Oct. 16 – 19: Muxia and Finesterre

Photo Muxia

Oct. 16: Muxia

We’ve come all this way, so it seems only right to continue to the very end. It’s a beautiful day and we leave on the early bus for Muxia. With a population of 5000, this sleepy seaside town, along with our hotel Habitat CM Muxia, are really nothing special, serving only as the backdrop for the stunning natural beauty of its beaches.

This is the official end of the Camino, so we head out to find the Camino marker noting 00.00 kilometers and are struck by the view before us; the waves crashing against the rocks, its sound both thunderous and serene. There is an ominous feel to this beauty; this area is part of the treacherous Costa de Morte (Coast of Death), known for its many shipwrecks.

We peek into a window of Our Lady of the Boat Church. Struck by lightning on Christmas Day 2013, only the outside has been fully restored and it lacks an interior roof. According to legend, it was on this site that the Virgin Mary met St. James and encouraged him to preach throughout Galicia. It is believed that by a miracle of God, the body of St. James was carried by boat to Muxia, then taken to Santiago.

I am drawn to the area’s spiritual and mystical side and am anxious to find the rocking stone (Pedra de Abalar). Balanced just right, it sits straight up and rocks with the wind. It is said that it has magical powers; touching it can provide spiritual and physical healing.

We find a rock to sit on and soon I am deep in thought, mesmerized by the sound of the ocean. Time seems to stand still. I think about the many pilgrims before me that have sat in this same spot and reflected on their physical, mental and mystical journey with only the screeching of the seagulls to distract them back to reality.

Oct. 17: Muxia

There’s not much to do in a beach town on a rainy day, so it’s a good time to do some writing, reading and plan our upcoming itinerary. We’ll have some time left before we are to meet Big A* in Madrid, so we grab a window seat at our hotel’s café, order some tea and get to work.

By evening, our work is completed and we toast with a glass of wine in the same window seat and decide to venture over to the harbor for dinner. Known for its fishing industry, it is said that the boats you view while you are dining have just unloaded the fish you are dining on for dinner. Once again, we choose a window seat and after much discussion with the waiter (whose dream is travel to the U.S. and drive Route 66) select just the right seafood dishes and white wine to complement them.

Photo Finisterre

Oct. 18: Finesterre

Finesterre is Latin for “end of the earth.” Back when the world was still thought of as flat, this was considered its end. Like Muxia, this town also has a population of 5000 and is also a fishing port, but there is something so much more charming and robust about this city. It has a thriving city center and streets that meander up and down, along the ocean. The Hotel Langosteira has a great vibe. Its whimsical décor features colors of the sea; mosaic tiles in the shape of fish design the walls and even the key chains are wooden fish. Our porch has a view of the ocean and we already plan to make sure we’re up early to see the sun rise.

We get our bearings by walking from one side of the town to the other, scoping out places for dinner by the water.

Oct. 19

We head to the lighthouse, the area’s beacon since 1853, and pause at the bronze boot statue. Perched on a rock, it’s a symbol to all pilgrims of the end of the journey. Signs request that pilgrims no longer practice the ancient ritual of burning an article of clothing here as a symbol of new beginnings, but up ahead we notice a tight group of people standing in circle holding hands and smoke billowing out from the center.

I wish we would have known about the O Semaforo Hotel balanced on the cliffs, but we settle for a beer on their patio overlooking the ocean. While we are initially surprised at the number of tour buses and pilgrims here, as we climb up to the boulders that surround the ocean, there is unexpected silence. Unlike the rough seas of Muxia, here the ocean is tranquil, lapping at the sun dappled rocks, lulling you into awe and leaving you speechless.

I situate myself on a flat rock and sit cross legged with my eyes closed and my hands in prayer at my heart. Out of nowhere, I hear the sound of a flute; a young man has chosen this spot to play for tips. His melody is harmonizing with the sound of the waves and I experience such peace. For a moment, I feel as if I am outside my body and wonder if this is what practicing meditation correctly feels like. The word “peace” keeps coming to mind and I tell myself that I don’t want to forget this feeling when I go back to my busy life. Eyes now open, I feel energized, yet so serene.

We walk back through town and head to the beach. We’ve read of a famous restaurant right on the beach and decide to splurge on a late lunch at Tira do Cordel, enjoying the razor clams and grilled fish. Afterward, we walk the length of the beach, searching for shells and dipping our feet in the water.

