Embarrassments in Santiago de Compostela

My knees quickly gave up on carrying the weight of my body, and the next thing I knew, I was falling. An enormous weight tumbled on top of me, and I could feel the eyes of the witnesses staring with such immense passion, but no one dared to laugh. This was the most entertaininment we have witnessed in the last 12 hours and it unfortunately came at my expense. I hastily pushed my backpack up off of me, then got to my feet, slung my heavy pack on my shoulders, and exited the train with the little dignity I had left. The person that was snoring in my left ear for half the trip gave me a piteous glance as I walked by, but I ignored his unwanted stare as well as the watchful eyes of the rest of the passengers. My embarrassment was soon forgotten as I walked out of the station, instead replaced by a satisfaction that I had survived the extremely long and monotonous train ride to Santiago de Compostela. I was excited to explore the city and to finally experience Galician culture! My built-up excitement would have to wait until the morrow though since I had arrived late in the night. My youthful mind had harbored the idea that I would walk everywhere, but my exhaustion defied my thoughts. Once my weary eyes gazed upon a flock of taxis huddled outside the train station, my conviction to walk to the hostel withered to dust.

Check-in had already come and passed by the time that I got to Roots & Boots Hostel, but thankfully, ________ had given me the code to get in and settled in my room. After locating the only empty bed in room 24, I hoisted my bag off my shoulders and on to the top bunk, which woke the entire room. Ashamed, I decided that I was awake enough to not want to go to bed since I had slept sparsely on the train. I fished for my unfinished book in the dark and snuck away to the downstairs lobby. Once there, I read the final few chapters and called it a night, in the silence of the surprisingly vacant room. On the way upstairs, I contemplated why there wasn’t a single soul up at 12AM, especially in such an allegedly gregarious place reputed as a hostel. I got my answer the next day.

I woke up rather late to an empty room. Where there were seven sleeping bodies lay seven beds ruffled with unkempt blankets. Looking around, I noticed that all the backpacks were gone, minus mine, thankfully. Groggily, I hopped down from the bed and retrieved  shampoo and a towel from my backpack. There was a lone girl in the hallway, so I was able to have a guide pinpoint the location of the showers. I proceeded through my morning ritual, dressed myself in one of my few outfits, and then walked downstairs to meet the receptionists.

I was greeted with toothy smiles and warm voices, internally deciding that I was really going to enjoy my stay. I ordered a cafe con leche and stole a seat in the hostel’s garden, basking in the noontime sun and listening to the serene sounds of silence. The receptionists had gifted me with a map of the town, so I divided the city into sections that I would explore each day until I left. Satisfied, I finished the foamy remnants of my drink and retreated upstairs to gather my necessities for the day: my trusty camera, an additional lens, a book, and my treasured moleskine notebook are the only items I need for an adventure! After stuffing the items into my tiny daypack, I set off at once.

The Roman crenelations tower above the surrounding buildings, so it is only natural that I head towards their direction. I crossed various streets, walked up numerous stairs, all with my eyes to the sky. The crenelations were my fixed point and I was bound to wind up in front of them eventually. Surely enough, I finally made it to the famed Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Massive and looming above all else, the Cathedral stood alone on every corner. Cathedral walls met a flat plaza before any buildings reached to grasp the magnificent structure. I stood in awe of the building… with fifty-sum other visitors who all bore hiking backpacks and wielded walking sticks. I felt the odd one out, almost missing my heavy pack that would allow me to blend in with the crowd. Perplexed, I asked a slouched stranger why everyone was carrying their packs with them.

