Good-bye Atlantic Ocean, hello Mar Mediterráneo!

Good-bye Atlantic Ocean, hello Mar Mediterráneo!

Wednesday, May 22-Sunday, May 26: Post-camino days in Barcelona, Sitges, and Montserrat (because you asked,, insisted, cajoled, and demanded…)

It was so easy to get up every morning and head out in the direction indicated by the yellow arrows! So easy! But now, now I was “on my own” again, and my passage through the “world” was only going to become a reality if I paid attention, took a really close look at my surroundings, and asked the right questions of the right people. Amazing how alert and how astute one can be if one’s life depends on it!

So all worked out well. I had chosen to spend the night before my flight to Barcelona in a pensión located right above a bus stop for the Santiago airport. I was on that bus by 7:30 am and through security and check-in well in advance of my flight.

The online reviews of Vueling Airline painted a bit of a dismal, take-your-chances picture indeed, but all I needed was for my luck to continue for one more day to get me on and then off that plane. Who needs water on a flight of less than two hours? Who needs leg room for the short hop across Spain?

Turns out I had plenty of leg-room. For some reason (having to do, surely, with the fact that not one of us had checked in with the airlines the day before our flight), six of us had tickets that listed us as part of Grupo 99 instead of as belonging to Grupos 1, 2 or 3. That meant, as we found out, that we were to wait until all flyers in each of the other lines were sent onboard, then one by one, in order of check-in, we were assigned seats. Oops! Had we assumed too much? Apparently we were fine; as last-to-be-seated on this very full plane, we were given seats in the emergency exit rows, seats with extra-long leg room! Of course, by this time there was no overhead space for our baggage, and none allowed under the seats of the emergency row, but again, no problem: the crew sent our bags down to the hold, at no charge. Worked for me not to have to heft the heavy backpack above my head. Sometimes it pays not to know what you are doing!

The next step, post-flight, was to find the bus line that would make the 45-minute trip from the Barcelona airport to the beach town of Sitges. With my notes in hand and my questions at the ready, I was soon in the right place outside the terminal, with only a short wait before the appropriate bus arrived.

Why Sitges? If I can’t remember whether I explained this earlier or not, you probably wouldn’t remember reading about the reasons behind Sitges even if I had told you. So: Sitges is the town in which philologist and IU Professor Josep Roca-Pons–from whom I took several classes in Catalan “back in the day–along with his wife Teresa, had chosen to live out their retirement years. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a professor whose spouse was as popular with students as Josep’s. We all loved Teresa. It might have been, at first, the wonderful meals she prepared at her house, but it time she became the attraction, and the loyalty of Josep’s students to Teresa through the years remained a constant.

Josep, 20 years older than Teresa, passed on many years ago. I had last seen Teresa, already widowed, when she made her last visit to the United States in 2002. So… only 17 years! It was time, more than time, to see her again. What’s a little hop, skip, and flight over the country in exchange for some fuertes abrazos [hearty hugs] and a chance to enjoy both the peaceful but vibrantly artistic life of Sitges and that of Sitges’ big sister Barcelona? I had Ken to spur me on with this one: “You’ve got to see Teresa!” Yes, had to.

And so it was that by 2:00 pm that afternoon, I was locked in Teresa’s embrace and, after a quick tour of her home, we set off on some steep, brick-and-stone, uneven streets to a restaurant on the beach promenade where Teresa had reserved an outdoor table for us.

I mention the streets because, like so many “older folks” in Spain, Teresa is not one to let bad knees (or back or hip or whatever) keep her from getting out and about! I never cease to be amazed at the number of seniors promenading and doing their daily chores, canes and other devices in full service, and at and how well they all manage to stay upright–and they do manage it!–on such unforgiving streets and sidewalks. Years of practice and years of tradition, because, “this is what you do” in Spain.

Sitges is bright and colorful and lively. It is chic and trendy, no question, attracting alternate lifestyles seemingly without batting an eye or raising an eyebrow. It boasts beaches and ports, and an amazing amount of art. Artists Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas were “favorite sons,” and the former’s home served as a center for many artistic gatherings in Rusiñol’s lifetime. The artist himself collected a huge amount of art–paintings, wrought iron, ceramics–beautiful Catalan-made tiles–which he displayed during his lifetime and which remain on display in his house-turned museum.

So Teresa gave me a post-lunch tour of the artistic area along with literature about how I might return later to tour several of the museums. I was delighted with the three I saw before leaving Sitges. (Are you more cultured than I? [It wouldn’t take much!…]. Perhaps you have heard of the American industrialist and art collector Charles Deering who at some point in his traveling and collecting days had a “palace” built in Sitges which he filled with many of the works of art he collected from around The world. Most of those works eventually made it back to the US, but some remain, as well as his unique and fanciful “palace” which I toured and whose ceramic tiles and top floor patios I loved.)

I had decided to spend five nights in Sitges so as not to be bothered with moving myself and my backpack hither and yon. In all, Teresa and I had three lunches together, the third one in the company of Phil Rasico and his wife Nancy. Phil and Nancy and I were friend in our grad school days at IU and their sons’ births coincided pretty closely with those of Kevin and Maura. Phil was another of Josep’s students and might be considered the son Teresa never had; and Phil became, says I, Josep’s most accomplished “disciple.” So…. fun to spend an afternoon with Teresa and Nancy and Phil, on his “saint’s day,” no less.

It was also my pattern to stop in to say “good night” to Teresa on the days we didn’t spend together. To see her, for one thing, and to assure her that all was well with me. (She had neither computer nor WhatsApp, and I didn’t have enough minutes remaining on my SIM card to do a check-in by telephone. Besides, it’s harder to exchange hugs by phone.

Each evening, then, after leaving Teresa’s, I had about an 18-minute walk up to the AIRbnb room I was renting. It was… satisfactory, but a bit awkward. I was never there long, generally leaving pretty early in the morning and returning at sunset. Worked out fine. (Most challenging: watching where I placed my feet as I came and went to the location, as someone in the neighborhood did not bring along any poop scoopers or plastic bags when taking Fido out for his daily walks…. I did not want to enter one of the classy museums smelling of …)

(This is handy: after a few days of Teresa fretting about not being able to get in touch with me easily, we discovered that Daniela, the Bolivian woman who assists Teresa around the house on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays was proficient with WhatsApp. Now we have an easy way to communicate, at least on certain days and at certain hours.)

Excursions, part 1: Barcelona

But this pilgrim wasn’t ready to settle into a rhythm consisting exclusively of “lunches” and “hugs” and “catching up,” welcome as those were.