It’s been a long day. As we head back to our hotel, I notice two older pilgrims walking toward us. The one that looks like Santa Claus (except that he’s wearing sandals and shorts) stops in front of me and hands me something. I hesitate and shake my head no, but he insists and says “…Yes, for you…” He walks on and I look down to see what he has given me. It is a card with a hand drawn picture of a dove in royal blue paint. Across the bottom are the words “…Peace, Paz…”

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Oct. 10 -12: Palas de Rei to O Pedrouz

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You never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

Oct. 10: Palas de Rei- 16 miles, seven hours

It always surprises me when a pilgrim walks by me smoking, but in Europe cigarettes are part of the culture. It’s very common to see generations of the same family all smoking together at the local cafe.

As we travel through woods and farmlands, I sense that the inclines and descents are steeper than yesterday. We’re traveling through dairy country and corn cribs are everywhere. They look like little houses on stilts and are used to dry and store the corn used to feed the animals. To make the time go by, we play a game, calling out the oldest (one said 1856 on it), newest, most decorated and most likely to fall apart if blown on. I tell Mr. Wiz* that I’d like one for my birthday. I hope he knows I’m kidding.

Pensíon Palas is a bit outside of the city and we’re glad to finally arrive. It’s nothing special; plain, but clean. We head into town and see our Canadian friend, who asks us to join her for a glass of wine. We enjoy hearing about her adventurous life, starting with boarding school in Belgium, then living abroad in different cities. She excuses herself in order to enjoy her bathtub (most rooms only come with a shower) and we head to dinner.

Oct. 11: Arzúa- 16 miles, 7 1/two hours

The forecast says rain and we trudge up and down through farmland all day long. Just as we’re heading for the steepest part of our trek, we meet a pilgrim from Lake George, New York. We pass the time with my stories of the many happy childhood vacations there. The Caldo Gallego we find for lunch is good and hot and it hits the spot. It’s my favorite soup, made with onions, white beans, potatoes, kale and/or cabbage.

Just as we see the sign for the turn-off to Casa Garea, the rain turns to drizzle. As we head into the eucalyptus forest, the wonderful scent and the singing birds help us to forget for the moment that we feel like two wet rags.

The buildings are old, but the beamed ceilings, stone and starched white linen curtains give it a homey feel. After settling in, we enjoy a glass of wine in the common area. Our Lake George friend greets us with a big smile and announces that this is the first time on the Camino that she will have a private room. We tease her that she will not be able to return to the albergue bunk beds. When we notice a single place setting at one of the dining room tables, we invite her to join us for dinner and a good time is had by all.

Oct. 12: O Pedrouzo- 15 miles, seven hours

It’s drizzling, but we head back through the eucalyptus forest to return to the Camino route with a spring in our step, thinking of the bacon and egg breakfast we plan to treat ourselves to.

The rain is playing a game with us all day; every time we decide we’re too hot and take off our raincoats, it starts to drizzle again. In the end, we decide that the cool mist feels better.

We’re walking right through farms all afternoon, so much so that at one point a farmer asks us all to stop, so his cows can cross the road to his other pasture. The drizzle turns to a pouring rain and the cows are the only ones that seem content.

Pension LO is only a couple of years old. It’s all white decor and contemporary feel are a welcome change. I like the quote that decorates the wall above our bed in script: “The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been and the memories we’ve made along… the Way.”

Only breakfast is served in their dining room and we are not looking forward to having to head to town for dinner in the driving rain. The woman at reception asks us if we’d like to order pizza from a local takeout place, the two couples eating in the dining room give us a thumbs-up on the food they are enjoying and we are so happy that we don’t need to venture out. We enjoy a cozy evening, dining and chatting with the couples from California and Washington state.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sept. 28 – 30: Leòn

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Sept. 28

We walk into town together and our Arizona pilgrim friend bids us farewell as he heads to his albergue.

We stayed at Hostal Aldo Cosco Antiqua in 2016 and I remember the wooden beams on the room’s ceiling, the windows that open to overlook a cobblestone street and the lower level’s glass topped flooring with a view to the old city’s stone beginnings.

Before we can decide where to dine, we receive a text from a pilgrim couple from Delaware that we had met early on. They’ve also just arrived and we plan to meet for dinner.

