End-of-the-Earth and End of the Camino

Finisterre, Muxia and the Costa de la Muerte (Coast of Death)

Tuesday we took an excursion to the Galician coast to reach the final pilgrim towns that we didn’t have time to walk to. It takes an extra 3 or 4 days to walk to Muxia (where legend says the Virgen of the Boat appeared to Santiago and convinced him to stay in Galicia) and Finisterre, the “edge of the world”. The picturesque and rocky coast with its history of deadly and catastrophic wrecks gives rise to the Costa de la Muerte title.

At the Camino 0.0 km marker on the Finisterre peninsula.

 

The rocks at Finisterre, considered the “real” end to many a camino. Pilgrims traditionally burned their clothes, now not permitted, but some pilgrim has left their shoes. Others pray or contemplate.

 

The fishing town of Finisterre.

 

A hugely welcome surprise. We found our Polish friend Yarik while we were lunching in Finisterre. He had gone days ahead of us walking and we had not hoped to ever see him again. It was a gift to be able to say goodbye.

Back Home Again

And so, after 6 weeks away we are home again. Bella, our dog, was ecstatic to see us yesterday evening. The cat Mickey is quite angry with me.

We didn’t tell Bella we went on a 500 mile walkie without her.

The Camino was an amazing experience, but it is wonderful to be back. While we were gone life kept moving and now it’s time to re-integrate. There have been changes — my job was eliminated, a colleague is very ill, a friend unexpectedly moved out of state, and an extended family member has experienced the death of someone close to them.

…But the echo of “Buen Camino” and the friends we made will always be with us.

A Day of Reunions and Goodbyes

Today we are treating ourselves to a stay in the grand Parador Hotel – Hostal Reis Catolicos, built in the 15th century as a pilgrim shelter. It has 4 cloisters, beautiful vaulted ceilings, tapestries (and bathtubs).

We attended the Pilgrim Mass at noon, a very special event for all pilgrims. I wish I could have understood the mass, but it was entirely in Spanish (maybe some Latin thrown in). Still it was not to be missed. They even used the giant incense censer Botafumeiro, which is swung from giant cables anchored to the ceiling. I do not have great photos from inside the church as we were not permitted to use a flash and we were seated pretty far away, despite coming an hour early.

After the mass we encountered many of our most treasured pilgrim friends and congratulations and goodbyes were shared.

Tomorrow we leave for a day trip by minibus to Finisterre ( the end of the world) which many pilgrims walk on to after Santiago. We didn’t plan enough extra days to make the extra trek so we’ll have to cheat, but as Rich says we may never get back here again.

Pilgrim Mass
The most precious young ladies from South Korea who we first met so many days ago in Carrion.
Jose Luis from Burgos, Spain, our companion since the very first pilgrim dinner in Roncesvalles.
Sigi from Italy, who we got to know during a pre-dawn walk into Burgos.

 

42…

42 Kilometers!

We made it all the way to Santiago yesterday instead of stopping in O Predrouzo after the designated 22 km stage. We arrived in Pedrouzo around 11:30, had some lunch, and decided we were just so close to the end of the Camino that we didn’t want to spend a day twiddling our thumbs and waiting to go on.

So we walked 42 kilometers (26 miles) and arrived at the Cathedral at 6:19pm.

At the pilgrim office waiting in line to get our Compostela certificate for completing the Camino Frances pilgrimage.
September 7th, at the first step of the Camino in St. Jean, France.
Last way marker in front of the cathedral in Santiago on October 8th.
The Cathedral last night.

Creekside Pilgrims

A Bucolic Setting

We have now walked around 730km with approximately 40 to go. Tonight we are staying in a renovated historic pilgrim hospital in Ribadiso.

The river made for a lovely, cold foot soak that we pilgrims really enjoyed. A cow even joined us on our side of the river. Tonight we are being serenaded by a bagpipe.

For this cow the grass is greener on our side of the river.
Tonight’s albergue.
A great foot soak.
Our dormitory.
Bagpipes!

 

Palas de Rei

We had another fog-shrouded day, becoming a beautiful sunny afternoon. We’ve had some super neat mornings over the last 2 days with a full moon lighting our way through the dark and fog before sunrise.

Below a photo from Castromaior, the remains of a castle dating to the 4th Century B.C. The sun is peeking through the thick fog. Surely there were some wraiths hanging around with us, but otherwise we were alone at this ruin.

