Day Nine — “The Journey and the Destination.”

One last time to pack up the bag.

One last time to fill the water bladder.

One last time to address the blisters, choose carefully the socks, decide what to wear and what to put into the pack.

One last day of walking.

We departed Parada de Franco at about 8:30 a.m., after another stunning breakfast by Guierrmo and the owner/chef. Homemade yogurt with raspberries, fresh squeezed orange juice, ham and cheese pannini’s and an assortment of croissants and quick breads.

A good start for a Pelligrino (pilgrim).

The way snaked through the back side of various small communities and through forested areas, and into Santiago. Much of it continued to be blessedly shaded, rural and gently rolling. Ups followed by downs, long gradual inclines capped with a level.

All along the way the Compestella markers continued to decline.

11,456 km…..

9,862 km….

5,498 km….

Each marker was like a cheerleader, urging us on, and because they were more frequent and distinct, they were beginning to pick up decorations. Stones were left on top, carried from somewhere, deposited here. Coins. Bits of rosaries, and medallions, and anklet bracelets.

It was as if the burdens or tokens that people had been carrying were being dropped away, one by one.

The final section of the walk was not well marked, but by this time the spires of the Cathedral were our markers. We wound through a final busy avenue (It was Saturday, and a festival was in progress. Galatian pipers, drums and loud rockets were being shot off was we walked in) and emerged into the square.

The five of us walking together burst into smiles and shouts of “we made it!”

Pictures were taken, we lined our feet up on the shell at the center and snapped the obligatory photo of them, and then looked around to admire the façade, take in the scene.

It was a scene that was varied.

To one side sat a small group laughing and carrying on going through their packs.

A Lithuanian woman walked with us into the square, and burst into tears.

I must confess I got a lump in my throat and I caught a gasp of emotion and tears as I saw the bell tower emerge for the first time, a wave of emotion, relief, and release.

A young woman in an orange shirt (part of a group, wandering around her) sat down and began to visibly sob, overcome by the moment, or the emotion, or the tiredness or whatever. She sat by herself and sobbed a long time, wiping her tears with the orange shirt.

Other members of our group who had gotten then ahead of us came up and congratulated us and then directed us to where to turn in our credentials for our official certificate.

I felt immense relief upon entering the square. Yes! Done! Made it! I snapped my selfie with the tower façade and posted it.

Then it was time to get back to the necessities. The credentials dropped off, the paperwork completed, the hotel located and room arrangements made. A short respite to drop off the pack and then to find some place to eat. Five of us settled into a side café. Beers were ordered, and then small plates of an omelet, octopus and potatoes (yummy!) and Calamari. One of us had a salad, and we freely shared back and forth. We realized that this was really the first mid-day meal we had truly eaten all week. The rest of the time we were focused on walking and content with a quick sandwich or fruit or trail mix or “protein bar.”

After a relaxed and fitful lunch, we went back to the Cathedral by way of the Church of Saint Fructuoso, (No, I had never heard of him either, and he has nothing to do with Corn Syrup.) He was a monk of great holiness and wisdom who founded 20 Monasteries in the Iberian Peninsula and was somewhat of a smithy of ingenuity.) It was a lovely church, piping in Gregorian chant for those who came in to light a candle and pray.

The Cathedral of Santiago is undergoing major renovation on the inside in preparation for a Jubilee year in 2021. Almost everything was wrapped in scaffolding and plastic, (including the huge thurifer that I had hoped to see swing at noon Mass) but the way to the statue of the Apostle was still clear for pilgrims to go up and hug him from behind. (I did not feel compelled to enter that que.)

The way was also clear to see the crypt and reliquary. That I did see, and in the area just inside the bars of the crypt were left a variety of gifts for the saint. Flowers, bits of paper, more stones, shells, trinkets, and one well-worn set of running shoes.

We picked up our credentials (rather, Kathy, our tour organizer did. She should be up for sainthood by now.) They are beautiful certificates hand printed and signed and stamped. The credential is returned with all of its stamps.

As an additional “badge”, Kathy also handed me a bright orange t-shirt the group had located the day before. A large pair of bandaged feet adorn the center with “No Pain, No Glory” emblazed above and below. I will wear it with distinction and proudly the first Sunday I’m back.

The card that I prepared for our daily focus today bore Psalm 106:47 as its verse. “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your Holy name and glory in your praise.” As I reflect now on the languages I heard in the square and the faces, it truly was a “gathering from among the nations.”

I will leave Santiago at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow morning on a plane bound for Madrid. I will not have even spent 24 hours here, after walking 8 days to reach it. It is the journey and the destination, both at the same time. But then, that is exactly what life is as well. The journey and the destination, all in one. I will ponder long what all this means, but what I do know is that it has been a very “Buen Camino.”

Merle.

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