And so it was that on the day after my arrival in Sitges, I headed back into Barcelona on an early-morning train to arrive in plenty of time to connect with a metro that would take me to Gaudi’s famed, long-in-the-making (-and-still-incomplete) Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia [Holy Family Church] whose construction began back in the 1880s. I had seen the exterior of this work in progress over 50 years ago and at the time was quite taken by its appearance. And how not to be? It was unlike anything I had ever seen with its “dripping ice cream cone like” towers topped with varieties of fruits…. Now, 50 years later, it remains one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions, if not its top. I had purchased tickets online for a 10:00 am entrance into the cathedral… And all I can say is: “Wow!”

Well, ok, I’ll say a bit more than that, knowing, however, that in this case words aren’t going to begin to do justice to this amazing piece of creativity. Nor would my photos begin to capture the exotic, inviting, light-filled space. If you’ve not seen the inside for yourself or haven’t seen photos of it, give Google images a shot. Just see if the church’s worship space doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and whimsy.

My entry ticket included a gizmo that I could hang around my neck with a very well-done English narrative. Perfect for use with the headphones I had been advised to bring along for the visit. Hundreds of visitors milled in and around the church listening attentively, each in his/her own language, to explanations about the timelines of the cathedral, Gaudi’s intentions, other architects’ and artisans’ contributions. A quick summary: one walks into a church filled with columns simulating huge trees, while light of all colors floods in at various angles from very non-traditional stained-glass windows. CThere are no pews, and perhaps there will never be any. I’m not sure I can envision what a worship service inside the church will eventually resemble, but perhaps I won’t have to envision. Perhaps I can see for myself via the internet at some future time. Current target for completion of the entire project is, I believe, the year 2026. Maybe….

I knew I would be put to shame if I returned from Barcelona not having seen the Sagrada Familia. And I would have deserved any shame heaped upon me! Definitely a worthwhile visit.

You remember hearing about my friend Cristina, the Barcelona woman whom I met on my second day of the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxía leg of my Camino? She and I left Santiago for Barcelona the same day, Cristina by train while I jump-started my trip with a short flight. As per previous arrangement, Cristina was waiting for me in the shade as I exited Sagrada Familia. She had graciously offered to lead me a walking tour of some of the most striking areas of Barcelona. For me, wonderful to not have to walk around with a map in my hand, trying to negotiate unknown streets and neighborhoods and systems of transportation. Plus, I had not done very much Barcelona “homework.” For us both, it was fun to reconnect and sort of cement our recent Camino friendship.

Oh, are you going to ask me where she led me for the next few hours and what I learned about the history of a city with a very different cultural background than Madrid’s? Or will you just take my word for it that she took me “here and there,” to the “most important places”? To Roman walls on top of which medieval walls has been constructed. To this façade and that one. Gaudí-designed houses, neighborhoods founded by the guild members of the 14th and 15th centuries, noble palaces, the cathedral. See us poking our heads in this corner and that, strolling through this plaza and that other one, rounding this corner and that. Eventually making it to the 14th-century Basílica de Santa María Del Mar which I really wanted to tour after reading–listening to, actually–the fascinating novel of Ildefonso Falcones, La catedral Del Mar/Cathedral of the Sea. Sorry, I cannot possibly begin to name all the places, only tell you that I did “get a feel” for the city…. and only that. Part of that “feel” was the feeling that Barcelona is really busy with tourists, really crowded. Vibrant, yes! Overwhelming? For this gal, definitely. So glad Cristina was my guide. Funny, after walking successfully on all those stone-filled paths on the Camino with few problems, I found myself bumping into Cristina and countless others, and coming near to tripping more times than I care to count.

Cristina’s sister joined us for lunch at an outdoor cafe where we sure filled up on four different tapas fit for sharing. And finally, late in the afternoon, with Cristina’s son expecting his mom to oversee the care of his daughters while he attended a program, she left me on my own to check out Las Ramblas as long as I cared to. Which… was not long! Too crowded! And, according to the natives, not what they once were but instead, way “too touristy.” Shortly, I was on my way back to Sitges and my “good-night” stop at Teresa’s.

For one thing, I needed to be rested for the excursion I was planning for the next day. It was going to be, for me, a major undertaking.

Excursions, part 2: Montserrat

I’m talking about a visit to the Monastery of Montserrat where the statue of the “black Virgen”–the greatly revered patron saint of Catalunya, familiarly known as “La moreneta”–is housed.

I admit: I had been there before. I know because I found several photographs in my collection from 1968 or 1969. I remember nothing about that visit. Absolutely nothing. It was only upon finding the photographs that I had to agree to myself that “yes, I had been there.”

So why go again, if it had made so little impression on me? [Note: I have to say this: There are many, many experiences from those 50+-years-ago days that I do not remember, yet I wrote glowing letters home about them; the proof is in the words. It seems my full-to-the-brim-with-who-knows-what brain can absorb only so much before it moves into forgetful mode.] I’m not sure why I was so drawn to get there again. Because of the way the monastery (and the basilica in which the 12th-century statue of La Moreneta is housed) are way up in the mountains, and yet still cradled and protected by craggy, even higher mountains that reach up and surround it on all sides? Does that make sense? You go way up to get to the monastery, but there are still more mountains surrounding it. And tremendous views of all of Catalunya.

On a clear day.

Yes, there’s the rub. On a clear day. When you can see forever. When you can be impressed by the beauty, by the way the mountains hug the buildings. When you can use your imagination and picture this spot in olden days, centuries before the present constructions, when a previous monastery held sway there. Centuries of monastic presence. A holy spot.

And a beautiful one, on a clear day.

So when I knew that rain was in the forecast? When I’d been courting a sore throat for days? When it was going to be cool? When I wan’t going to see the views? When rain was predicted to last the whole day? Why go?

I’m not sure what compelled me exactly. It was this day, this Friday, or not at all. The crowds would be bad enough on a rainy Friday, but impossible–for me!–on a Saturday. My pilgrimage to Spain seemed to call for one more monastery, one more sacred journey, to balance it off.

Or call me “thick-headed.” You just might be onto something….

So I caught an early train to Barcelona. I walked to a second train station where I hopped on a train less than a minute before the doors shut and it left the station (next train being an hour later. See, I tell you: everything seemed in favor of me going…. except the weather). This train ride would take 1.5 hours, growing increasingly beautiful as the city fell behind and the train headed towards the mountains.

My words cannot begin to do any kind of justice to the stunning scenes I beheld upon my arrival at the station and then during my climb, so I hope Regina will post a good sampling of the photos and videos I took in an attempt to capture at least a bit of the awe and majesty.

