I stood at the bridge wondering how long I would have to ride into Spain before I could start speaking Spanish. Ten minutes? 20?, turns out when you cross into Spain you can begin speaking Spanish instantly. Not unlike crossing from Florida into Georgia and immediately being able to purchase 40oz beers. Since Porto we began to see more Camino hikers. They seem to be a colorful bunch, never have I seen so many flourescent vests and knee braces. From what I can tell so far the Camino seems to be the retirement home of long distance trails. Nothing at all wrong with any of this, who wouldn’t want to stay in quaint Spanish hotels every night with restaurants only a few steps from your bedroom.
We made it to Santiago de Compostela today, the ending point of the Camino de Santiago and the supposed resting place of St. James. The church in Santiago is in the truest sense “epic”. It seemed all the roads in the city at some point winded their way to the stone steps of the cathedral.
Walking into the church I slipped into this sort of forced reverence. It was nice though, it felt like an important place to be. I sat in the pews for a minute and wondered how many of the gold decorations were real gold then I made my way into a little tunnel underneath the main display. It was a small cave type room with a single red prayer bench looking towards a glass window. Six or seven feet back through this window was an exact replica of the ark of the covenant from Indiana Jones, well it looked similar.
I was in there alone for just a moment until an older gentleman walked in, kneeled at the bench and started praying. Part of me felt as if I should leave, but he was praying aloud in Spanish and I just sort of froze. If I walked out while he was praying it may distract him, so I just hung there on the wall five feet behind him acting like I was waiting my turn. He prayed for a long time and I just stared dead at that gold box and maybe glanced a few times down at my dirty fingernails. It would be really weird if I left now. He finished, stood up and walked out of the tunnel and I took a kneel at the bench so that the man wouldn’t think I was standing behind him and staring for no reason. I closed my eyes to pray but all I could think of was that scene from Indiana Jones and The Holy Grail when he is walking through that hazy tunnel in the final scene and he keeps repeating “only the penitent man will pass, only the penitent man will pass…” I think he goes on to say, “a penitent man is humble before God, a penitent man kneels! he kneels before God!” and he drops to his knees moments before a blade nearly slices off his head. I put a 2 cent euro piece in the coin receptacle, got up and walked out to find Jason. We got on the bikes and as usual made a slow crawl out of the city and back into the countryside.