Camino Postcard 38: Santiago de Compostela

20-23.5.19
Arrival
Since writing yesterday’s post, it has been brought to my attention that I forgot to write about the most important thing of all – the fact that in Finisterre Ellena made a lovely soup for the three of us. It took her several hours and a lot of ingredients but she did it, and we were all very grateful!

After we arrived in Santiago, Ellena and Carolin decided to rest as soon as we found our apartment. I went into town to buy some food and take a few photographs.

The Pilgrims’ Office
First thing on Tuesday morning, we walked over to the Pilgrims’ Office. We still had to queue but not for two hours, which was a relief. While we waited, though, I wondered if the Pilgrims’ Office would give us a compostela; or would they say Nah, mate – you took a taxi on the last 100K? I am happy to report that they didn’t even ask if we had taken a taxi and that we did each receive our compostelas. Ellena and Carolin also bought the extra certificate that told them how many kilometres they had walked from Saint Jean.

After leaving the Pilgrims’ Office, we stopped at a nearby café where we got talking to a friendly Australian (or was he American? I can’t remember now). Upon a moment, our friend Colleen walked by! I was so happy to see her – she saved my Camino on Day 1 so to see her at the end was a great joy, and very apposite. Colleen told us that a Franciscan church down the road also issued compostelas to pilgrims so after finishing our drinks, we toddled along there, knocked on the day of the sacristy and met a friar who did the necessary for us.

The Cathedral
From the Franciscan church we went to the pilgrim church itself: Santiago cathedral. Unfortunately, it is currently undergoing refurbishment so we were unable to attend Mass there and see the famous Botafumeiro (giant thurible) in action. As you can see from the photograph below, the latter was all wrapped up during our visit to protect it during the refurb.

The scaffolding was so extensive that it was hard to see the inside of the cathedral as much more than a very old and elegant building site. The place was not without meaning, though. For example, I saw my two favourite popes.

In case you don’t know who they are, that’s Benedict XVI waving his hand and John Paul II with the staff. JPII is now a canonised saint; I fully expect Benedict to be declared so after his death and shall be very disappointed if both aren’t declared Doctors of the Church one day; though that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.

Most importantly, we also saw the bones of St. James himself.

Are they really his bones? Sure, why not; no, very unlikely; who cares? To even be concerned as to whether they are or aren’t misses the point – Santiago Cathedral is not a sacred space because his bones are there but because of what he did and why. Ultimately, though we walk with and because of St. James, the purpose of our pilgrimage is Jesus Christ, and it is He who hallows the cathedral with His Presence.

One thing we didn’t do at the cathedral is enter it through the Portico of Glory – its gates were closed (on account of the scaffolding inside) – so we were unable to fall to our knees and put our hands on the statue of the Saint (though I admit I probably would not have done the former had the Portico been open). We also didn’t climb the steps at the back of the main altar to embrace the statue of St. James – the queue to do this was very long and on this occasion we were happy to just wander around and see whatever we could.

Malcolm the Brave
Now, not long after I met Ellena and Carolin the subject of getting a tattoo in Santiago came up (see Postcard 7 here and 8 here). I didn’t think it would happen, but the subject kept coming up and about two weeks before the end I realised that Ellena, who had suggested it, was serious.

So, after our trip to the cathedral, as she and Carolin rested, I went to the tattoo parlour and made an appointment… I just hoped that the cigar chewing, beer drinking Hells Angels bikers that probably owned the place wouldn’t beat me up and dump me in the gutter first.

Of course, it was nothing like that. The place was cleaner than clean, the people polite, and I even met Joey from Australia who had joined us once or twice (most recently at the Cruz de Ferro) along the Way. He was looking tense: he had already made his appointment and now the time for the needle had come.

Despite the fact that we only had a one day window to get our tattoos done, we managed to make the booking, decide what kind of tattoos to go for and get inked.

Here’s mine (forgive the Oh So Pale English skin):

Pau Cafre is the tattooist and he did an ace job. If you are ever in Santiago and are in the mood for a tattoo, check him out at Old Skull Tattoos.

Being tattooed was such an experience! I could have gone through with it by myself but when Ellena said she would come and sit in the room with me, I wasn’t going to turn that down. She held my hand and I rambled on about Alexander the Great while the needle did its work.

Speaking of the needle, there was just one, but it moved up and down so fast that it felt like there were goodness knows how many of them. It felt very dramatic.

I know that tattoos are not to everyone’s taste but I am so pleased I decided to get mine. It’s a wonderful reminder of the Camino – one that will never get broken, lost or stolen. If I ever walk another, I will definitely get another tattoo at the end. I’m already thinking about the keys of St. Peter.

Food Stations
After leaving Old Skull Tattoos, we ate a lovely pizza round the corner. While in Santiago, we also visited a local KFC one or twice. I think I mentioned before that I never go to KFC at home so it remained a nice treat. I especially liked the free soft drink refill – it had my favourite Camino fizzy drink, Kas, so I was one happy customer. On one of the days we were there, a group of teens came in. One of the girls in the party was carrying a cat, her pet. She sat down and took good care of it while the others went to order the meal. It’s good to see young people with their heads screwed on right.

To Home
Rest, Compostelas, churches, noms and tattoos. That was our holiday in Santiago. Finally, though, Thursday came and it was time to head to the airport. Upon our arrival, we stopped one last time together in a café. When the time came for Ellena and Carolin to head off to their flight we exchanged goodbyes and I watched them leave:

Sigh. Two hours later, it was time for me to do so. Farewell, Santiago; farewell, Camino; farewell, Spain. For now?

End
So there it is; the end of my Camino. I did it! I bloody well did it! It started last November when I watched The Way, continued when I joined the Confraternity of St. James, took a big leap forward when I quit the job I wasn’t enjoying, and finally really got going after I left St. Jean, and became an immeasurably richer experience after I met Ellena and Carolin. And now? It’s over but it never will be. Here’s to the next stage.

Thank you for reading!

AMDG.

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