Saying goodbye to Maciek was hard, as for once I knew we would not meet again on the Camino. Before, saying goodbye was relatively easy as there was always the chance, the likelihood even, in the back of the mind that you’ll meet again. We parted ways amidst plans to someday meet again at his home in Lublin or elsewhere in Poland.
Shortly after leaving the old quarter, the signs pointing the direction further west reset and now said 89 km left, this time to Finisterra, but strangely still read “Camino de Santiago” even though Santiago is now behind. A few highlights during the late afternoon stroll were a view back to the city, a quaint house in a bucolic setting near a small creek, and a cross, which seemed out of place on this part of the pilgrimage.
A gorgeous village, Ponte Maceira, sits near a river with water falling a short distance near the old bridge crossing over and was the greatest highlight of the day.
For more than a few moments, I contemplated somehow sleeping under the the gorgeous work of stone, like some fabled red-haired troll of legend, but ultimately put a furlough on my dreams of living under a bridge until some future time.
I later passed through the town of Negreira, where almost all pilgrims were staying the first night out of Santiago.
I didn’t get too far after, finding a sloping bluff that overlooked the town and one of the few rare flat spots upon it.
Sometime during the middle of the night with the moon shining brightly in my face, I awoke to a noise. Not long after, I heard a trample of steps coming down the hill to my campsite from where the Camino trail continued. Looking that direction, two large wild boar and one small boar soon appeared, and then just as suddenly they scattered in opposite directions after finally noticing my presence. What a way to be woken up in the night!
I started walking early this day and I quickly got a sense of the social atmosphere that exists on other Caminos compared to the Primitivo and del Norte. I walked briefly with a young man from Malta with strong opinions, and not long after happily bid him farewell to keep going on. Not 5 minutes later, I met a Frenchman, Mikael, and we talked easily and often for 3 or 4 hours. After I took a short break to eat some lunch and he continued on, I met Anthony from England within perhaps an hour of picking back up the trail. A self-described recovering alcoholic, we quickly delved into topics highly personal, the kind you wouldn’t broach until knowing someone a good length of time, and the same had happened with Mikael. It’s a little strange, tackling such hard subjects not 20 minutes after meeting someone; perhaps it’s easier to talk openly like that because you’re meeting people who don’t live anywhere close, who in all likelihood you’ll never see the next day or week, let alone anywhere beyond the Camino.
It was a boon that I met these two people and walked probably 5 or 6 hours in total with them. Physically, I turned a corner early on in France and haven’t looked back since. Mentally, today was hard, possibly because I felt I found and finished something in Santiago, and now wondered what the purpose of reaching FInisterra even was anymore.
In Olveiro, I left Anthony to carry on by myself, but not before meeting many familiar faces from the Camino Primitivo, people I was not as surprised to see again, yet still happy to greet. Here are some scenes above the town, leaving behind the flat low farmlands and climbing into gentle hills.
There are a few things that would be helpful to have from a guide or map, none of which I have anymore. Things like how far the next place to refill water is or the next restaurante/cafe/grocery are especially important. By now, one of the greatest things I’ve learned as that, even without a guide or map, The Way always seems to keep me safe, give me exactly what I need. Entering and leaving the town of Hospital, a lone restaurant sitting near the top of the hill above town had a sign posted saying, in English even, “Last bar/restaurante for 15 km.” With a pack full-up on water but empty of food, I loaded up on the hodgepodge of offerings and set out to find a place to camp.
Not long after I left the town, I spied the ocean, still some 20 kilometers away as the pilgrim walks, but apparently not far as the bird flies.
I was planning to sleep in the woods again even after the wild boars of last night, but a church in the middle of nowhere appeared and I quickly plopped down aside it, resting in the open grass behind.
Thankfully my night was boar-free. Well before sunrise I heard a few pilgrims coming down the trail, and I pretended to be a zombie or wild savage-man with a series of grunts and growls in order to half-scare them. I don’t think they appreciated my attempt at humor.
In a field right next to the church I slept next to the pink sunrise skies mixed with morning humidity created this rainbow over a cross in a field. As I new I was ending, it made the day even more special for me, portentous even, as rainbows could be thought to symbolize magic in many cultures.
As I approached closer and closer to Finisterra, the views steadily improved. I first encountered the ocean at the seaside town of Cee, going ever-closer to Finisterra through Corcubion and Sardiñeiro, coastal towns that still thrive off of the fishing trades.
Where I started flagging mentally a bit the day before, the opposite was today, with a renewed determination to reach the oh-so-close light at the end of the tunnel. That is, until right before I reached the town of Finisterra (and then still 3 or 4 kilometers from the actual furthest point of the cape, the “end”), where my progress slowed to a crawl, my mind exhausted and flagging again like the day before. At first I walked gingerly down the beach towards the town, collecting a couple shells here and there. Then, in the town, I happened upon some kind of pilgrim hippie commune, the place where a few free-spirited pilgrims go once they reach the end of the world, and apparently never leave. There, a hippie who’d probably done too much LSD at one point made me this “map” showing me the way to get to some “magic stones.” Take a look.
