Metamorphosis

Santiago de Compostela Travel Blog

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A hairdo makes all the difference

Part 1

So you thought I had forgotten you? Not likely. I still have a month left in Spain and many more stories to tell from the past few days.

I woke the morning after the night before (5 pilgrims!) for a day of re-grouping. No more walking, no more pilgrim logistics. I was actually staying put for a few days and could relax a little. It was also a day for a little personal metamorphosis as I desperately needed to buy something to replace my worn out pilgrim rags and have a little treat at the hairdresser again. A smiling butterfly emerged, wearing a pretty skirt or the first time in 2 months and with shiny glossy trimmed hair.

I still have to exercise a little shopping restraint as there is a month of lugging my mochila around Spain yet, so willpower reigned.

The comedor de peregrinos in the Parador
My lovely room mate Beatriz had suggested we experience another Pilgrim tradition, it would be a farewell dinner as she was heading to Madrid in the morning.

We needed to show up at the Parador [these are old monesteries or hospitals converted into luxury hotels and exist all over Spain; the one in Santiago rests proudly in the Praza Do Obradoiro, next to the Cathedral] before 7.00pm and be among the first 10 pilgrims to line up with our Compostella [certificate of completion of the Camino de Santiago provided by the Church].

The reward? We were led through the grand front door and interior patios to arrive finally at a special room called the ´Comidor de Peregrinos´.

Night time entertainment
To retrieve our dinner, we wound our way up the lovely old staircase to the back of the kitchen where every day of the year the Parador provides 10 ´staff´style meals for Pilgrims at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am not sure how long they have been offering this but it is a lovely quirky way of giving something back to those who have wearied themselves in the honour of so many others. I totally enjoyed meeting pilgrims who had walked other Caminos and we all added some kind words to the giant guest book. It was a beautiful tradition to experience.

The evening was polished off with another free concert, this time a local Ska band; very energetic and a lot of dancing in the little plaza! By now my body was starting to collapse with exhaustion so it was a reasonably early night.

On the way back to the Pension, Beatriz and I were lucky to see the event crew trialling the lasers and fountains for the grand display on the 24th. There were only a few people scattered around Praza do Obradoiro so it was like a private show, just for us.

The next day, I left santiago for a day to spend it in a nearby village called Negreira with Paul´s mum. She is now in Spain on holiday to stay with her family. It was like life completing another full circle: the reason I had met Paul originally was because he was carrying a key ring of Santiago from his mum. Now I get to meet his beautiful mother, not in Australia where she lives, but 15km from Santiago de Compostella, her place of birth!

I was so loved and cared for in the 24 hours I spent with Carmen and José.

It was all home cooking; freshly ground coffee; young calf, eggs and vegetables from the nearby family farm and lots of interesting chats in English/Castillano. I was spoilt and have made two more special friends along the way.

Returning to Santiago was cooler and damper than my departure. The rain had now set in (true Galician style) and it looked like the days for the festival would be hampered by the weather, strange for the middle of summer but normal for Galicia. It was now the 24th July and Juan would arrive from Madrid to share in the festivities with me.

Santiago was starting to swell with the influx of locals, tourists and sweaty, smiley Pilgrims. The 24th of July is the official beginning of the festivities but for the few days prior, the momentum and energy builds to the final crescendo.

Pilgrims and gigantes

Every year Santiago repeats the rhythm of it´s life, beginning after each festival by storing supplies for the long cold and wet winter, devoid of all but the hardiest pilgrim. Few tourists brave this time but the Cathedral remains the centre of attraction every day of the year. The city pulses softly, waiting for spring and the beginning trickle of the first hardy Pilgrims again. They enter the city from all directions as they complete their respective pilgrimages: some from France and Europe via the Camino Frances; some from the stunning North Coast along Camino Norte, Camino Ingles and Camino Promitivo; some from Porto in Portugal and the hardy ones from Via de la Plata and Camino Mozaribe in the South. The numbers increase exponentially intil the crescendo in July, many hoping to time their arrival in time for the annual celebrations for Dia de Santiago.

Chupinazo
This is when the pulsing cocoon finally bursts open and the butterfly that is Santiago gets it´s wings for another summer of fun. The metamorphosis of Santiago is complete and it can show off it´s glorious colour with a festival more fantastic, year after year.

