We arrived in Santiago yesterday, with the usual long haul to be expected coming in through the outskirts of larger cities. Slightly disoriented we found ourselves the perfect small hotel bolt hole right in the middle of this ancient city. We even managed to sort our certificates out after hunting down the well hidden cathedral office. All that was left to do after good food and sleep was attend pilgrim's mass at midday today.
Off we go to a very well attended mass in a really beautiful cathedral. Every church architectural style is represented here with the emphasis on 1075 Romanesque.
Gold dripping from every orifice. The whole set as a cross with one slightly larger knave facing the alter. We were half way down the North aisle. A nun with an angel pure voice led some quiet chanting. Then the assembled male clergy made their way in. Dressed in striking red and white this time. We still cannot make out a word of ecclesiastical Spanish. On this occasion it was an advantage. As well as the hoards of religious tourists there were many recognised faces. I was able to wander and review in my mind. There was a genuine air of goodwill suffusing the cathedral. As I went up to receive the rites, I was quite surprised to feel a warm tear of emotion, I went back to my pew gave Ellen a hug. We had finished, job done all's well with the world.
Or so I thought. The camino still tantalisingly had the power to surprise. Suddenly it was as if somebody had charged the air with static. There was an excited murmur. Four purple robed men strode purposefully from the four corners of the cathedral towards the great rope that tethered the giant censor (incense burner) otherwise known as the famous Botafumeira, that hung centrally above the priests head. It weighs 80kg and dangles from a 30m ships rope attached to some sort of 500 year old iron mechanism embedded into the top of the main tower with an accompanying Masonic eye. It is only rarely used and we had no inkling that today we would be lucky enough to see it in action.
The four men in practiced unison, manoeuvred themselves into position and lowered the giant receptacle. Each officiating priest shoveled it full of burning charcoal and incense. They stood back. There was a moment of absolutely ladened heavy silence. Then the organ broke the impasse, moving straight into top gear, each pipe ripping out sound. The nun serenely sung a gentle heavenly moaning chant, totally out of kilter with the mood of the organ. The atmosphere was building, things appeared to be ever so slightly getting out of control. Something was most definitely happening. The giant doors at each corner of the cathedral were flung open with well practiced unison. The layer of increasing smoke transformed the flat light into shooting arrows of brilliance. The main circular Southern window cast the largest shard right onto the silver Botafumeira, surely not a coincidence.
Then a fifth robed man stepped into the ring. Expecting some skilled delicate manoeuvre he confounded me. He grabbed hold of the smoking beast and violently ran with it until he was forced to let go. Now it was the turn of the rope handlers. The Botafumeira was yanked gracelessly 10 or 15 feet up. They seriously knew what they were doing. They managed by coordinated strength and skill to get the beast swinging right up to to the ceiling of the knave above my head. I can truly say I have never seen anything like this. This was medieval physics mixed with pure audacious preposterous drama and it was a heady mix. As the Botafumeira swung past me at 80kph arcing 65 meters down the aisle, flaming and spewing huge quantities of smoke, I had finally come accross a reason to use that much used word, awesome. It truly was. Papist though it may be in the eyes of some of our friends, there was no denying the impact on all those who watched.
And then it was over. The smoke died down. The beast tamers stopped their pulling and the swing rapidly subsided. With one last flourish the fifth man grabbed it, pirouetted with it and finally tamed it. That was it. The assembled clergy left and the poor congregation was left rather dumbstruck.
That really was it, our pilgrimage was over.
Naturally life goes on, fellow pilgrims are still hanging out and we don't fly out until tomorrow. Many including Edwina haven't finished yet. Further walking towards the ancient end of the earth, Finisterre, still to be done. We wish them well. I think we live in our own end of the earth, Cornwall, so not much draw there and stuff to sort out on I the home front. Here are my last few thoughts that go some way to summarising recent days.
I have to confess to a little bloggers block recently. I've been walking every day since Astorga and was getting a little tired. We had also committed ourselves to flights about a week ago. I found that this changed my pilgrim's mental landscape. Before then time was how long measured in how long to my evening beer and maybe some forward planning regarding tomorrow's beverage. A very much live for the day attitude that I feel served us well. The camino is just too long to continually think long term, and at the same time enjoy the present. Now however with easyjet emails filling my inbox the end was nigh. I was counting days, even hours and certainly kilometers. I don't think this was great but it was a natural consequence of returning to the real non camino world. We are really looking forward to our return but it does sit slightly uncomfortably with the pure camino.
After the 2 mountain ranges it was as if Spain was suddenly transformed. Within a few human days of walking we were transported from a typical Southern European environment to the Yorkshire Dales. Complete with buckets of wind, jets of wind, cows, cockerels and GREEN hills. True the small towns were really not up there with the best, the rubble architectural motif and dereliction still ruled large, but this did not detract from the marked change. Even more strange, siesta hours are still religiously kept as with everywhere else we have been. Seems reasonable in the hot Meseta, but in the Lake District!
The camino meandered on. It would be easy after so long and so many close encounters to lose contact with those around us. However I would say the human camino spirit is just as strong as it was and has been reinforced by the huge influx of newbies walking the last 100km. Jeans and trainers say more than words ever could. We have also encountered camino emotion. I suppose it had to happen. Loads of couples but even more solo walkers with a definite preponderance of female. The term 'camino friend' has been coined which can be open to the usual variety of loose interpretations. We have encountered tears, distress, love, passion and some genuine heart felt anguish in our fellow pilgrims. Maintaining the pilgrim's ideal of letting go is just as important at the end as it was at the beginning, it is just much harder for many. We have become attached to quite a few and it really can be quite difficult knowing when to say goodbye and letting them walk off, with no further future plans.
So there we are. We have walked 500 miles accross an impoverished country. Much of it was not pretty, and at times trying. Sometimes the locals were friendly other times not. We were pilgrims, a slightly awkward category, not homeless travellers but not necessarily considered much better either. We were drops of water in a truly ancient river. We are already forgotten but I don't think we will forget. An experience I can safely and wholeheartedly recommend to pretty well any vaguely healthy person. The camino will look after you.