The excitement of arriving in Santiago that day got us up early. We stuffed and strapped on our packs quicker than usual, getting on the road well before 9 am. The steady downpour that had characterized our walk since the start was replaced by a clear sky, the sun smiling upon us as we prodded along. Pilgrims who once chattered along incessantly, grew silent, uttering the “Buen Camino” greeting only when absolutely necessary. We were carried along by a cool breeze that rustled the trees softly making it sound as though they were applauding. We covered a full 10 km in two hours, we were no longer walking but running. At that pace we’d be in Santiago in two more hours.
Just outside of the city, we reached an imposing monument that mirrored the enormity of the journey, while we might have only been walking for five days, some had been walking for almost forty, others even longer. From our vantage point we could just make out the tops of the Cathedral’s spires in the distance, they were waving at us to hurry.
For once John Brierly was right, walking on paved roads is much more tiring than walking on dirt even when that dirt is sludge, and those last five kilometers exhausted us more than the one hundred five kilometers that preceded them. Our feet grew heavier with each step and we thought seriously about by-passing the grand entry to the Cathedral for the comfort of our hotel bed, but just then, the spires re-appeared from behind the buildings, encouraging us to keep going. When we finally emerged onto the plaza, we just stood there, incapable of thinking, talking, or even crying alternating between staring at the church, each other and even our feet. Had we really just walked here?
We were still standing there, when a small group of french girls (more women) led by their teacher came up to us looking for an interview. “Were we pilgrims?” They asked, practicing their English. We said “Yes”. “Can we interview you?” they continued. We hesitated, wondering what we’d say looking at each other. We mumbled, “yes”. First question, “Why are you walking?” Since landing in Madrid, despite the number of people we’d met and chatted with along the road or over dinner, not once had we mentioned why we were walking. We took great pains to wait until others passed before attaching our Gus crosses or leaving our Gus prayer cards. We did not want to cause others pain or illicit any kind of pity. We were survivors, lucky to have had Gus, to be in Spain and have each other. There were other pilgrims in the plaza, yet the group of students had made a bee line for us, in that moment it was clear that “these” people were not asking the question for themselves but asking the question for God himself. So we answered God, saying “We walked for Gus”, while handing over a Gus cross and prayer card, no further explanation necessary.
Our feet no longer hurt or we forgot they hurt, so we continued on to the Pilgrim Office to request our Compostela. We presented our passport, filled with more than the necessary amount of stamps and were questioned. “What was the purpose of your Camino, cultural, historic, or spiritual?” Spiritual we answered in unison. Before leaving the Pilgrim Office with our Compostela in hand, we left a rock in a basket hung for that purpose over the stairs, it read Wito, Nana and GUS.
Next stop the “End of the World”.