Three floors below my hotel room on the granite paved Calle Acibecheria, pilgrims stream by the hundreds, as many still wobble and limp, into the city hopeful for the long-awaited first glimpse of the Catedral de Santiago. Even though it’s scarcely two blocks away as they pass beneath me, the twin spires of the peregrinos final goal won’t be visible, just to their left and hidden by a small building, until they pass a final souvenir shop. Then, wham, there it is. Finishers swarm everywhere, some plop down with boots and packs off, soaking in the experience as best they can. Still more mill about wondering about lodging and food and the whereabouts of the pilgrim office just so they can wait in line for a couple of hours for their Compostela (2€) with their name neatly written in cursive – and in Latin. But it’s a beautiful piece of paper that many will, including me, frame.
The first view of the massive church creates a madhouse. Some walkers break into tears, some yell in relief and joy, some embrace their walking partners, some laugh, some look dazed, dirty and tired. But all are done. I fell somewhere in that mix yesterday as I set down my damned pack and loosened my damned boots in the catedral’s Plaza at 12:24 p.m.
24 hours later and I still don’t know what or how to feel. A German physician I came to know, Tomas, surmises it will be some time before we can absorb and process what this feat has been all about. Hard to disagree with the thoughtful doctor. For the average hiker there’s simply been too much to take in over too long a distance with too many emotional and physical and visual inputs to arrive at instant epiphanies. And one month from start to finish is one helluva long time. They can be forgiven for forgetting the details. It’s the totality that matters.
In my day here, this Presbyterian has attended two pilgrim masses, took a long tour of the catedral, paid homage to the remains of St. James, bought some scallop shell momentos for my three girls – and sat on a street side chair to people watch and take in the chaotic final scene. That is part of the overall experience.
But tomorrow the final chapter starts. I’ll lug my pack about six blocks to the train station and figure out where to go from here. As it is, I’ve already been somewhere for sure.