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Sunday, 28 November 2010


Still walking…..

The next day instead of getting on the bus back to Santiago, I continued walking up the coast to the town of Muxia, the absolute ultimate end of the camino!!! From here I even turned around and started walking back, returning to Santiago, where finally I put down my stick and stopped walking. I felt it was time. Plus, my sister had arrived to meet me!
All in all I walked 1350km……it was a privilege and I loved every (almost) step.

end of the road.....again

Olveiroa – Finisterre

Very early morning, following the stars. First time this was a bit of a problem as the path by the river was narrow and overgrown and blocked out even the starlight and I couldn’t see a thing. Nearly turned back but glad I didn’t as the route around the mountain looked down on a huge river and, as soon as I could see where I was going, was beautiful. Passed lots of hunters arriving with their dogs for a day of stereotypical drinking and accidently shooting each other. Reaching the road I stopped for rest at the ‘last place for 15km’ café. I only wanted coffee but the owner did her very best to hustle money out of me. Every time someone walked in she made a huge fuss about being the ‘last place for 15km’….’no food’…..’you must buy food’….’there is nowhere’…… ‘nothing’. Now even a fairly novice walker would surely not be too perturbed on a sunny day about the lack of provision for the next, what, 3 hours?! As a seasoned peregrina I was quietly confident that I would not starve by 1pm. She did manage to convince 4 guys though who ordered 4 cans of coke, 4 bananas and one ham roll and then handed over 15 euros with an impressive calm considering they had clearly fallen pray to the modern day ‘camino bandito’ or bandita, as it were. Still, all the talk of barren wilderness had got me quite excited that I might be walking through a barren wilderness but in reality the path was never more than 500m from a road and never out of sight of houses, even if they were a long way off. By 1245 I had reached the coastal town of Cee and was pleased to find I had not starved to death despite not buying a 10 euro ham sandwich two and a half hours ago. It was quite momentous to reach the sea and signaled the end of my walk was in sight…..well, just out of sight, over the next headland. I reached Finisterre after a very long walk around a long long crescent beach. After signing in to the albergue which only took pilgrims on foot I left behind my backpack once again and took the final walk out to the lighthouse at ‘the end of the world’. This spot was incredibly similar to Lands End where this walk all began and I sat with Italian Francesca who had also made it out here and two other pilgrims who shared their wine as we huddled together keeping warm until the sun winked out behind the horizon and a great cheer rose from the exhausted peregrinos who had assembled there. Again, a perfect ending. Back at the albergue Francesca prepared pasta which, of course, was cooked to perfection!

ohoto shoot

Negreira – Olveiroa

Very long day today, made longer by my decision to stop for coffee break at a café clearly shown on my map and yet not anywhere in existence on the landscape. Served me right for choosing to indulge in such luxuries. Rested at a cross in a deserted village with the Spanish woman I met last night when I bumped into the Tall Danish Guy again after weeks. She had taken some kind of self development course organised by the company she worked for and had found it so enlightening she had discovered that she no longer wanted to work for the company that had financed the course. I found this quite ironic. The snap happy German and Mexican guys arrived but stayed behind to take photos. Psyched myself up for big climb over steep hill this afternoon but it never materialized due to a small ‘pilgrim diversion’ around the hill. This came out on high ground far above a huge reservoir lake and the scenery just got better and better. Olveiroa was a small hamlet which smelt strongly of cows, as did my laundry the next day after drying out on the line outside. The albergue was once again converted farm buildings with the same stable style doors painted in the same batch of blue paint as the albergue at Ribadiso. Had picnic down by the river with my legs in the freezing water. It’s good for the muscles!

