Hello from the other side.

Today was my first full day in Santiago de Compostela and I abandoned my hiking shoes and hiking pole at the pension this morning. I already feel less burdened and lighter. I’m stuck between a pilgrim and a tourist today. I went to the noon Pilgrim mass and also to the mass tonight at 7:30pm. Both were beautiful.

I’ve been surprised a bit by the lack of religion I encountered on this pilgrimage. I’m not Catholic, but I expected to see more religious symbolism along the way. There weren’t even very many churches open during the days when I would be walking. Maybe they mostly opened in the evenings for masses. Thinking back over the people I met along the way, I think maybe half are probably practicing Catholics. Even in the masses today, I saw many pilgrims I met along the Camino and maybe only 40% took the sacrament and were speaking along with the responses in the mass. But everyone that I saw, those I recognized and those that I didn’t, all seemed to be in a state of awe at this place. There is something really special about this place. It’s not just that people walk hundreds of miles to come here, or that I’m positive that St. James is buried here, or anything. It’s just a powerful place. I like churches, anyway. I don’t practice organized religion, but I always find a sense of peace inside a church and today was no exception.

At the noon mass, I was sitting in front of a group of pilgrims who must have been several days ahead of me, but one of them was American and he was excited to see the botafumiero hanging at the altar. He said he’d been in Santiago since Wednesday and had come to the masses each day hoping to see the botafumiero swing and this was the first time he’d seen it. Someone else said that you have to pay a hefty sum to have the botafumiero swing at the masses, so often the pilgrims will pass the hat and try to come up with the money to pay the church so they can have the incense at their mass. But, apparently, every Friday they will swing the botafumiero. No payment needed from the pilgrims. So, I actually saw it at noon and again tonight at the 7:30 mass. The noon mass was full of people, but not stuffed. I had a seat close to the altar and was able to sing when I knew the responses during the service. There was a really adorable nun who came out at the beginning of each mass and tried to teach the pilgrims the responses. She would sing in her absolutely beautiful voice and then we were supposed to repeat what she said. She was funny. She would sing and have us repeat and then she’d be like, “Great! Now, just the men!….Okay, women!…Everybody sing!” It was funny and added a good laugh to the service. They also announced the pilgrims who had arrived, but I didn’t hear any pilgrims from New Zealand, and that was what I was listening for because if I heard Lucy, I would know that they would have announced me as well, but I didn’t hear any pilgrim from New Zealand arriving, so I believe we were announced last night instead. We were eating our victory ice cream when they announced our arrival in the church, probably. But, it was cool to hear how many pilgrims arrived today. It’s a wonderful feeling to see all the pilgrims at the church and to hear the priests praying for the safety of those on the Camino now and for our safety when we return home.

I didn’t cry at all, except at the noon mass, I teared up a bit when the organ played at the start of the service. It all sort of hit me at once that I finished this and seeing some of the other pilgrims brought home what we’ve all done and all the wonderful people I met, albeit very briefly, but seeing them all in the church was sort of like a huge burst of pride that we all did this and we’re here and still standing and it’s an amazing thing. I saw David from Italy, who is in large part the reason I could figure out how to continue from Ponferrada when I had no cash. I saw Lucy. I saw Alex from Denmark. I saw a pilgrim I met from England who was a nurse. I saw the pilgrim who had told me her ankle hurt so bad after running up the mountain that if she was a horse, they’d shoot her. I saw two of the German pilgrims. I saw Jay and Choi from South Korea, who I just met for the first time at the albergue in Santa Irene on my last night on the Camino. I saw so many familiar faces and all of them smiled.

