The final destination for many pilgrims on the Camino, even after the Cathedral in Santiago, is Finisterre, the place that the ancients believed was the end of the earth. Judi and I made the trip in the comfort of a bus rather than on foot. It was the perfect way to spend our last full day in Spain.
Our first stop was a Galician village that has been preserved to show a glimpse of medieval life.
Our second stop was at the site of one of only seven waterfalls in Europe that flow directly into the ocean.
Muros, an old harbor town and the site of a large estuary where mussels are farmed, had a tall ship at dock. The Wyld Swan was originally built in Germany in 1920 as a steamship, but has sailed under the Dutch flag as a training vessel since 2010. We watched as a crew of young sailors rigged one of the sails.
At Cape Finisterre –
Our last stop, Muxia, was the most dramatic, with waves crashing onto the rocks. Muxia is on the Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death, so named because of the many shipwrecks here. The Prestige, an enormous oil tanker, split apart on the rocks and spilled thousands of tons of petrol. Oil can still be seen on the rocks.
Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared here, sailing a stone boat. The Celtic stones here are said to be the remains of that boat.
“And so to bed,” as Samuel Pepys wrote. And tomorrow – home!
One of the capstone experiences for our Camino adventure was to attend the noon mass at Santiago Cathedral, the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago. Fortunately, Judi and I arrived at 11:00 to get good seats near the altar and to appreciate the opulence of the religious art. The cathedral holds more than 700 people and was full to overflowing, with people standing inside the doorways and in the side aisles. When the murmurs of the waiting crowd grew too loud, a security guard would quietly announce, “Silencio, por favor,” to maintain the dignity of the atmosphere.
A priest celebrated mass, assisted by visiting clergy from Taiwan, Germany, England, and the United States, pilgrims who had completed the Camino this week.
Hundreds of Catholic massgoers received Communion, and the mass concluded. The anticipation of what would come next kept everyone from leaving, however. The botafumeiro, a giant incense burner suspended on a thick rope, would be swung over the altar and back and forth in a huge arc from side to side in the cross-shaped church interior. Today’s pilgrims, unlike those in times long gone by, don’t need fumigating. Instead, the swinging of the botafumeiro symbolizes thanksgiving for our safe arrivals into Santiago.
The drama of the smoking and swinging botafumeiro contrasted beautifully with the light, sweet voice of a young nun who was accompanied on the huge, cherub-adorned pipe organ.
As we left the church, we stopped to greet and say goodbye to some of our Camino “family.”
Soon Judi and I will leave Santiago, bursting with memories of rich experiences and connections with new friends.
One of the pilgrims said that walking the Camino is like having a job: you get up each morning and your task is to walk, walk, walk. Judi and I agreed. Tomorrow we start a new phase, a kind of retirement from our Camino job.
Our last walk, the walk into Santiago, was ten miles through forests, small villages, and suburbs, and finally into the city of Santiago.
Galicia has strong Celtic ties, so we were not surprised to find a bagpiper or two greeting the pilgrims as they entered Santiago.
And, finally, the Praza Obradoiro Cathedral itself, the legendary resting place of the Apostle James and the end point of the Camino.
Tomorrow we will attend the noon mass, but for today just a visit to the Pilgrims’ Office to receive our certificate of completion, our Compostela, which verifies that we walked 799 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago.
Sharing some hearty laughter with Judi has been one of the joys of the Camino. We’ve been chuckling about our “good news, bad news” list for days and smiling at the many dog pictures that Judi, the dog lover, has taken. We want to share some of the fun with you.
Goodnews – The coffee in Spain is delicious! Badnews – It’s served in a two-ounce cup that could have been taken from a kid’s tea set.
Goodnews – Our clothes are freshly washed and dried. Badnews – It’s so chilly in the albergue that we need to wear every piece of clothing available to bed just to keep warm.
Goodnews – The lights in the bathrooms go on automatically when you walk in. Bad news – They go off automatically about twenty seconds later….but good news – flailing your arms about re-activates the lights…but bad news– that doesn’t work in the shower. You find yourself madly waving your arms while you’re standing in pitch blackness and without a stitch on.
And, finally, this one happened to Judi. Good news – after walking for an hour or two, she finally stopped at a cafe for a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and toast. Bad news – One of the flies buzzing around landed smack in her eggs. She waved her hands to shoo him away. He desperately tried to fly, but his feet were stuck in the yolk.
Cute Dogs, Cats, and Other Critters Along the Camino
Reaching the end of a long journey brings feelings of accomplishment and the reward of returning home to loved ones. One of our fellow pilgrims captured the paradox of completing our Camino adventure: “It’s like reading a really good book. You can’t wait to see how it turns out, but you never want it to end.”
So today, just a day away from Santiago, we’re remembering our walks through farmland and woods; up and down steep, rocky paths; through wind and rain to Cruz de Ferro and O’Cebreiro; and through the busy cities and quiet villages of Spain. We’re remembering the pilgrims we’ve met and befriended along the Way, people from faraway places, each one taking time away from the “ordinary” to complete a challenging journey.
The Way is not an easy journey for anyone. As Judi said, “There’s no easy day on the Camino.” Walking nearly 500 miles with a heavy pack is hard work. The rewards, though, are many and unforgettable.
Today Judi and I will walk to a hotel near the airport. We have plenty of time to unpack our backpacks, do laundry, make plans, and prepare to finish our walk into Santiago. We’ll visit the Cathedral for mass and, hopefully, witness the swinging of the enormous botafumeiro, an incense burner that originally “was used to fumigate the sweaty pilgrims.” [Brierley] We will go to the Pilgrim Office to receive our compostela that verifies that we’ve reached our goal. And finally, rather than trying to hike another forty or fifty miles, we have booked a bus trip out to the end of the earth, Finisterre. And on Thursday, we will fly home….home, sweet home.
