Memories of an Amazing Adventure
This is the third in a short series about my experiences of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk. In 2014, I turned 60, and to celebrate reaching this milestone, while still being fit and active, I decided that the Camino would be a perfect celebration for me. Much better than having a birthday party, as that really isn’t something that I would enjoy. This year is the five year anniversary of my Camino walk, which began on 1st June and finished on the 7th July. I hope you will enjoy the series, and I particularly hope that anyone contemplating the Camino will find these posts helpful. Buen Camino!
Santiago to Finisterre
The first two days after leaving Santiago were a little challenging, both in the profile and the conditions of the track. There were quite a few hills, causing my legs to feel very unhappy, after over 30 days of constant walking. Also the path to Finisterre wasn’t marked as clearly as it had been before Santiago, so it was necessary to constantly be on the lookout for way markers. These were few and far between. And then there was the rain that didn’t help matters! Since day 1 there had been only two days of rain, so I had become accustomed to walking in beautiful, very hot and dry summer weather. This changed after Santiago. I wore my rain coat every day, and took very few photos, as by that time, I was a bit over the whole process and just wanted to arrive at the Atlantic Ocean, marking the end of an amazing experience.
One bonus of walking from Santiago to Finisterre, was how quiet the path was. It seemed to me that everyone must have finished at Santiago. Most pilgrims do finish there, but it has become more common in recent years to walk to Finisterre on the coast. I saw very few people walking and the accomodation was very quiet. I did enjoy the peace in those last days.
While walking the final 100k from Sarria to Santiago, the noise had been almost unbearable. Sarria marks the beginning for the people, who wish to walk a 100k section, meaning they also get to finish at Santiago, even though they haven’t walked the entire route.
Those who started in France, are usually set in a quiet rhythm of walking and contemplating, by the time they arrive in Sarria. At the time I was walking, many of those starting in Sarria were noisy, chatty schoogroups. Of course, they were excited and didn’t understand our need for quiet, so this annoyed me a bit. Thinking back it’s possible that I was only annoyed by them because I was getting tired. Another reason for my annoyance was that they looked so clean! Everyone I had seen and talked to for over a month was starting to look a little bit ragged and lack lustre, after having worn the same clothes every day. Our white shirts definitely were no longer white!
I was so elated when I walked into Finisterre. Much more so than walking into Santiago, because I think in my mind, for the entire time of the walk, Finisterre was the end point for me. I walked, or maybe I should say rushed the 90k from Santiago to Finisterre, due to the rain and for personal reasons that I will outline at the end. In Roman times, Finisterre was known as the end of the earth. This is the point where it was thought in ancient times, that if you stepped off the edge, you would fall off the earth.
For many years it was tradition for pilgrims to walk up the mountain from Finisterre to the lighthouse in order to burn their clothing and boots. The boot in the photo below is a bronze sculpture at Cape Finisterre, marking the official end of the ancient pilgrimage route. I spent two nights at Finisterre and walked and walked the beautiful coastline around the village.
Finisterre is a small fishing village which if not for excited pilgrims, would probably be very quiet and restful. Twice a day, I would see the bus pull in, and out would spill a full load of noisy piligrims, very excited to see the supposed end of the world. These are the pilgrims who didn’t have time to walk the extra 90 kilometres from Santiago or who really didn’t want to do it.
The Saddest News
I hate to end this post with sad news, but I feel the need, as it’s a never forgotten part of my Camino experience. Before I left home, my Dad had become unwell. He had been in hospital and was going down hill. We all knew that he wasn’t going to recover, but I hoped that he would go on for a while yet. I almost delayed leaving but was told that I must go. I hoped in my heart that Dad would be there when I returned. To me, my father was always tough and strong and seemed like he would live forever.
While I was away my partner visited him in hospital each weekend, and was continually giving me updates. There was a day, when I was over half way that he phoned me to say that this was the day I had to decide whether to go home or continue. If I was to see Dad one last time, I would need to leave without delay. After giving it much thought, I made the difficult decision to go on, as it was obvious to me that even if I left that day, it would take me 2-3 days to get home and that may be too late anyway. That was such a difficult decision to make by myself, on the other side of the world.
So, continue on I did. Usually I was out of phone or wi-fi range while walking, except when walking through a small village. One of the advantages of the Camino to the locals along the way, is the installation of free wi-fi for the pilgrims. Most of the villages had free wi-fi in the streets, so as I walked into wi-fi range, my phone would ping with messages and updates from home. On my second last day, as I walked into the tiny village where I was to spend the night, my phone went off as usual. I went in to a cafe to get coffee, planning to sit down outside in the sun, with my coffee, and phone my partner for the latest update.
As I was waiting for my coffee, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from my niece that her poppy had passed away. This was my Dad. I was on the other side of the world and I found out from Facebook that he had died! I was devastated that he had died before I made it home, and to have found out the way I did seemed to be too cruel.
I was able to speak to my partner and to my mother on the phone, but this was the loneliest that I had ever felt ever in my life. To be by myself at this time was almost too much to bear. I was planning to stay in an albergue that night, but changed my plans and stayed at a beautiful small hotel, as I didn’t want to be around people. I needed to be alone and quiet. I needed to make phone calls to change my flights which proved to be almost impossible and very costly. But eventually arrangements were made for my new flight.
I had one day of walking to go and didn’t want to do it at all. My heart just wasn’t in it. But there was no option, as I would have to walk to the next town anyway to catch a bus to Madrid, in order to fly home. There was no other way for me to get to the airport as I was in a very isolated part of Spain. I dedicated the final day of walking to Finisterre, to my father, and walked as fast as I possibly could, crying all the way, but trying to think about the good times and the memories of my father that made me laugh and be happy.
I arrived home on the day before Dad’s funeral, which was hugely emotional for me. Both for not being there at the end, and because of the anti climax to my amazing adventure. My family of course were devastated to lose Dad, and because of that there was very little said about my adventure. To this day, I haven’t talked to most of my family about my pilgrimage walk. When I think about it, I’m not really sure that they know what it was that I did or how amazing it was or how proud of myself I was for walking over 1000k without injury or incident.
Do you have any adventures planned? I’d love to hear about them and have you join in the conversation. I promise to reply to all comments.