The final destination – Santiago de Compostela

Day 10 was to be the momentous day that we would reach our end destination – Santiago de Compostela. While we were arriving by train instead of foot, it was still a great achievement. We had walked approximately 160 km in total. Unlike those making the journey hundreds of years ago, it had taken us days opposed to years.

We left the hotel in Villagarica in a rush to get one of the hourly trains to Santiago. Making it with a few minutes to spare we took a seat on a rather battered train and enjoyed the journey. Looking out the window the views were wonderful. The sea whizzed past us, followed by green fields and clear blue rivers.

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Around 40 minutes later we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, it was scorching hot. The Air B & B we booked was a 20 minute walk from the station, arriving in a sweat I rung the door bell. A man in one of the flats started shouting at us and then let us into the block. We appeared to be in the wrong building. Confused, we left and waited on the street. I rung our host. She very kindly asked her friend to let us in the correct flat next door. I went straight to the shower to cool down.

Once freshened up we went into town to meet my friend who had also been doing the Camino. We had some food together in a secret garden restaurant and explored a little.

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In the evening we listened to some jolly gaelic musicians outside the cathedral. They were signing and dancing without a care in the world. The atmosphere was incredible. People joined in dancing and clapping their hands. Everyone wore huge grins across their faces.

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The next day was our last day of the holiday. We wanted to see as much as possible and so went on a free walking tour. Our guide was wonderful. She explained how the main cathedral had a Roman interior and the exterior was decorated later. The cathedral was so important due to it hosting St Jame’s relics. People traveled from all across Europe to reach Santiago. There were many different routes that could be taken from France, Portugal and Germany.

Today, the cathedral is in a constant state of renovation. As soon as one part of the building is cleaned the next part needs seeing to.  By the time the entire building has been seen to, the first section will need cleaning again.

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The famous Parador Hotel used to be a hospital for pilgrims. It was the first place to use medicine and not count just on spiritual prayers. The hospital was a necessity for many pilgrims who arrived battered from hundreds of days walking. At present the building is an upmarket fancy hotel.

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Ultimately, pilgrims traveled to Santiago to die and go to heaven. They were buried opposite the cathedral. This reminded me of Varanasi in India, where citizens traveled long distances to die next to the spiritual Ganges river and reach enlightenment. There are many overlaps to be seen across all world religions.

The famous symbol for the camino pilgrimage is a shell. There are several theories as to why this is the case. One is that St James relics were washed up on the beach covered in shells. Another is that shells were used to wash with and drink by the pilgrims. A shell also has many lines that all join up, just like how all the camino routes join up with Santiago. Historically pilgrims would carry a shell indicating to others they were on the pilgrimage. The shell gave them protection. Today pilgrims walk with the shell too. It also appears on all of the sign posts.

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In Santiago there are 30 churches and 13 convents, they now need new uses for the spectacular buildings. The number of tourists has dramatically increased in Santiago since the route has been renovated. Currently, over 200,000 people walk the route per year.

Following our tour guide’s advise we headed into the cathedral to see the huge 100 kg bell be swung. It was a rare event that only happens a few times per year. It is so heavy that 8 men are required to swing it.

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We made a lovely friend from the Netherlands who enjoyed exploring the cathedral with us. He was touched that we were traveling together as siblings and asked how we were getting on! My brother said I was just about bearable.

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The afternoon was spent in the park reading and admiring yet more lovely views of the city.

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We enjoyed one last pilgrimage dinner before turning in for the night. It was a cheap three course meal including salad, fish and a small piece of almond cake.

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