back on the road again

Santiago de Compostela – Negreira

Up early and ready to get out there again. The first section on the path to the very end of the camino was the shortest section and would be followed by two pretty tough days so it was nice to take an easy day after having a day off. I had stocked up while I had the opportunity to get cheap supplies and carrying an additional week’s food the pack was super heavy this morning. I would have to start eating it soon! Quite up and down today but much smaller paths and no one about which was fantastic after the franticness of the last 100k. Halfway up a hill came upon a box of apples free for pilgrims….it was a bit Snow White maybe but I trusted most things on the camino by now, except my maps. I did meet a couple of pilgrims, a German guy with lots of badges on his hat who was walking with a Mexican doctor who spoke good English. They were taking hundreds of photos and I soon left them behind. They caught up with me again when I stopped for picnic by huge river at Ponte Maceiro, which had the obligatory picturesque stone arched bridge and little waterfalls. It was so gorgeous it was hard to leave but they got me involved in another photo session then eventually we started over the bridge. Halfway across they stopped to take more photos so I waved and left them to it. Arriving in Negreira I saw a huge supermarket and was so pleased I had just carried that 5 kilos of food for the last 25km!

the end of the road.....

Santa Irene – Santiago

Having resigned myself to walking into Santiago without seeing any of the old faces of the route today started with passing a French guy whom I vaguely recognized but did not remember, but he remembered seeing me in Roncesvalles all those km’s ago and we shared a kind of understanding which heartened me. This was followed when I later noticed someone walking toward me with their head bowed but something familiar in their gait. As the walker approached I saw a familiar green sleeping mat peeking out behind their backpack and realized it was CrazyFrench! I had not seen him since Leon and was overjoyed though I nearly had to rugby tackle him to get him to stop at my exclamations of Bonjour. When he recognized me his face lit up and we spent several minutes of hugging and back patting. He proudly showed off his new boots and told me he had arrived in Santiago two days before, spent a lot of time in the cathedral and was now hoping to walk back now to Toulouse to the house of his son, but again he never took it for granted that he would make it. Again he thanked me for my smile and we said farewells once more. This meeting had lifted me immensely and I joyously walked on towards Santiago. The surprises were not over yet though and I arrived at Monte de Gozo just outside the city from where the spires of the cathedral can be seen above the trees. I was sitting talking to a young guy with dog that was walking the camino over several months with little money. He was sleeping out and carried with him equipment to make items of jewellery which every so often he would stop and sell to keep him and his dog in chorizo. I heard someone shout my name and I looked up to see Veronika from Poland who was staying here with her parents til morning. She wished me well and I told her I would see them in the cathedral tomorrow and I happily set off into the city. Outside the old centre of the city I found an albergue with a very jovial owner who was planning a quemada at 10pm that evening. Whatever it was I wanted to see it but first I had to complete this part of the walk and leaving my pack behind I walked towards the cathedral. I was sitting in the sunny plaza in front of the cathedral as pilgrims flopped to the ground around me when I noticed another familiar face high on the steps of the cathedral looking out. I jumped up and started walking towards the waving Polish Cowboy, waving back. I hoped he was waving at me or it could have been a bit embarrassing. More hugs and congratulations followed and we stood looking out over the plaza for a while as he talked candidly to me about how the camino had affected him and what he had learned about himself. Not long after this I walked around by the pilgrim office and saw the French couple whom I had also not seen for a very long time. I was absolutely elated and once again they jabbered away in French to me amidst more back patting. I remained in Santiago for the following day to rest and during my time there I came upon most of the familiar faces from my time on the road and those I missed I saw again on my journey to Finisterre. It was poetic in a way and I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect ending. That evening I also got the scoop on the deal at the Hostal de Los Reyes, a luxury parador in the plaza. I had read stories about how this hotel was originally built for the sheltering of pilgrims by order of the King and when it later became a 5 star hotel the ancient decree meant they had to continue to make provision for pilgrims and fed them 3 times a day for 3 days after completion of the pilgrimage. I didn’t quite see how this could work now but it turned out that if you went to the car park entrance of the hotel at mealtime and if you were in the first 10 then you would be taken into the hotel for your complimentary meal. I did this for dinner and there were only 10 of us in total so no one missed out. We did indeed parade through the grand entrance of the hotel foyer and through the elegant courtyard which was being set for some canapé reception later. OK, so we didn’t eat in the restaurant and had to get a tray and fetch our food from the kitchen, but we had our own pilgrim dining room and were given a full three courses with several bottles of wine and we had an absolute ball. Early the next morning I went to the pilgrim office to get my compostela when who should walk up but one of Hot Spanish Guy’s gang. Sure enough he got on the phone and passed on the news and as I came out of the office with my latin certificate I fell into Hot Spanish Guys arms on the stairs. (there was nothing romantic in this before you get carried away, it is just standard procedure by now!). It was, in fact, wonderful to see them again and in true style I bumped into him all the rest of the day. In fact being in Santiago those two days was like being somewhere you had lived all your life. Around every corner you saw people who by now felt like your closest friends and even with the peregrinos you didn’t know you shared some kind of solidarity and understanding. It felt like a very special place indeed. Although most people were now heading home I was very pleased that my walk had not yet finished and I was keen to get on the road again. That evening back at the albergue our host put on the quemada display which was along the lines of creating a highly potent alcoholic ‘witches brew’ in a cauldron that burns in an immense display of rising flames and pouring fire while incantations are said. When it finally burned down we all drank the strong hot brew and toasted a safe arrival at the end of the camino. Life could not get better than this……slept sooooo well.

