I´m having trouble remembering the pre-dawn part of the walk. I´ve got a picture in my head of the dark blue sky and the silhouettes of houses and trees against it, or the forests of eucalyptus we´d learned to spot over the past few days, but these are general images I can´t tie to particular conversations or spots on the map.
Later parts of the day I remember better. At one point, Dr. Gyug picked a few sprigs from the wild anise he´d noticed on the side of the road and passed them out to a few of us to chew on. John and I spoke about what it might have been like for medieval pilgrims on the camino. He told me about wealthy pilgrims, nobles who traveled on horseback with caravans of servants and donated to churchs along the way. It was a nice reminder that I´d narrowed my image of the medieval pilgrim a bit too much: I always thought of a solitary traveler in a gray cloak and sandals, plodding along with a wooden cane. I mentioned that I had a difficult time understanding the idea of a religious motive -- both what the pilgrimage could have meant to medieval pilgrims as an aspect of spiritual practice and what it means to pilgrims who identify themselves as religiously motivated in the present day.
Jackie and I reached Santiago cathedral together after winding through the infinite streets of Santiago about a half hour behind Jim and Connor. We found the two of them lying on their backs in the plaza, facing the cathedral doors with their heads propped up on their backpacks. Pilgrims continued to arrive: I saw a woman rock backwards from a sitting position so she could photograph her feet with the cathedral in the background, and a troupe of German pilgrims singing into a video camera held by one of their friends.
Santiago cathedral was astounding. I hadn´t pictured it so elaborate and so huge. Santiago makes sense to me as a final destination: you´re greeted by this magnificent building whose scale surpasses anything you might have seen along the way, and where before there were straggling pilgrims spread out along the path, in Santiago there were throngs of pilgrims and tourists everywhere. When we went to mass at noon, we found ourselves among dozens of pilgrims standing in a ring around the cathedral pews, which were already
packed with families from the local population.
That night we gathered at a local bar for queimada, a traditional Galician drink that´s mixed in a large bowl, flavored with coffee beans and citrus rinds, and then lit on fire. Our bartender stirred the flames and led us through an incantation in gallego, and then stirred some more. And some more. We learned, as we shed layers of clothing in our crowded corner of the room, why queimada is typically a winter drink.We were able to take some time at the bar to reflect on our experience of the camino. There were some running themes: how we liked that we formed a community within our own group and with other pilgrims we´d spoken with along the way, how for some the last mass and the arrival and Santiago was quite powerful, for others less so. We plan to meet again in September, and I look forward to seeing what we´ve come up with processing our time on the camino since then. For my part, what I´m most curious about is whether the patterns I grew accustomed to on the walk -- the patience I think I developed, and the way of thinking things over (for hours and hours...) -- will endure as time off the camino increases. We will see.
Well, team, that´s all I´ve got -- we made it. Thanks for being such great company on the long walk. Remember: break in your boots, tip lightly, and beware of monocultures. Can´t wait to see you guys again in the fall.