Day 21: Total distance to finish the Camino! 5kms
Weather: Foggy and cold, then clear and hot.
Four hours sitting at the University Hospital of Santiago waiting to get Tgirl8’s cast removed passed slowly – especially when we knew the others were wandering round town getting to see the place.
However, we had plenty to ponder and replayed the events of the morning.
Fog shrouded the monument on top of the Monte do Gozo (Mount of Joy) and the sun was just starting to break through sending an orange-tinted hue across the dew-laden grass as we set out on the final stretch down to Santiago and its magnificent cathedral.
In the distance mountains stood tall above the fog, which blanketted the intervening valleys. Closer to us another ridge emerged from the white, looking like an island in a sea of cottonwool. The whole scene turned spectacular when the sun’s rays streaked across.
Being only 5km from the cathedral, it did not take us long to get there and the mist was still billowing about the spires as we were brought to an awed halt.
Adding to the surreal eeriness, the call of a lone Galician bagpiper echoed across the cobblestone streets.
There are some things you read about or see pictures of and when you arrive you are underawed at the reality. Not so with this cathedral. When we walked a short stretch of the Great Wall in China it was “more than we expected”. So too with Santiago. We had seen photos, but none of them showed the intricacy of the carvings, none of them captured the massiveness of the structure, none of them were anything like actually BEING here. This was in no way “just another church”; it was more than we could ever have imagined a building to be.
I had read of people catching up with “old” Camino friends at the cathedral and our experience was no exception. Standing there by the south door, the Canadian triplet we shared a few days with arrived, and the Spanish man walking with his elderly mother, and the Spanish guy who gave us language lessons the other night, and the father of five children who wants to bring them back to walk with him some day, and the sister of a lady, who apparently is reading this blog! When we arrived at the Pilgrim’s Office to retrieve our Compostelas they asked, “Are you the Kiwifamily? We’ve been expecting you!” The Camino grapevine is active! We wrote a truncated version of our story in their book and posed for yet another photo.
We had arrived, but not yet really seen. We had walked right round the building, heads tipped back looking upwards, but we had really only glimpsed. However, it was time for Pilgrim Mass and so we tiptoed in the side door and were fortunate to get a couple of pews – there might be seating for a thousand, but there were many more who had to stand. There was still half an hour until starting time, and we used every minute looking, looking, looking….a knight on a horse, the towering dome, solid grey stones, the golden altar, statues, sunlight streaming through high windows, the giant incense burner, other people. And before the service began a nun with an angelic voice taught us some key lines that we would later sing.
A service in Spanish is obviously a good part incomprehensible to us. We could work out when to sit and when to stand, we understood the reading out of the pilgrim’s who had arrived that morning and heard ourselves mentioned, we could pick out random words from what sounded like a fairly evangelistic sermon, we felt the rhythm of the Lord’s prayer being recited, we exchanged handshakes with those around us at the appointed time, we joined in the nun-led singing accompanied by the booming organ. But the highlight had to be the swinging of the Botafumerio. If that word looks like *fumigate* to you, you have hit on the original purpose – to fumigate the sweaty and often disease-ridden pilgrims. Although we brought our bedbug bites, we have been fortunate to shower each evening. The burner was set alight and hoisted up by a team of half a dozen men pulling on ropes. That doesn’t sound very impressive does it? But as the silver urn swings from one side of the church to the other, gaining more and more height with each pull, and swaying as it drops suddenly to fall back the other way, it is a breath-taking experience. The first time it passes just over your head and quivers, hanging for a moment in the air, you are awestruck. You are also hoping the rope will not break! I am not overly excited by ritual for the sake of ritual, but this was an awesome experience – you had to be there to understand it! And perhaps it was made even more meaningful because we had walked to see this, it had cost us something, it had hurt us, and was not merely a tourist attraction to tick off some list.
Even before the incense burner had stopped swinging, before the incense fog had cleared, some of the younger children were asking to return again tomorrow. And we will. We did not have time to walk up the main steps and enter the cathedral the “proper” way, we did not have time to see the fingerholes made in the solid marble column by the millions of pilgrims who have preceded us, we did not see the carved Jesse tree or descend into the crypt. So we will return tomorrow, God-willing.
Today I had to get Tgirl8 to the hospital and a taxi turned up right when we needed it as if by divine appointment! And at that point the awesomeness of the day disintegrated. After our hours of sitting expectantly, we were informed that the cast could not be removed and would have to stay on “minimum more two weeks”. To my admittedly inexperienced eye, the x-ray appeared to show perfectly straight bones – no sign of the fracture that was clearly evident two weeks ago. I begged for removal citing the need to fly in a couple of days and pointing out that we would be on a boat in two weeks, but to no avail. The nurses refused to talk to me and called in the next patient. I requested the documents, both from this hospital and the ones I had brought from Lugo and they outright refused and showed me the door – figuratively speaking, that is – we were actually left to find our way out, away from their turned backs. It looks like FatherBear will be turning DoctorBear with the aid of a pocketknife on a canal somewhere near Oxford in a fortnight! And in the meantime showers will continue inconveniently with a plastic bag from the Panaderia covering the cast.
Tags: 2012, postcard: Spain