Day 33, Wednesday, May 15: Santiago to Negreira (23 km, 14.3 miles)

Can you hear me crow?

‘Cuz the news is all good!

  • Ginny is improving by leaps and bounds, lighting up the 4th floor of the Hospital Clínico Universitario with her smile and good will towards all; as of last night she’d progressed from broth & juice to galletas (sort of like graham crackers, but round); and she’s been bold enough to walk her visitors down to the lobby and then march right out the door to wave to them as they climb onto bus line #1
  • Among those visitors: her daughter Colleen and her sister Pat who flew from Minneapolis to New York to Madrid to Santiago, put in an afternoon and early evening of listening to stories, and were kept up until past 10:00 pm sampling tapas at a restaurant between their hotel and my pensión before I hugged them good-bye and officially turned over my “helping hand” services to their more-than-capable hands. Need I tell you that they were exhausted?
  • The sun is still out but the temperature is in the more-welcome mid-70 range rather than in the 80s…. AND
  • Katy is moving again!

Go west, peregrina, go west!

I’ll admit that it was a tough decision: do I go back to the point where I left the trail, 101 kilometers short of Santiago, or take on approximately the same number of kilometers to walk to and then explore a bit the “Costa da Morte” [“Death Coast”], as they call it in Gallegan/Galician/gallego/the language spoken by the people of Galicia (Northwestern corner of Spain). As I was making my plans back in February and March, my secret hope was to finish the Camino with enough time and energy left to walk–or, as a last resort, take the bus–to Finisterre (“End of the Earth”). It is 89 kilometers from Santiago to Finisterre, then another 29 kilometers from Finisterre to another popular bay along the coast (Muxía, pronounces Mu-SHE-a), also popular with pilgrims.

Like the other Camino routes, the Finisterre-Muxía “way” is very well marked with yellow arrows, one gets stamps/sellos in little passport books, there are albergues all along the way, occasional opciones where a pilgrim must decide whether to take the right fork or the left, and, at the end, the possibility of receiving certificates of completion.

It is believed–well, “known,” really–that ancient peoples, so-called “pagans,” traveled to Finisterre to watch the sun disappear into the ocean, and, one supposes, to beg of the supreme deities that they cause it to return again. Research has shown that many pilgrims through the centuries continued the tradition and, having paid their respects to St. James, went onward (¡Ultreia!) to the coast. I have read (in somewhat old literature) that very few pilgrims nowadays actually walk beyond Santiago. Most, if they want to see Finisterre and its lighthouse, take the bus for a one-day excursion, especially if the weather is nice (as in: will one be able to actually see the sun drop into the ocean?). That seems to be changing, however. The trail/road is not brimming over with pilgrims, but neither was I alone out there. And when I arrived at the albergue municipal this afternoon, entering with a young German woman (Ana by name, a veterinarian at a zoo in her home country), the hostess smiled and held up two fingers. Yes! We got the last two beds! (There are, however, plenty of beds in this town, in a variety of private albergues. The upcoming towns don’t have as many, so we’ll see how it all works out as I move towards the coast….)

I said that it was a difficult decision. It would have been nice to say that I had done the entire Camino Francés. Still, the idea of going backwards in order to move forwards did not appeal, nor did the crowds on the last hundred kilometers of the route I had been on, nor the long line (up to two hours) to get the Compostela certificate upon arriving in Santiago. Plus, I would be arriving a second time into the same large city that I was wanting to “flee”…. I admit, I had begun to get more comfortable in Santiago and I could appreciate the beauty of its monuments. Were I to backtrack and re-enter Santiago, I could “get into” the city, enjoy some of the museums, check out more of the parks…

But in the end, it felt more appropriate to move forward. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had already seen the best of what there was to see during the 450 or so miles than I had already walked. The coast made more sense. Beauty was awaiting. So… I went to the tourism office, picked up some literature; went to the App Store on my phone, picked up a couple of potentially helpful maps; got a room for my last night in Santiago that put me right on the route for Finisterre, and said, with a bit of trepidation, to be sure, “Yes!”

