Santiago de Compostela to Negreira Friday 5 December
Today I was walking again. Towards the end of the world, Finisterre. As it’s winter season, not many alburgues are open along the route. My only option was to walk twenty two kilometres. I could have a later start. I had arranged to meet my Camino angel for a final coffee. It was sad to say goodbye. I hope she finds some peace. It was a pleasure to share my Camino with her.
I walked out of the alburgue, again passing through the archway to the square below. Again, the piper was there this time serenading my departure from Santiago. Again, I was following the yellow arrows. The Camino Finisterre.
Not far along the path I met up with a Spanish woman. She had done most of the Caminos, including the Camino Finisterre several times. She owned an alburgue on the Camino Portuguese route, and spent the winter, when her alburgue was closed, walking other Caminos. She said The Way was her life.
A group of cyclists passed me, and one slowed down for a chat. I saw them again later when I stopped for lunch, and the others seemed to be teasing the one who had chatted with me. Charming flirts those Spanish men.
I was a little stiff after not having walked much for a couple of days, and twenty two kilometers seemed a long slog, especially the last four kilometers. There were eight alburgues in town, but seven were closed for winter. When I arrived at Negreira the only open alburgue was at the far end of town. I was tired, and didn’t feel like walking back for dinner. I’d had a big lunch, and was contemplating going to bed. The Spanish woman I’d walked with earlier offered to share her food, as she had too much for one person. I contributed a can of emergency sardines I’d been carting since France, and we had a lovely dinner together.
The alburgue was full tonight, but we had cleverly nabbed the bottom bunks in a small room reserved for the disabled. If any wheelchairs turned up we would move, but unlikely.
It was a long walk today. Over thirty three kilometres. Perhaps more, although I wasn’t sure if there were alburgues open further along the route. I started early, and stupidly forgot to have a coffee form the vending machine in the alburgue. Fogginess begets stupidity. It was twelve kilometers until coffee or breakfast. Dark and misty in the valleys below as I climbed the hills with interment downpours. The rain began to abate, and I was presented with a double rainbow. Two pots of gold! The path was not as well marked in this section, and I had to rely on landmarks from my guidebook. I turned a corner and saw a tree that had grown and formed a complete circle as the two branches had joined at the top. It’s leaves were yellowing, and I thought it rather lovely.
Finally stopping for coffee and breakfast I caught up with several others who had stayed at the alburgue the previous evening. They were all complaining of how noisy it had been in the dorm, I was glad of my ‘disabled room’, the snoring was also disabled. I walked for a while with an Irish man who had flown over for a long weekend just to walk this Camino. He had a similar job to me, and led walking tours in Ireland. He said he was a bit of a joke with his friends, as he spends his time off doing walks, mostly pilgrimages, and he’s an Irish Protestant! We walked together until the next town with a bar, where he very generously bought me a beer. After that I sped up, I was in afternoon fast walking mode. I was now keen to get to Finisterre, today my walking was about the destination, and I wasn’t so much enjoying the actual path.
Arriving in Olveriroa, I caught up with a girl I had met that morning. We were both keen to walk further, but unsure that any alburgues would be open, decided to stay. The municipal alburgue here was like a small village – a collection of delightful little stone houses, one with the reception, one with the kitchen, and several with sleeping facilities. There was a sign to find a bed, and the hospitaliro would be back later to pay. The first door we opened was a large two story dorm with lots of beds. As I had read there were several houses, I thought I would try some of the other doors. I opened the door of the smallest house, and it had one bunk bed on the ground floor, and the bathroom, and upstairs, another bunk and a single bed. We nabbed the upstairs, as it was probably going to be warmer. We were soon joined by a young Canadian man who lived in Santiago de Compostela. He chose the downstairs. No one else joined us, as they probably hadn’t checked the other houses, however the larger building filled up later.
It was freezing inside the room. The temperature on the camino had plummeted in the last couple of days. Winter was setting in. I would be zipping up my sleeping bag tonight. I was hungry, so went in search of food and warmth. I’d only had breakfast today. The only bar in town was delightfully warm. I was joined by the Canadian, so we had dinner together. He worked teaching English in Spain. It was interesting talking to him about the cost of living in Spain, and life in general. We were later joined by the girl I had met earlier, and the Irish man, who had given up on the alburgue due to the noise the previous night – he had checked into a room at the bar. The camaraderie of new friends again made for another delightful Camino evening.
Another long day of walking, as I wanted to make it to Finisterre before sunset. The days are much shorter now so I had to start in the dark (not actually that early, as it was still dark at eight thirty).
