Well, we also get lost and used the occasion to get some tasty pastries (I was allowing myself gluten this day because I had avoided this allergen too long).
I say "we" because I decided to invite my three Austrian friends to stay with me. I called the hotel to have some extra beds brought in. It was extending beyond my normal comfort zone as I fully expected to have a nice stay, complete with perhaps a spa visit, in a contemporary hotel to celebrate and recuperate.
But given what I've been saying as the trip progressed, that wouldn't have been a celebration. It would have been a regression, feeling lonely and contrary to what I experienced. The Way was indeed a spiritual exercise but I realized that it was most profound when we listened and helped each other, not if we were monastically silent.
So the three young men were thrilled when, my hotel wasn't just a normal business hotel as I expected but a former monastery turned into a rather sophisticated, fancy hotel with valet parking, etc. They have never been to such a place in their youthful lives and marveled at everything.
When I got out of the shower, I was rendered speechless as I listened to Jakob and Elias go through their list and Skype their family. They had not called since they walked out of Linz Austria in June. The shrieks of joy and relief on the other side of Skype was utterly heart-warming. These guys were loved, missed, and thankfully alive. And in listening to the Deutsche - because that's all I can do with Deutsche, listen - I too felt alive.
We used the hotel sauna, spa, and fitness center, cleaned up, and looked for dinner. We dined at the Taberna do Bispo - a delightfully amusing name but it had good seafood tapas. We ate a bounty and wow the Galician Crema dessert, a sort of flan over cheesecake, was a dream to our senses.
The guys wanted to go out drinking but I was too exhausted. I went back to the hotel and they came back hours later. They were disappointed that I didn't want to drink all night but now I needed rest and peace, leaving the partying to the younger pilgrims. Besides the sunset before dinner was too lovely to not have a few private moments of contemplation.
The next day, I let them sleep in and went to get my Compostella (diploma). I ran into Kyu who like us saw the long lines and decided to just come back today. Arriving 8:30 just 30 minutes after opening, the short line still took 40 minutes. But as stated by another peregrino who we kept meeting (we called him Oxygen guy since most of his pack was Oxygen mask equipment), "It's just a mini Camino". I liked his patience and was buoyed by it.
I got my Compostella and felt so good. Was I there yet? At this moment, I didn't care.
We had a great buffet and the guys apparently had never eaten at a nice hotel buffet. Jakob can really pack it in, even more than me. Heavenly pastries were great, but Elias hauled in a stack of bacon.
I realized I was sounding more avuncular than a big brother. Maybe that's more appropriate since I'm older than their parents. But more importantly, I felt like different generations can find similarities and respect for each other that we often forget at home.
We then went to the noon pilgrimage mass. Oh that felt good. It has been over a week since I attended the mass in Astorga. The days of grinding out the wet kilometers in rural places left no chance to find the mass.
But the last couple days were, in a word, spectacular. Barely a cloud shown, 80 temperatures, and gleaming rays highlighted the city. It was a perfect finish to a long trip of very different weather patterns. Were we there yet? Inside the Cathedral, hugging St James, it seemed so.
So the mass went well and was packed with pilgrims. We were all welcome but reminded that only those baptized Catholic could receive Communion. After this journey, I felt sorry for those pilgrims who weren't invited to the altar.
Were we there yet? Maybe not yet.
I saw a few who went anyway and - given that the name of my blog shows my feelings on this - I was glad. And I was happy to see a surprisingly emotional Elias get communion.
Alas, no botafumeiro today. The enormous incense burner will wait until tomorrow, on the regular Friday evening service.
I did some shopping while they checked out the Compostella line. I finally chatted up Rudy from Germany, whose wife met up with him now that he walked into Santiago. Jakob, Elias, Conrad, and I met up back at the hotel and, since the hotel pool was under construction, walked a kilometer away to the city athletic center and pool. Of course Jakob had us stop for pastries on the way. I guess I had the same behavior during my backpacking days in Europe during 1980s: walk for hours, get a couple pastries.
They clowned around and didn't do laps, but I certainly did: backstroke no legs. I totally didn't need to add to my leg workout. The cool water felt good and we had a chilaxing time going back and forth to the steam room. My feet were almost ready to forgive me.
We cleaned up and met with some other peregrinos at the Cathedral plaza at 7pm. Caught up with Thomas, finally introduced myself to occasional passerby Martin of Scotland, Susana of Germany, and Marc from Germany. We all had a relaxing dinner and Thomas admitted that he had been laid off from an executive position and was using his Camino walk to find himself.
We then went back to the plaza and Conrad pulled out the cigars. We laid on the stone steps, listened to Galician music, sipped wine, gazed at the stars - nowhere near as bright now that we were in a city - and puffed away with joy. Were we there yet? Maybe yes, maybe no, but we were in communion with each other and that's all that mattered.
Marc made a dramatic exit. He said his goodbyes and offered his cigarette lighter to Elias and Jakob for use at Finisterre. He said that was his last moment smoking, as he promised himself on this pilgrimage. He then walked into the darkness with a spring in his step.
The next day, after another hearty breakfast, Conrad and I said our goodbyes to Elias and Jakob. It was heartwarming and full of invitations to stay in Austria and Pasadena. They began their march to the end of the world.
Conrad and I took the bus instead. Though we napped most of the way, we still saw some lovely beaches and Californiaesque coastline. I'll describe this day trip in the next blog. But it was after that bus trip to the ocean that I said my goodbye to Conrad. Was he done with his journey yet? I doubt it.
I came back with sore feet and ran into Ann. The day I lost my hat but gained a fellow friend on the journey, Conrad and I were having cocoa when she chatted us up. Ann is from Pennsylvania and walking in from Sarria.
I congratulated her for completing the journey and found that she had deeply personal reasons for making this trip. We shared smiles, hugs, and support and told her I would keep her in my prayers.
I grabbed a quick bite of more pulpo (we need pulperías in Pasadena) and at 7pm barely got a standing place at the cathedral for the 7:30 Friday night once a week pilgrim mass. I ran Into the woman whose backpack obscured my eyeglasses for almost an hour in Grosvar.
The announced welcome heartened me when in Spanish I heard the welcome to those peregrinos from Los Angeles who started in Burgos. "Hey that's me!". Communion was again introduced with a welcome, but also a warning to those not baptized Roman Catholic. We were there, but not there yet.
The highlight was the botafumeiro. The enormous incense burner was lit at the end. Tourists and pilgrims alike suddenly became electronic gophers. On cue, hundreds of hands popped up with mobile phones, cameras, tablets, and iPads lighting up the room.
We were blessed and probably fumigated by the incense. It swung back and forth, almost as high as the ceiling. Up and down it made its journey but like us, it knew where it would end, in the center of the Cathedral.
I boarded the night train to Madrid, slept soundly on Dramamine, and now continue my pilgrimage towards Salamanca.
May our days be filled with ups, downs, fragrances burning, and dramatic flourishes. And may your relations include tears of joy, playfulness, and sweets. May we be there, wherever there is.
And let all who are thirsty come.