Tag Archives: Yellow Arrows

The Beginning of the End

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.

©Sally Arnold
Archway to the Plaza. Santiago de Compostela.

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.

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Passing through Picturesque Villages.
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Stone Crest Detail.

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.

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The End is the Beginning

Olveiroa to Finisterre
Sunday 7 December

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.

©Sally Arnold
A Folk in the Road,  Near Cee.

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.

©Sally Arnold
To The End!

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.

©Sally Arnold
Fading Light at Finisterre

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.

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Lighthouse at the End of the World. Finisterre..
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Sun Setting on the Lighthouse at the End of the World. Finisterre.
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The Bronze Boot at the End of the World. 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.

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From Paris to the End of the World! Finesterre.

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.

SANTIAGO!

Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela
Wednesday 3 December

I didn’t start as early as planned. I was beginning to get tired. I only had twelve kilometers to walk, and was hoping to make the twelve o’clock pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. I climbed Monte de Gozo and was able to view the sprawling suburbs of Santiago. I soon joined the city traffic. On the outskirts was a large sign announcing my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I started to tear up. I was surprised at my reaction, I still had several kilometers to go, so pulled myself together.

I was walking in a daze, almost hesitating at arriving at the cathedral. The city became busier with people going about their daily business. I couldn’t see any pilgrims, but continued along the yellow arrows, getting harder to find in the city. I felt I was walking in slow motion. Slow emotion. The weight of history, of my own Camino. I couldn’t tell if the people around me were frozen in time or speeding past me, it was a very filmic experience. I could see the angels from ‘Wings of Desire’ atop the surrounding buildings. Their whispering and flaps of their wings drowned out any other noise. My steps were heavy. Getting closer, I slowed. An old man stopped and pointed my way. Again. I felt tears steaming down my face.

I arrived at the arch at the entrance to the plaza. A man in traditional Galician costume was playing the bagpipes. Haunting. Overcome. I slowly stepped down through the archway, entering the plaza below. The main face of the cathedral was in front of me, unfortunately covered in scaffolding for renovations, but that didn’t hide the overwhelming experience for me. There were no other pilgrims, in fact there was hardly anyone in the plaza. I needed to sit down and cry. Although long, the Camino wasn’t a difficult walk, but I guess my emotional response was more due to the whole experience of the Camino, not just the physical. It surprised me, but I couldn’t stop sobbing.

I looked up and saw another pilgrim approaching. I raised my hand in greeting. I didn’t know her, but she came over and threw her arms around me. She was on her way to Finesterra and had been in Santiago for a few days. She had met my Irish and Italian friends, and pulled out a T-shirt for me to sign that already had their messages. She said it was her dream to travel to Indonesia, so asked for my contact. That’s the Camino, she said. She took my photo in front of the cathedral. We hugged again, and she was off to the end of the world.

Even though I had arrived in time, I was now too late for the pilgrims mass. The magnificent and historic Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos was behind me, at the side of the plaza. Built in the fifteenth century, and said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world. My brother had given me a birthday gift of a night in its five star luxury, so I went to check in. Apparently in the past pilgrims could stay here for five nights in winter with medical and priest services on call for free. Five nights would be nice.

I then went to collect my Compostela, the traditional ‘certificate’ of completion of the Camino de Santiago. I don’t really need proof, as my Camino will hopefully remain with me, but it’s a nice piece of paper with a Latin inscription stating that I have arrived to honor Saint James.

Mass had finished, so I thought I would go into the Cathedral. The main entrance was blocked because of the renovations, and unfortunately the famous carved stone front door, the Portico de Gloria, was covered. I climbed back up the stairs through the arch, to the pilgrim’s entrance. Coming out of the cathedral was the group from the other evening, they had risen very early to make it for the mass. Inside, the cathedral smelt like I had imagined churches in Spain to smell. This was the first one that matched my imaginings. Centuries of incense. I again was overcome with emotion, and fell to my knees, not something I do often in a church.

After leaving the Cathedral, more earthy things were on my mind, lunch. I had arranged to meet my Dutch friend in a cafe. Miss Venezuela and My Camino angel had gone to Finesterra by bus for the day. It was nice to see him and hear his Camino stories. After lunch we went to my hotel for a tour, as I was a guest I had free roam. Four large cloisters, of which my room overlooked one, endless corridors with sitting rooms filled with art and antiques, exquisite details and luxury. When I am a rich old lady who lives out her days in a hotel, this is the hotel I want to do it in.