There is an option from Olveiroa to walk first to either Finisterre or Muxia. Finisterre was the end of the world, back when the earth was flat, beyond there be monsters. There have been pilgrimages here long before the Christian Camino. Muxia is where the body of Saint James (Santiago, Jacque, Jacob), was legendarily washed ashore covered in scollop shells. Recently you have been able to receive a Compostela for both of these pilgrimages. I wanted to go to Finisterre first, as to me it felt the right order. I liked the romantic notion of Finis – Terre, the end of the world, to end my original planned route.
I was keen to arrive, but today I felt an overwhelming calmness. I was in no rush. It felt like the end. The paths were soft beneath my feet. I was looking forward to seeing the sea. The Atlantic. The first couple of towns I passed had alburgues open, I could have walked a little further yesterday. The rain stopped. The path continued down, and up, then, there it was… the sea rose ahead. I had a quick intake of breath. I love the sea. I love the mountains, but I really love the sea. I could smell it, I’d missed it.
I was soon in the town of Cee, by the Sea! It was a bustling village, it seemed everybody was out for Sunday lunch, and it was market day. I was hungry, but still had a long walk if I wanted to get to Finisterre before dark. I walked through the town, following the yellow arrows which led up the hill, and down again… Perhaps I should have just followed the coast. As I was leaving town, my stomach got the better of me when I saw a sign for a pizza restaurant. Pizza, that would make a change. It wouldn’t take that long. I entered the bustling cafe, and was directed to the empty Resturant behind. I waited. I ordered a seafood pizza, and a half bottle of wine. The usual ‘free wine’ wasn’t included with this meal. I waited. I drank some wine and waited some more. The pizza eventually came, and it was worth the wait. Fresh seafood, thin, crispy. Just how I like it.
Time to get back on track. I was feeling content. It was a bit of a climb for this final stage, and the path was not that well marked, so had to keep an eye out for markers. There was a sudden turn to the left along a red muddy path, and two cyclists came plummeting down the hill towards me as the heavens opened. I jumped out of the way as I fumbled for my rain gear. Up the hill I climbed, and then the view! It was worth waking this direction. The maker had been painted with a message ‘to the end’, so to the end I continued. I felt light.
I arrived into the town of Finisterre, and started to look for an open alburgue. I wanted to put down my pack and walk to Cape Finisterre, another few kilometres. All that was open was the municipal Albergue, it would have to do. I was in a hurry as the light would soon start to fade. I checked in and deposited my bag. I was issued with my new Compostela, the certificate for the Pilgrimage from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre.
It was easier walking without my pack, but I had forgotten my trekking poles. I am used to walking with them, but no time to return. The light was dimming. I hurried. I could see the unusual deco style three story pyramid lighthouse ahead, but it was still some distance away. Cars were retuning, passing me in the opposite direction. I noticed a couple in the distance walking towards me. As I approached, they speed up, and crossed the road in my direction. He was grinning. It took me a moment to recognise him, my Brazillian friend! We hugged, and hugged again. His friend was his new girlfriend, whom he had convinced to fly from Brazil to join him on the Camino. We had walked out of Saint Jean Pied Port together, but had lost each other along the way. We had been sending messages, but hadn’t managed to catch up… until now. If it was a movie, it would have been too corny an ending. The beginning is the end. The end is the beginning. They were rushing to catch their bus back to Santiago, I was rushing to catch the last light at the end of the world. We hugged and parted. I grinned and felt the joy of yet again experiencing the magic of the camino. Full circle.
It was getting dark, but there were still tinges of red in the western sky. I passed the lighthouse and the crowds of day-trippers. The smell of burnt clothing permeated the air. It has become a tradition for pilgrims to burn an article (or all) of their clothing here, and return Phoenix-like to the world. I climbed down the rocky cliff, cautious without my sticks. The tourists were snapping away, but I just wanted to sit and contemplate. I found a comfortable spot on the rocks with the sea crashing below. The red and orange soon turned to black, and the area emptied. I’d made it. I’d made it from Paris to the End of the World.
My Camino was over. I felt an overwhelming calmness. I would continue to Muxia, but I had already completed the task I had set out to do. This was my epilogue.
I began early, it was a municipal albergue, and we had to be out by 8am. I crossed the road for coffee and breakfast, waiting for the sun to lighten my path. It was raining, but at least it wouldn’t be dark. Another 30km today, but there was no urgency. I was hoping I would catch up with my Dutch friend – he wasn’t in Finisterre and had walked ahead to Muxia – we still had that dinner date.
