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Obradoiro on a wet day
Obradoiro Plaza, on a wet, gloomy day

From Lavacolla to Santiago

From Lavacolla you have an 10 km stroll into Santiago. Part of the way is a little stressful because there's a long stretch down a straight road with no arrows or shell tiles. Even with no place to go astray here, you may still feel a bit lost without the arrows or shells. Finally, after you pass the Galician TV offices, the waymarking reappears at an intersection. The road then brings you through the elegant little suburb of San Marcos. At one point (second and third photos below) through the trees you can see the huge, modernist, partly rusted sculpture on the grounds of the International Pilgrims Center at the Monte de Gozo.

From San Marcos, the waymarkings bring you quickly into the IPC grounds. In the early hours after breakfast, the place is even stranger than usual. All the pilgrims have gone into town and you see only the occasional cleaner among row after row of empty rooms and hallways. It's like a ghost town. I asked a girl in the Center offices for a sello but she said it wasn't necessary. With the 10 km limit, she said, no further sellos are required.

Once beyond this deserted mega-albergue, you enter almost immediately into the outskirts of the city. Odd things happen here too, but they're internal. Many of us prepare well for the journey:  we train for the physical rigors of the road, we study on-line materials about our chosen routes, and we pack carefully to minimize weight and maximize utility. Nonetheless, few of us can prepare for the arrival:   depending on your experiences and current life circumstances, the tumult of feelings can be overwhelming. They can range from excitement and joy to irritability to clinical depression. In 2008 as I crossed a viaduct, coming deeper into traffic and commercial areas, I saw two pilgrims ahead of me. They were a young man and woman who looked like they'd come a long distance, possibly from Roncesvalles or beyond. Arrival was harder on him than on her. He'd been taking pictures of everything but then right in front of me, he had to stop, overcome by the emotions of journey's end. As I walked past them, the girl was hugging and comforting him. I knew how he felt, having been there before.

My own feelings on this, my fourth full Camino, were exhaustion mixed with satisfaction. At 63, I had completed the hardest, most physically demanding of the six medieval routes, something my father could not have done. But except for my friend Jaime and a few members of my Internet Camino forum, no one else with whom I have any contact will ever understand what it all meant. Once established at my favorite hostal on Rua Vilar, seeing the endless drizzle outside, I had no energy left to do anything in town.

Lavacolla
Pilgrim's Bath Site
Housein
San Marcos
The IPC Sculpture Arriving in
Santiago
The Templar Pilgrim
Pilgrims Bath Stream San Marcos House The IPC Sculpture Arriving in Santiago The Templar Pilgrim

But there was one more thing I absolutely had to do. I knew that my friend Jaime would be leaving the day I arrived, taking the midday train back to Madrid. I knew that if I went and waited at the RENFE Station, I should see him there. In fact, I saw him before that, walking ahead of me on the street that leads down to the Station. I called out to him and was pleased to see that he was pleased to see me too. We went on down to the Station and shared a final Estrela de Galicia, the local beer, and talked until the train was pulling in. It wasn't much, but it made the day, and indeed, the end of the journey enjoyable again.

Aquarius Albergue Cathedral Tower San Paio,
Boy Martyr
The Puerta Santa
Village of Ribadiso Cathedral Bell Tower San Paio, the Boy Martyr The Puerta Santa, closed till 2010

Tips, Tricks, and Traps

Footnote: Look at the staff the Templar Pilgrim statue is holding. At its upper end is a Maltese Cross like the one in the Santa Barbara do Camiñn Chapel, not the Croix Patée of the Templars.

The waymarking in the city itself has improved somewhat, but at some points you will see signs for the Zona Monumental rather than yellow arrows. If in doubt, ask someone how to get to the Cathedral.

If you arrive early in the day, you may see some old ladies near the Cathedral looking for people who need rooms. Although there is space available at a couple of Albergues de Peregrinos in town, these ladies' private lodgings can offer a lot more privacy at a (usually) reasonable price. If the deal sounds good, go for it.

To get the Pilgrim's Meal at the grand Hospital de los Reyes Catolicos, take your Compostela and queue up by a green door around the side of the building. They only take 10 people at each mealtime, so if you really want this experience, go early. Short story here:   after my daughter Megan completed her third Camino, she and a friend were in line one day when a wife and her husband, came up to the queue. The Hotel accepted the wife, because she was the tenth in line, but excluded the husband. Megan says he was not pleased that she went in without him.


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