Tonight, the city’s cobblestone streets are packed with young and old revelers. A line snakes down the block to get into the cathedral for a free organ concert, a band plays electric violin and bagpipe music from a stage and there is a feeling of such gaiety in the air.

Sept. 29

My sister, a nurse and JC* (who we all thought should have gone to medical school) agree with the manager of our Burgos hotel who took one look at me and had diagnosed me as having tendinitis. A few minutes later, Google has provided me with a definition and YouTube has taught me some Pilates movements especially for knee issues; fingers crossed that this is the key.

Today, the city is celebrating La Leyenda de los Cien Doncellas (The Legend of the 100 Maidens), which explains the procession of women dressed in beautiful medieval garb. The Arab dancing, sword battle re-enactment and medieval music complete with bagpipes helps to recount the story of the time when Spain was under Muslim rule. A despot seized control of Spain and in exchange for less tyranny, demanded that 100 women be added to his harem. The women revolted and with the help of the army led by the apostle Santiago, Spain was freed.

In the midst of the vibrant music and the throngs of jubilant merrymakers, the Arizona pilgrim we met on arrival comes to mind. I sensed a sadness about him. Is he all alone this evening? Could he use a friend? I call out his name under my breath and scour the streets, hoping that if he is out there, we will somehow run into him.

Sept. 30

The celebration continues with the Fiesta de San Froilàn  (St. Froilàn). Colorful banners line the plaza, as donkeys lead colorfully decorated carts down the square. Every street is crowded, either with shoppers eyeing the merchandise for sale under the many tents or with the customers overflowing out of every bar and cafe into the street.

It appears that no one has stayed home. The sight of generations of family members enjoying each others company is heartwarming.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page

 

 

 

Following the Yellow Brick Road; Why I Am Walking the Camino Again

Photo Following the Yellow Brick Road

The 2011 movie “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen, sparked a resurgence in the Camino. His son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote, produced and directed it, has compared his story to “The Wizard of Oz.” Sheen is Dorothy, Oz is replaced by Santiago and the pilgrims that Sheen meets along the way seem to have something in common with the tin man, scarecrow and the cowardly lion. The yellow arrows that mark the way along the Camino are today’s yellow brick road.

Walking out of the theater that afternoon, I remember Mr. Wiz* vowing to walk the Camino someday. I thought nothing of it again, until 2016, when I accepted an invitation to join him on a 500 mile walk through Spain.

Then an unathletic version of myself, I was not about to miss out on an adventure. I started training and had found my sport; I could walk! Standing on that mountain as I tested out my first pair of hiking boots, I felt positively giddy. No matter that it was the 4-foot, plastic mountain in the center of the REI shoe department; I was hooked.

Following one of the ancient paths that pilgrims have traveled for thousands of years to the cathedral in Santiago, Spain where the remains of St. James are said to be buried, the Way of St. James evokes physical, spiritual and mystical qualities. As you walk each day, wishing each passerby “Buen Camino” (a good walk) can result in everything from a smile to hours of heartfelt conversation. Every 24 hours, relationships are made and lost, as people walk ahead and then catch up to each other (which usually results in lots of hugs and a celebratory glass of wine). A simple gesture, a chance encounter, a small town on such a large world stage; there is such beauty in the incongruity of it all.

Standing on line to receive our Compostela (the certificate of completion) at the end of the trip, a fellow pilgrim mentioned a national pilgrim organization. Members of our local chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino all seem to have that same sparkle in their eyes; they are interesting people of all ages that are united by a sense of adventure and purpose. And when family and friends have heard all your stories and seen your photos more than once, this is the group who is always anxiously willing to share it all again.

This band of spirited souls with a zest for life understood my newfound feelings. I now try to focus on the present, listen more and go with the flow. I have a newfound respect for the uncomplicated aspects of a simpler life. I seem to be more curious, inquisitive and adventurous. Solitude has become as important to me as socializing. Meeting other pilgrims and sharing our common bond has been invigorating.

So, accepting Mr. Wiz’s invitation once again, with my hair cut short, nail polish removed and no makeup packed, I will venture out with a couple of outfits in my backpack and see where life takes me this time. These are not requirements; you make your Camino your own. This is just my way of not letting a more complicated version of myself get in the way of the simple pleasures that the Camino is known to provide.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.