Part 2

The beginning of the festivities took me by surprise. It was just before noon on the 24th and I was wandering near the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Suddenly I heard an explosion closely followed by another. My first thought was ´ETA´a terrorist group from the Basco (Basque) area who have been a little active lately and thus created a very large Police presence in Santiago. Fears were soon allayed when I saw puffs of smoke in the sky from the fireworks.

Praza do Obradoiro - waiting for the sound and light show

The little explosions became more and more frequent and soon I could see the place from where they were being unleashed. It was one of the high ´landings´on the Catedral and I could get close enough to be about 20m away from the event crew. I was at the top of the steps to Praza do Quintana, a large plaza at the back of the Catedral and home to many of the festival concerts. Standing outside Café Literario, I watched; amazed that the operator was being passed each giant rocket; he would then light it and hold it in his bare hand until it took flight as the gunpowder ignited.

Dozens were let off over a period of 20 minutes until the city smelt that lovely burnt powder smell. I could see many Pilgrims making their final entry into Santiago to the sound and sight of the welcoming rockets.

Ohmgod - It's about to start!
Some were running, some in groups were cheering and others entered solemnly and in tears. What a treat and what wonderful timing.

Before long the soft rain started up again and the afternoon was quiet; all were apprehensive about the sound and light extravaganza planned for the evening. By 10.00pm it was really raining and everyone was either cocooned in a poncho or under cover of an umbrella. The narrow lanes and streets were now so crowded, it was a slow trip to Praza do Obradoiro. As it was not pleasant to wait outside, we selected a cosy corner bar to chat and sampled more tapas, local wine and sidre. The mood everywhere was so happy and expectant; families, groups of friends and occasionally sola/o travellers were all ready for a big party.

The magnificent Catedral
Somehow the rain did not matter. As with everywhere else in Spain, there was no stupid drunken behaviour and the event was an ´all ages´ affair.

By 11.00pm, us and everyone else were now squeezing into any space available in the Praza, a sea of umbrellas closed off the inky sky but I could see through a small gap. I looked up and offered a small prayer to St James asking him to hold off for a while so we could all see the fireworks. Not 5 minutes later the rain stopped completely, the dark sky cleared of clouds revealing a beautiful midnight blue heaven as a backdrop. It brought on a sigh of thousands as the umbrellas clicked shut and the crowd hushed in wait.

On one side of the square stands the Parador and at the back, directly opposite the front entrance is the Ayuntamiento (I think).

Metamorphosis of the Catedral
From these stunning balconies, backlit with huge chandeliers, we could see the dignitaries and officials, beautifully dressed and obviously enjoying the finest food and drink Galicia has to offer. Oh, what a dream to be standing up there!

At exactly 11.30pm the show began, and what a show it was. The sky immediately exploded in unison with the music of Milladoiro (I hope you have googled them by now and sampled some of their Celtic sounds). As with our Sydney harbour New Year celebrations, it was a show of great proportions. The amazing difference was the facade of the ancient and sacred Catedral. In front of the main entrance there was a temporary structure housing a complex system of fountains. This was timed with the music, lasers and fireworks.

What a backdrop
Nothing missed a beat and I am sure people actually stopped breathing for 45 minutes. It seemed like hours but every second was more amazing than the previous.

At times intricate designs were reflected in light onto the entire facade of the Catedral: some of my favourites were scenes of ivy, feathers and intricate medieval scenes in sepia. Late in the show, the pièce de resistance as far as I am concerned, a small golden light grew bigger and bigger and finally became a glorious flecha [=arrow; the symbol used to find your way on the Camino de Santiago] as tiny conchas [=scallop shells; the symbol of pilgrims] were reflected on the front. Need I even be telling you, it brought those tears back and a huge proud smile simultaneously.

Formalities on the 25th July

The energy in the plaza was truly a Golden Box one (never to be replaced) and I now felt like part of something else, no longer ´sola´but ´pareja´. The final crescendo was breathtaking but for me, tinged with sadness. As much as we want things to stay the same, life is all about change and metamorphosis is really a natural state for us all. Embrace it, as things will never be the same again!

Squeezing from the tiny exits into crazy cobbled lanes, everyone was in search of a cosy bar. Guess what, the rain started again! We found somewhere to share a coffee and compare favourite scenes from the spectacle. I was glad to have someone to share this time with. A lovely slow wander back to the little Pension; we arrived to find every bar and restaurant in our little plaza in full swing and continuing well into the wee hours.

Final journey for the piedras
Oh, I love Santiago!