My Dutch friend left, and I went to enquire about a tour of the cathedral roof that he had told me about. They said it would only be in Spanish, and would start in half an hour. I said I would come later, as I wanted to go to the nearby Franciscan church as I was told they were issuing special compostelas to pilgrims as it was a six hundred year anniversary. I returned to the cathedral for the tour, and the only other people were a French couple who also had no Spanish. The guide said she would do the tour in English and French. We climbed the stairs high up to the roof. The light was fading, and colours filled the sky. The roof was stepped granite, and easy to walk across. The views were stunning, an angel’s eye view. The architectural and historic explanations were fascinating. A wonderful experience.

I wandered around the city some more, still feeing dazed and overwhelmed. I had made a half hearted arrangement to meet my Dutch friend and Miss Venezuela for dinner, but I hadn’t heard from them, so decide to return to the hotel to perhaps eat in one of the restaurants. As I walked through the arch to descend the staircase into the plaza, a new busker had replaced the bagpiper, and on a melodica was playing Hallelujah by Leonard Coen, a song I love. Again, haunting.

Returning to my room, I received a message from my Dutch friend, the three of us met, and went in search of food. Later, when we were returning, we again ran into the other group of pilgrims, so joined them for a drink. I was not in the mood for crowds, and wanted to make the most of my five star experience so soon returned to my room for a bath.

The Destination, Not the Journey

Reliegos to Leon
Wednesday 19 November

There was nothing open when I left the albergue today. I didn’t feel like emergency cheese for breakfast, and it was only six kilometers to the next town. I would find a bar for breakfast soon. The way markers weren’t as clear today as they had been, and I had to keep an eye out for the usually obliquitous yellow arrows. I could see the town ahead, and was following the path, but it seemed to veer left and go alongside the town, instead of through it. I continued, but soon realised I was going the wrong way. I backtracked and found an arrow on the road, I was supposed to go over the bridge. That coffee was getting nearer. I entered the town, found a bar, and sat down for a long breakfast.

It was drizzling. I was wearing my slippers, but they are not really weatherproof, but then it wasn’t really raining either. The walk was mostly alongside a major road, passing car yards, and outer suburbia. Not interesting at all. I was keen to arrive in Leon, and looking forward to seeing my friends, and the town. I plodded on. I had developed yet another blister, this time under one that had already healed on the sole of my foot. I tried to walk on the asphalt of the road edge, it’s softer than the hard cement footpath. I was becoming very aware of every surface I trod on. My poor sore feet can now distinguish between all sorts of paths. Mud is my favourite. Buying some soft comfortable waterproof shoes is high on my list of priorities when I arrive in Leon.

As I neared I thought I would pop into a small convenience store. I was hungry, but wanted to wait until I arrived in Leon for lunch. I bought a gooey chocolate bar, something I haven’t had for years. Two million calories. It was great, and perked me up to continue the journey. I followed the Camino until the Cathedral, then sent a message to my friends to see where they were staying. My Dutch friend, and my Irish friend we staying in two different albergues one run by the Benedictines, the other by the San Franciscans. I considered booking into a hotel, so I could have a sleep in, but wanted to see the others. I went to find the hostels, and on the way saw a few of them sitting in a bar – my Dutch friend, one of my Italian friends, and my Camino Angel. How did she get here so fast? I joined them for a late lunch, and they convinced me to say in the Benedictine alburgue they were in, as it was nearby, and they said they were the only guests.

I checked into the alburgue, then went in search of shoes. Hopefully they are an improvement. I met my Irish and other Italian friend in the city, and we went for wine and tapas, later joined by our other friends. We had to rush back for our ten o’clock curfew, our friends staying with San Franciscans didn’t have to be back until midnight, and could sleep in too. I had made the wrong choice. When we returned the place was packed. There would be a snoring symphony.

I hadn’t seen any of the city, so decided I would stay another day to explore. I was considering a hotel, but had heard good things about the San Franciscan alburgue. I would decide in the morning.