Dad’s Botafumeiro video

The hope is this video sends correctly so everyone can see and hear what we witnessed yesterday at St. James’ Cathedral.
** Tried but it did not send — will try again tonight in Toledo — leaving now for the train.

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The last Dala and another amazing day in Santiago

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This morning we went to the cathedral in hopes of leaving the last Dala there. By one of the chapels we spoke with a young priest who knew English, and he led us to the sacristy where he explained our request in Spanish to a church official and a sister, whom we heard sing at mass yesterday. They all made gestures of understanding — exchanges in Spanish and English were made and then the priest told us to follow him to St. James’ crypt. Located underneath the alter, the crypt is reached by steps that lead down to a gated room containing the saint’s reliquary.

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At the bottom, the priest unlocked the gate and the three of us went inside. He told us we could place the Dala on the floor in the space adjacent to the tomb. It felt surreal, especially since my grad research is about offerings made by medieval pilgrims to saints as thanksgiving or in hopes of healing.

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Afterwards we stayed for the Pilgrims’ mass, similar to the service yesterday except today’s service included the  botafumiero. It was exciting to see this huge incense burner, originally used as a form of prayer and to help cleanse the pungent pilgrim odor.  Tiraboleiros pulled the ropes, swinging the object’s enormous weight upwards. “Hymn to the Apostle” was sung by the same sister who led the crowd in verses earlier and also helped us place the Dala. Dad took a video with the iPad — many cameras flashed around the cathedral as everyone tried to capture images of this tradition.

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This evening was a pilgrims’ prayer meeting  at the cathedral organized by the sisters from Ireland, Eileen and Anne, and Mamen from Spain, whom we had met at the Compostela office. Pilgrim stories were shared, including when the Camino ‘called’ us to walk. The group ended the night by visiting St. James’ reliquary. The Dala was still there, resting along the wall by the rocks. Americans Anne and Arwen mentioned they had seen the Dala left in Tosantos. Arwen earlier at the meeting had spoke about walking the Camino in memory of her sister Eleanor.

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There’s been many memorable experiences leaving the Dalas, with each one telling a story about the sisters. The sixth note, “Swedish Flickas,” paid tribute to their Swedish heritage, and the final note, “Reunions,” shows the last picture taken of the three posing together. As Eileen said tonight at the meeting, loved ones who have passed become alive again through the power of the spirit that never dies.

Tomorrow we’ll take the train to Toledo. Our Spanish journey continues, only now as tourists. We’re traveling onward to Madrid to see Alfonso and his family before returning to the states July 20.

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Santiago!

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As the first rays appeared, we left Monte do Gozo, looking for yellow arrows, shells, and way markers for the last time. Although the air was cool, the skies looked promising. No other pilgrims were in sight, and everything was quiet on an early Sunday.

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A dog who had been at the albergue followed us as we made our way towards the outskirts of Santiago. He seemed familiar with the route, as if guiding pilgrims down the streets was a daily routine for him. We were concerned that he didn’t stray too far from Monte do Gozo and near impending traffic so we stopped at a bar for breakfast — the dog stayed near the door for a while, but then Dad saw him trot off after some other pilgrims now starting to enter the city. I hope the dog made it home safely!

Camino signs and sidewalk shells led us right to the cathedral, past the business area and more modern parts and into Santiago’s old historical section. The cathedral towers rose above the museums, iglesias, official buildings, bars/restaurants, and shops selling pilgrim souvenirs. The church is an enormous, ornate Romanesque wonder — no doubt medieval pilgrims felt the months on the road were worth it to reach this magnificent structure. Another pilgrim took our picture in front of the big gate, and soon afterwards, four people (perhaps pilgrims) on horseback rode into the huge Plaza del Obradoiro in front of the cathedral.

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After leaving our backpacks at the albergue, we headed to the pilgrim office to receive Compostelas. In the office, volunteer ‘sisters’ from Ireland, Irene and Anne, were there to support pilgrims standing in line after the long journey.

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With Compostelas in hand, it was time to go to the pilgrim’s mass at noon. Crowds of people swarmed the square and filled the cathedral’s worship space. Pilgrims were everywhere with their backpacks, walking sticks, shells, and gourds (traditional water containers). Luckily there were seats left in the transcept area with good views of the altar. One of the priests announced the number of people who received Compostelas that day and what countries pilgrims represented  (we would have been included in these stats). At the end of the ceremony, Frances and wife Cookie were given a special proclamation from the Pope to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Frances had arranged this momentous presentation as a surprise for her.

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After the service everyone spilled out to the square — there were many reunions of people who had met on the path but may not have seen each other for weeks. For lunch we joined a group that included David from Australia whom we had met in Burgos. It was a great way to wind down the morning’s excitement. Hard to believe we won’t be getting up tomorrow and walking again.

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This afternoon and evening was spent wandering around this distinctive city. Tomorrow we’ll go to the pilgrim’s mass again in hopes of seeing the giant incense burner, the botafumiero. From other pilgrims’ reports, the thurible was there Saturday but unfortunately not at our service. To swing it eight men (called tirabolieros) pull ropes through an enormous pulley suspended from the cathedral’s arched ceiling. Mañana we also hope to place the last Dala at a spot that was closed today but evidently open in the morning.

