The Final Post.

The sun shines brightly this morning in Santiago. The late breakfast crowd is large and robust today. I will do a little prepacking this morning and then attend the noon pilgrims mass in the Cathedral. No English mass nearby so one more mass in Spanish for me. It will be great to get back to the States and be able to fully participate in a mass in my own language. The mass is very crowded today. Even though I arrived early I am standing in overflow. There is a large choir adding to the pageantry of the mass. There are large groups of students taking up significant space in the pews. It is a beautiful mass with many cocelebrants. At the end of the mass before the final blessing men in red robes come out and lower the incense holder. The excitement grows as they swing the coldrum nearly to the ceiling of the side halls spreading the incense over the pilgrims. I am so happy to have finally witnessed this activity. As I prepare to leave mass I am met by Stefan and Donatella. They finished yesterday and will go home tomorrow. We enjoyed some coffee and conversation together about our Caminos. You meet so many people along the way. And then it rains, really rains. Soaks the pilgrims coming in this afternoon. Good time for siesta and reviewing the many photographs of doors of the Camino for the one to be awarded door of the Camino. I come across what may be my favorite picture of the Camino. Yuli took it one early morning as we hiked the Meseta. After the rain passed it is time to get out and find some food. I find myself in what became our favorite tapas bar in Santiago with vino Blanca and several delicious dishes. It is just not as much fun listening to the other Camino comrades share stories and say their goodbyes. After strolling the streets of Santiago one last time, and seeing no more souvenirs I need, I head to the hotel bar for one final brandy. What a trip. What an adventure. If you are even slightly considering your own Camino I have just two words of encouragement. Do it. And have a Buen Camino.


The One When I Visited Finisterre, or is it Fisterra.

The last couple of days have been rest, relaxation and reflection. We attended the pilgrims mass and caught up with the group of nine fellow hikers. We celebrated our accomplishments. We bought new clothes that hadn’t been worn 30 days. We said goodbye one at a time until there was only me left in Santiago. Today I take a bus tour out to the coast. The guide is to speak English but it looks like most of the bus are Spaniards. Guess she will be speaking English for me and Spanish for the rest. As we depart Santiago the fog envelopes us again. Maybe this is a good sign as it was last Wednesday when Pascelle and I began our final leg of the Camino. Crazy weather in Spain this year. April snows in Madrid and even Barcelona. Reports are coming in that the trail we crossed is flooded out in some of the earlier stages. The pilgrims on their journey now are having to hike the roadways and take alternate routes. Today for me is a relaxing bus ride to the coast. No worries about finding my way, my feet hurting or can I carry this heavy pack one more kilometer. Time to listen to some music and ponder what is Camino. Time to prepare myself mentally to come home, return to life with family, friends and coworkers. The bus glides through the countryside and villages similar to that which we hiked. There are early century arched bridges. There are small farms with goats, lambs and cattle. There are farm grown forests. There is also the decrepit and decaying structures right next to the new and modern renovated. Such is Spain. An old and new world. Our first stop is in Galicia in the area of the Coast of Death where boats and people are crushed on the rocks every year by the large waves. As we arrive on the coast the sun is shining brightly. It was here that Santiago preached to the Galicians who did not believe. Blessed Mary appeared to Santiago and encouraged him to stay true to his mission and convert the people. The village is surrounded by the sea. The fishing boat looks so small as it comes into harbor. Next stop, Fisterra or Finisterre depending on which language you are speaking, Galician or Spanish. Here we find the oldest lighthouse on the Galician coast built in 1853. This is the end of the land when it was thought the world was flat. Here the pilgrims burnt their clothes as an offering to the past. This is the end of the Camino de Santiago. There are pilgrims arriving as our bus pulls into the stop. Next stop is the Village of Finisterre where we can get some super fresh fish and local white wine. The next stop is the only river that ends as a waterfall in Europe. It comes from Pindo mountain. It is the Xallas river. Some of the water is diverted into feedstocks and drives turbines near the falls to create electricity. The hillsides are barren due to a forest fire in 2013. The final stop is the second longest Horreo on the Galician coast, 34.5 meters built between 1760-1783. These were used all over Spain to dry and store the grain. Nearly every home had one. This one is a community Horreo where the community gave 10% of there cultivated crop to the church. The Galician coast is magnificent and certainly worthy of exploring further another time. For now I will return to Santiago and find a nice dinner and for dessert, chocolate covered chestnuts.

