Today I want to make a final post on my hike on the Camino de Santiago. I pick it up after my last El Camino de Santiago post where we just entered Santiago.
Walking into Santiago is really like any other city with roads, traffic, etc. However after about ten to fifteen minutes you cross into the old town of Santiago or the old part of the city. This is very noticeable as it gets very beautiful very quickly.
You eventually walk down on the last parts of the Camino before you come into the square in front of St. James Cathedral which is a truly beautiful site.
The square was filled with Pellegrinos all lying about on the ground or wherever they could get some reasonable comfort and rest, many of them exhausted after five hundred miles of hiking the Camino. It’s quite a sight to behold.
After taking in the beautiful vista of the Cathedral, I walked around the side to enter the Cathedral. It’s interesting as I have been in many major Cathedrals in the world, for example St. Peters in Rome. I always find that all Cathedrals usually have an air of piousness or a somber twinge to them. However, St. James was really quite different.
Because of the nature of the Camino, Pilgrims arrive in with large backpacks, hiking boots hanging off their feet and looking tired and tatty. That is of course to be expected after hiking over five hundred miles. However, I found that this added a much different atmosphere in the Cathedral. It was much more relaxed as people sat on the floor stacking their backpacks against the walls.
There really was just a sense of quiet relief all round from people who were just happy to have finished it. This gave a relaxed feel to the cathedral which I found really infectious and it was a really nice feeling.
As all the group came in bit by bit, we assembled at an agreed time at the right side of the Cathedral and some of us went in to sit down and wait for the Pilgrims mass at noon. As it is always so busy, it is advisable to get into the Cathedral earlier to be sure to get a seat. I highly recommend sitting in one of the sides of the altar in the cathedral. The main reason for this is that for some of the masses, the Botafumeiro is swung in the cathedral and so if you’re sitting on either side of the altar, it will swing directly over your head.
The Botafumeiro is a massive incense burner that hangs on ropes. Four men come out and using the ropes swing the Botafumeiro from one side of the church to the other with the incense smoke flowing out if it. It really is quite a sight, you can get a sample here.
For the Pilgrims mass I attended the Botafumeiro wasn’t used. However, we were told it would be used the following evening at the seven thirty mass so I did get to see it in action and it really is a spectacular sight.
The other thing I remember about the mass was the nun who sang throughout it. She came across as really kind and friendly as she encouraged the whole congregation to sing along with her in Spanish. Her voice was truly amazing, I can still hear it in my head.
Getting your Certificate (Compostela)
After the Pilgrims mass, the next thing to do was to head around to get the Compostela (certificate of completion). This was handy enough to do and the queues weren’t too long when I got there early Friday afternoon. The people really do check your pilgrims passport so remember to get at least two stamps each day while doing the Camino. There was one lady across from me who only had two stamps in her passport. She obviously didn’t know that you needed two per day! The officials refused to give her, her certificate of completion. She was heartbroken. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you if you do the Camino!
The officials will ask you to sign your name and mark why you did the Camino. You have three options which are roughly 1. For religious reasons 2. For religious and / or spiritual reasons and 3. For recreational reasons. After you select, they give you a certificate in Latin with your name on it. They will try to find a Latin version of your name, if it exists, for the certificate too.
And that is that! The Camino de Santiago complete, pilgrims mass finished and Certificate in hand.
Lot’s to do in Santiago
I was staying in Santiago the next two days so I had a lot of time to have a walk around the city. It really is beautiful. There is a lot to do in the Cathedral itself like hugging the status of St. James, viewing his tomb and of course the many tours that are on offer. You can get one of the talking accompaniments to take with you and go at your own pace or you can join one of the many tour guide groups available in multiple languages.
I highly recommend the tour of the Cathedral roof and the Museum. Great way to kill a couple of hours. While on the tour, the tour guide lady told us about a mass in a church beside the Benedictine monastery where mass is sang every morning by the nuns at eight o’clock. That sounded amazing so I got up to attend and it was amazing. The majority of the mass is sang by a choir of nuns, was really beautiful.
There are of course many beautiful restaurants to sample in Santiago and you can kill happy hours strolling around the city watching the many street performers or sampling a coffee or the hot chocolate and churros in one of the many cafes.
The city park is worth a visit, there’s a beautiful view of the city from the main viewing point in it and there is of course plenty of bars and night life with live bands, clubs, etc.
I was staying in a converted monastery called Hospederia San Martin Pinario just on the left hand side of the Cathedral. It was really nice and very cool to stay in an old monks room converted with modern amenities.
Finally, I highly recommend a coffee or a bite to eat in the five star Parador hotel just on the left hand side as you’re facing the Cathedral. A bit of luxury is nice after all that walking. If you can stretch to stay for a night in the place, all the better. Oh and don’t worry about looking scruffy in your hiking gear after walking, while not normal in most five star hotels they’re well used to it there. A pilgrim is a pilgrim!
The Camino Shell
There is one more thing I just realized that I forgot to mention about the Camino. Most Pilgrims you see on the Camino will have a shell on their person or ties to their backpack.
This shell is the symbol of the Camino. Legend has it that it was used symbolically to show that all roads lead to one and practically as tool for scooping up drinking water from the troughs and wells as the Pilgrims travelled the Camino centuries ago. It’s an interesting thought and I do like the symbolism.
So that is the end of this series of posts on the Camino de Santiago. I hope you found them useful if you plan to hike the Camino yourself. I do recommend it, it really is an experience unlike any other I have ever had in both hiking and general terms.
Remember to always have the right hiking gear with you. If there was ever a time when you needed to have the right hiking boots and hiking socks on, a comfortable back pack or a good rain jacket, this is it. Walking long distances repeatedly day after day brings its own unique challenges and so you need to be prepared with the best hiking gear available to ensure you have as comfortable and safe a hike as possible.
Have you hiked the Camino? What experiences did you have along the way? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!