That long sentence includes a word I need to reference: my “climb.” Yes, my climb. Please tell me there is not a chance in the world that I will ever forget my “climb.” So… most people–and I have never been a “most people” kind of person…–purchase a “package deal” for Montserrat. Along with the train that takes them to the town of Monistrol de Montserrat, visitors can buy a “complete ticket” which gives them access to a cable-car ascent to the monastery complex or a ride on the cremallera (“zipper-like mountain railway”), as well as entrances to a museum, lunch in the cafeteria, and who knows what more. Once at the monastery/basilica level, there are two additional funiculares which take daring visitors even higher to visit other shrines tucked away in the mountains. Visits to the basilica itself, where visitors wait in line to pass by the statue of the Black Virgen, are free. The brochure say nothing about the possibility of hiking from the train station in Monistrol to the monastery complex nestled up in the mountains.

Up in the niebla (fog) on this particular day.

But I had read online about the possibility if doing just that and the possibility had captured my imagination. Big time! Just a few days off the Camino and I was really in need of another Camino-like experience. So thanks to an extremely helpful internet site with multiple photos to illustrate how to find the base of the trail, I moved from train station to bridge over the river to the town proper, through the plaza, up the stairway on the left to the upper road to…. finally… the trailhead. With each step taking in glimpses of striking mountains coming into view only briefly before the fog ate them up again.

What was I getting into? Was there any likelihood I could get lost in that fog when I eventually reached fog level? There was always, I reminded myself, the possibility of turning around and retracing my steps. And while when driving in a car at a certain velocity, visibility can seem nil, not so with walking, right? When have I ever, during daylight hours, been walking, I asked myself, when I couldn’t see in front of me. Keeping in mind that I could always turn around, I forged on. And up. And up some more. I witnessed how eventually the jeep-accessible, gravel and stone-dotted road became more of a path, then the path a decent stairway, then the stairway more of a positioning of rocks requiring some mountain-goat instincts. And all the while, the fog rolling in and out, momentarily revealing a peak here or a peak there. Beautiful! Magical! Like nothing I had ever experienced.

And up and up. Let’s consult Fitbit. Before the day was over, I had walked 23.6 kilometers (almost 15 miles) and climed the equivalent of 331 floors. In the rain! And I loved it! The majesty, the mystery, the sacred atmosphere that prevailed.

The climb up took a couple of hours. Hard to be exact with that figure as 1) I stopped often both to marvel and to try to capture the awesomeness on my camera’s phone, and 2) about three-fourths of the way up I had a choice of continuing on to the monastery complex or diverting to go to the Santa Cova (Holy Cave) de Montserrat along a path carved more than 300 years ago along the ridge of the mountain. A sign informs visitors that it’s a 20-minute walk to the chapel (built into the side of the mountain where, supposedly, in the year 880, the statue of La Moreneta was found in a cave, under mysterious circumstances. The word “legend” should be emphasized as it is most likely that the statue is actually from the 12th century….). Along the pathway to the chapel, spread at intervals, are 15 statues or models depicting the five joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries recalled when one prays the rosary. These depictions are of more recent origin, completed between the late 1800s and the first couple of decades of the 20th century. I knew there was a “Santa Cueva” that one could walk to, but I had read nothing further about it. This entire side trip was a surprise to me. (When I later stopped in the visitor center near the monastery and explained that I had already walked to the Santa Cova (Catalan version of the word), the girl at the counter was surprised. “But you couldn’t see anything, could you?” I later realized that the path I have just described is popular not because it leads to the chapel at the “cove” but because there are excellent views from the path of a huge part of the region below. Not the day I went!) I finally arrived at the chapel itself, which, though it has had many reincarnations due to fires and mudslides and water damage, retains a stunning simplicity that I’ll call Romanesque. It was a quiet prayer spot, highlighted by good lighting on the simple crucifix and on a replica of the Black Virgin, the original now kept in the basilica. Towards the back of the small chapel, an array of votive lamps. But no spare candles! All the candles there were lit, but there were no extras, nor any sign of a place where extras could be stored. I found that puzzling… and frustrating because it seemed a lovely spot in which to light the final pilgrimage candles of my Camino. Darn!

I need to speed up the telling of my story or not one of you will hang on with me! (Anyone there now?). I retraced my steps on the “rosary path,” returned to the junction where I had abandoned my hike up to the monastery, and turned left to complete what I had set out to do. The rest of the way had adequate, easy stairs and wasn’t problematic at all save for the increasing intensity of the rain.

So… I’m there, along with hundreds and hundreds of tourists who have come up via personal car, tour bus, cable car, and cremallera. Others who, like me, had only this day to give to Montserrat, rain or no rain. I joined many in the cafeteria where along with the coffee I bought, I enjoyed the bocadillo I had brought. I joined them in line to wait my turn to see La Moreneta, and … I joined them in the basilica where I lifted up many in prayer, especially those of you who had sent me to Spain with special prayer requests. I did not join them in the museum, chosing instead to find a few more paths going even further up the mountain.

And, having found a large grotto filled with lit candles and candles for purchase, I bought two. One I left in the grotto and the other…. darn it, but I wanted to leave one in the Santa Cueva chapel (plus I was also curious if perhaps the fog had shifted a bit and I might get a few more views from that “rosary path.” Thus I made the near hour-long round trip to the chapel again. I lit my candle and, taking advantage of the fact that I was alone there, did some singing. Even with my poor voice, the sound echoed rather sweetly off the big stone walls in the plain chapel. Special moment. For my efforts, I also got a different view of the fog.

I admit to having learned one important thing on my climb up to Montserrat: the return trip by foot, in the rain, would be not only time-consuming and beyond foolish; it would be treacherous. Thus I purchased a ticket to descend via the Cremallera. The 1.5 hour-ride back to Barcelona, a walk to the station from which I could catch the train to Sitges, a good-night visit with Teresa, the trek up the hill to my rented room…. all part of the evening. A long day, but I was pleased as punch with my mythical, magical day! Couldn’t have asked for more. And to those who tell me: “But the view! You missed the best part of Montserrat!” I merely reply: “You weren’t there or you might be singing a different song.”

Santiago x 2

Santiago x 2

“But what about Santiago itself?” You have asked this question, and rightly so. After all, wasn’t I walking towards the city of St. James for six weeks? And then, then I barely mention it even in passing? What kind of sense does that make? Let’s see if I can remedy that with a bit of a recap.

First things first

If you’ve been reading along, then you already know this: I am not a “big city” girl. Born and bred in Chicago, true, but finding my greatest moments of joy not in the cultural highlights of city life but rather wherever the beauty of the landscape calls. I don’t think I could ever get my fill of “countryside,” wherever it is to be found.

