18 July 2008

Arca O Pino to Santiago de Compostela

Day 22
5:55 am - 9:45 am
20.3 km

It is accomplished! I woke extremely early to beat the crowd to the trail and also to ensure I'd get a bed at the Santiago albergue (which has 400, which costs €12, and which I am skipping anyway because I managed to arrange a couchsurf). The first 15 km were through empty woods and countryside--just lovely, though a bit hard to negotiate in the early morning dark. To my surprise, I kept passing people who left earlier. Some people I passed told me they left at 5 am. These people are insane! At around 8:30 am, I arrived at the last hill before the descent into Santiago. Here, there is a giant and terribly ugly monument erected to celebrate Pope John Paul II's visit to Santiago, whenever that was. There is also an 800-bed (!) pilgrim's albergue, which must be the mothership of hostels (and I thought that honor belonged to Sydney Central Backpackers). Soon after, and powered by Lindt chocolate since no cafes were open yet, I charged my way into the city, blatantly (like a New Yorker) ignoring all traffic signals as I click-clacked my way to the unbelievably gorgeous cathedral. I spent nearly 5 seconds marveling at this wonder in stone before directly my feet to the pilgrims' office. There, I finally received my "compostela", the official certificate of pilgrimage completion. Since I checked "not religious" under the "reason for walking" box on the sheet the girl gave me to fill out, I got the shitty secular version of the compostela. The religious one looks way cooler, with a nice border, Latin inscription, and everything. I asked to swap, but they told me once they issue a compostela, they are not allowed to change it. So I'll have to walk the whole thing again to get another one. Motherf**king church.

Maybe it's better this way. I walked the Camino de Santiago for myself, not for some higher, religious or spiritual cause. I don't really see why people make a big deal out of it, either. The Lonely Planet recommends five weeks, most people take around a month, and I did it in three weeks. There are hotels and hostels all along the way, and the path is well-marked and basically flat. It is not challenging, and yet people all the time every day complain about aches, pains, blisters, people snoring in the albergues, etc. This was a cakewalk, people, compared to the Andes, the Himalayas, and even parts of the USA. Nevertheless, I did have lots of time to myself, lots of time to consider those big questions that, however trite, are still relevant to our sense of ourselves and where we belong in the world. Time and time again, I kept returning to one question, however, that I often contemplated without discovering a satisfactory answer. It is a question one must pose to the universe, perhaps, and only from the universe might it be possible to receive a reply. Barring that, maybe the collective wisdom of you, my readers, can produce an answer to this greatest of mysteries with which I have ever struggled: why do cyclists wear such ridiculous outfits?

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