Upon entering the city of Santiago and reaching the cathedral of St. James, our first order of business was to make our way the the Pilgrim’s office. This is the office that issues the “Compestella” or certificate that shows that a pilgrim has completed the journey.
It was late in the afternoon and the lines were short. We had heard stories about the long lines that form in the summer months as hundreds of tired and dirty hikers wait for their documents. Fortunately, the crowds were long gone this time of year.
We entered the office and approached a clerk sitting behind the counter.
“Only one person at a time please. We must interview each pilgrim separately” he said.
Ol backed away and moved over to another clerk who was available. I looked at the clerk and smiled.
“We have been walking for sixty-five days, we began in Le Puy en Velay in France” I volunteered.
“Why did you decide to walk farther than St. John Pied-de-Port? That is a very long way.”
After being asked this question many times on the trail, I don’t know why the officials question at the Pilgrim’s office, seemed so intimidating. Maybe it is because I get nervous around officials. Or maybe because I could see Ol and my fellow pilgrims all laughing and getting their Compostella’s stamped.
The official that I was speaking to was very polite and formal and once again he leaned forward, with his intense glaze. “Why so far, 1515 kilometers is along way, when you only need to walk 100 kilometers to get the Compostella. Not many people walk that far.”
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I made with the German, who asked me that same question. Ol nicknamed that guy “the Trail Nazi” after the Seinfeld character the “Soup Nazi.”
Why had I wanted to walk so far? Ol’s dad had just asked the same question the night before. I hoped that my explanation wouldn’t be lost in translation.
From what little research I did, I really didn’t think that 500 miles would be challenging enough for us. If God and the Church were to really give us an indulgence for our sins, I think it needed to be hard and challenging and we needed to suffer a little bit (you can tell I’m Catholic). Especially so since we have both been so blessed all of our lives.
“I wanted this walk to be challenging in order to feel that I deserved my Compostella” I said.
He smiled and asked a few more routine questions. He then stamped my pilgrims passport, looked up my name in Latin and then filled in the information for my mileage certificate and my Compostella. He wrote my latin name on the certificate, blew on the ink to help it dry, and then rolled up the beautiful documents and put them in a traveling tube.
We walked out of the office lighter and practically skipped down the road back to our hotel next to the Cathedral.
Several people we recognized from St. John Pied de Port were sitting at a corner bar deep into their cups. They asked us to join them. We made our apologies and told them that we were afraid that if we sat down, we wouldn’t get up. We were feeling the effects of hiking over forty kilometers that day.
In front of the cathedral we noticed groups of hikers laying in the square on their backpacks. They looked like we felt. Other hikers we recognized were smiling and hugging. We joined in the high fives and congratulations and then walked across the square to our hotel. We wanted to get cleaned up and rest before the pilgrims mass.
I had a difficult time getting out of the deep hot bath in our room, but somehow we made it to mass with several minutes to spare. The service was beautiful, but I kept getting distracted by the line of people behind the altar who were hugging a statue of the Saint. I was also famished. We hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast.
After mass we walked back to our hotel for a memorable dinner in one of the most beautiful dining rooms I have ever seen. Our meals were delicious and when we were finished we were too tired to do anything other than go directly to our room.
The following morning, while I had a much needed massage, Ol sat out on the square and waited for other friends to arrive. One by one they crossed the “finish line” and Ol was there to celebrate.
We spent the next two days in Santiago resting and playing tourists. We celebrated and enjoyed champagne and dinner with friends.
It was wonderful to stop in numerous churches daily and to light candles and spend time in prayer. I wanted to walk the Camino for many reasons; to celebrate our 30th year of marriage, for the forgiveness of my sins, to get stronger both physically and spiritually. I wanted to spend more time in daily prayer, and I wanted to walk and pray for both of our families and friends.
Will we will miss the simple daily rituals of walking? Ol and I are both determined to not return to our daily lives and routine existence. Like other long journeys we have taken, the Camino has changed us. It seems that the questions we came with are now replaced with new ones. One thing is certain, we want to continue to meet new people, immerse ourselves in different cultures, and continue to explore this big beautiful world.