My last night before Santiago
After all those steps, sweating and freezing in turns, and trying my hardest to remember how incredible it all was the whole way, I found myself on the last night before arriving in Santiago, the end of the traditional Camino de la Compostela.
I had arrived in the company of a Dane and a Spaniard, with two more Spaniards coming behind us. It had been a day of about 35 kilometers, where no sweat fell on the path because it evaporated off your febrile skin before it had the chance to drip off. Each step lifted puffs of dust, both from beneath your foot and from the ankle as socks coughed out their dusty surplus.
After an interminable final 400 meters of tarmac, we entered Pedrouza and found a bar. As soon as possible we were drinking cold beers and eating massive cherries grown in the neighboring town. The interior of the bar was cigarettes, so we sat in the street, feather-light tin chairs scraping on the tile sidewalk whenever we mustered the energy to move, which was not often.
Sufficiently refreshed, though that is not the right word without sleep and a shower, we searched out a place to spend the night. We were tired of the albergues (i.e. pilgrim hostels) and wanted something more intimate for our last night, so we found a little park on the edge of town. It had a concrete barbeque frame, and after a trip to the supermercado and an excursion into the work site next door where we borrowed a pair of slate roofing tiles to use as a grill, we were cooking our dinner as the Spanish evening fell to Spanish night.
Sleeping outside during this time of year is no problem, but it is advisable to have a mat to put under your sleeping bag, to protect it from the damp and you from the heat-sapping ground. I had the sleeping bag but not the mat; the Dane was the same. Pilgrims frequently leave gear behind, so the albergues often have a large stash of abandoned or forgotten items, so we headed out to check the four in town for available mats.
This simple errand proved to be one of the more beautiful memories of my time here. Walking through the tiny town we ran into person after person, group after group, pilgrims we had met on the way. Smiles and greetings were as ubiquitous as the sun’s rays, but warmed hearts instead of burning skin (sunscreen may be heavy but it is worth the weight). It was maybe not unexpected, but still a wonderful surprise that before even finding any albergue staff to ask, we had several offers of mats from our fellows who would not be using them that night.
On our last night before entering the big city of expensive accommodation, fees for everything, and advertising splashed everywhere, these gestures of sharing and goodwill stood in stark contrast to the commerce of the “normal” world.
There is a saying in the albergues: “el turista exige, el peregrino agradece.” That is, “the tourist demands, the pilgrim is grateful.” I hope I am a pilgrim, and I am truly grateful for the Camino de Santiago, and the people who make it what it is.