We spent last night in Arzua about twenty five miles from Santiago. Tomorrow we will walk as far as Labacolla, about nineteen miles away.
We have two reasons for stoppping such a short distance from Santiago.
First this is the only place we have been able to find a hotel. The camino is getting crowded.
Second. We want to be close enough to Santiago so we can make it to the Cathedtal in time for the noon Pilgrim’s Mass.
Arzua is the town where the popular Camino Francais and the Camino del Norte converge.
All of the walkers from both routes will walk together for last two or three days into Santiago. Instead of ten people a day we will now see hundreds.
In addition, since it is a weekend, there are even more pilgrims .
To qualify for a Compostela ( the official recognition of a Camino walk) one has only to walk 100km. Thus, it can be done over a long weekend.
All of this means that our quiet days of solitude are over.
We had a foretaste of this last night in our hotel. It was like party central.
I am dreading the rest of the walk and fear it will be like a circus.
Funny thing about life. It never goes the way you expect it to go.
I worry it will be like walking along a horizontal “tower of babel”. Instead it turns out to be Pentecost on the path.
Let me explain.
We start out as usual in the dark but this morning there is a difference.
In front and behind us there are dozens of tiny lights. Like fire flies flying in formation. These are the early risers.
Gradually morning turns these little fireflies into people.
As I begin to see these fireflies as people I begin to see their faces and to listen to their stories.
The crowds and noise I have been dreading become a beautiful tapestry of humanity and sweet music to my ears.
I think of Santiago who was sent to Spain to spread the good news of Christ.
Here I am two thousand years later and people are streaming through the darkness to get to his shrine.
Each person walking has heard something or felt something to end up beside me on this path.
I think back on all the reasons I have heard people give for making this huge effort to walk to Santiago.
Some have heard the language of the church and walk in faith.
Others have heard the voice of adventure and walk for the thrill of it.
Still others have heard the call to step away from the day to day life and listen to what their heart is telling them.
Still others walk to understand why they walk.
Every one of them is hearing Santiago speak to them in his own language and in his own way.
A family is walking together, laughing about having to eat the pilgrim meal of merluza (hake) and chips for three nights in a row.
A parish group, walking short sections with their priest and collecting their suitcases from the bus each night,is laughing about how tired they are.
A man from northern Italy is walking with his wife, his sister, his sister-in-law and his mother-in-law and they are all laughing.
We sleep in rooms of twenty beds with men snoring in five of them and we laugh about it.
Our feet are covered with every blister remedy sold in every drug store in Europe. The skin is hanging off and we show them off with pride and make jokes about them.
Our backpacks are heavy and overflowing and still we smile and brag about who carried the heaviest one.
The common denominator on this walk is a smile.
Boy have I gotten this one wrong. This is not some penitential procession.This is a Festival of Feet. These people are smiling. These people are happy !
Christians, Jews, believers, non-believers, We have met them all as they have been pulled down the path by a force they may not even be able to name.
Santiago, who died believing he had failed as a missionary, now draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to his shrine.
Watching this motley collection of happy pilgrims, he must be smiling too.
Late in the day, we passed the River Labacolla where pilgrims traditionally washed before arriving at Santiago. We decided to wait.
We rounded the corner of the Santiago Airport which signaled our arrival into the outskirts of the city.
We documented our arrival with a photo and if you look closely, you’ll see we too, are smiling!