It was a perfect coincidence that my mother was visiting my sister Laura’s family in Berlin in September, and ended up finishing her visit there a day or two after I reached Finisterra. She made a monumental effort to come to Santiago before heading back home to Seattle, five flights in total. For our trip together I’ll let the pictures talk more, as the fatigue of 60+ days of walking without a break have caught up with me and I’m tired, so tired. It was as though my body needed a rest, but the adrenaline of reaching Santiago, of knowing what was ahead each day, kept me going.
On Saturday I went to the airport and picked her up. I must get my flexibility and spontaneity from her, because at the last moment we mutually decided to rent a car and visit the area of northwest Spain at our own pace, independently. We drove straight southeast to the coast, visiting fishing and coastal towns like Noia, Muros, Cee, and finally Finisterra.
In Finisterra we walked along the same path from the town to the lighthouse–and to the rocks beyond–under dark and cloudy skies that portended rain.
In the truest style of my new self, I didn’t reserve a place to sleep ahead of time, but my mother never flinched or missed a beat, telling me we’d just find a place to sleep along the cliffs or beach if nothing else showed up. How many women that are nearly 70 would say that? If ever I need inspiration, I have only look to my own mom first. Amidst the pouring rain, however, we did eventually find a small pension for the night.
The following day we traveled on to Muxia, a place I had originally thought to walk to from Finisterra. In the end I felt a completion on the Camino in both Santiago and Finisterra and thus didn’t walk, but going there with my mom I can feel why some people do. The town itself is pretty, but the most spectacular part is the coastline where a church stands overlooking the vast ocean where the waves whip continuously onto the rocks endlessly. North, further up the coast and across a small inlet, a lighthouse stands on a rocky bluff jutting out into the ocean while a lone building, probably a church, lives a lonely existence upon a barren hill across the water from Muxia as though standing watch over the town. Even amidst the couple of tourist buses and small groups of visitors, the coast near Muxia felt like a landscape that evoked the sublime, a feeling of being small amidst the perpetual, ceaseless aspect of nature. The area felt timeless, and even the wind turbines along the surrounding hills weren’t turning, motionless, stuck in time.
There’s something strange about the place though–the land gives me a special feeling of mystique and power and recent events would seem to encourage this feeling. On December 25th, 2013, of all days, lightning struck the church on the coast and much of it burnt down. The church now repaired, there is a monument next to the church where the space between two large standing blocks looks like a lightning bolt. I assumed the work of art was recently constructed to pay homage to the fire, but in fact it was constructed back in 2003 to commemorate a massive oil spill that devastated the region. But seeing the lightning bolt-looking object between the stones blows my mind given what happened to the church, as though the monument, built for something else 10 years prior, predicated a later event. Here is a picture of my mother and I in front of the church along with a picture of the monument and church.
After Muxia we traveled to A Coruña, a large seaside city along the north coast of Spain. It gets a decent number of cruise ship visitors but for the most part it’s a bit off the visitor to Spain’s path. There we visited a Roman-era lighthouse–now called the Tower of Hercules–and ate several tapas and even seafood paella in the many cafes along a long pedestrian drag home to endless numbers of bars and restaurants. My mom even tried the northern Spain staple–Sidre.
In yet another of my far fetched ideas, my mother eagerly came along on the morning after we arrived into A Coruña to watch the sun rise above the Tower and the city itself.
Also in A Coruña, in the back of some random plaza in the old town we went briefly into and out of a church, where a man was outside holding a cup out for money. After we exited, he struck up a conversation and we quickly started talking easily about his story. His name was Christian, from the country Georgia, and he’d walked along the Camino and run out of money in Santiago. Someone gave him a ride to A Coruña, where he was stuck sleeping on the street and park benches trying to conjure up enough coin to find a bus or train closer to his home. After having met countless western Europeans and even the odd Canadian, Australian, and American, meeting someone from far off was a neat and wonderful experience, and surely I could have talked with him for ages about his story. He taught both my mom and I about a great deal how much of a financial challenge, risk it can be coming so far and with so little money to walk on the Camino. For most it’s not expensive and can be done saving a few month’s wages. Without much money, the Camino suddenly becomes much harder, physically and mentally.
After A Coruña we headed back to Santiago, revisiting some of the important places I’d been, me trying to act the tour guide and tell my mother some details about specific places. But mostly it was just me getting lost and her happily walking around in company. It’s not easy traveling somewhere with another person, family in particular. Often we all have different speeds, different desires, different needs, but with my mother it couldn’t have been easier.
In Santiago I ran into several more people I’d met previous and walked with for perhaps an hour or two here and there. After Maciek and the Brazilians, about the last friend still walking that I could have met in Santiago was Rik, my doppelganger from Holland. On our last full day together, my mother and I were walking towards the main plaza and Rik and I saw each and embraced in another great big hug. It was quite last minute as he was about to leave for the bus station towards home, so we walked and talked with him all the way to the bus station, one final step on his Camino. Unfortunately, he missed the bus.
I took my mother to the airport and bid her a fond farewell, then hung around in Santiago for most of the day. Before leaving, Rik and I made plans to meet one final time at the bus station for a couple hours of conversation while I wait for my bus, and he awaits his a day after the missed one. Though I walked alone, the Camino for me became in large part about the people I met, especially the small group I became friends with in France and Spain. It’s fitting, then, that Rik and I each write our final Camino entry with a good friend, a kindred spirit, before we head off in different directions on different buses. Perhaps it wasn’t unfortunate, then, that he missed the bus: perhaps we were supposed to end together. Or perhaps not, I arrived a few minutes late and likely barely missed him.