On arrival in Santiago, I looked out for Anna from Freiburg who I’d met a number of times and we agreed by text to meet later, near the Cathedral. I then spend the next 2 hours queuing to show my Pilgrim’s Credencial and get my Compostela certificate from the Pilgrims Office near the Cathedral…I feel I have graduated. I did it. My lovely leg with healed Achilles tendon (and no blisters) can be relied upon…it really can.
I walked into my hotel near the centre of town and it soon becomes clear that this will be my experience of Santiago’s Fawlty Towers*. I was met with an anxious fellow guest called Monika trying to communicate with a lovely, smiling, elderly, rotund, female Manuel of a receptionist who was explaining everything, quickly, and in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish…only a smidgeon of French and a smaller smidgeon of German. But I have learnt, (from talking to tourists at the British Museum) to speak without language…or with several languages at the same time (and am ably assisted by context, pointing and hand signals). Accountant Monika was looking quite distressed…she had booked an extra night but they had not given her a receipt. I assured her it would be fine and after I ‘translated’ that the key card the receptionist was waving around works for both Monika’s room and the main entrance door (which locks after 11pm), Monika and I hauled our heavy cases up about 6 six flights of stairs…the lift was broken.
In my room was a liberal sprinkling of breadcrumbs on the floor and an un-closable window looking onto a busy road. Monika, (from the Czech republic but living in Cambridge) knocked on my door. Umm…sorry to bother you again but my key card won’t turn the electricity on in my room and now the chambermaid is trying to explain something to me. The chambermaid speaks Spanish and a little German. I’m tempted to phone Anna, but we persevere. My ‘translation’ says that the chambermaid will give Monika her master key card…but she must give it back in the morning when the English- speaking receptionist will be in, and can give her a new card. The master opens all the hotel’s bedroom doors – and Monika is horrified…but it’s that, or sit in the dark. I then advise the chambermaid that there is a problem in my room…Ahh…die fenster (window)? she says knowingly. Actually I had sorted the fenster (which was heavy and held open by being propped on a couple of hinges). Nein I say. I have a mess auf dem boden in my zimmer. Now she is horrified and says she will sort it immediately and goes in with broom and mop to do just that. I say I’m sorry to have bothered her with it…she says no…don’t apologise…you have paid for a clean room (it takes 2 or 3 goes to understand this). We smile as I finally agree with her.
I knock on Monika’s door after I have had my shower and ask her if she wants to have supper with me and Anna…and she looks relieved again…I wouldn’t have gone out on my own she said. Monika had done the end 100km section of the Portuguese Camino..which was a lot quieter than the Camino Frances. A young 35, she had a 5-year- old son, and hubby was having to do all the 5-year-old son things for the 5 days while she was away…so she did have to deal with a handful of anxious texts. She says her husband is anxious about what her going away on her own means….it seems that it means he can look after his 5-year-old on his own (with a few pointers). Monika, Anna and I kiss each other goodbye after a very, very pleasant tapas meal that included the local and very palatable delicacy of ‘pulpe’ (try it if you go to Galicia).
The next morning I queue with other pilgrims for the 12 o’clock pilgrim’s mass. The Cathedral is over-flowing and the mass is in Latin. The choir mistress uses her beautiful voice to teach us how to join in with several ‘repeat after me’ s. They swing the botafumeiro (giant incense burner) ’til it’s inches from the ceiling and I become tearful during the ‘peace’** when a lovely local lady gives me a hug; it reminds me of my church. And I remember a visit to a far-flung church in the north west corner of Iceland and how wonderful it is that you can travel long distances and find something comforting and familiar among strangers, in a strange land.
In the middle of this journey…just before Portomarin I think…I was sitting outside a cafe at lunchtime, re-fuelling before proceeding to that day’s destination. I had asked for a small empanada (meat pie). I got a huge, ginormous empanada…and a shrug…take it home, the waiter said. I cut off a small piece, ate it and sat there with my can of Nestea, when I saw a young girl with a lovely, blond, dreadlock beehive on her head, making her way to the counter. She had been carrying a backpack almost bigger than herself…but this lady is determined (she went on to walk a further 90 km between Santiago and Finisterre on the coast!). Are you hungry? I called over. I had no idea whether she spoke English. Ooo…Yes! she said, and went inside to get a fresh set of cutlery. I could tell Steffi from Frankfurt was a Camino pro. She knew that you take the Camino as it comes. Steffi had had a very difficult year…and it seemed that the Camino had given her some much-needed thinking space, as well as spare empanada. I asked her how it was, walking it alone all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees…and she said walking with friends would be fine, but she would strongly recommend doing it alone. I agree. Thinking that we might arrive in Santiago around the same time, I let Steffi into the secret about my hidden Cathedral treasure (https://aintwegotitmade.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/blog-92-26-9-17-buen-camino/). I briefly showed her the photo of its location.…and, confident that I hadn’t given her enough clues, plainly told her to go hunt for it, if she got there first. Well, Steffi is younger and faster than me and sure enough she texted me to confirm she had found it (see pic)…so my treasure is now Steffi’s treasure and will only come back to the UK if Steffi comes to spend it!
Hope your next year is full of more treasure, Steffi!
*1970s British sitcom about a chaotically-run hotel, starring John Cleese (of Monty Python fame).
**the peace is just saying ‘peace be with you’ to your neighbour accompanied by a handshake or a hug.