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Every pilgrim along the Camino de Santiago is working their way to the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. Visiting the shrine of St James inside the cathedral is, for many pilgrims, the final destination. It was a rainy Sunday morning when I set out from the albergue at Monte del Gozo, or Mount Joy, to make my way to the cathedral. I got my first glimpse of the cathedral as I walked through the streets of town and I began to feel the exhilaration of the highlight of my pilgrimage.

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As I walked into Praza do Obradoiro, the main plaza in front of the cathedral, I was surprised to see that there were no other people anywhere. I’ve only ever seen pictures of the plaza when it was filled with people, celebrating their arrival at their journey’s end. Having this whole plaza to myself made my experience that much more magical. Here I was, alone in the plaza, staring at the cathedral. I had time to reflect on the enormity of my journey. Time to reflect on all the steps along the way.

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I lined up at the pilgrim office and once it opened, I received my compostela, or the document that proved I had walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. I never expected to be among the first ten pilgrims to arrive in Santiago that Sunday, but I was additionally awarded a free meal from the Parador, a high-end hotel located in an old hospital next door to the cathedral. In times past, pilgrims arriving in Santiago were fed and housed for up to three days before they returned home. Today, the Parador continues that tradition by providing lunch for the first ten pilgrims who arrive in Santiago every day, and it was one of the finest meals I had in all of Spain.

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Because I took my time getting to Santiago, almost everyone I started walking the Camino with finished their journey long before me. I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike and Vernetta, my friends from Detroit, waiting their turn in line to hug the stature of St. James and view the crypt that held his remains. I knew Vernetta would make it all the way to Santiago and seeing the smile on her face let me know she was proud of her achievement. Next year on their Alaskan cruise, I suspect she will regale her fellow travelers with stories of her time along the Way of St James.

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For me, Santiago is not the end. Muxia will be my final destination. I arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port not knowing where I was going to end my Camino. Along the way, Muxia became my final goal. In a few days, I will have completed my walk across Spain and will be staring at the Atlantic Ocean.

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