It’s another cool foggy morning as I walk along the rolling hills and through tiny villages. There’s a small traffic jam when a husband and wife pass by with their herd of cows.
As I feared, the trail becomes noticeably more crowded today. I nearly have a panic attack when I look ahead and see a mob consuming the path. It’s a group of teenage school kids and there’s literally hundreds of them. They’re loud and chatty and half are on their phones. It takes me a while, but eventually I manage to weave my way in and out of the crowd and make it past them.
There’s an endless stream of walkers now, most with tiny packs or no packs at all, wearing fresh clean clothes and new shoes, women with their makeup neatly done. The whole feeling of the trail has changed and I can’t wait to get to Santiago, just two more days after this!
In the afternoon I end up at a nice hostel in a town called Palas de Rei. The bunks have curtains for privacy and there’s a comfortable hangout area and kitchen. I shop at the market up the street and make a giant salad for dinner. While I’m eating I meet a guy from Alaska and we end up chatting about our hiking paces (he’s a fast walker like me). We laugh about how everyone has to make a remark about how fast we walk as we pass them. He’s hiking with a couple friends who are much slower and want to stop constantly every time they pass a cafe (which is all the time!). Now I don’t feel so bad knowing I’m not the only one who walks fast and doesn’t take many breaks!
It’s now my second to last morning on the Camino and I’m in a crabby mood. It’s probably because I got zero sleep (yep, the curse of the Camino snorer), but it’s also because I miss my quiet mornings. The trail is jam-packed with people and most of them are oblivious to the fact that they need to share the trail. Huge groups are walking super slow, side by side, and taking up the entire trail. I keep having to say excuse me and try to squeeze my way through and every time they seem so surprised that someone’s passing. But they’re soooooo slow!
After a few hours I walk through a town called Melide. It’s a good sized town and once I pass through I have the trail to myself again. It seems most people either stopped here for the day or are taking a break at a cafe. It’s a beautiful afternoon but the miles are going by so slowly. I’m constantly checking my phone to see how far I have left. I’ve planned to walk 27 miles today and after only about 12 I’m already wishing I was done.
After a very long day I finally reach Salceda in the early evening. I check in at the hostel and shower then walk across the street for a glass of wine. A guy from Denmark is at the table next to me and we start chatting about the trail. He’s like me and prefers wilderness hiking and camping and finds the Camino to be a difficult experience in comparison to being in the mountains. Soon an older German couple takes off their packs and sits down near us and starts complaining about the trail and all the “non-hikers” who are crowding it. They’re also annoyed with the busloads of tourists who are trying to get the “Camino experience” by walking for just a couple miles with a shell tied to their daypack. We all agree that it cheapens the experience for those of us that have been in it for the long haul. It’s nice to commiserate with some like-minded hikers and now I don’t feel like such a bad person for silently seething as I pass all the newcomers in their fresh clean clothes.
I treat myself to a slice of Santiago cake and a second glass of wine since it’s my last night. I only just heard about the cake tonight, but it’s a staple in the region. It’s an almond sponge cake and its top is decorated with the Cross of Saint James in powdered sugar. As I’m paying for my wine and cake a man eating at a table nearby motions for me to come over. He’s dining alone and urges me to have a couple of his scallops. They’re another specialty of the region and they are fantastic. I thank him and walk back to the albergue, full after my strange dinner and ready for a good night’s sleep. I’m so excited for tomorrow! It’s the last day!
I leave the albergue around 6 am and barely need my headlamp as a nearly full moon lights the path. I didn’t sleep much due to a guy snorting and coughing all night but I don’t care. Today I’ll arrive in Santiago de Compostela and I get to sleep in a private room tonight! What luxury!
As the day lightens more and more pilgrims begin joining the trail. There’s a moment when everyone stops because the full moon is setting over a mist-covered field. It’s a magical sight and we all take photos but the moon looks so much bigger in person.
After a few hours I stop for a coffee and a napolitana (a chocolate-filled croissant, one of my favorite treats!). As I’m leaving the crowded cafe I run into a woman from Canada I met weeks ago on the Norte route. She’s a really sweet lady and it’s nice to see a familiar face. When I met her on the Norte I had told her all about my hiking adventures from the PCT to the Via Dinarica. Today she tells me how she’s been so inspired by my adventurous spirit and that she’s told so many other people on the trail about my story. I’m both humbled and flattered. I never feel like what I’m doing is particularly special so I’m surprised when I hear that people are so impressed by what I’ve done.
After leaving the cafe I only have about 7 miles left until I reach the cathedral in Santiago. I become incredibly annoyed when I run into another school group jamming up the trail. I’m walking fast, trying to pass them, but the group seems endless. It’s the last couple miles of this crazy long journey and I have to walk with a bunch of rowdy teenagers who couldn’t care less that they’re sharing the way with pilgrims who have been walking hundreds of miles to get here. They’re giggling and yelling and staring at their phones. It’s not the way I imagined ending this long walk, but nothing about this journey has been what I expected.
I reach the top of Monte do Gozo, the high point before the final descent into town, and can see Santiago in the distance. It’s so close now! At last I’m weaving through the busy streets of Santiago, anxious to see the cathedral. I finally reach the old part of town and can see the spires up ahead. I walk under a stone archway and I’m there. It’s 12:30 and the cathedral bell rings at the exact moment I arrive.
I sit cross-legged and lean against my pack as I eat an orange and watch the other pilgrims arrive. It’s quite an experience to see people ending a journey of a lifetime. Some are crying, some excited and jumping around, most are quiet and introspective as they pause and gaze up in awe at the impressive cathedral. It’s the end of the trail and it’s only right now in this moment, as I sit peacefully in the plaza, that I finally feel a connection to the other people who walked this path. Now it’s time to get some sleep.