My Ryan air flight back to London left 5 minutes early ending a short break in Santiago. Always reluctant to leave I was already thinking about the next visit in April. The sun broke through the rain clouds as we took off and as I leafed through the Ryanair magazine I found an article on the patois of my home town of Glasgow in Scotland. One of the phrases which was translated is "stoatin' aff the grun" or in English, "raining so heavily the rain is bouncing off the ground". And that's been the story of Santiago this week.
The old town seemed abandoned. The students are in class and there are few pilgrims around. I visited the Pilgrims' Office and the staff were bored. There had been a rush of pilgrims in January at the beginning of the Holy Year when 1200 were registered. This compares to 150 in the same month last year and 600 in the last Holy Year in 2004. A sign of the deluge of pilgrims to come later in the year.
In anticipation under the umbrellas Santiago is quietly gearing up for the 10 million visitors some are predicting this year. The hostals and hotels are busy taking bookings and the Pilgrims’ Office has already sent out half of the 100,000 pilgrim passports they had printed in December. These will be distributed through Amigos groups all over the world. Don Jenaro, the Canon in charge confidently predicts that over 250,000 pilgrims will walk to Santiago this year. "We will welcome all of them with 'brazos abiertos' (open arms)" he says with a grin while the staff discuss how best to manage the inevitable queues. More people have been taken on and they are currently undergoing training with a combination of lectures on the nature and history of the pilgrimage and visits to the Cathedral archives to see the Codex Calixtinus, said to be the first guide book to the route. They also plan to go on a short pilgrimage themselves perhaps from Ferrol on the Camino Inglés or Tui on the Camino Portugués.
In the Cathedral the organists are getting into their routine for the year. They will play at the four masses a day which have been laid on to cope with the enormous numbers of pilgrims. New cantors are being trained and in the summer months the Botafumeiro will fly everyday at the noon mass. At other times groups still have to pay for the Botafumeiro and in this Holy Year the price has gone up from 240 euros to 300 euros. No one can explain why and shoulders are shrugged at my question.
Many restaurants are still closed and decorators seem busy everywhere. The other day I went to book a room for a pilgrim arriving in April and the Hostal was closed for cleaning and renovation. Because this is a quiet period the Executive Committee of the Asociación de Empresarios de Hostelería de Santiago (above) decided that having served pilgrims for many years they should walk a route themselves. When I spoke to their President, José Antonio Liñares Bar, he explained that in the beginning their purpose was purely commercial. " We decided to walk from Sarria to get as much publicity as possible about the Holy Year and to show our neighbours in towns along the route what they could also do to promote it."