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Final days

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The rain from yesterday followed us into our final stop, Monte del Gozo, or Mount of Joy. It’s the last albergue before entering Santiago, and the guidebooks stated there were 500 beds. We arrived early expecting a crowd but to our surprise there were no other pilgrims. Perhaps most walked onward to Santiago instead of taking a break here. A Korean couple we last saw weeks ago in Santa Domingo de Calzada arrived and checked in too but no other familiar faces yet.

This area includes other facilities besides the albergue — there’s a pool, camping grounds, and recreational buildings. Evidently last night a boy scout group of 250 kids camped out.

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Many were on the path by 6:30 for today’s wet and cool walk that brought out rain gear. Part of the way we talked with a pilgrim from Minnesota who leads tours of American student groups learning Spanish.

Stones were placed on a marker — three for the Charn girls, two for us. Leaving stones symbolically means that ‘we will return.’

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Tomorrow’s departure will be 6:30 again for the last 5 kilometers down to the cathedral. Before heading to the Compostela office, we’ll check-in to our private albergue booked yesterday at a tourism office located along the path.

The albergue experience has been a large part of the Camino. Albergue means ‘shelter’ in Spanish, and they’ve definitely given us places to rest and get a (sometimes) hot shower. Last night, however, we stayed at a house instead of the Xunta in O Pedrouza. This was arranged by Frances, the pilgrim from New Orleans. When he and wife Cookie arrived in town too late for beds at the albergues, they found this alternative rooming situation. Frances stopped by the Xunta and recruited others to share the house. It was a nice change from the usual. Frances cooked dinner with food we bought at the Supermercado. A young German pilgrim, Veronika, also joined us. Cookie and Francis are not only walking to celebrate their 40th anniversary tomorrow but also to raise funds for an organization called ChildCare, which helps abandoned children world wide.

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Another amazing person from yesterday was Gabrielle, an Italian poet we met back in Orisson. He had been emailing us poems since then. We unexpectedly ‘bumped’ into him again at a park while walking back to the trail after a restroom break at a bar — there he was sitting at a table — Camino synchronicity! Before we departed, Gabrielle gave Dad a Tau cross that he’d worn on his first Camino.

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Tonight there’s a service at the albergue and then soup for pilgrims at 8:00. It’s been fun talking with a Ph.D. student from Poland working here for the summer — her study focus is on pilgrimage and she has walked both Camino Frances and another route from Sevilla.

Besides Camino Frances, there’s other Camino routes in Spain with way markers and yellow arrows that lead to Santiago. The Ph.D. student mentioned that after the Camino, we’ll suffer from “yellow arrow syndrome” — a condition in which pilgrims automatically look for arrows wherever they go. I’ll miss seeing the arrows, markers, and shells that have been guides since our first day.

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Earlier we walked down to a restaurant for dinner and afterwards stopped at the massive pilgrimage monument marking the Mount of Joy. Pilgrims were there taking lots of photos — one Spanish group ran up to the marker and yelled in celebration — they made it all “The Way”!

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July 8, 2010

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Today marks the one year passing of Aunt Ginny. She was a beautiful soul filled with love for her family and friends. I will always be grateful to her (and to Aunt Arlene) for her care of Mom after their mother Amanda died. Ginny not only was a sister to Mom but also gave her love and guidance when she needed it most.

My favorite story about Aunt Ginny involves when Dad picked up Mom for their first official date while she was living at Aunt Ginny’s house, and Mom greeted him with a smile and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. For years Dad asked Aunt Ginny who had baked the cookies, and her answer was always “I’ll never tell.” When Dad and I visited Aunt Ginny in the hospital last summer after mom had passed, Dad asked Aunt Ginny again who had baked the cookies. Her response was as always “I’ll never tell.”

About an hour later, Aunt Ginny suddenly said “Lillian baked the cookies.” Dad asked “And now the really important question — did any other boys get chocolate chip cookies on their first date?” Aunt Ginny emphatically responded “No! you were the only one!” And we all had a good laugh.

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Arzua and getting rest

A short day of walking — only 3 hours to Arzua. Cooler temperatures (60s), overcast skies, and more dirt and tree-lined paths. Beautiful morning glories adorned one house. The home owner came out and was pleased we found her flowers so pretty.

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Along the route we talked with a Japanese pilgrim who’s been studying in Spain this past year and was inspired  by one of his professors to walk the Camino — he’ll reach Santiago tomorrow. An American pilgrim we met at a bar stop about 8:00 a.m. was walking all the way to Santiago today — quite a feat — probably reaching the city by 10:00 p.m. She did the same distance when walking the Camino 10 years ago —

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A lot of pilgrims trekked onward to the next major spot, O Pedrouzo, but we’d already made the decision to have a restful day before the final three into Santiago. From the line-up at the Xunta, others had chosen this plan too. The albergue is smaller and more quaint than last night’s lodging. Single beds were available along with the usual bunks.

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The albergues in larger towns (such as Arzua) are generally located in the old, historical sections. These districts follow the original ancient/medieval routes, and there’s always many restaurants/bars and shops nearby. We ate at a local hang-out, enjoying the 3 course “menu del dia” (Rick Steves would approve) — ensalada verde (green salad), skewered pollo (chicken kabobs), and Tarta de Santiago — all good!

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Pictures from Eirexe and Melide

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I’m now able to download photos again (figured out iPad glitch) — here’s some pictures from the past couple days of walking, including stays at Eirexe and Melide, where we had the pulpo (octopus) — it tasted better than it looks!

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