We had pushed on from the old stone Municipal Albergue at Ribadiso, a wonderful reconstruction of one of the oldest pilgrim hospitals in existence it loitered prettily on the river bank. However the news that the toilets were not in the same block as the dorms spurred us onwards into the straggly streets of Arzua where we mistakenly thought we would have better options. From rural idyll to soulless modernity. The last vestiges of energy are sucked out of us by the jarring of chrome and concrete as we stagger into town. Last nights experience in Palas de Rei has primed myself, Kevin and J to look for a private hostel and we say goodbye to Adriano as he heads to the Muncipal and we cross the road to charmless Los Caminates II. As it turns out not only is it charmless but it is bone-chillingly cold and I shower in near hysterics trying to capture the vague vestiges of heat from each lazy drop from the shower head. The only consolation in this vast cavern is that there are only five of us so we can claim as many blankets as we need. Adriano tries not to be smug over dinner as he tells us about nabbing a bed beside a toasty radiator. I choose the opportunity to enjoy a good grumble before I drift off to sleep under a warm mountain of blankets.
The last thing I want to do this morning is to step into the bone chilling cavern of the hostel but resistance is futile. We three musketeers emerged from our sacrophagus as triumphant survivors ready for another day of pilgrimage; well after breakfast that is. A wane sun takes the edge off an unassuming day. We are nearly 40km from Santiago; too far for one days walking but there are few spots in between to draw us to commit to another night in the road. As we get closer to our destination there is a pull to share and celebrate the arrival with other pilgrims but also the deep knowing that we are each on our own spiritual path. Like homing pigeons we are now locked on our targets. Lunch is accidental and skittish; no time for adding our scrawl to the graffited walls of the wayside cafe. Instead the sustenance has galvanised Kevin and Adriano; no one is saying anything but it is Santiago or bust for them. Myself and J are left bobbing in their wake. There is an excitement in the pull of Santiago but I know it will have to be magnetic to draw me another 25km before dusk falls. For the first time I resort to plugging into my iPad to add the upbeat of Amos Lee to my footsteps. I pull away from J and into a vast long walk of aloneness as I skirt the airport, passing the last symbolic rags of penance fluttering on the industrial wire fence. I turn a corner in Lavacolla and there are the raucous Spanish boys from Palas De Rei and Kevin. The boys are planning a party at Monte del Gozo just outside Santiago and my arrival is a pretext for another round of drinks, flowers and flirtation. Kevin has gone on and J is waiting for the bus. The rain is darkening the sky as I face into the long uphill heart break of the road ahead. The Spanairds trail along behind me. It is only later I realise that we have been misdirected by the locals along the N-634a camino not the pilgrim camino. I say goodbye to my partying companions and I skitter down the slope of Monte Gozo and pass the city boundary into Santiago on a sodding wet Friday evening, but nothing can dampen my sense of awe and wonder, the sense of elation and achievement. I celebrate my arrival at The Cathedral listening to Amos Lee singing ‘Gonna wash my soul, gonna get it clean, headed down the border road called the El Camino’.