The next morning required an early start for the civil and religious part of the celebrations. A quick hot chocolate with churros and we were in the plaza again by 10.00am. The official transcript: Processión do Padroado do Apóstolo Santiago, Ofrenda Nacional �" Apóstolo na S.A.M.I. (Catedral). There would be an official presentation of the army in the plaza (complete with more skyrockets, trumpets, medals and much saluting) followed by an offering to the Church by the ´nation´and Mass in the Cathedral. This second bit gets a little confusing but I will try to explain to the best of my limited knowledge. I believe that Santiago (St James) is the Patron Saint of all of Spain (but I am not sure).

The celebrations on 25 July - Botafumeiro (incense burner)

After the officials were paraded through the glorious front entrance of the Catedral, we followed (unfortunately by a side door) and managed to find a little space under the arc of the Botafumeiro, very fortuitous. Ten munutes later, there was not one square centimetre available to stand. Those with seats had been waiting for several hours by now.

The ceremony began with the Nuns choir - oh my, what joy. Normally during every Mass (at 12.00 each day), one of the elderly nuns sings the hymns but today she had all of her lovely girls with her and they sang with the familiarity of family - sisters. The hard, cold stone cathedral melted with their sweet notes and you could feel the energy deepen and soften with each lovely sound.

The first speech was by the President of the local government, Julián Barrio and this was followed by an equally long and tedious one by the Archbishop.

Emotional exit from the Cathedral after Mass
Both were in Castillano so I am not too sure of the content but Juan assisted with a condensed version. In a nutshell they both spoke about the autonomy of government and Church but the Archbiship with a liberal leaning towards the church (and that is another story!)

It was now hot and steamy in the Catedral and several people were taken outside by the Cruz Roja (red cross). It appeared as though this is a common occurrence during these festivities. No-one seemed to bother too much, just normal stuff.

Once the speeches were (finally) over, it was time for Mass and I gently removed my three piedras (given to me by the Knights of Santiago) from their safe place holding them close to my heart and then in my open palm. It was a very deep and spiritual time for me as I closed my eyes and remembered all of the emotions and experiences that had made up MY CAMINO.

Festivities - traditional Galician music
Of course, I cried, but I also smiled and took deep deep breathes as I felt myself transported back 1000km across this lovely land. I could feel Juan behind me and later he showed me some terrific photos he had taken of me holding my precious stones. How thoughtful.

Late in the afternoon, Juan and I were having a coffee in Café Literario (one published author and a potential author; how fitting) and we heard some wonderful music start up. Looking out the window and down the lovely stone staircase to Praza Quintana below, Milladoiro were doing their sound check and we rushed down the long stone steps to arrive at the stage for a special front row experience. Much later that evening we again returned to hear them, this time with the full sensual accompanyment of an adoring crowd and a lushious dark night.

Milladoiro
I had to pinch myself as I looked up at the magnificent cathedral looming above me, I am so blessed.

So thankyou to Santiago and thankyou to everyone in Spain who contributed to my metamorphosis. You all know who you are and you are all loved. The story of this pilgrim continues but my life as a Pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago is complete until the next time.

Besos, Grace

PS - there will be more blogs but internet is few and far between in the North (I am now in Bilbao)

MermaidLilli says:
Whagt a treat to have arrived at this time, the fiesta de Santiago. Brought tears to my eyes as I read this. Thanks again.
Posted on: Nov 17, 2008
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A hairdo makes all the difference
A hairdo makes all the difference
The comedor de peregrinos in the P…
The comedor de peregrinos in the …
Night time entertainment
Night time entertainment
Pilgrims and gigantes
Pilgrims and gigantes
Chupinazo
Chupinazo
Praza do Obradoiro - waiting for t…
Praza do Obradoiro - waiting for …
Ohmgod - Its about to start!
Ohmgod - It's about to start!
The magnificent Catedral
The magnificent Catedral
Metamorphosis of the Catedral
Metamorphosis of the Catedral
What a backdrop
What a backdrop
Formalities on the 25th July
Formalities on the 25th July
Final journey for the piedras
Final journey for the piedras
The celebrations on 25 July - Bota…
The celebrations on 25 July - Bot…
Emotional exit from the Cathedral …
Emotional exit from the Cathedral…
Festivities - traditional Galician…
Festivities - traditional Galicia…
Milladoiro
Milladoiro
All the festivities are over, rela…
All the festivities are over, rel…
Goodbye Santiago
Goodbye Santiago