And this: for me, it was never really about “getting to Santiago.” I enjoyed, throughout the trip, noting the kilometers walked per day, but I never really paid much attention to the “kilometers remaining” until I reached my destination. It was always “the journey” that interested me, the getting up every morning and heading out to see what was around the next corner or over the next hill. Usually no sooner did I hit the outskirts of a town–and sometimes it took only a minute or two to walk from my overnight albergue to those outskirts–than a smile would light my face. (Though, truly, I was fascinated by any entry into tiny pueblos whose traversing took only a few minutes; the little towns brought variety to the day, along with stork nests in the church belfries, café con leche in the tiny bars, and a chance to have a small chat with the locals who watched us come and go and who wondered at the way of things, at how their towns had “come alive” again with the renewed interest in the ancient Camino.)

It was never really, for me, about Santiago. Not a great devotion to St. James. More a curiosity about him. He lent a structure to the journey, undoubtedly, and a chance to marvel at the medieval infrastructure that had supported the journeys of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in long-gone centuries. And the current infrastructure that continues to support, if in a more 21st-century manner. Without St. James, there would not have been a Camino to Santiago.

And I did, eventually, make it to Santiago. By bus. Twice. Here is that story.

Santiago #1: Saturday, May 11 through morning of Wednesday, May 15

So, on Friday pm, May 10, still 101 kilometers from Santiago, I found myself in Morgade, some 11 or 12 kilometers beyond Sarria. Morgade could not properly be called a pueblo or an aldea; it was just the location of an albergue where I had decided to spend the night, away from the crowd that would be overnighting in Sarria. It was only upon arriving in Morgade that I was brought up to speed about Ginny: she had had emergency surgery for an obstructed bowel earlier that morning in Santiago. I needed to get to the university hospital to “see for myself.” The next day was Saturday with limited bus service to Lugo, the town from which I’d be able to get another bus into Santiago. To walk the 10 or so kilometers back to Sarria or that many forward to Portomarín to catch the Lugo-bound bus would require heading out by 6:00 am, well before sunrise.

No, no. No vas a hacer esto. Mira. Te lleva alguien de aquí. Baja a la recepción para las 8:30.” The señora of the albergue would have none of it. “You’re not going to walk,” she tells me. “Someone from here will take you to a spot on the highway where the bus will stop if you flag it down. You just be in the lobby with your things at 8:30.”

And so, on Saturday morning, there I was. And there was the owner’s daughter with a car. Minutes later she dropped me off a few kilometers away and told me where to stand to watch for the bus which would be on its way from Sarria to Portomarín. I arrived early, a good ten minutes before the bus was expected. And waited. And waited. After those ten minutes, perhaps a few more, had passed, the same car that had dropped me off arrived in a huff. “¿No pasó el autobús?” It was the same young woman. What a question! Would I be standing there if it had passed? Of course not; I would have flagged it down, as instructed. “No es ése el lugar.” [“Get in, quick. I dropped you off at the wrong place!”]. Oh! We are off to a good start, aren’t we? But in I hopped, and, fortunately, we did not cross paths with the bus as she brought me to a place several kilometers beyond the first drop off. The bus arrived and pulled off to the side, as if expecting me, and I was soon on my way, luck continuing to be my faithful traveling companion.

To Lugo. An hour wait. On board another bus bound for Santiago. I have no memory of how long the journey took–a couple of hours, I suppose–but I do remember that the bus passed through numerous towns through which pilgrims were also passing. Lots of pilgrims. Tired but animated. It was a hot day, perhaps the first in which the temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees, definitely the warmest we had seen during our trek. I watched the pilgrims through the bus window. Would I be back among them? Did I even want to be one of their growing number?

As soon as the bus arrived in Santiago, my need to make peace with Google maps became apparent. I often protest that I don’t know how to use the app. If I have anyone else to depend on, depend I do. But in this case, I didn’t have that crutch and so… I did figure things out, in my own good time. I made it to the albergue where Ginny, not being a fortune teller, had made a reservation for herself, as this was the day she was destined to arrive, by foot, in Santiago had not her intestines intervened with ideas of their own.

A private room in the albergue, Ginny? Such a luxury? Oh, but except for the fact that it was surgery that landed you at the hospital, your shared room there was a far better place to spend the night than in the prison-like cell of the Seminario Menor. But who’s paying attention? There are more important things to do. I dumped my backpack, packed a daypack, and, Google maps at the ready, headed in the direction of bus line #1 to the hospital.

Where Ginny, smiles and grimaces, tales and tubes, hugs and hellos, awaits. Catch-up time. The full story emerges. Conclusions: 1) you do NOT want to have an obstructed bowel; 2) you DO want to always be your best self, assuring you that you will have friends when push comes to shove (or when excruciating pain comes a calling). Four young people at her albergue Thursday night/Friday morning, along with a very cooperative host, had seen to it that the ambulance was called, that Ginny’s belongings were packed up, and that she was in the capable hands of the university hospital. (Those four young people, along with at least 8 other pilgrims, made it to the hospital in the course of the next few days, with gifts and hugs and good wishes, confirming for Ginny that indeed this North-Shore-of-Lake-Superior gal had friends in many corners of the world.)

So… over the next few days, there were trips to the hospital, meals (and darn good ones! Cheap, too!) in the hospital cafeteria, strategizing with Ginny (an area in which I do not excel to put it mildly, but… did my best), serving as translator, interpreter, Girl Friday.

And there were some boo-boos. Like, for example:

  • Hopping on bus #1 when it was heading away from the hospital instead of towards it (result: see more of the city and then pay for the return trip in the correct direction)
  • Checking my backpack in a store that provided such a service so that I could do a bit of sightseeing and navigating without toting 15 pounds on my back…. but not realizing that the receipt I got did not include the address of the service (result: extra traipsing around the narrow streets of Santiago searching for a store that looked familiar, and finally stopping to ask for help which was promptly provided)
  • Getting the very last rectangular of the credencial I’d been carrying since St. Jean Pied-de-Port stamped in the sacristy of the church of San Francisco and, in the process of also getting a cardstock certificate in that same sacristy, losing track of my coveted credencial (result: repeated returns to San Francisco in search of it, returns which did not yield positive results; I will return home without that fun record of stamps/seals from the various albergues where I stayed and churches and/or museums which I visited… But, as you know, I took lots of photos and I hold lots of memories in my heart)
  • Bringing cousin Pat and Ginny’s daughter Colleen to the hospital cafeteria to show them how complete the menú was, only to discover that the best offerings are no longer available after 4:00 pm (result: their introduction to bocadillos and considerable hunger to add to their jet lag by the time we had a proper meal about 9:00 pm on the day of their arrival)
  • Leaving my daypack in the one-and-only taxi I took during my trip to Spain. In said daypack: my keyboard, the keys to my Airbnb location, my rain jacket…. (Result: just call me Lady Luck: the taxi driver was contacted and my daypack returned to the hotel where Pat and Colleen were staying)

“But I was wanting to know about Santiago itself! What you did. How you liked it. Was it amazing to finally be there as arriving pilgrims flocked to the square in front of the cathedral or headed for the pilgrims’ office to collect their compostelas? Come on, that’s what I want you to tell!”