Shortly thereafter, a brash young 21-year old American from Texas living in Spain tried to hold a sermon towards me and anyone who would listen about how much he loved Spain and hated the United States. After trying to posit a cogent defense of my country, I left in a much worse mood than I entered in. In that moment, I was surely asking myself, amidst the negativity of enlightened hippies, what was awaiting me at the end? Again, as the day before, I didn’t have any strong feeling towards making it there even though it was merely another 3 kilometers to go to the tip of Cape Finisterra.
Like in Santiago with my meeting of Maciek, there is another metaphor here in reaching Finisterra. It’s a scary thing traveling to the so-called end of the world, perhaps even more so when you’re alone. What was waiting for me there, what would I do when I reached it? In the long-term, there was plenty waiting of course: my mother arriving soon to visit me, the next country I’d head off to, freedom to do as I wish in life. But in the short-term, the next several hours, there was nothing awaiting me, nobody, no certain activity, just vast ocean that stretched for thousands of miles to New York City. Or so I thought.
In my last post, I mentioned that I missed out on seeing the Brazilians in Santiago, and thought thereafter that surely we couldn’t possibly cross paths again. They had gone to Portugal, I had gone walking to Finisterra. But shortly after leaving the pilgrim hippie community, in one last bout of magic,nwho should I see looking around in some small plazas but Paolo, Manuel, and Carlao. They yelled “David Crockett!” and we enjoyed a group hug. We quickly made plans to celebrate the evening together and they offered to drive me the last 3 kilometers to the end of the cape, a very popular and touristic place with a lighthouse. I declined, saying that I had to walk it. They even offered to hold onto my pack for me, but I explained that I had to walk the last bit with the pack because it has become a part of me. Many people leave their pack in Finisterra-town and go just themselves, but my pack is inseparable, indistinguishable from me, and the thought of going there without it isn’t a possible reality for me; I’d rather not go if I can’t take whatever I feel I need with me. We agreed to meet there in an hour, and I headed off, with a stronger, more sure-footed step than ever.
In hindsight, our encounter was unbelievably serendipitous. When I encountered them, I’d gotten a bit lost and was trying to find my way back to the actual Camino route that headed to the lighthouse; had I actually not gotten a little sidetracked, we might never have met. But the fact that they were there, on that day, is one hell of a coincidence. In reality, they’d rented a car, driven to Portugal on Tuesday, come back up the coast to Spain on Wednesday, and were spending the Thursday in Finisterra before heading back to Santiago the following day. Part of me thinks that they knew I’d probably be getting there that day; they even saved a bottle of mead they’d bought back several days before in Ferreira when I was with them because they wanted to share it with me, calling it the symbol of the Camino for us four.
Perhaps I am seeing what I want to see in these events, or perhaps there really is something special on this Camino. I already felt it in France, and felt it periodically throughout Spain, the magical kindness and generosity and friendliness within people. As it always has before, when I was lost, tired, in pain or in need of help, a place to sleep out of the rain, or naively approaching an area with no food or water for some great length of time, The Way provided. In Santiago I met my friend Maciek when I thought I’d be there alone, even feeling a tinge of loneliness right before. The exact same thing happened in Finisterra: I had friends waiting for me at the end of the world. I’m a skeptic by my nature, but this has made me a believer: not in religion, not even in god in the traditional sense, but in something special that transcends our understanding, something that watched over me along this entire two month walk.
On the way to the lighthouse, I spied a cemetery along a flatter portion of the cape’s slopes, a cluster of mausoleum structures that hold 20-30 coffins to conserve space. If ever there were a place for a final resting place it would be here, with the natural beauty but also the poetic aspect of it once being place beyond which nothing existed for pagan man. The cemetery spots look out west towards this coastline.
Shortly thereafter, I took an obligatory picture at the last mile-marker showing 0.0 kilometers, strangely still a short distance from where the rocks meet the ocean.
Reaching the lighthouse, I climbed down to the rocks a bit below, as far out as I could safely get towards, and met this character, an Italian man named Umberto who had just finished his 50th Camino.
I’d seen him off-and-on during the Camino Primitivo, and though we couldn’t communicate with each other very well I wished then that I could pick his brain about what this Way meant to him after so much traveling along it. He was a reminder me of the brief meeting I had with the several thousand kilometer pilgrim Eric in France, another legend of the Camino, the type of person that seemingly everyone’s met or heard of or seen a picture of on the wall, the type of person whose spirit will live on in the trails long after they’ve walked their final mile.
Anyhow, he took this photo, behind me the last rocks of Europe.
Climbing back up the rocks to the solid ground of the lighthouse, I felt an immediate sense of moving on. Some people who have already walked the Camino tole me that they often experienced a partly melancholic feeling of reaching the end, an emptiness because there isn’t anywhere left to go, it’s saying goodbye to friends and a new lifestyle, or because the journey’s end signified a return to some other life, and I thought I might have some similar feeling same. But all I felt was an incredible feeling of accomplishment, of the reality, scope, energy expended and pain of it, and a feeling of also being ready to move on without another thought, happy in every way to be finished.
I met the Brazilians and we enjoyed a few hours of celebration at the end of the world, drinking our symbol of the Camino and watching the sun set. By the time we got back into town, the hotel’s reception was closed so I slept in the entryway of their hotel room. After sleeping on roofs and beaches and cliffs and in forests with boars, next to and under church porches, what’s sleeping on the hard floor of a hotel room? I’ve taken the negative word “sleeping around” to a whole new meaning this Camino.