Before leaving Porto, we picked up a “credencial” or pilgrim’s passport at the Cathedral. In addition to giving us access to inexpensive pilgrim albergues (accommodations) along the route, by getting the credenciales rubber stamped along the way, at churches, albergues, and restaurants, and presenting it at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago, to show we had walked at least 100 kilometers along the route, we each qualified for a certificate of completion, known as a “compostela.”
Our days quickly settled into a simple routine: Get up, make some coffee, check the guidebook to get an idea of the route, and leave the albergue by 8:00 am, when it closed. Yellow arrows painted on buildings, utility poles, and sidewalks marked our way to Santiago. Stylized scallop shells sometimes appeared as way markers. We’d walk for a couple of hours and stop for a late breakfast at one of the small restaurant-bars along the route. After that, we’d continue to the next albergue, check in, grab a shower, and maybe do some hand laundry.
Food was simple and fresh. As we walked through mostly rural villages, we saw chickens and small plots of greens, grapes, and potatoes outside of local homes. Most restaurants along the route offered an economically priced, daily pilgrim’s menu for the largest meal of the day, lunch. For an average of 5 Euros (about $7.50) each, we had our choice of an appetizer, main course, and either a glass of wine or dessert. Supper was often small plates (tapas) and local wine. I loved the Albariño, a local white wine made from grapes grown in Galicia, one of the areas through which we walked.
Reaching Santiago and Obradoiro square in front of the Cathedral and sharing in the ancient pilgrim traditions was inspiring and exciting – following the footsteps of countless earlier pilgrims, we entered the Cathedral, saw the Tree of Jesse with its grooves created by millions of pilgrims placing their hands in gratitude for a safe journey; viewing the supposed resting place of Santiago (St. James); seeing the Botafumeiro, a huge incense burner swung by eight seminarians who raised it to the ceiling and guided its path by swinging it from one end of the Cathedral to the other. Walking through a city that began over a thousand years ago is humbling; imagining the life which it has seen, impressive.
Although it shouldn’t have been, I was surprised at the very few material items one truly needs on a daily basis. As recommended, my pack weighed less than 10 percent of my body weight, and could, in fact, have been even lighter if I had tried harder to eliminate the non-essential items, such as a sleeveless shift to wear after showering. For this pilgrimage, I carried a sleeping bag liner for my bedding and was a little cold; the next time I will include a lightweight sleeping bag.