lipstick and earrings

Ribadiso – Santa Irene

It is said that pilgrims start to slow down as they approach Santiago as they do not wish the journey to be over. With the exception of yesterday I did not walk far on the the days since Sarria but much of this was to avoid the crowds. Didn’t sleep much due to Spanish girl in bed above me whose mobile phone kept going off in the early hours. The next morning she apologized, apparently it was her boyfriend keeping tabs on her. She said it annoyed her immensely. Yet I noticed she did not think to press the ‘off’ button after he had rung eight times between 11pm and 3am. I considered mentioning this but let it pass as it hardly mattered any more. Thought about having a coffee at the bar which was advertised as being ‘5 metres away’ before heading out but it was full of breakfasting peregrinos so I walked off into the peace and quiet of the early morning. Passed a memorial to Guillermo Watt, a 69 year old pilgrim who had died on the camino in 1993 and a pair of iron boots had been erected here in his memory. It was a long time since I had passed such a memorial, most of which seemed to have been closer to the Pyrenees and I thought how frustrated I’m sure Guillermo would have been to have fallen just a day from Santiago. Passed more and more pilgrims again, I was staggered in the bathrooms this morning to see a woman in tight jeans wearing big dangly earrings applying a third coat of mascara and lipstick. Where were the faces I knew, I had seen no one since the influx of weekenders in Sarria and wondered if they had not just given up in despair and gone home.

picture perfect

Hospital – Ribadiso

Drizzly day though lots more farmland and hamlets with guard dogs for cows, guard dogs for chickens (which impressed me) and even a guard dog sitting in a field presiding over a horse. I wondered if this level of livestock security was entirely necessary, was chicken rustling big in Galicia? Generally these dogs displayed nothing more than total indifference at my passing but I was curious as to how quickly they might jump to their feet and rip my arm off if I crossed some invisible boundary into their yard/field/veg patch etc….but I didn’t try it.
Passed Melide, which was famous for its ‘pulpo’ (octopus) which featured highly in Gallician cuisine. Every town had at least one ‘pulperia’ in this region, they had become more common than bakeries. I watched at the open window counter as the chef took the large bright purple cooked octopus and snipped up its tentacles onto a plate with a large pair of scissors. I wasn’t tempted. Stopped today at idyllic albergue on the banks on the archetypal babbling brook with little stone arched bridge through which horses splashed. The albergue was made up of converted farm buildings with bright blue stable doors into every building. I had always thought these doors attractive but I knew they were not for me after the first hour of trying to open and close them without smacking the top half into my face or trapping my fingers between the swinging sections. If I ever do build my house with my bare hands I will not be installing stable doors. I sat on the bank of the stream with a hot chocolate in my new cup as the weekend walkers continued on into the next town and the last warmth of the sun was gone.