I felt well rested after a good sleep in the hotel in Lavacolla. There was a big party of Americans at breakfast who were doing the last part of the Camino in stages , being dropped off by coach and walking short stages accompanied by a Spanish guide.
It was a cool overcast morning and I quickly arrived at Monte de Gozo ( Hill of Joy ) . This is 4.5km from Santiago and is the place where pilgrims get their first views of the three spires of the Cathedral in Santiago . Tradition has it that medieval pilgrims would ” cry out in rapture ” at finally seeing their destination. Pope John Paul II visited the hill in 1989 and there is a large sculpture there that commemorates the event.
Another 50 minutes walking brought me to the archway that leads into the Plaza Del Obradoiro , the large square in front of the Cathedral’s west facade. It’s completely free of any traffic or cafes and it’s where all the pilgrims gather at the end of their journey. There’s a lot of excitement , hugging and photo taking as each new wave of pilgrims walk into the square. You are bound to see people that you have met at some point on the way so it’s a great place for catching up. I saw a few Primitivo desperadoes and asked about the Argentinian priests , who I hadn’t seen for a few days. Apparently they arrived in Santiago yesterday evening and have taken the bus to Finisterre today. I would have liked to have seen and thanked them for their part in making this walk so special but I fly home tomorrow so it’s not to be.
In honour of the other pilgrimage I had made to the Carlos Tartiere Stadium in Oviedo I walked into Santiago wearing my Real Oviedo shirt. I sent a photo to Miguel Sanz at the club and later in the day he attached it to an official club tweet stating ” El Britanico de Wigan es ahora aun mas famoso en Oviedo “.
As you can see from the photos the cathedral facade and towers are undergoing restorative work as is the Portica da Gloria. The work has been ongoing since late 2013 and the scaffolding will be in place for a while longer. Another change from my experience in 2012 was the presence of security guards at each entrance to the cathedral and the fact that pilgrims are no longer allowed to bring their rucksacks inside. It’s a sad indication of how much the world has changed in the past 4 years.
I arrived in time for the Pilgrims Mass at Midday. Before the Mass began we were given strict instructions that we were not to take any photos or videos whilst the Mass was in progress , another change from my experience in 2012 but a welcome one.The cathedral was packed and the famous Botafumeiro was swung at the end of Mass. As a symbol of welcome, at the beginning of each Mass the priest reads out a list of the numbers and nationality of the pilgrims who have arrived in Santiago and have claimed their Compostela within the previous 24 hours. He also states the place from which each pilgrim began their pilgrimage. Traditionally this mass is for Pilgrims to give thanks to God for the experience of their adventure and for having reached their goal. At the end of the Mass I said a few prayers and lit some candles in one of the side chapels then departed to check in at the hotel I had booked the previous day. After spending most of the previous couple of weeks sleeping fitfully in the bunks of the Albergues I decided to treat myself and booked a room in the San Francisco Hotel Monumento , a former monastery that is now a 4 star hotel and is just 100m away from the cathedral. It was a good choice.
After a quick shower I walked over to the Pilgrims Office to collect to present my Credential and collect the Compostela. There were an awful lot of Pilgrims in the city and we had to queue for 90 minutes.
On leaving the Pilgrims Office I bumped into Julian and we arranged to meet up for dinner later that evening. As ever the restaurants in the old part of the city were crammed with pilgrims celebrating the end of their journey and we did the same , exchanging contact details and invitations to visit each other at the end of the evening.
So another hugely enjoyable Camino completed and I am already looking forward to the next one. This was a shorter but more challenging walk than the Frances , with far fewer pilgrims ( roughly 30 to 40 per leg I’d guess ) the majority of whom were Spanish speaking. I had the impression that many of the people I met along the way deliberately avoided the now very busy Frances and favoured the tranquility and beauty of this route. If you prefer solitariness on your Camino it’s certainly easier to find on the Primitivo. For my own part I enjoy the spells of walking alone and having thinking time but I also love the social side that staying in the albergues provides as that’s where a lot of the Camino memories are created. Sometimes a mix of pilgrims come together , something special happens and you take home a memory that will last a lifetime. That beautiful evening I spent in Castro was it.