I know this is more than a week later, but I really needed some processing time after the Camino. Walking into Santiago de Compostela was so very exciting for many reasons. I was excited to be done walking constantly, I was ready to not be tired and just feeling overwhelmingly exhausted all the time, I was excited to see the Cathedral and experience the pilgrim’s mass with the incense, and I was just happy to have accomplished this crazy goal.
As excited as I was, actually walking into the city was not as exhilarating as I thought it would be. We walked through the city for at least an hour before arriving to the main area where we would be for the weekend- close the Cathedral. I found myself annoyed with other pilgrims who clearly didn’t walk as far as I did, and I just wanted to be done. Then, as we got to the Cathedral, the entire front of it was covered because they are restoring it. It is an extremely old building and deteriorating quite a bit, so I understand the necessity for preserving it, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the front or walk through the main front area. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let all those things ruin what I had worked so hard for, so I tried my best to set them aside.
Before going to the Cathedral for mass, we ran into a woman we had seen for the last few weeks and she told us to get our “Compostela”- our certificate that shows our completion of the Camino. She said the lines were hours long the day before and since we got into town late morning there was only a 15 minute wait, so we went and got those first. After getting those, I really felt like my Camino was complete. I felt accomplished, and it felt good!
We decided to head over to Cathedral for pictures before mass, and ran into more pilgrims from earlier in the journey- which was exciting because we didn’t think we were going to see anyone else we knew. They gave us advice to fight for a seat at mass and to go early, and that was some good advice! We had to check our bags because of the sheer number of people, there is no room for backpacks or luggage of any kind inside the Cathedral. We got there around 45 minutes before mass started and you would have thought we were late! It felt like we were attending church on Easter or Christmas! We ended up finding some steps to sit on, but I couldn’t believe the number of people they squeezed into the church!
Mass was longer than normal because they had a few pilgrims come up and talk briefly about their journey which I thought was pretty cool. Also, the procession alone had to have taken 10 minutes because I counted at least 50 priests! (The only other time I have experienced mass with that many priests was at NCYC!) There were priests from all over the world. One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is that it is so universal- Mass is the same no matter where you are in the world- and I can respond in my language and I know (for the most part) what is going on at any point during the service.
Of course, the reason it was so packed was because everyone wanted to see the incense swing. Fun fact from Micah: the reason for the incense and its large size is because they used to use it to mask the smell of pilgrims who stayed in the upstairs of the church! Before the dismissal, they did the incense. It is definitely one of the coolest things to watch and if you have a chance to go to Spain, I would highly recommend going to the pilgrim mass and experiencing it- totally worth it! It was pretty comical to see the sea of phones, cameras, iPads, etc. go up to record it- even some of the priests on the altar had their phones out to record it!! 😂
Once mass was over, we explored the Cathedral a bit and made our way over to our hotel. We had been waiting for the hotel for weeks and were so excited to be “pampered” with our own (dark) room, fresh towels, our own bathroom, and not being bothered by snoring or lights at 4am or any other typical Camino albergue issues. After we got cleaned up and napped, we went out shopping! We needed some more clothes for variety and because laundry will be more limited in the next couple weeks. I can’t explain to you how nice it is to have a new piece of clothing after wearing basically the same things for a month!
We had an extra day until our flight to Finland, so we went to Finnisterre on Sunday. We decided to go with a tour, so we got to go to a few different places which I thought was pretty interesting. We went to Muxia, Finnisterre, a waterfall, and another town that has the 2nd largest grain holder. Muxia and Finnisterre were my favorite parts of the day. Muxia was just beautiful, right on the sea and had some interesting history. In 2013 there was a crazy thunderstorm where the waves were (probably) a couple hundred feet high and destroyed the church that was on the coast. Some pilgrims who were there at the time stuck around to help rebuild and they built a monument for them. Finnisterre was my other favorite part of the day, and it used to be called “the end of the world” before the Americas were discovered. It has the “official” end of the Camino, where the 0 kilometer mark is located. Most people just go to Santiago de Compostela, but some do walk on to Finnisterre for a little extra journey. The waterfall was cool to look at, but I really just wanted to swim at the bottom of it, and I could have gone without seeing the grain holder…but overall the day was good!
The days leading up to my last day and while walking into Santiago, I reflected on my journey over the last month. I truly learned a lot about myself in terms of listening to my body. I built a lot of self-confidence. I relearned to push myself when I didn’t want to because I wanted to take the easy way out. I relearned how much God is right there next to me all the time, not just when I choose to see him.
To be honest though, I thought I was going to do a lot of self-discovery during the walk. That didn’t really happen. It’s not that I don’t know who I am, but I’ve done a lot of learning who I am over the last several years. It was more of an affirming who I am. I didn’t learn a lot of new things about myself, but I became more comfortable with myself. I became more confident. And I realized it about half way through. Which I think contributed to my feeling of being “let down” walking into Santiago. When I first set out on this journey, I was convinced it was going to be a one-time thing. A great experience I will have and be able to tell stories about for years to come. But after finishing, and even now a week later, I think I would really like to do it again. I don’t know when, or who I will go with, or even which route I will do- I just know that I want to go back. I guess I’ll leave you with one of our mottos- I guess we will find out!