And so this morning, right at 7:30, I was out the door. By 8:00 I felt pretty confident that I had made the right choice. By then I was already basically “out of the city” and back among the trees and the greenery that talk louder to me than any monuments.

Where’s smell-a-vision when you need it?

If there were any way I could share the smells of the forests I walked through today, I surely would. There were a variety of spring smells in the air, but the predominant one was that of eucalyptus; such trees were everywhere. (Missing, however, were the koala bears….)

I spoke for a bit with an Irish mother and daughter walking together. The character of the morning, however, was Baudilio, a Spaniard who will be turning 79 in a few days (precisely on the feast day of San Baudilio, a new-to-me saint). We walked along together for a good bit, until I stopped to take some photos of hens. I’m sure he thought to himself: ¿qué le pasa a ésa, que nunca ha visto antes las gallinas?” (“What’s with this one, has she never seen hens before?”). Baudilio is walking with Marco, an Italian, but stopping to greet all the women whose paths he crosses with a flowery greeting that is reminiscent of “old Spain” where a man felt safe using poetic language to complement a woman. No longer the case. There’s some talk of Baudilio, his Italian friend, Susan (a gal about my age from British Columbia), and the young German veterinarian going out later for some dinner.

The interesting thing about the Finisterre route right now is that the people on it all arrived at Santiago, but they did so from a variety of different Caminos. Some were on the Portuguese route, some on the Rio de la Plata, some on the Norte or the Primitivo. And all are enthusiastic walkers and happy to be back on a trail.

Which…. isn’t really as much of a “trail” as I would like, but I can’t judge the whole for its first part. We have been on paved local roads quite a bit, at least 60% of today, possibly more. Little traffic, but not as woodsy as I might like.

Besides the lovely smell of eucalyptus, the day held a few other memorable things. One was the climb to the top of Mar de Ovellas. One person told me that we climbed for 3 kilometers. All I know is that I looked at my Fitbit when we reached what appeared to be the top, and it showed that so far for the day I had climbed 130 floors; I’m pretty sure that most of that climbing was on that one particular section. (I ended the day with 165 floors; not that atypical.) The other treasure of the day was about 4 kilometers from my final destination for the night. It was the town of A Ponte Maceira, a medieval town (aren’t they all?) with the most significant bridge of this entire “way.” The bridge got us across the Río Tambre, where I spent quite a bit of time. I had a picnic lunch by the churning water and took photos and videos of the falls and the semi-reconstructed mills (now for tourist purposes as opposed to for actual grinding).

Now that I look at the list of places I should have taken note of, I conclude that I walked too fast and that I would have been advised to have the guide in my hand as I walked. But then… how would I have held on to my hiking poles? Oh, well, I enjoyed what I did see, and that’s what counts.

My albergue tonight sits up high overlooking trees in several directions, and in another, the town of Negreira which, with 2,000 people, is, I believe, the largest town I’ll see while on this Camino. The literature suggested picking up food at the grocery store in town for breakfast and for snacking on during tomorrow’s rather isolated route. I did so, but am feeling less than anxious to carry the extra weight. Maybe I can share some of the food, in the same way in which I shared a couple of the disposable razors I bought today (only available in a 4-pack). You wouldn’t believe how excited a couple of women were over the chance to shave their legs! Oh, the small things in life! I also purchased dental floss today. Another biggie! I’ve been looking for it for weeks, and even today I needed help finding it. Why they would have twenty different kinds of toothpaste and, hidden on a bottom shelf, one kind of dental floss puzzles me.

When I began this post, it was sunny and 75 degrees. My app says it is 73 now, but it lies. As I sit outside here, I’m beginning to shiver and I realize it’s time to put that long-sleeved shirt on again. Tomorrow’s high will be 60 degrees. 59 for the three days after that. With a good chance of rain. So, deal with that when it happens. The good thing: the more clothes I have to wear, the fewer I’ll have to stuff in my pack, right?

It’s also time to take the laundry off the line, send some photos to the family so Regina–thank you! Mil gracias!–can add them to this post, and then time to direct attention to an evening meal of some sort.

That’s the report from the “new” Camino. ¡Ultreia!