Monday, 9th October.
Santiago de Compostela
It was a strange morning. Fog covered the city. We couldn't
see much at all. Through the old town we walked, and then we
could see the spires of the cathedral prodding the mist. The morning
mass was ending as we arrived, and there were tourists everywhere.
The cathedral is the finishing point of the Camino de Santiago.
I was unprepared for the huge number of tourists that were in the
square and inside the cathedral. It was a struggle for us to even
get through the door.
Once we had struggled through the door two Brazilian women
descended upon us. One of them spoke a little english, and wanted
to know if we were pilgrims. Someone replied that we were. The
woman then asked us if she could have her photo taken with us.
I wasn't happy about all this - I'm not a tourist attraction. I
submitted and had my photo taken with the others.
Tourists were swarming around everywhere, mostly in tour groups
that jostled for position in front of the pillar in the centre
of the portico. Traditionally the pilgrims enter the cathedral,
place a hand on the pillar, and hug the giant statue of St James,
which is at the other end of the church behind the altar. These
days you have to battle the hordes of tourists and their umbrella-toting
guides, who push and shove to put their hand on the pillar, and form
a massive queue to hug the statue.
We bagged a pew in the nave for the Pilgrims' Mass, which started
in over an hour's time at noon. We had to claim a pew early,
before the place filled up with tourists.
By this stage I was a grumpy
little pilgrim, ready to have a swing at the next tourist that got
in my way. In a rare flash of sensibility, I left the others in the
Cathedral and went outside and walked around the old town.
Outside, Santiago was still blanketed in low, grey clouds. I
found a little photography place, and bought some film. Then I
bought a drink and some chocolate, and sat in the square watching
the pilgrims and the tourists. Is this how it ends? I've walked
over 760km to get here, and I'm feeling second-class. Who made this
town famous? St James and the pilgrims. Every shop sells
Camino souvenirs, from tacky "pilgrim" figurines, to hats and staffs
and everything in between. I'm so glad to be part of a massive
merchandising industry. I felt like the last month of my life had
been cheapened by the tackiness and touristyness (a word I just made
up) of it all.
I finished my drink, calmed down a bit and went back inside
Lolly the South African was sitting with Noelle, Barb and Dave.
She and her Mum arrived a day or two before. Then Amilca
appears...have I told you about Amilca? Probably not. He's another
Brazilian pilgrim. With half-an-hour
remaining before the service, I joined the queue to hug the statue
of St James. In the queue, squeezed in between the tourists, were
pilgrims that we had met along the way. Even the Japanese women!
And they were all so happy to be there.
Having invaded the personal space of St James, I returned to the
pew to find that a large, elderly tourist had taken my seat! The
other's shrugged their shoulders as if to say there was nothing they
could do about it. I squished in next to my fellow pilgrims,
feeling better for having seen so many pilgrims in the Cathedral.
Even the French women. (Who are still insisting upon speaking
French to us!)
The service was conducted in Spanish. I'm neither Spanish nor
Catholic, so a fair chunk of the service was a complete mystery
to me. Towards the end they wheeled out the Botafumeiro,
the world's biggest incense burner. The tourists in the congregation
went mad, rushing to the front to take photos. It is swung by a
system of pulleys and a team of large men, from one side of the
nave to the other. Dave was sitting on
the end of the pew, and the contraption was swinging fairly close
to his head on its way up to nearly touch the ceiling.
Following the service we marched off to the refugio. We forked
out for a three-night stay, and then went up to the dormitory.
We weren't impressed. It was cold, uninviting, and institutional.
Gloomily, we claimed beds. The others went to sleep, I wrote some
postcards. Outside it started to rain.
But it's not all doom and gloom. After siesta we wandered off
in the rain, and pondered at great length how I'd managed to have
such an impact on the others' vocabulary. We drank fizzy red wine
at a restaurant (really, we did) then walked, in the rain, back to
the refugio. As we fell asleep, a bloke at the other end of the
dorm let off a long, loud fart. We burst into laughter. The perfect
end to the day.