It’s Not The End Of The World
There was 58 miles between us and Finisterre, Spain and as we climbed the steep Camino trail out of Santiago stars faded into the ephemeral blue light of morning. Before there was a Camino, an apostle named James or even Christianity, pilgrims walked from many parts of Europe to stand on the cliffs of Finisterre. They believed it was the end of the world and from that knob of land they watched the sun melt into the waters where dragons and monsters lived. Or so they thought because the men who sailed west toward that setting sun never returned.
Today Finisterre is no longer thought of as the end of the world but pilgrims still walk hundreds of miles to see the sun melt into the frothy blue waves of the Atlantic. Some walk to demonstrate their religious devotion and the setting sun symbolizes the completion of that journey. Others see it as a beautiful act of nature and rejoice in the physical challenges they overcame during their hike. There are those at a crossroads in their life who walk for weeks through crushing heat, cold rains and hobbling pain in search of answers. And for some it’s simply a holiday with cheap wine.
At one bend in the trail we stumbled upon a young photographer from America. He had set up an outdoor studio with a back drape, lights and a tripod mounted camera. “I am selecting only the most interesting pilgrims to photograph,” he proudly said.
The photographer went on to tell us about his Camino and the great business success he had prior to becoming a photographer, but he never asked about our Camino or how we ended up hiking the trail. It made me wonder how he determined which hikers were worthy of a photograph. Sue and I were about to depart when a young German woman walked up. She had the hard body and piercing eyes of a competitive athlete. She also must have been a most interesting pilgrim because before she could take a second breath the young photographer said, “I want to take your photograph.”
We left the photographer to his work and followed the trail through lush woods, along twisting rural lanes and across a long low arching stone bridge that led to a small village of stone cottages. At the base of the bridge we slide off our packs to rest and absorb the hobbit-like world around us. The pause was long enough to give the German woman and a male friend of hers time to catch us. We all sat on the ground together sipping water, eating junk food and talking about our journey. “How did your portrait go?”, I asked.
Her brow crinkled and she sighed, “I think when someone takes your picture like that they should learn about you. He only talked about him. It was not good.”
The German woman then turned to Sue and asked, “When you hiked the Camino Frances, did it change your life?”
Sue answered in her typical slow and thoughtful manner, “For some people that seems to have happened, but I would not say it was life changing for me.”
“I know,” the German woman said in frustration. “I left a very good job to walk the Camino and now I am almost finished, but I still do not know what I should do next. I thought I would know that by now.”
Her American friend joined the conversation, “I just graduated with degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, but I want to be a writer. After walking all these miles across Spain I still have no idea how to get started.”
A long walk will strengthen your legs, give you the quiet time needed to discover lost memories and contemplate your future. You can brainstorm for weeks and go through ‘What-if’ scenarios for miles. But unlike a Hollywood movie your Camino may become stuck in Act Two and the ending you’re looking for may not be found in Santiago, Finisterre or even Muxia. It can be frustrating but hope should not be lost. Walking a Camino is similar to running a marathon, the full effect of the event will be felt sometime after you cross the finish line.
We hiked the rest of the afternoon with the young couple and we all would have walked longer together but we had reservations in different towns. That night Sue and I stayed in a hostel adjacent to a dairy barn. Galicia’s small dairy farms, rolling hills and green pastures are beautiful to hike through in the morning mist, but if you are trying to clean your socks in the wash tub next to a barn full of cows the flies can get annoying.
With 24 days of hiking, 18 days of city wandering and two years of high school Spanish under my belt, I was feeling cocky. My language skills were approaching that of a native. I chit chatted with the waitress then ordered a Shandy, a beer mixed with lemon soda, she returned with a smile and a coffee. Confused I slowly and clearly ordered the Pilgrim meal in Spanish. A few minutes later she returned with a smile and a glass of white wine. Still hungry and now aware my Spanish was unintelligible I opened the menu and pointed to the Pilgrim meal, she disappeared into the kitchen. Then I washed down some humble pie with a glass of white wine.
The last 19 miles of our 273 mile hike took us from Finisterre to Muxia along the Galician coast. This stretch of coast is famous for being an incredibly rich source of seafood for Europe and for being severely damaged by an oil spill in 2002. Since then the area has been rehabilitated and laws have been added to prevent it from happening again. From a hiker’s perspective the coast is idyllic, it has hidden coves, few people and long sandy beaches.
We concluded our Portuguese Camino in Muxia, Spain on the rocks where Martin Sheen spread his sons’ ashes in the movie ‘The Way’. That day it also rained for the first time in weeks which helped us prepare mentally for our return to the Pacific Northwest.
The goal of my Camino was to go for a long walk across a country I had never seen, Portugal. Along the way I hoped a few strangers would share some of their time and thoughts with me – they did. They also made me feel welcomed, thankful for my good fortune and made me laugh. And like the young man with the German woman I too hoped to discover how to become a writer – I didn’t. But it’s not the end of the world. A Camino is just one moment in a lifetime of moments so it shouldn’t be under or over emphasized. With practice, hard work and a little luck I’ll discover how to become a writer. In the meantime I’ll keep exploring, photographing, talking to strangers, scribbling in my journal, and telling stories.