Saturday, 22 September 2012

Camino Primitivo/Frances: Lugo to Santiago - the end

My last two days on the Camino Primitivo were rather uneventful and unfortunately back on lots of pavement. Because it was mostly on very quiet country lanes it was not too bad though and led me through more half deserted little villages. Camping was still great and I even had two very nice campsites -and no more ticks. I was now facing a new challenge: In order to receive the famous Credencial, a document saying that you have hiked the Camino, you have to hike at least the last hundred 100 km and prove it with 2 stamps daily. You can receive these stamps in the hostels and most bars along the way and so I started collecting stamps now feeling rather stupid and touristy about it.

At Melide I finally joined the dreaded Camino Frances and all my fears came true. The Camino Frances really is a hiker highway! I have never ever seen so many hikers on one trail. During the day I was never out of sight of another hiker. Taking a pee was almost impossible because of the constant stream of hikers coming down the trail. Consequently every little side trail that led you out of sight from the main trail was littered with used toilet paper - a disgusting sight. To manage these masses of people rest areas with tables and benches were set up every couple of kilometres and trash cans were placed all along the way. Even the dogs have specialised in pilgrims and were hanging around in the rest areas waiting for food scraps from the hikers

I was soon getting tired of all those hikers and the constant greeting "Buen Camino". The locals did not seem to mind though and still greeted the pilgrims friendly. But local economy profits a lot from the pilgrims. Every other house seems to be a private pilgrims' hostel and despite this being very late in the season in the evening I did see a lot of "Complete" (Hostel full) signs. Little food stalls were everywhere along the trail where you could buy coffee or pieces of fruit. Drink vending machines were also frequently along the trail being a rather odd sight in otherwise very rural Galicia.

My last campsite on the Camino looked rather nice in a Eukalyptus plantation. Sheltered from the wind and tucked away from the sight of other pilgrims. But I spent an almost sleepless night because it became rather windy and the Eucalyptus trees were shaken in the wind hitting each other which caused a dreadful sound that even my ear plugs could not drown out. I realised that it was rather improbable that a whole tree would come down but it still sounded like it and did not let me sleep. To make things worse some big insects had crawled under my tent and made funny noises that were magnified when I had my ear on my pillow. I constantly thought that a tree was about to be de-routed.

And so finally, on Wednesday, September 19th I walked into Santiago de Compostela, the terminus of my hike. I did not feel elated or very happy like you usually feel when you finish such a long hike. On the contrary: I was so dead tired that I did not even go to the cathedral but just went to my hostel and collapsed in my bed. The cathedral and all the other pilgrim's rituals had to wait till next day. At least I was very lucky with my hostel. Because I knew I would arrive rather late in the day I had made an online reservation for the Seminario Menor, a former boys' boarding school. It is a huge building complex that now houses hundreds of pilgrims in big dormitories ("snoritories") of 50 beds per room! But just paying 5 EUR more gets you a private room which is a very small and spartan "cell" but quiet and clean. I enjoyed the pilgrim feeling at the end and liked watching my fellow pilgrims in the evening.

The next day I finally went to famous Santiago Cathedral to visit the daily pilgrims' service. The huge cathedral was overflowing with pilgrims and other visitors. Dozens of security guards had to manage the masses and getting a seat was impossible. Pilgrims, backpacks and walking sticks were everywhere and several priests were celebrating the mass. I have never seen a church so full of people but was assured afterwards that this had only been a mediocre day. On weekends there are even more pilgrims and tourists! I found it hard to find a decent spot for a finish photo with all those people around.

Next I wanted to get my "credencial" but when I got to the "pilgrims' office" the waiting line was so long that I gave up on it. Hundreds of pilgrims were waiting for an hour and longer to get that document and the queue was well out onto the street. I resigned myself to just have a picture taken of myself outside the office. The only satisfying event that day was the daily German pilgrims meeting. A German church had started this initiative and a team of a priest and two volunteers were offering a daily German mass, a pilgrims' meeting and a spiritual sightseeing tour of the cathedral. I attended the pilgrims meeting and was surprised to see only three other pilgrims there! The idea of that meeting was to share the experiences had on the trail and talk about your feelings at the end of it. A great way to end a pilgrimage!

I wholeheartedly plunged into asking dozens of questions to the priest in order to find out what he thought of the "pilgrimage fashion" and what his experiences with the pilgrims have been. He seemed to like it so much that he even invited me to lunch and we continued talking for another hour. I wish I had found more of these "spiritual" services along the way, but the Spanish church is offering no "religious support" to the pilgrims except the masses in Santiago. In the end I even met to fellow pilgrims in the hostel and I felt a bit like on the AT again. I just wished I had had more time to thoroughly explore Santiago and indulge in the pilgrimage feeling, but alas I had to leave the next day and fly back to Berlin. Altogether this has been the most unexcited finish of a long-distance hike. My finish day just felt like any other hiking day on the trail and I did not even feel a bit special...

1 comment:

Gert said...

Hi Christine,

Congratulation on the completion of yet another "Big Trip"! Bin schon auf dein nächstes Abenteuer gespannt :-)