“I just finished the Camino, or at least, 100 kilometers of the Camino.” The Camino de Santiago stretches all over Europe, creating an interconnected web of historic trails. All the trails go through Santiago de Compostela to meet at the very Cathedral that I was at. Small wonder so many hikers still had their packs. Aspirants from all over the globe walk one of the many paths, not due to difficulty, but because of the extreme length of the journey. 100 kilometers is a substantial distance, but pales in comparison to the near 900-kilometer sojourn from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. Originating as a holy walk for Christian pilgrims, in honor of St. James, the Apostle, it has become a journey walked by many for a multitude of reasons. Having been ignorant of all this history and knowledge upon entering this holy city, I felt extremely embarrassed. It finally made sense why people were asking me, “How far did you walk?” My once proud response of, “Oh, I was on a train for 12 & a half hours” seemed paltry in comparison to the weeks people have devoted to this walk. Learn from my ignorance, walk the Camino de Santiago if you are planning on visiting Santiago de Compostela!

After the history lesson in front of the Cathedral, I bid my temporary teacher farewell and walked past the structure, aimlessly. Past souvenir shops and restaurants, I was in search of something that I ran out of in Barcelona: toothpaste. I searched for a length of time that I care not to share, for it took me longer to find a farmacia than it should have. After what felt like a millennium, I squinted in the mid-afternoon sun to gaze upon the iconic green cross. Finally! I found the farmacia!

I meticulously inspected each toothpaste, though, I had no idea what I was supposed to look for. My Spanish tongue is meager, and my reading comprehension even more lame, but nonetheless, I strained to pick the most suitable toothpaste for my dentures. In the end, it came down to the price. Selecting the cheapest toothpaste, I proceeded to checkout. The cashier greeted me pleasantly, so I decided to strike up a conversation, albeit, a short conversation with scant Spanish lexis. After exchanging polities, I dipped into one of the only topic starters that I knew. “Where do you recommend to eat?” I asked. Her reply was Mercado de Abastos, a short stroll from the farmacia. Graciously, I thanked her, paid, and left with my toothpaste, content that I was able to hold a conversation for two minutes. Only a few meters to walk, yet, a hundred miles from where my Spanish should be; improving my knowledge on the language is a must.

I walked in the direction that I thought she told me to go, but ended up getting lost. Confused as to where Mercado de Abastos was, I walked into the nearest shop for directions. It was a dire mistake. Inside the shop, racks of hoodies, sweaters, and t-shirts were strewn around the store. The clothing store was a local brand based in Santiago de Compostela. The logo was embellished on all the clothing, Slow Life (how cool!!!). After taking a moment to resonate with the clothing, I expressed to the owner how much I admired his clothing. The friendly conversation that followed thereafter did no favors for my wallet, especially since it was an amalgamation of Spanish and English. I ended up parting with a black hoodie and navy blue t-shirt, but not before I asked for directions to Mercado de Abastos. He complied without hesitation and even walked me there himself, abandoning the store for all 20 steps. It turns out, I had walked past the destination when I should have turned right. Count that for another embarrassment in Santiago. He gave me his recommendation of where to get chow, and he did not fail!

pulpo-from-mercade-de-abostos
Come here for the BEST pulpo a feira; Santiago de Compostela

Pulpo a feira is a signature dish of Galicia, consisting of chopped, boiled octopus on a platter, peppered with paprika and salt, with drizzled olive oil to finish it off. A delectably chewy texture follows with each bite. At this particular vendor, they sell a massive plate of pulpo for €8, which you can take to a nearby bar and wash it down with a glass of cervesa.

The sun was beating down relentlessly by the time I found a vacant table in the shade. Ordering a cervesa, I hungrily dove into the pulpo a feira with such ferocity, the neighboring table halted their conversation to glance at me momentarily – I didn’t care this time. Shortly thereafter, my cervesa was presented to me. I sat back in the metal chair with my cold beverage in hand, satisfied with my meal. Looking around, I watched as pedestrians, some with bulky bags, some barebacked, meandered through the street in front of me. The heat was intense today, but no matter – the people of Santiago de Compostela still came out to navigate the winding streets, or laze under the shade of a gigantic tree in one of the many surrounding parks. Such a short amount of time had passed in this town, with plenty of embarrassments, but I already had the notion that I was going to enjoy my stay (and I surely did!).

Embarrassments in Santiago de Compostela

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