We left Arcos Do Pino at 8 a.m. It was still dark as we walked out of town to the point where the Camino left paved roads and turned off into a dark wood. Really dark. As we stepped forward into it, we were immediately presented with a fork in the path and no arrow or marker visible to indicate which way we should take.
Three other pilgrims joined us. A couple of us had tiny lights (a headlamp and a keychain flashlight) and we cast their beams about in search of a marker. All we could see was the beams glowing against the dense morning mist.
One of the others returned to the point where the dirt path met the pavement and came back to report that someone had drawn a supplemental arrow on that sign post which seemed to indicate the left hand path. So we struck out in that direction.
After going a few paces, we passed a blue plastic garbage pail which we took as a good sign. We had seen other, identical trash receptacles at intervals along the path the day before.
Eventually, we emerged from the dark and misty eucalyptus forest onto a road with a Camino marker. Rejuvenated and reassured, we walked briskly on as the sun rose in a clear sky and cool morning. Hurray! No rain in the forecast. We would be walking into Santiago in the sunshine.
There was an eagerness and optimism to the walking. We had walked longer distances the two preceding days so that the walk into Santiago would not be a strain. We climbed what we knew was the last hill and stood at the top looking for landmarks the guidebook said we'd find there.
Mist in the valley obscured the view - so we didn't see the spires of the cathedral from our hilltop. We somehow also missed seeing the famous statue of pilgrims overlooking Santiago which is on that hilltop somewhere. Apparently one must turn off the path to find it; and we missed the signs that might have directed us.
I have to admit that I don't really mind missing a side trip at that point. I was pretty focused on getting to the Cathedral and (figuratively) setting down the back pack for the last time.
Downhill and down stone steps, we came to the edge of the city and plunged into a world of crosswalks, roundabouts, traffic, and noise. Constantly scanning for signs pointing the way, we steadily walked our way deeper into the city.
For a long time we saw no other pilgrims and were beginning to worry that we had lost our way. We had no choice but to follow the path of scallop shells embedded like brass breadcrumbs in the sidewalk. At last we spotted two tall, confident looking, Nordic pilgrims marching a few paces ahead. If we were on the wrong track, at least we had company.
Very soon we could see that we were indeed on the right track as the spires of the cathedral came into view between the buildings ahead. Alert to the subtle shifts in direction indicated by how each shell was oriented in the pavement, we worked our way through the ever older streets. We heard a bagpiper in the distance, then passed him as we descended into the square … and arrived.
There it was - the cathedral and the square full of pilgrims just leaving the noontime mass. We hugged each other and as we stepped forward heard a shout to our left.
A couple of pilgrims whom we had met in El Acebo were right there to greet us with hearty and joyful congratulations. Pictures were taken. Tears were shed (by me). Hugs all around.
They gave us advice about when to arrive to be sure we were able to get a seat at the next day's pilgrims mass (be there about 10:30 for the noon mass); and they gave us directions on how to find the pilgrim office where we could get our compostelas (certificates of completion of the pilgrimage).
I asked Dad if he wanted to go straight to the office for the compostelas or if he wanted to check in at our hotel first. He suggested that we go to the hotel and get their stamp first, then go to the pilgrim office.
I had made the arrangements for our hotel so it was up to me to lead the way. I turned and headed across the square, pointing to large, historic building along one side of the plaza. "That's our hotel."
"You did great" he said, "that's easy to find … oh my … it's the Parador."
We checked in to our luxury accommodations, dropped our day packs and headed back out in search of the pilgrim office. We found it with little trouble and joined the long line of pilgrims.
We had arrived at the cathedral at 1 p.m. By 2 p.m. we had our compostelas. By 3 p.m. we had delivered our clothes to the hotel laundry and received assurances that we would have clean clothes by 8. Bliss.
Tomorrow, we'll attend the mass and visit with other pilgrim friends who have arrived or are arriving in Santiago. On Sunday, we have a trip planned by car to Muxia and Finisterre (the end of the earth).