Stage 39, Oct 15, Muxia to Finisterre and Cap de Finisterre, 39.2km, total time 11:50 hrs

The Ends.

After having seen many of our fellow walkers leaving to head back to their homes in the 4 corners of the world, the motivation to continue is every day harder to find. After having walked for more than 20 hrs in the last three days, new pain due to the insufficient recovery time is hurting the feet and the lower legs. The continuous up and downs also are stressing the knee area and the lower thighs. I am taking 100mg if Aspirine every night trying to get some good sleep, but nonetheless the legs are hurting in any position and often I wake up under acute pain. Last night for instance was one of those nights with poor sleep quality and in the morning I felt like having walked the whole night with no rest. I also was quite cold but could find no other blanket in the dormitory.

Anyway as always I readied myself and by 8am we were on the road again with the soundtrack of the roaring sea waves. It was magnificent yet intimidating.

Having committed to reach the Land’s End and to throw Massimo’s stone in the Ocean there helped to maintain focus in the mind, despite the insistence of the body asking to quit. Soon we left the ocean behind to cross a few hilly ranges in direction SW, facing the challenge of one the longest stages ever.

image

image

At about 4pm, we finally got a glimpse of Finisterre, but it took another hour to reach the city center and the Albergue.

image

image

image

image

The municipal Albergue I’m Finisterre was closed due to an infestation of bed bugs, so we settled for a private accommodation, but first we got our  Rua de la Morte certification in addition to the one already received in Muxia.

image

image

Despite I was really tired beyond imagination, Luigi and I moved ahead to reach the lighthouse at the end of Finisterre’s promontory on this very same day. Besides the stones, I intended to leave there my walking shoes and three pair of socks, but I had no clue how.

Along the way to the lighthouse, a procession of people was going to and back, wearing they waking gear to pay homage to the ultimate destination: the so longed km 0 and the End of the Camino. On the road pavements, countless graffiti are cheering up the solitary oncomers still flocking in at almost sunset time.

The km 0 milestone is standing unassumingly on a side, just like thousands of other similar milestones I have been passing by along the road. This one is austere and uncovered by the well wishing messages or graffiti. There is a long moment of commotion and reverence in thinking the way I was when I started, 42 days ago, all the faces I met, the laughter, the determination, the solitude and the pain, the gratitude and happiness, the countless blessings and the few moments of despair that kept me company since. All is deeply buried inside me and only time will tell how much I will be changed by this awesome experience. All has been lived fully spending most of the time outdoors in contact with the nature and other fellow human beings to talk, to compare, to listen and to love.

image

image

In every corner of the vast cliff, small insignificant every day objects of thousands of pilgrims, are left on this immense altar as sacrifice and memento of their existence and effort. Rests of fires are seen everywhere, despite the many signs discouraging the habit. Tiny figures clad in windbreakers are dotting the promontory,  all performing a personal ceremony that has the dimensions of a religious ritual, everyone carrying something to leave behind.

image

image

image

image

In committing the stones to the abysses, I truly believe in the magic spell of the moment and from the heart comes a song of abandon and hope for a better world where the importance of being here today after having done what I have done is  overhelming any other joy. I prayed for all the people that I care for, for all that have supported me throughout, for all those that may have been stimulated by my  experience to start their own Camino somehow somewhere.

In our heart we knew this was the end of it, the end of the earthly Camino walk, and as we turned back heading to the so longed rest, we all wandered on the next step. But as the Camino taught us, only the next stage is important. We learned how to live the 24 hours and to appreciate beauty and harmony despite our troubles.

And that was it. I walked for 992km in 39 days over a span of 42 days. I crossed open lands and mountain ranges, rivers and creeks, provinces, regions and countries. I have seen history unfolding under my eyes and in the stones I touched. I spoke many languages including the language of smiles, when the words were at a loss; I saw people of all ages, profession, provenience, all with the same light in their eyes; I have seen big egos and big hearts,small human stories of losses and gains. I have heard the voices of all pilgrims that have walked before me, I have drank the same water and eaten the same bread.