So, frankly… it was disappointing to arrive by bus. I have to be honest. It did not feel celebratory. Much as I cherish solitude when I’m walking, arriving in a city of this size, alone, under some unfortunate circumstances, was far from ideal. I wouldn’t have not done what I did for all the world, but… as I went through some of the motions, it wasn’t with the highest spirits. You surely understand.

But yes, I eventually did

  • Get my photo taken in front of the cathedral, and I wore a smile
  • Descend to the crypt of the cathedral and pay my respects at the tomb of St. James
  • Ascend to the statue where pilgrims embrace Santiago from behind, and yes, it was an emotional experience
  • Attend the noontime pilgrims’ Mass at the church of San Francisco (most of the cathedral is “closed” for some restoration work in anticipation of the “Holy Year–any year when the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, that being the case in 2021–so the coveted experience of seeing the huge butafumeiro swing across the apse was not an option…). That particular Sunday was a special liturgy for children of the parish. Their enthusiasm, that of the pilgrims, the folk-like nature of the mass with guitars, clapping, jubilee on everyone’s part, the simplified–but not simplistic–homily given by the friendly celebrant, made for a very moving experience
  • Take a lovely walk around Parque Alameda, doing several loops, enjoying the huge eucalyptus tree along with all the other trees and vegetation
  • Make a bit of peace with the narrow, winding, hilly, somewhat confusing streets which, in the right frame of mind, I might have found delightful
  • Eat one meal “out and about” but in a pretty quiet place (being “alone” in a crowd gives some people a good opportunity to “people-watch,” but in general is not a particularly comfortable experience for me). A couple of obvious pilgrims entered the quiet restaurant a bit after me and I struck up a conversation with them, learned they were from Ireland, heard a bit about their Camino, and thus the meal ended on a more pleasant note
  • Successfully move from Ginny’s reserved albergue to Ginny’s pre-reserved Airbnb and then to a pensión I found on my own (almost next door to the Airbnb) which situated me in a perfect spot to begin the Finisterre-Muxía portion of my walk if indeed I decided to take that on, and which was also close to the hotel where Pat and Colleen were staying
  • Manage to reserve a pensión for the night before my May 22 flight to Barcelona, a place located right at a good spot for hopping on a bus bound for the airport
  • Pick up a new credencial and maps, info, and an app to guide my way on the Finisterre-Muxía leg of the trip which had begun to look like the very best option for me
  • Play a very small role in guiding Pat and Colleen and introducing them to a Santiago I barely knew. Luck was with us when we found a great tapas place between their hotel and my pensión on the eve of my departure from Santiago
  • Get a haircut (did I ever!)
  • And, on Wednesday morning, after four days in Santiago, continue west, now in pursuit of the “end of the world”

Santiago #2: Tuesday, May 21, 4:30 pm onwards–Wednesday morning, May 22

And so it came to pass that, some seven days after exiting the city on foot, I again arrived in Santiago. Again by bus. And there the similarities with my first arrival end. We’re talking about a whole new ball game. Same city, but no comparison whatsoever.

  • For starters, the bus dropped me off “in the heart of things” rather than at the distant bus station. I made my way to my pensión with little effort, dumped my baggage, and began to send WhatsApp messages. There was no urgency to make it to the hospital this time, but….

But Ginny, Pat, and Colleen, were still in town, scheduled to depart for Madrid later that evening by plane. We would reconnect after all!

My friends Christine and Reinier had just returned by bus from Finisterre. We’d been missing one another by a couple of days here or there for weeks. Let’s see if WhatsApp can bring us together.

My new Finisterre-Muxía friend Cristina had taken an earlier bus that day from Muxía to Santiago. What were the chances we might meet up again?

How is all this going to work?

Perfectly! This, this was the jubilant entry into Santiago that I had missed first time around. People with whom to connect, in joy!

My texts revealed that Ginny was in line at the Pilgrims’ Office, hoping to be awarded her compostela. Christine and Reiner were near the cathedral. Cristina suggested we meet for beer and tapas and/or dinner at 8:00 pm at a bar near my pensión.

In less than an hour Christine and Reiner and I are joined at a cafe by a triumphant Ginny (yes! She got her compostela!), Pat, and Colleen. More sharing. More translating. English and Spanish and French… with a smattering of German on Reiner’s part). Toasts all round.

Ginny insisted we make one more attempt to locate my lost credencial (said attempt was made, but with no luck). Final hugs. What a trip we had taken “together”! Unforgettable!

8:00 pm: New friend Cristina from Barcelona gets a chance to meet “old friends” (Christine and Reiner) from the Rabanal del Camino monastery days) as we exchange memories and share insights over beer and tortilla española and…. a table full of other things which escape me. The crowd is large. And noisy. And, for just this once, that feels ok.

The next morning: Cristina will head for Barcelona by train; I’ll go there by plane; Reiner will drop down to Portugal, and Christine, who went to/from Finisterre with Reiner by bus will leave in the morning on foot to go back to Finisterre the “slow way,” probably adding on Muxía in the process. Like the rest of us, not really ready for her Camino to end…

And there you have it, the missing Santiago link, the kingpin of the Camino, the city on account of which everything else fell into place. The city without which there would not have been a Camino. Vibrant. Celebratory. But I had seen enough.

Off to Cataluña. And then Madrid. Odd not to have the hiking poles with me. Good-bye Camino! I will miss you!

My cup overflows

My cup overflows

 Day 38, Monday, May 20: Lires to Muxía (25 km, 15.5 miles)

Yes, full to overflowing! Memories, thoughts, experiences, heart, backpack! All of it: full to the brim, and then some.

You might be asking: Is she ready to be done with this vagabond life? Have her feet had enough? Is her body protesting? Enough already with disposable paper sheets, with carrying it all on her back, with keeping track of where she’s placed everything, with needing to vacate premises by 8:00 am, with the same clothes day after day? Had enough of being at the mercy of the elements? Etc.

First, let me make this absolutely clear. I do miss family. I miss friends. I love my chosen hometown. I will transition back into the groove. (Hopefully it will be a “new and improved version” of me that does that transitioning. Hopefully the Camino will stay with me and I will find that, indeed, “the real Camino” begins when one returns, transformed to one’s former life.)

That said: there was both joy and nostalgia in my “final stage” yesterday. For starters, I’ll focus on the nostalgia. Strange, but I hadn’t even finished this final stage when I found myself already missing the Camino. Yes, a part of me could definitely go on. Most definitely! Another week of walking? Another month? As long as the weather stayed on the cool side, the bugs kept their distance, and the rain teased and flirted no more than it has recently, most definitely I could continue.

