Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 14 - Palas de Rei - Santiago de Compostella

On the road to Santiago and I’m super excited. It’s a really weird feeling, although it’s hilly I haven’t much felt it, I’ve been counting off the kilometres. We’ll do 63 today to get there. When the road counters get to 100 we’ve made it.

I was outraged this morning, there were a group of ‘walkers’ gathered outside a bar all with backpacks, staffs and scallop shells, bustling us along and very determinedly not moving out of our way as we tried to park the bikes. It was certainly not the friendly ‘Buen Camino’ welcome we’d had every other morning at breakfast. Then we found out why they were so keen to stay in position, they were queuing for the bus to Santiago! I was overtaken by murderous rage - my first burst since the trip began. These folk took priority over us at refuges, yet were a coach party!

We both feel less trusting here, there’s less camaraderie as there are more day trippers and they are far less friendly. We are getting plenty of ‘hoots’ of support from returning minibuses of pilgrims, mostly with ugly, mangled looking feet sticking out of the windows.

As we got closer I got faster! I was really excited but had a weird sense of it being the end of something. We were just 12km out, only as far as Leamington. Unfortunately the road became motorway so we had to go off onto a different track. This got annoying in places where the day trippers walked six abreast, blocking the road completely.

Other, tired looking pilgrims were happy and helpful. The road was very hilly and I had to walk quite a few sections. At one point cheery Spanish walkers cheered us on in a Tour de France stylee, but I couldn’t keep it up and they passed me on foot. After over taking me three times one ran up behind me and pushed me up the hill, much to the amusement of his buddies and Lou.

The closer to Santiago we got the weirder it felt with tourists cramming the path. We got to Monte de Gozo, the recommended overnight stop before Santiago – it was hideous. We’d expected some form of monastery, but it called itself a vacation city and had blocks and blocks of dormitories, along with restaurants, cafés, shops and a launderette, blasting out Celtic music. Any ‘real’ alburgue would not stand for the noise during the day!

We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, we went on down a series of steps where we saw fresh horse poo and joked about Tonto from Rabanal. Entering Santiago I just felt plain scared as there was traffic all over the place and no yellow arrows to guide our way. We got lost and really struggled to get into town. The guidebook was worse than useless, so eventually we just cycled in the direction that the statue of Santiago faced, and that brought us into the old town.

The town was jam packed, and I found it quite intimidating. Eventually we found our way to the Cathedral and as we parked up our bikes Tonto arrived! His mate recognised us first, to much laughter, and a curious cycling mime. Tonto was loving the attention, and was more interested in getting his photo taken than letting his horse have a drink, so the horse got stroppy.

We went into the Cathedral – big mistake! It was noisy with hundreds of tourists, accompanying tour guides and camera flashes. The coin operated electric candles were unappealing and we decided to get our Compostela and get out. We joined the queue, assuming it to be for pilgrims. It wasn’t until I asked the person in front if it was for our ‘credencials’ that she explained, “No, it was to hug and kiss a statue of Santiago” – bite me! Other people were queuing to kiss the other little statues and have their photos taken doing it. It was all so awful. I really thought I might cry! We came all this way just to be part of a circus.

We went to the pilgrims office and joined a queue of tired, smelly, battered looking people with faded, stained clothes and absurd tan lines. It was nice to be with people like me! The Australians from the day before joined us, it felt good that there were people to talk to in the queue, and we recognised a few faces, as well as lots of bikes we’d seen on the road. The Australians took a photo of us both standing outside the Cathedral.

I found the Cathedral depressing, disorienting and confusing. We decided to cheer ourselves up by checking into the Parador. It took us a while to get past the security guard, and when we asked the receptionist for a room she scurried off to get the manager. He really didn’t want us smelly folk staying, so quoted the room price, which was steep, but we knew that already. We agreed to the price, at which point he said he had no rooms, only suites and quoted a much higher price. I asked Lou if she was OK with that, and as she started to nod he said, “oh no, I only have suites with one bed”. I finally took the hint and we left!

We settled down for a cana con limon at a café bar in a busy pedestrianised street. A Mexican mariachi band came to play by us, they were pretty good. I gave them some money, but that only seemed to encourage them, not make them go away. The people on the next table were hidden behind a pillar and decided to sing along. I thought Lou would spontaneously combust with embarrassment.

Getting a cheap room wasn’t easy either, so we walked a little further out of town and nabbed a cancellation at a great 17th Century Jesuit place that had been converted into a lovely hotel. We got a great deal on a triple room with a lovely garden courtyard, and even an invite to enjoy free wine in the hotel bar.

I rang mum who seemed delighted that we made it to Santiago alive, and after a few attempts got through to Dad who was excited about the whole trip. I raided the garden strawberries which were nowhere near as nice as the ones I’d harvested on the way across the Pyrenees.
After getting cleaned up and raiding the mini bar – for pop! – we strolled back into town to get some dinner. We were spoiled for choice as there were fancy seafood restaurants everywhere. We picked one and I ordered oysters followed by a Galician bouillabaisse which had swordfish, hake and monkfish steaks in it. Lou had a salad followed by steak and chips! We split a great bottle of rias baixas red wine.

We took another walk by the Cathedral which looked very impressive from the outside, and dramatic lit up at night. There were plenty of people about in the square singing and dancing, which was more comforting. There was a band playing, including a strange local bagpipe type instrument.

I had a great nights sleep.

1 comment:

Fred said...

I truly enjoyed your blog ... have passed it on to another.

It's funny how the short-pilgrims who blocked the path and tourists queued up to kiss the various icons brought to my mind the people who gawked at Jesus as he made his way up Calvary ... the more things remain the same!