Santiago de Compostela

This town is absolutely beautiful, amazing and (as my new friend, Bill Angresano, says,) “outta control.”

Even as I write this post at a café near the big church, a raucous drumming interrupts the regular music and ambiance of the street, and a procession of “St. James” followed by various signs of death and witches passes by — (see video below.)

Cathedral de Santiago

Today, the sixth and final day of our hike on the Camino, we finally reached our destination, the giant cathedral of St. James within the city of Santiago de Compostela — the scallop shells along the path leading us right to the very steps of the magnificent Cathedral de Santiago.

We had already had five long days preceding us, and this 20km day was no easier. Midway through it we were all exhausted. Midway through the next half, the realization we were almost there inspired and carried us the rest of the way until suddenly we were in front of one of the largest Catholic churches we had ever seen.

The site of the massive cathedral, its two towers, and ornate façade are enough on their own to wow anyone, but taking into account we had all just walked over 65 miles to get there, it was even more impressive.

At least myself, Mike and many of the other adults thought so. Some of the students didn’t seem to react one way or the other. Many were watching one of those human statue performers portraying Gandhi in stone white rather than take in the church —it actually was quite cool, planted right there in the middle of a walkway so it seemed like a real statue. It’s funny that so often we can’t appreciate things right in front of us when we are certain ages, in certain states of mind or moods or what have you. It gets worse though, I guess, if we begin dismissing the people in our lives as unimportant, rather than just some large cathedral that’s been standing for 900 years.

We moved everyone in the group to the huge church square, crowded with pilgrims, tourists and city regulars. The kids sat on the ground and started looked straight up. Everyone was quiet. A melody floated through the air from some street musician on the other side of the plaza. The kids kept staring up. I shook Mike’s hand and congratulated him on the journey. I wonder what the kids were thinking? About the history, the architecture, the Gandhi “statue”?

the Camino passport

We proceeded to get our “Camino passports” stamped with the official Compostela seal. These books, proof that we had been traveling by foot the last six days are covered in rubber stamps, all colors and sizes, from check-ins at various albergues, cafes and restaurants. Kind of like an old school Foursquare, but much, much better somehow. After receiving these, some of us attended the 6pm Mass, and some of us the later 7:30pm. And then we explored the city.

After receiving my final stamp and pilgrimage certificate, I headed to the albergue to clean up before heading back for the 7:30 Mass. At the hostel, I pealed both my hiking boots off to reveal four or five annoying blisters on my feet. The trip has inflicted various things upon all us, some worse than others, and as I rejoined the group later I realized all of us were hobbling around in one way or another.

When I headed back to the church square, down the serpentine medieval streets, my first instinct was to greet everyone I passed, something all of us had been doing on the Camino. As a pilgrim, you’re expected to say, “Buen Camino,” (good journey,) to all those you encounter along the way, and you usually hear it back as well. Not so much around the city. I suddenly realized we were back in civilization after traveling in a completely different world for the past week. Just like leaving any hike, or retreat, the adjustment back to the real world can be jarring and difficult. Hours after finishing, painful blisters on my feet, I am honestly already missing the walking, the sheer movement of pilgrimage. Oh, if we could stay on that trail forever.

Camino, I miss you.

Finally, here’s a few more shots of our pilgrims on the final day of The Way:
(And feel free to follow on Facebook for updates on our pilgrims throughout World Youth Day. Just go to FB and “like” us.)

up the hill to start the day
3 girls entering Santiago
passing a JPII statue
Cathedral de Santiago
the infamous Gandhi statue
the cathedral's organ
so many pilgrims over the years have placed their hands on this column, it's been imprinted (look closely)
waiting for the stamp
got the certificates
me outside the cathedral
tired pilgrims after 6 days...
...more tired pilgrims...
...and more...
...tired pilgrims...
...tired pilgrims
some of our group outside the cathedral
goodnight from Santiago

Joe is the Production Editor for Busted Halo, working as producer and editor for all things video. After graduating from T.C.U. with a degree in production and religion, Joe spent time teaching on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, exploring the film and music scene of Chicago, volunteering with the U.S. Peace Corps in South Africa, and surviving the world of corporate event production around the globe.