The hostels? They’ve been fine. Some nicer than others (and here on this “add-on” Camino, superb!), but all totally acceptable. No bed bugs. Almost always blankets available. Almost never lukewarm water instead of hot. Respectful pilgrims with whom to share accommodations. Generally faces you recognize. Smiles and goodwill in abundance. The sharing of experiences and the realization that there is so much more that unites us than what might separate us.

Perhaps it is that goodwill that I will miss the most. The instant friendships. The stories.

Oh, but I must be honest: I will miss the beauty! The awareness of beauty. The time to stop, look, drink it all in. The freedom from “to do” lists that pull me away from contemplation in the name of efficiency and organization. I will miss the freedom of living in the moment. Or at least the ease of doing because obligations and responsibilities and “shoulds” aren’t pulling me in many directions.

On the Camino there is this: put your world in your backpack, strap it on, and walk. Follow the yellow arrows. Let your thoughts come. Make your way. Be alert to the messages that are all around you. Appreciate the miracles that are all around you.

More luxury than any 5-star hotel can provide!

A follow-up: sunset in Lires

You may (or may not) have seen photos, but I wanted to let you know that I did, in the end, walk down to the sunset in Lires the other night. And though there were ample clouds along the horizon, I am very glad I bothered adding 4 extra kilometers to my evening. Drop-dead gorgeous it was not, but striking, nonetheless. There is only one building at that end of the bay; it is a bar that sits up on a promontory with indoor and outdoor seating and a perfect view of the western sky. Most of the people there did not seem to be pilgrims but rather people who had arrived by car. I did spot a Korean woman I had seen before (a “roommate” back in Finisterre) and I boldly joined her at her table to toast the sun as it sunk into the clouds. Theresa’s English was quite limited, but I learned that six years ago, at age 60, she had flown to California where she spent 25 days hiking and camping on the John Muir trail. Three years later, she repeated the feat. I continue to be amazed by women who, no longer “sweet young things,” leave their husbands behind and go off on adventures. (Note to Ken: there really are a lot of us out here, women whose husbands don’t/can’t walk long distances or are just as happy to stay home. No doubt there are many men with the same story. I talked to a German this morning, age 73, who is on his 6th Camino. His wife says, “Go! Go! Go do your Camino and give me some space!”).

A pleasant evening. Theresa didn’t wait until the actual sunset as she was getting cold and was disappointed not to see the pinks and reds and golds of a “great sunset.” I lingered and walked a bit on the rocks in the opposite direction of town. Then I turned around and arrived back at the albergue by 10:28 with a bit of daylight to spare!

Wise decision to go, right? When will I ever be back? Resolve: try not to pass up opportunities for beauty…. but seek balance as well. One can’t do everything….

Some clarifications

Ok, I got found out! And not by just one of my readers. Yes, the fact of the matter is that I don’t always take the time to find the perfect word when I’m writing these posts. I left the Roget’s at home. (Alright, I could go to the internet, but who has time….). And so I stand guilty, as charged: I did not, in fact, “guzzle” my beer the other day. Some of you know me well. But, I assure you, neither did I “sip” it. Shall we go with saying that I “enjoyed” it, or is there an intermediate word? Like I “drank” it. How boring!

The first person who caught me on the “guzzling” business also made a comment that he wasn’t sure he could bear to spend much time in a place where it rained so much of the time. Rain? Perhaps I talked about the “threats” of rain or the forecasts, but if I have left an inaccurate perception of the weather to which I’ve been subject, let me clear it up once and for all:

During all of my walking, from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean, I had one day of really bad weather. Rain played a part in that day. As did snow. Howling wind. “Nasty” and “memorable” don’t begin to cover it, but they’ll do for this recap. However, that was the day when I (re)discovered the power of song, my song, to lift me above the particular circumstances and thus the rain is memorable not just because of how miserable I was for a while, but for how the day was redeemed by song. Indeed, that discovery accompanied me for the remainder of my walking days.

Otherwise? Sprinkles here, a bit more than sprinkles there. Rain jacket occasionally on for 15 minutes or so. (Meanwhile, I’ve heard from the home front that Bloomington had rain at some point on each of the past 10 week-ends!)

It’s true, when I made the decision to come to the coast on the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxía route, the long-term forecast led me to expect the worst. Call it luck, good fortune, whatever, the rain (then, as well as a few other times on the Camino), when it came, did so after I had arrived at the night’s albergue. There was also a fairly long rain on one of the days when I happened to be stopped in Burgos.

Best decision I made in terms of what I packed? It’s true, it was my winter coat, along with my fleece-like cap, as well as a couple of pairs of mittens. The coat I was prepared to part with, just leave behind, at any point along the way when it became cumbersome. Let me just say: I wore it yesterday morning when I headed out of Lires and again last night when we had dinner at an outside table here in Muxía. Keep this in mind, though: the people who know me well understand that I wear hat and gloves and winter coats long after other folks have put them aside. (My two short-sleeved shirts? They were worn for perhaps a total of 5 hours! They’ll be handy, though, in Barcelona and Madrid during my upcoming 5-day stops in each of those cities.)

The temperatures have been near perfect for extended hiking days. Early on: mostly lower 40s at the start of the day, with the occasional challenging 30-something beginnings. Recently: upper 40s to lower or mid-50s for starters. Perfect!

So… that’s all I’m going to say about the weather. My experiences are simply that: my experiences. Spain, like most places, can vary significantly from one year to the next.

The following is not really a clarification, more of a follow-up. I have written about Jinhee, the young (30-ish) Korean girl. She and Cristina and I became a bit of a threesome on this last leg of the Camino, not so much during our walking time as while we were in towns or having meals. There were tears in all our eyes (and spilling from hers) when we parted in Finisterre. I received the sweetest email from her yesterday and it is a reminder that we really can make a difference in other people’s lives by even the smaller gestures. Jinhee wrote:

You guys are so amazing. I think you guys are very cool. So i told to my friends about i meeting you and walking together. I and my friends if we should be like you guys when i older. You gave me brave and inspiring to me and to my friends too. 

Actually when I walked in Camino I was a little bit tired of my life however I should walked it maybe i meet you guys. Now, i am really good and I love myself. Thank you. ^^

Really sweet, no? If I’m not mistaken, I think she is saying there at the end that she is thinking, now, that there was a reason for her doing the Camino, that it might have been because she needed to meet us at a particular time in her life, that it was somehow part of some design, some bigger plan.

I have had similar thoughts about my Camino. By now you have realized what a joy it has been for me to be able to communicate with people from different countries, via English, of course, but especially with Spanish. Spanish has allowed me to talk not only with people from Spanish-speaking countries, but with pilgrims from Brazil and Portugal, from Italy. Then there was my French, which, weak as it is, opened more doors. It has occurred to me that perhaps all my years of language study were meant to eventually bring me to this experience of the Camino. Perhaps that is exaggerating, but language has been a huge part of this trip for me.

