Day 38: Amenal to Santiago de Compostela


Today we walked 10.3 miles (16.6 km) in 5 hours with breaks.

The day started out early, like most others lately, but there was a buzz in the air among the pilgrims and we saw several that had started in the dark well before us. Everyone seemed to be walking with purpose, but the ones we talked to were also sad to see it come to an end.

We walked for a while feeling water on our faces and I thought our weather luck might have run out on the very last day. I think we were just walking through fog though, because it soon warmed up and the weather got better each hour all the way in. When we arrived in Santiago the blue skies opened up right on cue and we walked into the cathedral plaza with bright sunshine. Our rainless streak continued through this year as well.

When we arrived at the cathedral, it was just like I thought it’d be and everything looked just like the pictures I’d seen. Even the guy playing bagpipes was there. As we walked through the last tunnel, the four of us joined hands and lifted them over our heads, and walked triumphantly into the plaza. We heard a few people cheer and one man yell out, “Bravo!”

The flow of incoming pilgrims was a scene of continual celebration. People hugging, laughing, crying, laying down next to their packs, and trying to drink it all in. The long walk was over, with its constant roller coaster of highs and lows. The new friends-for-life and the mind-numbing pain that comes after walking with a pack for eight hours. The stunningly beautiful mountains and having to get up and down over them. The laughs and the tears. The bliss and the blisters. The hundreds of other pilgrims you meet along the way and the fact that you have to sleep in the same room with so many of them at a different place every night. The journey was finally over, for good and for bad.

Eventually we decided to walk over to the Pilgrim’s Office just on the off-chance that the line for Compostelas wasn’t as long as we’d heard it usually is. We’d originally planned to wait until tomorrow morning to get them, before the pilgrims start filing in. But we got lucky, I think because a lot of pilgrims were at the 12:00 Pilgrim Mass at the cathedral, so the line was less than half an hour.

We splurged for a nice hotel, showered, washed clothes, and headed back to the cathedral area for a celebration lunch. We found a great tapas bar that I’d heard about called “A Taberna do Bispo” (Rúa do Franco 37, south of the cathedral and just south of Plaza Franco) and had a fantastic feast of tapas and red wine while we talked about the Camino and which parts we liked the most (and least).

At 5:30 p.m. we made our way back to the cathedral for the 7:30 mass, a couple hours early to be sure to get good seats (well, seats at all actually). Friday at 7:30 p.m. is the one mass of the week where they always swing the botafumeiro, the giant incense burner that flies from one side of the cathedral to the other over the top of everyone. It takes eight men pulling ropes to get it swinging from a pulley in the ceiling above the altar, and it eventually reaches speeds up to 50 mph (80 kph).

If you go to see the botafumeiro, it swings through the short part of the cross-shaped cathedral (the transept), not the long part, so try to sit in one of the last rows on either end of that short north/south part. It sometimes swings at mass times other than just Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and a 300 euro donation by a large group often ensures a showing. If you see it hanging over the altar before the service, it means it’ll swing. The official schedule is here.

The mass was interesting because it was all about the pilgrims — actually the whole cathedral is all about Saint James and the pilgrims that come to visit his remains. They had a special section of seats reserved just for pilgrims and they started the mass by reading a list of countries and Camino starting points for all the pilgrims that arrived today. It was nice to hear Los Estados Unidos (The United States) included in the three or four countries for pilgrims that arrived from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France and know that Kathey and I were part of that.

There were of course a lot of tourists there as well, and it was standing-room-only when it started. It was easy to spot the other pilgrims though — sandals or running shoes (the alternate footwear that’s standard in the evenings for pilgrims), synthetic shirts and zip-off hiking pants, and a general look of tiredness. :-)

With the Pilgrim Mass and the viewing of the botafumeiro both finished, our arrival into Santiago and our Camino in general were both complete. We were done.

