fun.
After the Pilgrim’s Office, she headed across the square to the Parador de Santiago, which literally faces the cathedral across the Praza do Obradoiro. The Parador, which was built in 1499 and was originally known as the Royal Hospital, is the oldest hotel in the world. It has housed royalty from everywhere in the world. It features four open cloisters, elegant public rooms, a luxurious dining room, and spectacular bedrooms.
Lauren could hardly believe the luxury after the weeks of Spartan living. She stripped off her clothes and took a long, hot bath.
Afterwards, she meandered down to the café in front of the Parador, where she chanced to see many fellow travelers she had met on the road. They drank cava and ate and laughed about their journeys together and apart.
Lauren glowed. She had reached her goal, and yet the moment was surreal, especially to be wrapped in such luxury after living in dirt and mud for so long. She felt happy and sad at the same time. She was overjoyed to have made it Santiago, at long last. She was very excited to the return home to see her family, and of course me and Max. And yet, a touch of melancholy colored all of the wonderful feelings, for she knew that the journey was over, that it was nearly time to return to “normal” life (whatever that means), and that it would be years or decades before she saw this place again, if ever. But she was too happy and content to let these thoughts spoil the moment.
Lauren had arrived.