Castromaior

Speaking of being alone… there are so many new pilgrims on the road. It’s pretty disturbing. They are just doing 4 or 5 days of the Camino (last 100km). It’s a shame that they don’t know what they have missed out on over the many weeks and there doesn’t seem to be interaction between the original cohort and the new ones. They seem to be all in large groups or tours for the most part.

For us, two more stages of walking and then the final day into Santiago!!! We’ll finally be there Monday.

Under 100 Km!

Spending the night in Portomarin, a pilgrim town that was relocated when a reservoir drowned its original location.  Only 4 days of walking left.

Galicia — land of mist and manure
The last 100 km out of almost 800!

 

Sangria

Galicia is Beautiful

We are enjoying our days walking through Galicia. The land is green and hilly and we are spending more time along wooded routes. The villages are pretty tiny, with small herds of cows and sheep. There are lots of smallish gardens of kale and other cruciferous vegetables and some late tomatoes.

Once again this morning we set off in the dark for a climb in dense fog but the view as dawn came was amazing as we looked down from above the clouds.

One downside to our current pastoral region is the ever-present scent of manure. It’s really overwhelming at times and the streets in the smaller villages are just coated with the stuff. Today marked the last day of our 4th week walking and I slipped on some damp leaves during a descent and fell for the first time. Fortunately my fall was cushioned by — yep, manure.

We passed through Sarria today and have stopped in a small town Barbadelo a few kilometers on. Sarria is a very significant town on the Camino because many “fake” pilgrims (as some people call them) start their journey here. In order to earn the Compostela certificate from the pilgrim office in Santiago you only have to prove you’ve walked the final 100km of the Camino. Sarria is located 115km from Santiago so we are expecting anout 30% more pilgrims to join us tomorrow after commencing in Sarria.

About 500 pilgrims are arriving daily in Santiago. Last year 278,000 pilgrims walked to Santiago and earned their certificates. I’ve been checking live statistics on arrivals and about 100 pilgrims an hour are checking in at the pilgrim office. About 1000 pilgrims a day will arrive during October.

As you can tell the end of the Camino is on my mind. It is going to be so exciting and emotional to finish this journey. I have walked every step and carried every pound in my pack the whole way. If I fell and broke a bone tomorrow I’d still walk every step left — somehow!

Still Alive – 6 days left!

Some photos from our ascent to O Cebreiro yesterday and then descent down the mountains again today. Yesterday was quite the cardio workout! Somebody described it as being like climbing over the alps from The Sound of Music. The weather has been quite warm too.

The views from the top were amazing and we spent much of this morning above the cloud line looking down over beautiful green landscapes.

Climbing to O Cebreiro
Alto de San Roque 1270 meters
Entering Galicia

Villafranca

A beautiful day hiking through hilly vineyards once again. This region is rather wild and Rich was disappointed to see the grapes have mostly been harvested already. Mountains are all around us.

We are spending the night in Villafranca prior to a really long climb back into the mountains tomorrow.

Rich had “soused trout” for lunch which we thought was a typo, but maybe not!

Templar castle yesterday in Ponferrada.
Back into wine country. Green and pleasant.

“Mist”-ical Morning and Monumental Descent


We began our stage today in Foncebadon, a mountain village with a single unpaved street. We delayed leaving until 7:20 so as not to do too much mountain climbing in the dark, only to discover we were in the midst of very dense fog. It was pretty cool.

2 km in we reached the Iron Cross. I had expected that the dawn would have risen by the time we got there, but probably due to the fog it was still dark.

The Iron Cross is probably the earliest and most famous monument for pilgrims on the Camino. There apparently has been a sacred monument in this place since Roman times or before. The monument consists of a small iron cross mounted on a tall pole atop a mound of rocks and stones. It is a place where pilgrims leave stones which they have brought with them for the origin of their Camino. The stones can be placed as a memorial or prayer, or can represent some symbolic weight that the pilgrim is wishing to let go.

Our stones we carried from home.

I brought a small pebble of limestone from the creek bed in our backyard. Rich carried a fossil (exogyra).

Iron Cross
Coming over the the mountain.
Coming into Ponferrada in the valley.

As you can see from the elevation profile we had a very steep and long descent off the mountain today. No view because of the fog for a number of hours.

Now we are in Ponferrada seen in the distance in this last photo.