On the road to Santiago, I believe I have recognized Jesus in medicating the massacred feet of Tom, in sharing the last piece of chocolate with Fay, or lending the raincoat to Megs, or inviting Luigi to eat at my table and helping him to take responsibility for his own life. I will have to meditate on all these encounters and on their signification.

For now, I am happy now to see my family again soon.

image

Advertisements

Stage 38, Oct 14, Oliveroa to Muxia, 32.5km, total time 8:45 hrs

Oliveiroa is almost a mandatory resting point for any traveller on the Rua de la Morte, i.e. the final part of the Camino de Santiago towards Finisterre and Muxia. The village is almost inconsistent except a couple of hostels and a pension serving a hot meal. Almost all pilgrims going that far, know each other fairly well and the atmosphere is like a reunion of long time friends. I manage to get a picture of Brian, an Englishman, I walked with for part of a stage and to whom I lended 5 Euro to buy his breakfast. With surprise a few stages after, I found him waiting for me on the road to return me the money.

image

The morning wake up was under drizzling rain but with an acceptable temperature. Not long after the starting point, we hit the junction between the way to Finisterre on the left and the much less travelled way to Muxia on the right. In actual count we met only 5 pilgrims along the whole road, a just about the same walking the road backwards.

image

image

image

image

After so many crossings of rural areas, and of small churches, we were quite eager to reach the sea.

image

image

image

image

image

Being on the road since over three months, Luigi is an expert on how to feed from corn, tomatoes, apples and lemons, all rigorously taken from the many orchards and vegetable gardens along the road.

image

The sky finally started opening a bit, and at 3pm, exactly we happened to the first sighting of the coast in the distance.

image

We had to go over the crest of a promontory and half hour later we were finally able to reach Muxia and the Sanctuary of the Virxa de Barca and to pay our respect to the mighty ocean. A unexpected sunset is blessing the moment and the fierce strength of the sea and the wind that seems to possess the place, seem to be powerless against the peace and the serenity if the sanctuary.  Huge rocks are amassed on the cliff degrading from the church towards the sea representing the remains of the stone boat carrying the Virgin Mary in support of St James’s apostolic activity in the region.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Father Xavier was waiting us for dinner in his Albergue which had a very efficient kitchen and dining room where he prepared a salad if scallops and Roquefort served in St. Jacques shells, and seafood pasta.

image

image

image

After a very moving and emotional farewell hug we left with the promise of going to meet him in his parish in central France, on foot of course!

image

Stage 37, Oct 13, Negreira to Oliveroa, 33.1km, total time 8:30 hrs.

…and all of a sudden is late Autumn, almost Winter.

image

In the dorm room, the number of “miners”, i.e. the ones that obey to a superior law of nature, whereby the Camino stages must start at seven or earlier, and they go around the dorm like in trance at 6 am wearing their torch lights on their headfront, indeed like miners, well, even these are less and less with most of the others intend to start not earlier than 8:30. At 8:30 is is still pitch dark and whoever lives in the villages where we stop for the night do not seem in the need to go to work until much later.

image

Today has been one of the longest stages ever walked. Pretty much endless and quite tiring due to the many ups and downs sometimes for no apparent reason apart from aggravating the progress for us poor pilgrims on the road. Tomorrow we’ll see the ocean, and we pray for the weather to stay as pretty as today with cold air but with a nice and hot sunshine.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

In Muxia, Father Xavier is waiting for us and shall cook something for us. It shall be another quite long stage, but the prospect of a nice evening looking at the sea, even in a cold whether, will give us the wings.

image

Stage 36, Oct 12, Santiago de Compostela to Negreira, 22.4km, total time 5:45 hrs

The journey continues but with a lighter spirit.

image

Once the destination objective has been reached, I seem to have a better confidence within myself of what I managed to accomplish throughout these last challenging days. On the other hand though, the continuation of the journey to Muxia and Finisterre, looks like now more a sort of vacation than an extension of the Pilgrimage to other sites of  historical and religious relevance.

