Stage 8 The Way of St James:
Ferreiros – Santiago de Compostela
Distance: 110,88 km
– 14€ Breakfast + Food + Drinks
– 2€ Small help
– 16€ Hostel + Dinner
The day of the last stage dawns. I get up early, although not as much as I would like to, I’m definitely a lazy person in the morning. The first pedals are between the fog that embraces me in the morning cool, the Sun is a bit lazy today as well and has not yet started heating. I go through small groups of houses scattered among the hills. I am in Galicia now and here people live from agriculture and livestock, the smell is quite strong.
The road is easy, but the crowd of pilgrims does not allow me to go fast. It is clear that this is not the same as I have been experiencing in previous days. Many pilgrims barely carry weight on their backs, others instead wear more to show off than to comfortably go on pilgrimage. And a good looking photo becomes more important than greeting and encouraging others. There are also posters that offer taxis everywhere, and the hostels no longer offer a cosy home but stamps. Well, this is definitely not my thing.
I see the only pilgrims on a horse I have seen I overtake a group of 27 people with exactly the same red backpack. Among all this pseudoperegrinism and in contrast, appears a wanderer with all his life on a bicycle, I stop to meet this traveller. The poor man asks me for a little help and I offer him all the food I carry and a small donation. In return, he puts a bit of grease on the chain of my bike while he tells me that he does not know what he can offer to the pilgrims in exchange for a donation, poor old man.
The heat has been tightening for a while already, it’s suffocating. The water in the bottle, hot as a fresh piss, does not satisfy my thirst. And the fountains are scarce so it is imperative to stop for a drink whenever you find the opportunity. While I’m relieving my throat I have a brilliant idea, use the ice of this soft drink to cool the water in the flask. What a great idea! But when I want to take a drink a couple of kilometres ahead, the ice has already passed away to a better life along with my hopes of a fresh dink.
I have no strength and digestion system is right now… better not to go into details. In the signs that mark the road you can read the missing kilometres to get to Santiago: fifty, forty, thirty, twenty… little by little I am getting closer to my destination. I cross numerous and gloomy forest paths that make me forget for a while the agony that this heat is making me go through. At last, I ascend to the mountain of Gozo from where Santiago can be seen, but I am very exhausted to show any euphoria.
The arrival is not as I had thought since to get to the Cathedral you have to cross the city. Cars, traffic lights and many people, but not pilgrims. Finally, I go inside the old town, the Cathedral has to be near. In one of the alleys, a boy plays the bagpipe in exchange for some coins. I close my eyes and imagine a hundred bagpipers playing in unison for my arrival. Such an epic trip deserves an epic arrival too.
Finally there I am in front of my goal, finally I have arrived. How many pilgrims have fought hard to get here! I put my bicycle aside and sit on the ground to contemplate the facade of the Cathedral. It’s not the most ostentatious thing I’ve seen, actually, it looks a little dirty and messy. I look at my legs full of mud, my sweaty shirt and my bike full of dust and I realize that yes, this is where I wanted to arrive.
It’s funny, 8 days pedalling painfully and overcoming difficulties and I’m not especially excited now that I’ve reached my destination. Maybe it’s because of the exhaustion or this suffocating heat. What I do feel is a huge satisfaction that fulfils me. And it is the same satisfaction that can be seen in the faces of the pilgrims who, like me, rest peacefully.
After a few minutes of rest and reflection, I visit the Cathedral. It is here where the most religious ones reach the climax of their pilgrimage. To me, it just seems like another impressive building (as all the magnificent constructions of this kind), full of tourists. A lot of people are waiting in a long line to see the tomb of the apostle, it will not be my case.
After the visit, I’m going in search of the last stamp that will close my credential. Before, on the side of the Church and at the bottom of a fountain, I deposit the stone that I have carried all the way. It will no longer be a burden and there it will rest. Near the place, more than a hundred Andalusian teenagers pose for a photo. They burst with joy for religious fervour, the excitement is uncontrollable. Some cry inconsolably, others barely walk, and all wear the same shirt and carry the same cane.
And as I was dreading there is an immense line to get the last stamp. The long and hard wait makes a man almost faint when climbing the stairs, no wonder, this heat consumes even the young as not to do it to the elderly. Finally, I receive the last stamp and I refuse to take the Compostela when I know what is written on it. And in addition, there is a mandatory donation of one or two euros. Definitely, this has nothing to do with my pilgrimage.
And last, the rest of the afternoon will be to place me in the city, find the bus station and a place to sleep. And little else, I have the gut for not much, same as my aching knee and my numbed hands, and also tomorrow at 6 in the morning the bus leaves, then one which will take me to my other life.