We started out relatively early from A Rua. It had rained overnight so a bit cool and damp but I wasn’t complaining. As we departed our favourite accommodation, Hotel O Pino, there was much excitement in the group as it was our last day of walking, but there was also a bit of sadness amongst us. It was almost like a cloud that kind of hung in the air over us as we moved through the emotions of what we had achieved so far and what the end of this day was about to bring.
We had been told by the owner of the hotel the night before that there was some construction work happening around the entrance to the old quarter of Santiago, and that we would have to make a detour…which meant another 2.5km to the total for the day. We weren’t too impressed when we heard this news, but there wasn’t much we could do about it.
The usual morning banter cranked up as we made our way through the forests and quaint villages in the cool morning air. A little bit of live video as we set out can be found here. We noticed lots of gum trees again and a smattering of what looked like Australian native flowers. Not sure if they were in fact Australian, but the terrain decidedly felt like home for a while.
In our relaxed mood we had quite a few stops, every 2 or 3km so it was a fairly easy walk which made it easy to soak up or surroundings and savour our last hours on the trail.
We got our first shower of rain as we came up to a cute little cafe, the ponchos came out as we scrambled for cover. In the end decided to stop for a bit while it passed on through. As we left the cafe we tackled another hill along with many other pilgrims. It seemed to be a busy spot. Perhaps they all had the same idea as us with avoiding the rain. It was like everyone appeared as soon as the sun came out!
As we neared our lunch stop, we came across a monument at the top of another hill. It was called the Monte Del Gozo (“Mount of Joy”) and apparently back in the day, it is where the pilgrims used to see the cathedral before arriving in Santiago. It was definitely a fantastic view!
We stopped for lunch in a local bar about 5km out of Santiago, a typical Saturday with plenty of the male variety watching the soccer (REAL Madrid) on the tv and downing a few beers while we scoffed down our lunch in preparation for the final leg. Burgers appeared to be the choice of the day for most. We didn’t stop for long as we were all keen to get to our destination.
By the time we found the detour, we were all pretty tired and our feet were feeling the effects of the last 5 days… the route itself was through some fairly ordinary scenery which didn’t help with our impatience, but nevertheless we injected some humour into our conversations about the deserted area, pressed on and made good progress.
As we reached the outskirts of Santiago we got our first glimpse of the cathedral a fair way off in the distance. At that precise moment I was reduced to tears. Not sure what it was, but the sight of that iconic structure struck something deep inside. The end of these treks always hit me fairly hard. The physical exertion, the mental challenge and the sensory overload of immersing one’s self in another country/culture is a wonderful experience but it takes its toll on the emotions. Mostly in a good way, but sometimes you’re thrown for a six and you have to take a step back and figure out where it’s all coming from.
We finally made our way to the centre of town and as we entered the plaza, Giulia our guide instructed us to follow her all the way to the other side and not to look back until she told us to. So we dutifully obliged and one by one we followed her to the end. There were bagpipes playing (yes the tears were welling.. that’ll do it every time) and our lovely Aussie friends from WA that we had met along the way, were walking in with us.
It was very hard not to peek, but I managed to stay on task and I have to say it was worth the effort. We reached the opposite side, I turned around and what a beautiful sight she was…and yes, there were more tears… many more. We hugged, we cheered, we cried and we stood there in awe. There was so much going on in front of us, pilgrims arriving, dancing, singing and some just sitting there looking up in awe like us. I decided to record a live video as we walked into the square as I felt it was something that we’d all love to re-live at some point in the future. Check it out here. Excuse my emotional giggling but it was a pretty special moment.
This little group of women from Newcastle had finally reached their goal. Standing in Santiago after walking for 5 days. All that training and fundraising for the Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation had culminated in each of them soaking up this moment, standing in front of that cathedral and saying “We did it!”
I was super proud of them all and felt privileged to have shared this journey with them. Amazing individual efforts and a wonderful team achievement.
Having completed my last three treks as a participant, I understood their satisfaction and relief in achieving such a goal but I have to say, this being my first experience as team leader, it was no less emotional or satisfying. This was taking things to a whole new level for me… the responsibility of ensuring a group who has worked so hard, has the adventure of a lifetime. I am sure I still have plenty to learn and there are things I know I can improve on but I think I just may have ticked that little box and my heart is happy in that knowledge.
As we wandered about the plaza, a few of us decided to sit down and take a little break while we waited for Giulia to return from the passport office. She had delivered our passports full of stamps which enabled us to receive or pilgrim certificates. It would be my job to collect them the following day as Giulia was about to leave us.
We picked up our bags and set off on yet another walk, with Giulia leading the way… to our hotel. After checking in, we said our goodbyes to our wonderful Giulia in the lobby. She had been an absolutely fantastic guide. Her knowledge of the area was terrific and her Spanish certainly got us out of many potentially interesting situations, but most of all she was a joy to be around. We were all going to miss her very much.
After a shower and unpack, a few of us decided to explore the old quarter while the rest decided to find somewhere to eat close to the hotel.
The city was pulsing with energy and character. Lots of beautiful laneways filled with people shopping, eating and just taking in the sights. Jo, Keira and I ended up back near the cathedral and came across a full orchestra in the courtyard in front of one of the churches with a massive crowd around it. We snuck our way in to a bit of room on one of the steps and were absolutely mesmerised by what we heard and saw. The sun was setting, the weather was beautiful, the people were happy and the music was amazing… I found it quite surreal as I looked around. How on earth did I get here and how lucky am I to be here, in this place, in this moment. I’ll remember that moment forever. It was something very special indeed.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the music, but we were getting a little tired and hungry so we decided to find this famous tapas bar that Giulia had told us about, A Taberna do Bispo. Pretty sure we found food heaven that night… I’ve never had better tapas in my life. Absolutely sensational!
I highly recommend this place if you ever visit Santiago! We loved it so much we took the rest of the group back the following night. A fitting finale to a wonderful adventure.