Sarria, 115 kilometers from Santiago, is a popular spot for starting the Camino because peregrinos can earn their compostela for walking the last hundred kilometers of the Way. We have seen foot traffic increase to four times as much as before; prices for food and lodging have also increased.
We look with interest and compassion at the folks with brand-new backpacks and shoes and remember how, just one month ago, we were neophytes starting our journey. Wow! How far we have come since then!
The sights along the Way are just magical. Judi has a knack for capturing the most interesting scenes.
Tonight we have stopped in Palas de Rei, a small city 68 kilometers (42 miles) from Santiago. The weather has been changeable: from chilly and overcast to sunny, bright, and warm, but with a brisk, refreshing wind. Tomorrow we have a 15.9 mile walk to do for stage 31 (out of 33). We will enter Santiago either the 21st or 22nd of October…and finally we fly home on the 25th.
The Camino started for us in the heat of summer with 90 degree days after we crossed the Pyrenees. Now that we are nearing the end of our journey, we are enjoying fall sights and much cooler weather in Galicia. Judi’s photos capture just how beautiful our fourteen-mile walk from Filloval to Sarria was today.
Along the Camino, about 1300 meters (4000 feet) above sea level, is a little town that was originally settled by Celts centuries ago. Judi and I reached O’Cebreiro after a day of walking in the rain and wind, tired from carrying our twenty-pound packs up rocky trails, but glad to find shelter in a stone hotel. We treated ourselves to a room with only two beds and with the real luxury of a bathroom just for the two of us.
Outdoors the wind whipped, but inside a small restaurant near our hotel we were snug and warm. The stone walls of the restaurant retained the heat of a large cookstove where a woman stirred a huge pot of caldo galego, a traditional soup of potatoes and kale which was delicious with crusty bread.
The local merchants proudly capitalized on the village’s Celtic origins with offerings of artwork and trinkets.
Judi and I easily could imagine what winters at this altitude would have been like for its original inhabitants. They would have lived difficult lives, at best.
This morning’s hike down from the village was a long and difficult one, but as always full of sounds, sights, and smells: cows mooing, roosters crowing, and dogs barking in the greenest of patchwork fields, stone chapels with moss-covered walls, cowflaps aplenty under foot, and bone-chilling cold.
In the yard near our albergue is one more example of the Celtic roots of these people: a dolmen, this one is a storage place for grain, not (as the original dolmens were used) a tomb with a large flat stone land on upright ones.
Like many peregrinos before us, Judi and I have loved Galicia.
Many people we meet are facing critical choices in their lives. How do they decide? The Camino provides the time and space to ponder the next direction.
For me, Judi, this is a great transition from years of teaching, tied to schedules, time tables, and meetings to a time of freedom and total choice. A mentally and physically challenging adventure completely out of my comfort zone will propel me into the next phase of my life.
Others we met are at different crossroads. One woman, recently divorced, now faces a move from her home to another state, loss of her adult children living with her, as well as her beloved dogs. Living alone for the first time in her life, she feels very afraid.
Several adults are walking the Camino with a parent. A man who is well-established in his career has accompanied his recently widowed mother on this pilgrimage. Both are considering what changes the future will bring and what dreams they can manifest. Others just entering adulthood are capping their childhood years by doing the Camino with a parent, relying on each other in new ways and building more mature relationships. Other young adults are doing a gap year on their own before entering the university, broadening their interests, gaining stamina and self-reliance, and a more global view.
For me, Barbara, the next phase is outwardly not so dramatic since I’ve already been retired for five years. With a milestone birthday looming in the next few months, though, I’m keenly aware that this next phase brings possibilities for me to make each day richer and to savor home and family. This has been a journey of deciding what’s superfluous and what’s truly worthwhile.
After the dramas of wind, rain, steep climbs, and rocky descents, yesterday and today felt like gentle days of walking. You may remember that we had planned to divide our next two stages into three and to walk about twelve miles a day. And so we did the first twelve yesterday, from Molinaseca to Cacabelos, along small roads and through the city of Ponferrada. Today we walked from Cacabelos to Vega del Valcarce.
The most remarkable landmark of yesterday was the Castillo de los Templarios in Ponferrada, which was built in the 12th century. As the Knights Templar grew in power, however, the Catholic Church outlawed the order of knights, resulting in the castle falling into ruin for a time. Over the centuries it has undergone several renovations and now stands in all its majesty in downtown Ponferrada.
The Camino takes a meandering route through Ponferrada, past beautiful suburban neighborhoods and by several churches. My favorite of all the churches we saw was the Iglesia de Santa Maria. My immediate reaction to it was “at last, a people-sized church.” This gem, dedicated to Santiago Peregrino, was perfect in a way that the ostentacious cathedrals could not match. And hidden under the porch overhangs on the left were beautiful hand-painted murals which we would have easily missed had we walked along the opposite side of the church.
Judi and I left before dawn this morning, not hard when the sun comes up after 8:30. We did more than the requisite twelve miles; in fact, we will only have eight to walk tomorrow. Our trail followed a valley between several very steeply sloped hills and along the Rio Valcarce. The day was warm and, even though it was a relatively easy day, we were plenty tired by the end of it.
Tomorrow morning early we will leave for O’Cebreiro in Galicia, a Celtic village on a hilltop just eight miles from where we will sleep tonight.