Nothing wrong in taking a bit of extra time leasurely and certainly the mood is more relaxed once the tension to reach Santiago and the adrenaline in the blood has reduced significantly. Along the road fewer pilgrims can be seen, and while the road signaling system is still very good, there are less hospitality structures on this stretch of road than on the way to Santiago on the Camino Frances. For some unknown reason, the milestones now report distances in kilometers but with three decimal figures!

image

From the room of our cell in the monastery, I could take a glimpse to the Santiago city roofs.

image

image

image

image

The road to Land’s End is through a land of legends with strong Celtic influence. Gradually, over the centuries, primitive stone construction with the traditional Celtic cross or spiral, have been turned as part of churches and chapels. Some of these churches are in remarkable natural spots.

In Muxia for instance there are rocks on the shore which are supposed to be the remains of a boat made of stone with whom the Holy Mary travelled from Palestine to support the evangelical work of Santiago. Legend has that only a man with no deadly sins will be able to move these rocks with a single finger. I will not even dare to try!

Talking about deadly sins, I have reflected that in the modern world, these 7DS is perhaps better to call them as the Seven Intoxications from Excessive Material Gratification (7IEMG). This will help to focus outside of the religious context and refers to very common addiction patterns typical of the current so-called western lifestyle. The pursue of a material reward, is not necessarily a bad practice, but when the pursue becomes an obsession, then I can see the risk of that intoxication to rule undisturbed.

The alliance with Luigi grows stronger. We can talk for hours about the men’s conditions or we can stay absolutely silent for as many hours totally sucked-in by our own thoughts. Today we started together at 8am crossing an almost deserted Santiago after the street parties that lasted until 4am, to celebrate the Our Lady del Pilar, or some new brand of liqueur or wine.

image

image

image

image

image

Stage 35, Oct 11, Santiago de Compostela, resting day

The last step.

Despite it was still more than an hour before the start of the Mass at noon, the cathedral was already packed with the  usual multicolored crowds. Outside all the entrances, guided tours were queuing for their chances to enter and pay their respects to Santiago but likely also to shoot endless pictures of the rich decor in the main altar area. Even on a second look, the cathedral is lacking spirituality and seems another example of religious speculation perpetrated over the centuries to impress simple people with opulence and display of power.

image

Still in this state if mind, I took a seat in the area reserved for pilgrims, and noticed Father Xavier sitting on the bench just in front of me. We hugged each other, and then I sat quietly waiting for the beginning of the Mass.

All around me, on the streets, in the hostel, in bars and restaurants, all pilgrims look for each other to congratulate and compare plans, impressions, projects.

I simply cannot understand the reason for all this joy. I am annoyed by all this superficial rejoicing which  seems to me just a  bragging for something with marginal merit. All the road is marked with millions of yellow arrows making practically impossible to get lost even in the darkest wooded areas; everyone wears supertechnical garments that limits the weight and are also quick dry to reduce the need of backup clothing; shoes are sophisticated pieces of engineering tooling; there are Albergues, food and drinks every 2 km or so apart from only few cases; there is abundance of blessing from the Lord and guidance from the Apostle James. Everyone just needs to use legs and a bit of endurance to get the Camino going despite blisters, tiredness and some degree of discomfort.

To my experience, the Camino is only an excellence exercise of patience and humility, with nothing to brag about and nothing to impress other fellow pilgrims.

The rejoicing, I thought, should come from other places. From the physical effort standpoint, I am happy to be here today after having having been on the road for 38 days, walked for 35 and covered 864.8km since. Mentally,  I have been focused and determined to continue despite my share of obstacles. Spiritually speaking I have done a number if good starts, but none or very few I have been able to develop to a level of contentment.