Perhaps the same could be said for my love of the outdoors beginning, really, when I was very young and would so enjoy my trips to “the farm” in Minnesota, to the “cabin” in Newaygo, Michigan…, continuing with all the camping and biking that Ken and I have done through the years. The foundation they gave me surely enhanced my appreciation of this trek.

Ditto the hiking I did in Indiana in preparation for coming to Spain. And also the blogging that I began last fall to get into a certain mindset. Well, no, not really to “get into” a mindset but to “get the mind’s field” ready, to have it plowed so it would be open to the many seeds that would fall into it as I advanced.

All preparation. All ways of readying myself. Over decades, really. Seven of them!

Details of the day’s trek

How can you not be tired of details by now? I’m mostly going to share “thoughts” here. Not your cup of tea? Skip down to the final section… or call it quits now. You’ve been more than patient!

For the lurkers and hangers-on among you…. I will tell you about a morning hush that was so profound it was sacred. Yes, a hushed reverence. I gave Cristina a head start of 10 or 15 minutes; we both enjoy walking alone. And so it was that I walked for three hours without catching up with a soul or without anyone catching up with me. (Quite a few pilgrims heading in the opposite direction, towards Finisterre, crossed my path. That is the more typical route, many preferring to end at the so-called “end of the world” and, in addition, Finisterre being a more bustling town where it is easier to pull off a celebratory meal, etc. Those of us who opt to go in this direction, to Muxía at the end, are the ones who like a more subtle, subdued atmosphere. At the very end of the peninsula on which Muxía is located is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the “Barca.” It sits dramatically at the very end of the land, just in front of many humongous rocks which are being pounced on by the Atlantic Ocean.  (Catholicism adapted some of the sacredness of the pagan traditions and ceremonies that date back to as early as the year 3000 BC. For one thing, as the tradition goes, Santiago (the apostle we know as James) was in the area in a “stone boat” and the Virgin appeared to him…. Now, inside the present church–built at the beginning of the 18th century–there are many models of ships hanging from the ceiling or other spots; they represent “thanks” from fishermen or sailors and/or their families for the Virgin’s intercession when they felt they were in trouble while out on the ocean. There is quite a cult to this church and this Virgin. I enjoyed both an afternoon and an evening excursion to the church and the nearby rocks. For me, it was a good place to end my Camino.)

But, permit me to return to the morning: So, yes, hushed. Smoke rising up from the occasional chimney and floating off into the still morning, the “wings” of the wind turbines mostly still, even the birds quiet. An occasional rooster’s wake-up call pierced the morning, off in the distance from time to time the sound of a car, and, oddly enough, from somewhere, a gong. Slow, meditative. Once. Twice. A third time. Mostly, just the crunch of my footsteps.

More magical moments surrounded by tall pines, short oak-like trees, and an abundance of rather spindly eucalyptus, all encased in beds of lush fern, ivy climbing the trees. Mostly gravel underfoot, but a few patches of stone to remind me of past challenges.

I’d learned, a day or two earlier, that what kind of looked to me like wild asparagus was, actually…. well, Cristina didn’t know the word either, but she described it. Turns out I’m not sure of the proper word myself, but it’s what gives us the licorice flavor that goes into the anis licour. Fennel? Fennulgreek? Something like that perhaps? Anyway, when one rubs hands or fingers vigorously on the “tops,” there’s the most delicious of smells. I did just that several times during my walk. I smile just at the memory of that smell!

I’m aware that I’m walking north. I suppose that was the case the day before as well, but I was distracted then and didn’t take it in. The sun has been on my left-hand side for almost all of the Camino. Now, there it is, when it deigns to show itself, on my right. I note to myself: Katy, you’re becoming a bit observant. That’s new for you!

And yet in terms of the scenery, nothing really too “new,” actually; just more of the same beauty I’ve been enjoying for days. (Unless we count this: a couple of columbine flowers. Foxglove, yes, I’d been seeing, but the columbine, just in this one spot? A first! Had to get a photo, of course.)

So it is that I find myself stopping much more than usual to capture the thoughts that run through my head. 

There is, as always, the gratitude. Today I focus on how grateful I am to Ken for his willingness to take over on the home front while I chase this dream of mine; how grateful I am to be in a place where I feel totally safe as I walk the countryside alone; how grateful that the village dogs I pass are so absolutely bored that they could care less about me. Perfect!

Mostly, though, my thoughts are of the “lessons-of-the-Camino” sort. I stop again and again to write them down, to add to the list. Nothing earth-shaking. Nothing I didn’t know before. Nothing you don’t know. Yet the frequency and the urgency with which they come calling, nagging and repetitive, gives me hope that they are sinking in more than ever before. For my own sake, with hopes of making them more easily accessible, I’m transferring that list to this post. Maybe you’ll find some of them useful as well. Or… maybe you’ll make or start your own list of lessons. Here are mine:

  • Slow down
  • Look around; observe
  • Turn around to see where you’ve come from
  • Pick up your daily burdens and be glad you have challenges; they’ll keep you from becoming too haughty
  • Find beauty!
  • Give thanks!
  • Listen to nature
  • Listen to the stories others have to share
  • Don’t be too full of yourself
  • Be humble
  • Sing!
  • Count your blessings; take nothing for granted
  • Be kind and generous and forgiving
  • Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart
  • Be your best self each and every day
  • Forgive yourself when you are not [your beset self] and remember to start again
  • Presume goodwill in others and when it is not obvious, assume it is just under the surface trying to emerge; when possible, gently coax it out
  • KINDNESS is king!!!!!
  • Simplicity: less is (almost) always more


Early on in this Katy’s Camino blog–back in the fall– I wrote quite a long post called “Why?” I asked questions like Why walk? Why now? Why Spain? Why a pilgrimage? Why write about it? I believe it was in that post where I stated that this trip was like setting in place a second book-end. The first book-end was placed in 1967 when I went to Spain for the first time. I was 17 years old. And now I’m less than two months from turning 70.

That book-end idea came to me yesterday as I did my final walk. For one thing, I ended up along the coast observing waves crashing on the rocks. It was a calm day, thus the crashing waves were not dramatic, but still…. I found myself recalling the month in 1967 when I was studying Spanish in Santander (along Spain’s northern coast). Near our residence hall was a place where we would walk to watch the waves splash high on the coast’s jagged rocks. A different coastline, but the same country. The same Katy… but also a very different one! Different, of course, for a myriad of reasons, for experiences I’ve had a chance to reflect on during these weeks of travel. Another set of splashing rocks; the book-end to balance that earlier experience.