I skirted the coast road in the drizzle, stopping for some final pictures of Finisterre at an ancient cross. I was enjoying walking with the smell of the ocean; and later on, only occasional glimpses. The picturesque landscape was dotted with the Galician stone grain barns that had become a feature of this area. It surprised me how similar they are in structure to the wooden rice barns in Indonesia where I live. The mostly undulating path was kind to my feet, however I was getting hungry. There were not many stops along the way today, and when I saw a sign for a bar, took the rather long uphill detour. I was too early for the menu, but coffee and a sandwich would have to suffice.
I passed the Spanish woman who had shared her meal a couple of days ago, she was doing the reverse walk to me. She wished me “Buen Camino en la vida” and I gave her directions to the bar. Soon after, I received a message from my Dutch friend – he was in Muxia and was waiting to have dinner with me. His message put a spring in my step, and I was now keen to get out of the cold and damp elements.
Approaching Muxia speed signs along the road announce “Muxia 50” – I had just turned fifty, so decided this was the place for me. In the distance I could see the rocky fronted seaside town. It didn’t look very big, but on arrival it was some distance still to walk to the alburge where my friend was waiting. It was a pleasure to see him. The very hospitable host made me a cup of tea, and made me feel very welcome. We were the only guests. My friend had opted for a private room, so I had the large and comfortable dorm to myself ( for now). After a shower we walked to the headland to see the magnificent Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Barca church, built on the ocean rocks. The waves crashed against the craggy cliff, the sea was wild. We sat mesmerised, watching for more than an hour. There were not the crowds of Finisterre, it was raw and untamed. I liked it, there is magic here. Back a little on the cliff, we saw the final Camino marker, this yellow arrow had no distance indicated, there was nowhere else to go. Nearby we spent some time taking cheesy photos of each other jumping in the “I’ve made it” fashion in front of the raging ocean.
Returning to the town, we finally had our dinner date, of sorts – it was a nice enough restaurant, but not really the splash out meal we had planned. Tomorrow we will go to the tourist office to collect our final Compostela – there is an additional one available for walking to Muxia. Then we would catch a taxi back to Santiago de Compostela. Yes, a taxi. I had a plane to catch. my walk was over. The End. But we know it isn’t.
Muxia to Santiago de Compostela Tuesday 9 December
We took our time packing up this morning. There was a bus back to Santiago, but it was either too early; or too late to fit in some last minute souvenir shopping. We had booked a taxi. We left in search of breakfast, and our most important task for the day, to procure our final Compostela. As the tourist office was closed when we arrived, we ate breakfast; but it was still closed on our return. We had been informed that the Compostela was also available from the municipal office. Off we went. Unfortunately the actual certificate wasn’t really worth all the fuss. It was an ugly, non-design with (Oh MY God) Brush Script (horror of horrors, typography blasphemy), and not at all like the beautiful medieval looking latin one we had been issued in Santiago. There is a design project in the making.
Returning to the alburgue, our taxi was ready and waiting. It had taken us four days to walk to Muxia from Santiago de Compostela, but only a couple of hours to return. It was the first time for more than three months that my friend had been on any form of transport other than his own two feet. He had walked from Amsterdam. I had cycled and walked from Paris, but had a couple of days detour off my Camino several weeks prior. The world sped by. It felt odd. We were cheating, a little.
When we arrived in Santiago, we didn’t want to be caught not walking, and asked the driver to drop us in the backstreets so we could walk into the old city. We both checked into San Martin Pinaro Monastery again, then went shopping for some Camino souvenirs. We were later than planned. I only managed to buy a couple of Santiago cakes as gifts to take to my friends in Paris, and nothing for myself before the shops closed. Next time.
My older American friend had now reached Santiago de Compostela. She was also staying at San Martin Pinaro. I knocked on her door to invite her to join us for dinner, but she was unwell, and said she would join me for an early breakfast before I caught my plane. My Dutch friend and I had arrange to try to go to the free pilgrims’ meal provided by the Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos. It has been a tradition for centuries for the hostel to provide free meals for pilgrims, and since it has turned into a five star hotel, they have kept the tradition; albeit on a small scale, with only ten places available. We rushed to the appointed meeting place – the green gate on the left of the main entrance, at the appointed time. There were only three other pilgrims waiting. There were not many pilgrims on the road at this time of year. On cue, we were escorted through the main entrance hall of the grand hotel, then back into the bowels to a tiny pilgrims’ dining room. There was no five star table service here – we had to go to the kitchen and collect our meal ourselves. It wasn’t a five star meal either, although it wasn’t bad. I did, however, love the sentiment and tradition of providing pilgrims with a free meal. And, it did also include free wine. So, with this, our final meal of our pilgrimage, we raised our glasses and wished each other Buen Camino!