While I was there, reflecting, it occurred that during the past many years, I never confessed in front of a priest, in his primary role as doctor of the soul. All of a sudden I desired to take the Holy Communion rightfully, which is going through the ritual of the Holy Confession.

I leaned over to Father Xavier for an advice, whether I could approach the Communion just through an act of repentment in front of God. He beamed back, and asked me if I wanted to take Confession instead.

I could not refrain a bout of commotion which started very deep inside me, and without being able to confirm it with words, my wet eyes in his, nodding in confirmation, that, yes, this was what I wanted but I did not know how. He motioned me to move out of the benches and there we were leaning against one of these massive stone pillars, sitting on the base capitel, Father Xavier and me, in our walking clothes, accomuned by our mutual pilgrim smells, reciting prayers and exchanging vows of repentment and absolution, using Italian, French and Latin in a mix of feelings which were transcending the languages, nationalities and roles. He thanked me for the last step I finally completed, one last step which is worth of thousand of kilometers and thousand of years.

I did the assessment of my conscience for all these kilometers and many days, preparing for something but not knowingly that finally my purpose could have been achieved just on the last step.

Now I finally have come to the end of my journey. Along the road, not far from Santiago, one of these unknown hands wrote:

“La fine del Camino, es il principio del tu Destino (The end of the Camino, is the start of your Destiny)

I think now I can understand the meaning and will be a subject for further meditation during the next few days.

I am adding a few pictures of the monastery that has been our home for two days.

image

image

image

image

image

Tomorrow we shall leave to continue towards Muxia and Finisterre, at the border of the mighty Atlantic Ocean through a mystical land dotted with Celtic, Pagan and Catholic remains.

image

Stage 35, Oct 10, Brea-Rabiña to Santiago de Compostela, 26.2km, total time 7:30hrs

Santiago! At last.

image

A non glamorous reception from the holy city, under a torrential rain with no quarters. Actually the closer Luigi and I were walking to the center and the impressive cathedral, the stronger the downpour was becoming. The entry in the cathedral, instead of being full of pathos for the encounter with the Apostle, was more a necessity to find a shelter. Many other pilgrims thought the same way and were using the secular naves as a collective undressing room leaving poodles of rain dripping from the multicolor ponchos and raincoat all over the place. It needs to be said that after the purity of the gothic cathedrals of Burgos and Leon, the rich baroque of the cathedral in Santiago strikes a note of excess to the limit of resulting rather disturbing and with no atmosphere.

Since the weather forecast is calling for continuing showers also for tomorrow, we decided to rest tomorrow to visit the cathedral with more devotion and attend the Mass at noon with the Pilgrims’ blessing and the ceremony of the swinging incense burner across the whole cathedral.

I offered Luigi to share a room and we found a suitable accommodation at the Hospitale of the Greater Seminary, where they give to pilgrims as rooms the actuall cells of the monastery. The accommodation is basic, but the location is central and facing the cathedral.

image

The trail approaching Santiago is crossing woods of eucalyptus trees, which in the crisp and wet morning were diffusing a very intense aroma reminding me of the medicine my mother was giving me when I was calling in sick with nasal congestion.

image

image

Everyone has mixed feelings about having reached the journey’s destination. Most of the pilgrims are walking slowly or taking extra breaks in part because of the rain but perhaps also to prolong this strange feeling of freedom of being always on the road.

The arrival under the thunderstorm is not preventing us for getting to the pilgrim’s office to take our own copy of the Compostela certificate. Now all the long hours on the road, the many kilometres under our shoes, all the mood swings, the excitement and despair, the immense solitude and the hundred if faces encountered every day are all volatilized in an instant.

image

A special sense of inner peace is now pervading me, with a mix of satisfaction and surprise for having accomplished so much, and at the same time the incredulity for having completed such an undertaking apparently with no superhuman effort.

