I left off just as we were heading to dinner on one of our nights in Combarro on the Atlantic coast. We had no idea at the time just what a wonderful and romantic village experience awaited us just on the other side of the restaurant we were heading for that night. We walked over and around the restaurant on a stepped walkway and found the real Combarro – a wonderful and ancient fishing village full of hoeros (raised grain storage, a.k.a. “corn cribs”) and narrow streets built right into native stone along the shorefront. We ended up spending much of the rest of our time there and did indeed enjoy some of the freshest seafood anywhere along with a wonderful tarta de chocolate – a delicious desert like chocolate cream pie on a graham cracker crust served in a chilled bowl.

We caught a taxi back to Pontevedra on Sunday morning, because we left before the first bus started running the route. We caught a train that dropped us off in Santiago de Compostela in time to walk up to the cathedral for the noon pilgrim’s mass (misa). We made it just in time to crowd toward the front of the aisle on one side of the transept where we hoped to be right in line with the swinging fuma (giant incense burner that swings from one end of the transept to the other). It was amazingly crowded in the cathedral for the noon mass! There must have been well over a thousand people crowded from wall to wall and filling every available space. We were amazed at the sheer number of pilgrims and others all around us, and that in itself was a moving experience. I understood very little of the service, which was mostly in Spanish with a little bit of Latin and a smattering of German, French, and Italian (no English). I did catch what I think was an interesting part of the sermon from an upper priest where he said something about the dynamic of all the pilgrims coming to the mass. He talked about the fact that it was all for the glory of God and something about the camaraderie of the struggle, whatever the motivations of the pilgrims, whether for absolution of sins or for sport. It was a pretty profound thing to see all of us gathered there in that place after making whatever part of the journey in whatever manner.

We had quite a few ups and downs, standing and sitting, which seems to be the norm in all but the most informal churches. This was particularly challenging for us folks in the aisles who went from squatting on the ground (or on our backpacks in Kat’s and my case) to standing up to squatting again. We all got quite excited when the monks in the reddish brown robes who we remembered from “The Way” movie came out with a “ladle” full of smoldering coals. They filled up the very large fuma that had been hanging from the high cathedral ceiling, said some prayers, threw some incense on top of the coals, and started the great glorious thing swinging.

Wow! What a profound experience! It was one thing to see it in the movie but quite another to be there in person with all the pilgrims and others in the crowded cathedral. Kat and I were right there in the aisle as the fuma swung toward us, over our heads, and back out the other way. We got some amazing video of the swinging fuma through the crowd with the organ rising into a crescendo in the background. We’ll have to get that posted somewhere.

We splurged (again) and spent the night at the Hotel San Francisco Monumento, a wonderfully restored monastery just a few minutes from the cathedral. We ate some fine tapas in a couple places, did a little bit of shopping for odds and ends to bring home, and messed around the next day for a while before our flight. The one thing we had been particularly looking for at the cathedral was a glimpse of and encounter with our German friends, Gunther and Griselda, with whom we’d drunk wine, beer, and vodka and sung German drinking songs with in the albergue long ago. We’d run into them several times along the way but hadn’t seen them since we leapt ahead a bit at Leon. We were thinking they might be getting to Santiago de Compostela just about the time of last Sunday.

As we were getting ready to leave Monday morning and doing just a bit more shopping, we had an interesting moment in the crowd. We were walking under a covered part of the street as it was raining occasionally and had a moment where we could have stayed on that path and possibly gotten stuck following some folks walking at a slower pace. Instead, we ducked to the left out into the open, and who should we see right there in front of us with big smiles of welcome but Gunther and Griselda? It was quite uncanny; if we’d zigged right instead of zagging left, we probably would have missed them. We hugged and kissed and compared notes about the fuma experience, which they had been in the crowd for as well. It was a wonderful little end of the Camino gift and cap to that part of the experience.

We caught a bus to the airport in the rain, and unbeknownst to me at the time, our walk down there and my mode of getting us there started us on what appears to be another growth opportunity for our marriage. Our flight to the island of Palma de Malorca and then on to Salzburg went off without incident – other than a bit of a bumpy landing on both runways. We are now in a fairly different landscape and climate here in the Austrian (and a little bit of German) alps. Wow! What an incredible place this is. I’ve got to get off to bed now as the hour is getting late, but I can’t wait to tell you about these incredible majestic peaks. The way they rise so abruptly to such towering heights above the green and lush valley farmland is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It rained for the first couple of days, but I’ll try to write tomorrow to tell you of our journey here, the ice caves at Eis Reisen Welt, the Eagle’s Nest and journey back into Nazi past, our planned hike into the Alps above Maria Alm tomorrow, and some of those lessons I am working on learning after now 8 years of marriage (our anniversary was two days ago).

Cheers for now!