In addition, yesterday I walked “among” the wind turbines for a while. It was the first time I wasn’t seeing them on a distant hill but rather only a football field or less away at times. No, they obviously don’t resemble the windmill “enemies” against which Don Quijote tilted his lance, prepared to fight to the death to defend the honor of “his Dulcinea.” And yet I found myself recalling how during my year abroad in 1968-1969 I had traveled around the area of La Mancha, to Campos de Cristana, in search of some of those old windmills and in search of any traces of Cervantes and Don Quijote and Sancho that I might come upon. What 19-year-old doesn’t attach some symbolic meaning to the don’s jousting with the windmills? (Especially one who has seen and loved the play Man of La Mancha and has sung over and over again the song “The Impossible Dream”?)

And so I saw those turbines yesterday and thought once again about how many “evils” are out to keep this from being the perfect world in which to live and how we have to keep on doing our part to not let those evils win the battle.

“CooCuu, CooCuu” calls the bird. And we challenge it and proclaim, “No, not crazy at all! Not at all.” We’ll get there, someday, to that better world. We’ll learn to be our better selves and to coax out the better selves of others.

Step by step. Day by day.

Come with me! We have to keep walking our Camino!

If only you’d been with me…

If only you’d been with me…

Day 37, Sunday, May 19: Finisterre to Lires + to Lires’ beach (21.1 km, 13.1 miles)

Yes, if only you’d been with me today! You would have talked with

  • a little snail casting a large shadow as she made her way down the trail, brave little thing…
  • some roosters “guarding a lemon tree”
  • an overgrown lizard with a ton of self-confidence and not one bit of fear
  • a kitty, a dog, a bunch of goats, a donkey, some sheep

If you had been with me today you might have

  • sampled some wonderful grilled vegetables (to die for!) and had a big hunk of Galician bread to go with them
  • sipped some café con leche and maybe even guzzled down a beer
  • sat in the sun to eat the veggies and drink the libations
  • listened to an old-timer out for his daily constitutional in one of the villages tell me that, no, he couldn’t agree that his town and area were “preciosos” or anything special at all, but you would have heard him tell me, “We are born here, we die here. That’s the way it is,” and you would have gone away wondering if you, too, take the beauty in your life for granted and you would have resolved to change your ways
  • chatted with 75-year-old Vicente for a while as he charged up the hill until he left you in the dust and you wondered what you might do to be so fit at his age
  • thought a lot about how it’s going to feel when all of a sudden you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do in the morning once the task at hand does not include packing up your house, tossing it on your back, and making your Way….

Mostly, though, you would just have been stunned once again by

  • the beauty of the woods, the singing of the birds, your good fortune to be capable of doing what you were doing without having any particular problems
  • the friendliness and generosity of people who live along the trail and set up tables by their house offering fruit, cookies, tea, water, dried figs… for a “donativo” if you cared to leave one

And beyond anything else, you would have dallied and stalled and found all manner of excuses to linger at the beaches, to photograph the waves splashing on the rocks, to picture yourself wading or even swimming (were the water about 25 degrees warmer than it was!). You would have taken one picture after another because you just had to share the views with family and friends.

And you would be right now–just like me–giving serious thought as to whether or not you will walk the 2 kilometers back down to the beach to see if you just might witness a beautiful sunset, even though the sun doesn’t set until 9:56 and in spite of the fact that you’ll have to walk 2 kilometers back up to your albergue in the dark… because, you’ll ask yourself, when will you have this opportunity again?

I wish you were with me! We’d make that decision together… and maybe get a little glass of wine down there by the beach….

To the end of the world, with sunshine to spare!

To the end of the world, with sunshine to spare!

Day 36, Saturday May 18: Cee a Finisterre, including to the lighthouse + back to Finisterre (21.56 km, 13.4 miles)

No reason to drag this one out, to withhold details, paint the scene, set the stage. No. This day was, as have been so many others, a joy to walk. The pines, the eucalyptus, the blooms still dripping with… with dew or with some rain I slept through in the early hours, I couldn’t say which.

But there was, on all our parts, I think, a sense of “urgency,” of “let’s get this thing done. We’ve come to arrive at the end of the world, so let’s not dilly dally about it.”

Only about 14 kilometers into the town of Finisterre itself. Up the hills and down them again, only to climb once more. An “are we there yet?” attitude. Glimpses of water, bay water, from time to time. Smells that reminded me of California here, northern Minnesota or Wisconsin there, Oregon–coast and mountains–from time to time. The animal and barn smells were gone, and in their place: really fresh air, scented blooms, and the sea.

We woke up to a much-improved forecast, but should have learned by now not to put any faith in forecasts. Alas, the unexpected rain arrived… but then departed; the clouds seemed to want to settle in between the hills… but then they thought better of it, too. So… I just continued to alternate rain jacket and winter coat. Vest on; vest off. Ditto the fleece cap. All articles of clothing extremely handy as they were either on my body or on my back.

Though I set out with neither Cristina nor Jeannie (now that I know how to spell her name, I suppose I should do so; it’s Jinhee…, but it was, after all, from her that I learned how to pronounce it: “like Aladdin’s lamp and the ‘genie’ that came out of it,” she had told me), we seemed to catch up with one another at various points, and we arrived at our albergue within minutes of one another, about 11:00. I’ve not actually had the experience of arriving before albergue’s are officially opened. This place, besides giving us a fantastic view of Finisterre’s bay–fantastic, anyway, for the 12 euros that we are paying–was very accommodating, allowing us to leave our backpacks in a locker or at least leave some of its contacts in the locker.

Because… we still had another 4 kilometers, a gradual uphill, before we would arrive at “the end of the world.” And we needed to stop at a panadería to pick up the day’s loaf. (And wait until you see a photo of what I chose….)

Other than stopping to catch a photo of the coastline or to remove/add clothing, we made pretty quick work of the climb. And then! Ah, and then, got photos of ourselves relaxing and celebrating at the end of the world. In almost full sun!

Precious! Dramatic! And the sign in town that reminded me that “the real Camino starts at the end”? Spot on!

Everything after our hike out to “the end of the world” was anticlimactic: the quick walk back down to Finisterre, the shower, connecting to the internet. Even the delicious pizza dinner with Jinhee and Cristina took a back seat, seeming of little consequence after having reached the lighthouse and the renowned spit of peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic. Yes, “the real Camino starts at the end,” and, as well, “it’s not over until it’s over”….

And so… I’ll begin tomorrow… with a walk! I’ll do a relaxing two-segment (as in “two-day”) walk to Muxía which I hear is a real gem. Another one for the strong box which will hold so many memorable places for me. When my memory fails me, the photos and these blog posts will be great supplements. As well, I might have to hire a security guard to protect my treasure box of memories. They deserve the best!