After tomorrow, we will resume the walk for the last 4 stages to reach Muxia and finally Finisterre. There I will accomplish the last part of the ritual: throw into the ocean waves a special stone given to me by my dear friend Massimo, and leave behind my shoes under the lighthouse in Finisterre, as a final memento that one say, one time I was there and I did it.

image

Stage 34, Oct 9, Melide to Brea-Rabiña, 28.0km, total time 7:15hrs

There are 4 things that, after the facts, I could not do without.

First is a Canadian Tilley hat, a present from my beloved wife Raffaella. It has been a great companion in all weather conditions, shading the eyes and the face from the fierce sun, or providing sufficient coverage from the rain. Even battered by the road, it keeps in excellent shape and gives me a signature adventurer’s look.

Second is the no-H2O rain jacket from Patagonia, a kind present from my friend Stefano. It is absolutely waterproof and in conjunction with a backpack cover, makes a poncho totally redundant. In addition to a fleece makes an excellent windbreaker sufficiently comfortable to withstand also the near zero temperatures of certain early mornings.

Third is my cotton scarf, a gift from the tour agent when I visited Cambodia. A simple cloth that can protect the throat from excessive cold, or raised up to cover nose and mouth during wind and dust storms. It also can be used as bandana and a turban, and lastly as a pillow case in Albergues not providing one.

The fourth is the silk liner bed sheet, that is providing sufficient protection from the not so clean environment of some Albergues. With an extra blanket it is warm and comfortable to make your own resting alcove despite all the snoring in the dormitory.

image

Of Melide, there is not much to recount except the local specialty, the pulpo gallego (octopus, galician style). It was so good, that I forgot to take a picture. Oddily enough, I found an Israeli couple at the restaurant, both pilgrims on the Camino, and witnesses of the universality of the pilgrimage, beyond nationalities and religious boundaries. The oddity lies in the fact that the octopus is not kosher food for Jews, and despite my attempts to let them try the food, Bhatia, the lady, did not give in. Eli, the husband, instead was really appreciating it and we shared a couple of servings with abundant toasts with the local wine. Later, Luigi, the crazy pilgrim walking since July 1st from Rome and Avid,  Swede, joined in and we had some good time together.

image

image

The new day started with the unmistakable tic-tic of rain drops outside the window, and you could feel the longer than usual preparations of the pilgrim crowd, since nobody is really eager to start the day walk in the cold, in the dark and under a dripping rain.

But Santiago is getting closer, and most conversations are about return  flight schedules, and whether continue to Finisterre of not. Certainly the weather now more typically autumnal, is more suggestive of joyous family gatherings perhaps around a fireplace roasting chestnuts, than planning more extensive walks.

It rained the whole day, turning the trails into water streams and the dust in mud. My mood has been good and happy inside my super waterproof rain jacket and under the wide brim of the dripping hat. I figured out I could by one if these gnomes or other creatures of the woods. A red-breasted robin which I believe is the very same bird that greets me every morning, hopped a few times on the road just like assuring me that everything is in great harmony and I was sort of  accepted in this fascinating world of the woods.

image

image

Incidentally, I have favoured an excellent plate of local queso con miel ( heese with honey) in Arzua, another insignificant city but with an excellent cheese making tradition.

image

image

I have to recall back what I said previously about Galicia. It seems that the influence if the closer Atlantic Ocean always affects the weather which makes the county to resemble Britain or Ireland, according to some comments of the well informed. Also it is a bit disappointing that there are countless small rivers which flow along the North-South direction, whereas the Camino is heading on a East-West direction. The effect is that the road us a continue rollercoaster with deep descents into valleys to ford the rivers followed by steep climbs. Under a persistent rain horrible pools of mud and everpresent cow dung are formed at the lowest points creating some difficulty in proceeding fast.

image

image

I wanted to stop at the 20km mark to Santiago, but the conditions of the trail suggested me to take it easy and stop a bit before.

image

The sky decided to open a little, suggesting an endorsement of my decision to stop. Maybe I will be able to wash my stuff and dry up before tomorrow. Santiago is still within tomorrow’s reach.

image

image

image

image