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I woke up this morning ready to reach the end of my journey. I grabbed a quick breakfast with some friends from the albergue and then we were off to tackle the last 20 km to Santiago.
For the most part, we stuck together the whole way in. There were several hills to climb and, as usual, several small towns to walk through which made the last hike in to town that much more enjoyable. I had been so excited to walk into Santiago today that the night before I had pretty much memorized a few of the landmarks along the way so I could know when we were getting close. First we passed the airport, then the large TV towers, and then we made it to Monte de Gozo. Here, there’s a large monument on top of the hill where, if it wasn’t raining, pilgrims could get their first glance at Santiago and the top of the cathedral where their journey would end. A large group of us stopped and had our pictures taken at the large monument overlooking the city as an early celebration before entering the city in a couple of hours. A quick note, make sure you have a camera that’s easy to show someone how to use. A seemingly quick stop took nearly a half hour just to take a couple of pictures.
After what seemed to be hours after leaving Monte de Gozo, we finally entered the city of Santiago. Yet again, we had to navigate our way through the newer part of the city walking through streets on blacktop and concrete (painful for me at this point). The group of us (about 6-8 at this point) stuck together as we tried to find our way to the old part of town. The longer we walked through the city, the larger our group got as we were all heading for the same long desired destination.
And then it happened. After 28 days of hiking, hours skipping ahead 70 km on a bus, food poisoning, meeting and saying goodbye to friends, and a list of other experiences I’d had, I walked into the courtyard where the main cathedral was. There was a slew of pilgrims laying down in the courtyard resting their heads against their packs, people running up to each other and hugging, and some people just standing in the middle of the courtyard looking up at the cathedral taking in the moment. I ended up shaking hands with and hugging friends I had hiked with the last few hours and running into a few other characters I had recognized from the journey. It was a surreal moment in which I realized that I had just hiked almost the entire way across an entire country! I recommend just standing in the courtyard and just basking in that fact silently for 60 seconds. I dare you to not have a tear come to your eye.
After the moment of realization had passed, we found our way to the right of the main entrance to the cathedral about 100 yards away where we stood in line to get our passports stamped for the final time. At 1:00, April 30, 2013, I had my passport stamped in Santiago de Compostela. We left the pilgrim’s office and all agreed to meet back in front of the cathedral that evening to grab drinks for the celebration of our accomplishment.
After getting our passports stamped, the search for a place to stay began. Nick told me about a really nice hotel nearby that had good rates and was right outside the cathedral. I booked my room online at Hospederia right outside of the cathedral. It was about $70 a night, but I deserved it and it was well worth it. This place had wi-fi, nice beds, great showers, and a great breakfast spread in the morning.
Before I got the chance to check in to my hotel, I ran into my friend Sally. We congratulated each other on the success of our journeys and agreed to meet up with a group of several pilgrims later on after we’d all had some time to take a siesta and relax. When I showed up to meet everyone we decided to just go bar hopping around old town, which is very easy to do. There’s a plethora of bars, restaurants, and cafes to stop in and have a bite to eat or a drink. We decided to try as many as possible, and stayed out later than I had in over a month celebrating the entire experience we had all just had over the past several weeks. After we’d had enough to eat and waaaaaay too much to drink, we stumbled back to our hotels to take real showers that required no use of sandals to avoid nasty floors and to sleep in real beds with no snoring pilgrim above our heads and with real sheets and pillows. Oh how quickly the simple things in life can transform into something so luxurious when it has been taken away for only a few short weeks.
Destination: Santiago de Compostela!
Distance: 20.1 km
Accommodation: Hospederia- This place was convenient as it was located right outside the side entrance of the large cathedral. Wi-fi, comfy beds, great breakfast, clean bathrooms. It’s a little pricy at $70.00 a night, but it was a one time deal and it was so nice.