And it was time to celebrate. :-)

We randomly picked one of the many cafes near the cathedral for dinner and drinks, and sat at a window table with a view of the cathedral spires as the sun started getting low. Toward the end of the evening another group of pilgrims came in, and we saw Mari from Brazil, Mike from Australia, and Riki from Seattle — the three friends we met back on day 27 at the family-style dinner in Foncebadón. We exchanged contact details, said our goodbyes, and it was the perfect ending to the day.

So here’s the final rundown:

  • 500 miles, 800 kilometers, and 38 days of walking in Spain and France
  • 750 miles and 1,200 kilometers of training walks in Texas
  • 12 centuries of pilgrims before us
  • 3 summers
  • 3 trips to Europe
  • 3 years of thinking, dreaming, planning, and stressing
  • 2 people
  • And then 4 people
  • Countless bocadillos, napolitanas, tortillas, and espressos
  • Countless pilgrims and locals met along the way
  • Countless yellow arrows
  • One direction
  • One destination

Here are the photos for today, starting with a couple from dinner last night in Amenal:

Kathey’s laughing because despite learning to always ask for salad without tuna (apparently considered a vegetable in Spain) they left off the tuna but added ham. :-)

The last kilometer marker we saw before Santiago:

Crosses in the fence near the Santiago airport, similar to the ones we saw on day 10 just past Logroño:

The first monument near Monte de Gozo, with images of Pope John Paul II and Saint Francis. This one is next to the Camino path:

The second monument near Monte de Gozo, titled “La llegada” (The arrival). This one is of two medieval pilgrims looking out over Santiago and pointing to the cathedral. It’s the first view pilgrims have of the city and the cathedral, so it’s an exciting moment — and it was for us as well. It was sculpted by Spanish artist José Maria Acuña, who also created the one of the barefoot pilgrim sitting in front of the Parador de San Marcos hotel in Leon (here). The monument requires a 600 meter detour but is easy to get to (see map below).

To get to the second monument, just take the dirt path to the right of the first monument, up and over a slight hill, and across the street. See the map below, or the same thing on Google Maps.

Entering Santiago:

This scene made me laugh because of the huge tour group suddenly following us. :-)

The last tunnel, just before walking into the main cathedral plaza:

Video of bagpipes in the tunnel:

The cathedral!

A pilgrim sitting at each pillar:

Walking to the Pilgrim Office:

Pilgrims waiting to receive their Compostelas:

Celebration lunch at a tapas bar:

Kathey enjoying chocolate flan:

Inside the cathedral before the 7:30 p.m. Pilgrim Mass:

The main altar, with the botafumeiro hanging in the center:

The crypt, with Saint James’s remains:

The famous phantom pilgrim (a shadow created by a lightning pillar on one corner of the cathedral):

Video of the botafumeiro swinging:

Our Compostelas! :-) They’re written in Latin, as are our names:

Kathey and I also paid €3 to get the Certificate of Distance, written in Spanish and detailing our starting point and distance traveled:

And they put them all in nice tubes for an extra €1.

Riki from Seattle:

Mari from Brazil:

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5 thoughts on “Day 38: Amenal to Santiago de Compostela

  1. Beautiful pictures of the cathedral and mass. All of you did a fantastic pilgrimage! Congratulations to all. Buen Camino to all!!!!! Luv U:-)!!!!!

  2. Hurrah!! I can’t believe you’re finally at the end!! It’s been such a wonderful thing to follow along with you these past three years and see all the amazing photos of your journey. Congratulations!! Way to walk it!

  3. Wow!! Just WOW!!!! I got all emotional just reading and looking at the pictures. I can’t imagine how you guys must feel!!!
    Thank you so much for your blog and for allowing me to be a part of this incredible journey of yours. Russell, you are a great writer! Thank you for your time and dedication in documenting each days events with words and pictures.
    Congratulations!!!!! YOU DID IT!!!!

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your blog, so well written and informative with great pictures. Congratulations on completing your journey! Where to next for you guys? ;)

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