after traveling for more than a month on your own power, getting anywhere you wanted to get by virtue of your own two, weary, worn-out feet, it is a singular experience to return to the world of motorized transportation. you mean I can get more than 15 miles in one day?! how spectacular!
while in hindsight it might have been easier to fly in and out of Madrid and taken a train to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port and from Santiago de Compostela, it was a treat to take even a short trip by train from Santiago to Vigo (and to visit with Felix & Kate at the beginning of the trip as they kindly transported us to our point of departure). when one lives someplace with limited (to use a staggering understatement) train travel opportunities, the prospect of taking shelling out a few bucks to ride an hour down the tracks is a wondrous prospect. I’ve traveled a fair bit by trains on my travels and I’m still impressed each time I walk into a station as to how seamlessly one can procure a ticket, walk out onto the platform and hop on a train. (of course, there’s a small chance I went about it all wrong in the Czech Republic and just lucked out not getting nabbed by transport police … but I think I did ok.)
our last day in Spain dawned drizzly though not unpleasant. after a slow start and a leisurely exploration of the old town, lunch at a tasty Italian cafe in sight of the cathedral spires, (and an ultimately unsuccessful quest to send some wine home) we grabbed our packs and headed for an earlier-than-planned train to Vigo and its airport. the ride south was uneventful and odd in both its novelty and normality. lots of young people heading from one town to anther for a Saturday, couple of people with suitcases also heading to or from an airport.
rather than figure out a means of getting to the airport by public transportation from the Vigo train station, we opted for the luxury of a taxi, which whipped us up the hill — and into fog bank blanketing the coast — in record time. our flight to Madrid wasn’t scheduled to depart Vigo until after 9:00 p.m., but we took a gamble leaving early in the hopes we’d be able to catch something earlier; we arrived at the airport in just enough time to catch a 5:00ish flight that would get us in about three hours early.
… if the fog hadn’t been bad enough to cancel all flights in and out of Vigo for the duration of the day! they put all of us Madrid-bound passengers on a bus (back) to Santiago and the airport there, which wasn’t completely fogged in. we still ended up in Madrid two hours earlier than scheduled and managed to find some food and experience something of a real night out in a Spanish metropolis on our 34th night in the country.
it’s really too bad that the video we tried to take as we walked into the Praza do Obradoiro didn’t record properly. it’s one of those sounds that I’ll remember to my last days, though really by the time we arrived in Santiago I was more tired than any other particular emotion. it was the sound of the gaita that brought the reality of the final moments into focus. I’m sure that’s why buskers take turns performing there, letting the sighing sound of the gaita carry you over the threshold to the end of the five hundred mile challenge you set for yourself — and just achieved!
at least another visitor was nice enough to take over the camera and capture this moment for us.
once we regained the usual Camino, we made our way through a series of towns clearly devoted to serving peregrino purposes. for the first time I saw a sign indicating facilities were for guests or customers only. slightly off-putting considering the generally warm welcome we received virtually everywhere else along the Camino; but then, a lot more people travel this stretch of the Camino. busloads of people; people who might not have spent the previous month trying to be good stewards and respectful travelers.
in any case, just before we stopped before breakfast at a lovely stone casa rural (where the proprietor was cleaning up after the previous night’s guests and not quite ready for those inclined towards breakfast) we passed through Lavacolla where medieval peregrinos stopped to wash and purify themselves before making the final trek into Santiago. in the Middle Ages, average Christians bathed infrequently and peregrinos pretty much not at all. whether mandated or a matter of personal preference, peregrinos used the stream to bathe. apparently, purification practices differed in their complexity and thoroughness, from washing only portions of the body to cleansing all the dirt from the journey and changing clothes. (both the modern name and Latin name of the town refer to simply washing ones privates. I’ll leave it to the truly interested to translate Lavamentula [Latin] and Lavacolla [medieval Romance].) those peregrinos were often accosted by advance men for taverns, inns, restaurants, and other services in Santiago, warned of the scarcity of lodgings in the city and encouraged to hand over a deposit or full night’s payment to secure a bed. unscrupulous tavern shills offered samples of wine that never tasted quite as good in Santiago.
after Lavacolla, we passed the studios for TV Galicia (the highest point of this day’s hike, as lamented by our now-derided guidebook) and ascended the Monte de Gozo (Mount Joy), so named for the euphoria peregrinos experienced as they reached the summit and looked down on Santiago de Compostela. eager to get to the city, we kept going and got into a leap-frogging pattern with a group of day-trip Germans until just outside the walls of the old city. and just before we caught our first glimpse of the Cathedral at the heart of the city …