I didn’t see Lupe and I haven’t seen Pedro from Las Vegas since I met him on the Camino carrying his stool. Those are the two people I’ve been looking for today. I know Lupe is here because Lucy said at dinner that she saw him earlier today and he was worried about how he was going to meet up with us at the evening mass because he didn’t have the contact info and he didn’t seem to have any faith that we’d just bump into each other at the church. Although, that’s exactly how Lucy and I found each other. I just walked into the church, said hi to a couple of pilgrims and walked toward the pews and there was Lucy, hobbling down the aisle looking for a seat. It was that simple, but we never found Lupe, so maybe he was right to be concerned. Lucy felt especially bad about not finding him because when she saw him around noon she had said she would meet up with him for lunch a bit later in the afternoon and then she went back to her albergue and accidentally fell asleep and missed meeting him. Lupe leaves tomorrow and so I think probably we’re going to miss each other.

As for Pedro, I have no idea if he’s even made it to Santiago yet. I saw someone walking through the plaza carrying a stool just like Pedro’s, but it was a young guy and I looked to where he was going to see if he was taking a stool like that to Pedro, but he wasn’t. And the stool is just a generic plastic stool that you can find all over the country. I hope he makes it. I think a lot of people are rooting for him. He’s like Lucy, in that people remember meeting them because they have a physical struggle that they’re overcoming, and those people stick with you because you’re in awe of their determination.

The masses were moving and it really brought home why we walked so far. The botafumiero was definitely the highlight and it is so nice to smell like incense instead of car exhaust. I feel like everything I have smells like disgusting car exhaust and has smelled like that since Bilbao. So, to smell like incense for a bit is such a nice change. It was started to help cover the stench of the pilgrims in the church centuries ago, and I think it’s still technically working in that same capacity, despite the frequency of showers on the Camino now. It feels really right to spend time in the church and I plan to go back tomorrow too because the lines to go down below the altar to see where St. James is buried were long and I want to just look around the church at the little chapels and things that I haven’t seen just yet.

Oh, I’m checked into my fancy-pants hotel! The parador is beautiful. It’s a converted pilgrim hospital and orphanage. It’s wonderful. My room is so great and they have a laundry service and so I got lots of my clothing washed. When the wonderful chambermaid brought the laundry back this evening, I couldn’t stop sniffing the basket she delivered my clothing in. It smells so nice. I hate to put them back into my smelly backpack, actually. I just want to keep sniffing my clean clothes. I really don’t know if I’ve smelled anything nicer in my life.

After the mass tonight, Lucy and I looked for Lupe and, when we couldn’t find him, we just went off to dinner. We found a bar with a good menu of the day and ate well. While we were in there three men in dark black cloaks with badges sewn on them came in to get a coffee at the bar. One of them had a guitar and Lucy told me they were musicians known as La Tuna. It’s a tradition in Spain and Portugal to have these musicians playing in the streets and plazas. Lucy said sometimes they will even parade through the cafes and bars. They wear traditional clothing, play many instruments and sing. We walked around after dinner and came across a bigger La Tuna at the plaza near the church. There were about six men playing and singing and it was really cool. I was glad to get to see this sort of musical tradition. After that, I said goodbye to Lucy and wished her well on her continued trip. She’s staying in Spain for several weeks before heading back to New Zealand before Christmas. Many people are going to become tourists now that the pilgrimage is over. A lot of people have tickets home in mid-December, so there’s still a lot of travel in store for some of these people.

My television in this fancy hotel wasn’t working at first and I asked if someone could come and look at it and someone did and now it works. There is something happening in Paris. It’s going on right now and seems like some sort of terrorist attack, but it’s all confusing. Nobody really seems to know how many places are under attack right now. They are saying there are explosions at some places and gunmen at others, but nobody seems sure of what’s actually going on. It’s still going on. Paris is in the same time zone as here, and it looks like it started about thirty minutes ago, but the reports are just coming in. It doesn’t seem like anybody has a clear understanding of what’s happening right now. I got all my Dad’s texts today at once and I’m able to be in contact with him again. I texted him earlier when I first saw the breaking report about the attacks in Paris but he said he hasn’t heard anything about it yet in the States. But I think he’s seen some reports now. Now it says there’s a hostage situation in a concert hall, but even the reporters are confused about how many locations are under attack.

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