28 May 2014
Total distance walked 669.9 km
Average daily distance 24.81 km
After my shower yesterday, it was raining, so I went to the nearest wifi bar to write my post. Such generous complimentary tapas are served with drinks that it is often unnecessary to buy food. Last night was one of those occasions. I first ordered a hot chocolate that arrived with a fairy cake and a biscuit. The two following glasses of wine were served with a Russian salad and a bowl of crisps. By this time my blog was posted and I thought I would try to find somewhere to buy some fruit. But just as I got up to leave a Dutch pilgrim started to chat and I ended up sitting back down and drinking another couple of glasses of wine.
The Xunta albergue in Padron was very comfortable and either no-one snored all night or I was so fast asleep that I didn’t hear – I suspect the former.
When I left this morning I felt great, my feet weren’t hurting at all and I was carried along by a great energy. The walking was very varied and covered every surface that I have experienced throughout this camino.
When I arrived in Padron yesterday afternoon I noticed a temporary army camp set up by the bridge into the town. So I wasn’t too surprised when after about 8-10 km I saw some guys in fatigues walking ahead of me. However I was exceptionally surprised (read here shocked and alarmed) to note that they were all carrying very serious looking rifles. They were shuffling along so I soon caught up with them. I spoke to one rather good looking young soldier and asked him why he was carrying a gun – he replied that it was his weapon and he had to carry it. I asked if he was expecting any pilgrims to be making trouble, but I’m not sure that my intended humour quite made it across the language divide. I went on to ask how far they had walked and he told me from Tui and on to Santiago, 125 km’s. I retorted that I had walked 650 km’s from Lisbon and that I had much more energy than he had and that he should get a move on, and with that I strode out and left them eating my dust!
I felt the need to share this very surreal experience and so phoned my daughter Ella, who I knew would understand why I thought it worthy of sharing. I forgot about the time difference and so woke her up at 7:30 am to tell her my tale, but she wasn’t at all put out, and told me that the guys were probably on manoeuvres and had most likely walked without any rest.
As I walked on I saw another group of guys in khakis who were straggling along the road, and I began to think that Ella was probably right on target. I eventually came across a couple of military police and quizzed them about what was going on and it was confirmed that indeed these guys had been walking without rest.
Another camp was set up further along the camino and they were happy for their photo to be taken. And I came across yet another check point some distance further and stopped to ask more questions. I was told that the various troops had set off yesterday morning at 7:00 am from Tui, and had only two separate hours of rest. Their journey had included swimming, running, climbing and shooting. The first troop had already reached Santiago in record time. Apparently there are troops from all over the world taking part in this military ‘iron man’ event and he was very pleased to tell me that the only troop that had given up enroute were from the United States.
I consequently felt that I was very glad that the soldier I had originally spoken to did not have a bayonet attached to his rifle, because I could imagine where he would have liked to stick it as I jauntily walked ahead of him.
The arrow marking was very good once again throughout the walk, that is, until I reached the outskirts of Santiago at which point they disappeared virtually altogether. I saw two arrows in about three km’s and had to ask passers by a few times if I was heading in the right direction for the cathedral.
As I got closer to the centre of town I suddenly recognised where I was and quickened my pace towards the cathedral. I walked straight to Obradoiro square, where I found the main entrance to the cathedral covered in scaffolding and blocked for entry. I continued to the side entrance not at all sure that I would be allowed in wearing my backpack, but the security man made room for me to squeeze into the packed church and I stood on the steps just inside the door. The midday pilgrims’ mass was just coming to an end and no more than a few minutes after my arrival the botafumeiro began to swing. What an amazing climax to my journey, I was really overcome with emotion and could hardly believe my luck! I was in an excellent position to film the whole event and will upload the video if I can work out how.
The cathedral was full of soldiers and I tried to put my guilty conscience to rest by congratulating as many of them as I could. These guys made my last day even more special than I could have expected. I was told that there will be a special military ceremony tomorrow, and I hope it takes place before I leave.
After leaving the cathedral I went to the pilgrims’ office to collect my Compostela. The queue extended to the street and it took about 45 minute to reach the front. I also requested the new certificate of distance (charge 3 euros) which was duly filled out and I noticed that the amigo filled in a distance of 575 km. Now I was expecting it to be 615 km, the distance that John Brierly states, whereas in fact I have actually walked 670 km. I told her that the figure she included was totally wrong, but didn’t expect her to be able to do anything about it. But perhaps this should be reassessed by the powers that be.
I then went to source accommodation and enquired at the private albergue where I had stayed last year ‘El Ultimo Sello’ (the last stamp). Luckily they had a bed available and I am looking forward to the crisp bed linen provided when I finally fall into a strange bed for the last time for a while. The cost has risen from 15 euros last year to 18 euros this year.
After showering the next most important items on my agenda were a cup of the delicious real hot chocolate quickly followed by a glass of cool white wine and both were drunk with relish.
2014 marks the 800 year anniversary of the Pilgrimage of St. Francis of Assisi to Santiago de Compostela. And because it is a centenary year the cathedral of San Francisco is granting a special certificate in celebration of pilgrims walking the camino de Santiago. So I visited the San Franciscan cathedral and received a very special certificate, making a total of three in one day. Quite a fitting conclusion to a wonderful camino experience.