It's almost impossible to keep your faith in the final stretch of the Camino. The roads are supposed to be busy. Where’s everybody? For days I've been walking alone through rain and mud. But at kilometre 20 ... tah-tah! ... there they are. Entire busloads of faux pilgrims are released like pigeons. The North Face too new, the faces too smily, the bags too light. The Camino turns into a circus. Some pilgrims aren't even here. I see a woman stamping 6 credentials. How silly. If it's all about getting that Compostela paper at the end, they can get mine. I don't care, it's meaningless. I don't need to prove I’ve walked those miles. I know. You know. God knows.
I feel like a total idiot. I've walked 823 km to be part of something totally fake. You see, when you're standing at the summit of Mount Rinjani, it's real. The guy next to you went through exactly the same hardship. You can't cheat your way up there. But here, haha, what a joke. No, it can't be. My blisters are real, my miles are real, my friends are real. My Camino is real. This can't be fake. I shall walk all the way to the cathedral with my backpack. I won't drop it off at the albergue. From the first to the last meter. No mercy.
I prepare for massive anti-climax. But the city is beautiful and the cathedral is gorgeous. I was expecting an overdose of baroque. But its romanesque interior is serene and welcoming. Gothic architecture is designed to make you feel small, but romanesque has something warm and motherly. This is our place and Saint James is our man. This is it. A number of rituals are awaiting the faithful pilgrim. Hugging and kissing the statue of Saint James marks the end of my journey. I’ve been dreaming of this moment all my life. A warm sensation goes through me as I hold the Saint. His actual remains are in the crypt below. I'm lucky, it's not that just busy, allowing a moment of reflection.
Later in the cathedral, a man taps me on the back. The chef! (see pic below) He made it too. In the streets, a drunk Irish pilgrim screams my name. “Sure you're not a Scotsman?” he mumbles “You look like one. And talk like one with that 'Rrrrr' of yours.” I bump into many more St. Jean vets. Monsieur Claude, the Italians, the French ... all here, all happy. An old Swiss pilgrim complains to me for half an hour about how fake the Camino has become. I've seen him many times before. The old man's got spirit so I let him rant in this eute-kneute-cute-Swiss-German. "Ja aber du bist echt. Und dein Camino is echt." I tell him. It probably sounds like Jean-Marie Pfaff in his legendary, faux German interview, but he's deeply moved nevertheless. Spirit, brother, spirit!
What better place to end your Camino than at ‘The Last Stamp’? I give it a 10 for its name and 11 for its comfort. Literally located in the shadow of the Cathedral. Rua do Preguntoiro 10 (right next to the Plaza Velazquez) - +34 981 563 525 - reservation is required, you have to leave your credit card details - open all year, from 11 am till midnight - 62 beds, 18 euro. A little pricy, but worth every penny. Top notch facilities in designish compartments. Beds with all the fancy schmancy gimmicks. And hey, you've walked all the way here, give yourself a little luxury.
Next episode: Day 28 - ‘What to do in Santiago de Compostela?’