Santiago de Compostela has been on my mind a lot over the past two months. I’ve heard its name being mentioned so often in different contexts – a Tweet by Simon Reeve who I follow on Twitter, an email from an old friend, who informed me that he recently completed ‘El Camino de Santiago’, and sadly, most recently, the tragic train crash that claimed over seventy-five lives. To me the jarring and harsh word ‘crash’ has no place in a sentence that also contains the name ‘Santiago de Compostela’. For I associate the latter only with feelings of peace and harmony.
These instances have served to remind me of my visit there, but more importantly, to remind me that I have not yet written about it.
But I visited Santiago de Compostela a long time ago – eight years ago actually, almost to the date. So what do I remember of the trip?
I remember that I’d first read about Santiago de Compostela in Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.
When you travel, if you keep yourself open to the experience, you inevitably, besides becoming enriched, end up enriching someone else’s life along your journey.
Such was the case in 2004, when my cousin, who lives in Portugal, embarked on a trip around the world. While she, en route, spent some days with me in Bangalore, we spoke about – amongst several other things – the power of travel.
I was going through an uncertain phase in my life – trying to forge a new path if you will – and her life and travel experiences left me looking at things a little differently. Another’s perspective often brings clarity to a troubled mind and can also serve as an impetus.
Before she resumed her world travels, she left me with two books by Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage. The latter was how I first came to hear about El Camino de Santiago. In it, my cousin wrote “Being myself on a personal pilgrimage around the world, I hope this book will inspire you to find your own path.”
I had wanted to travel ever since I was in high school and I think the time I spent with my cousin, along with what I read in The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage is what pushed me to finally do it. A year later I found myself in Portugal and spent a month with her, exploring parts of Portugal and Spain.
One weekend when we were visiting relatives in Porto, it dawned on us that Santiago de Compostela wasn’t that far away and so we decided to make a day trip there.
There is something that is at first very exciting and and then extremely fulfilling, about visiting a place you’ve longed to go to after reading about it in a book. Especially a book that moved you to do something.
I remember that the day I visited Santiago de Compostela was also my first day in Spain.
What was special about this (for me) was that I have always had a fascination for Spain, the South American countries and everything to do with the Spanish and Latin American cultures – ever since I can remember. I don’t know how to explain it. Perhaps I was Spanish or Latin American in a previous life! I have even learnt how to speak fairly decent Spanish and surprisingly, it came with such ease! So visiting Spain had long been a desire of mine and happily my first day in Spain happened to include an afternoon in Santiago.
I remember marvelling at the architecture that surrounded me
Walking around the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela and the adjoining ‘plazas’ made me feel as if I was being transported to another era. Everywhere I looked there were ornate imposing structures, that on closer examination revealed the most beautiful and intricate architectural details.
If the formidable scale of things was an indicator of the boldness, ambition and pride of their creators, the painstaking attention to detail on each building alluded to a more delicate appreciation of fine art.
I remember bagpipes
They continuously played in the background as we walked around one of the squares, accentuating the feeling of being transported to a different time. As we strolled around, we came upon the source of the bagpipes – a busker playing in one of the narrow arched passageways to the square. I marvelled at the acoustics – that we could hear her music all over the square!
I remember pilgrims from all over the world
Most of them were in groups and several proudly displayed their countries’ flags. As they congratulated each other on having culminated their arduous journey, their emotions of achievement and elation were palpable, even to me, a non-religious person. It reminded me of the powerful force that is faith.
I remember feeling more at peace when I left Santiago de Compostela than when I’d arrived there
As I entered the Old Town of Santiago and began to walk around, slowly taking in everything, I was overcome by a feeling of tranquillity, the feeling only rivalled by what I felt when I visited Fatima in Portugal. I believe there are some places in the world where some sort of a presence exists that takes away your troubles, gives you peace of mind and a sort of assurance that there is still hope left in the world – hope that all things bad shall not triumph. Santiago de Compostela is one such place – a place that leaves you feeling renewed and helps you become one with yourself.