The Final Day of Hiking The Way of St. James

Rested and coffee filled we head out for a final marathon day in a shroud of clouds. It is like God is surrounding us with his Love as we follow the final stages of the Way of St. James. I met a German pilgrim last night at dinner. He also started on March 13th but was on the Northern route. This is his third pilgrimage, however he has yet to walk the Camino Frances. His first walk was with his wife four years ago on the Portuguese route. He recently retired from banking and finds this an amazing opportunity for spiritual reflection and prayer. Seeing that our purpose for walking are parallel I took his recommendation to book the end of my trip in a room at the former monastery behind the cathedral for some rest and reflection. At nine it starts to drizzle but it doesn’t last long.

Spain seems to be a forest growing country. Family farms for generations plant rows of trees, lots of different trees. There are hardwoods and softwoods. Today we are walking through both. Sometimes at the same time. There are eucalyptus trees on one side of the road and scotch pine trees on the other side. The fog fills the empty space between the rows. These eucalyptus trees grow to majestic heights. After about an hour of walking we enter the village of Ribadiso. Glancing left I spot the familiar color of Jesus’s jacket. We holler out to him. He is shocked to see us and tells us our friends are just finishing up breakfast. Bounding out to see us are Yuli, Brett, Kat, and Harry. We chat a bit about their night with a bus load of rude young high school pilgrims who didn’t go to sleep until 2:00. Maybe bounding was a bad descriptive term for their energy level then, but Yuli always greets you with a big smile. As we all get back to hiking the high school kids are literally getting on a large chartered bus and blocking the trail. We scoot by them and climb the hill. Soon it is just Pascelle and me again as we work our way across town. We bump into a pilgrim we have not seen since day three. As we exit the city we begin to see the crowds on the trail. Probably not the summer crowds but certainly larger groups than we have ever seen. Most of these are in large packs and have only been walking since Sarria. We pick our way around and through them quickly putting space behind us. We remind ourselves to be humble and accepting of these five or seven day pilgrims even as one snorts at us and says something about these fast moving pilgrims are ruining her experience. The bars are full as we pass. The lines for the restrooms are crazy. We press on. Finally near Santa Irene we find a bar after the lunch time that is empty. One other pilgrim joins us for a break from the rain and a rest and some fuel. Now Pascelle is getting serious about going all the way today. As we near Pedrouzo where our other friends are meeting up with Thomas, Sharon and Dominik we don’t even see the turn to the Albergue they are in. It is 2:00 and Pascelle thinks we can be in Santiago in four hours. We march on. The trail is empty except for an occasional pilgrim. We head around the airport and hear the rush of airplanes taking off. We reach our intended destination of Lavacolla. It is sunny now.  We have the trail to ourselves. The forecast for tomorrow is more rain. We commit to finishing this journey together. Now we will find just what we are capable of. We have already walked about 38 km. There is another 12 to go. My legs need a break. We stop for a Coke at Villamaior. We are committed now. Pushing back up to cruising speed or at least what I have left we work our way up and down the final hills through the final forests. We pass the final industrial areas. We are on the outskirts of town. We pass the large former military barracks which is now a massive Albergue 5 km from our final destination. There we see Catalina whom we haven’t seen for a couple weeks at least since Leon. We cross the massive highway that circles Santiago. We cross the tracks as a bullet train passes below us. Now we are in the bustling city. As we greet people they just mutter something back. No more the friendly “Buen Camino” cheer from the locals. These city folks are in their own world which is very different than the one we just walked. You would think the way finding would be clearly marked in Santiago of all places but it is a bit confusing with all the other signs that now become clutter. With anticipation we keep walking pulling ourselves up through the city. Finally we enter the old city. Now the small streets get very small. Three ladies stop us and ask where we are coming from so they can be sure they are in the right spot to watch whoever they are waiting for to arrive tomorrow. In their own world they point us in the wrong direction to the Cathedral. We trace our steps back to the Plaza and see our friend Frenchy. He has completed his pilgrimage and has a map. We get good guidance from him and race down the cobblestone locked in arms now. We are going to finish this together. There it is the Cathedral of Santiago under renovation. We snap a quick picture and race off to the pilgrims office. No lines at 7:30 PM. We have walked for twelve hours. We have covered 50 km or over 31 miles in USA terms. Our phones say we have walked over 65,000 steps today. The clerks greet us and happily award us with the Compostela certificate and the distance certificate. Oh wow. What a way to finish a long journey and a long rewarding day with a very good friend. Together we leave the square with a sense of great accomplishment and head for the tattoo parlor. Okay maybe save that for another day. Or not. We do find a place to unload our packs and drop for some much needed rest. Tomorrow we will return to the Cathedral Plaza to welcome our friends and attend the pilgrim’s mass.

A Marathon Day

We are awakened by rain. As we start the rain lightens but returns later with a vengeance. Pascelle and I see it all today, rain, sleet, hail and a little sunshine. It is a challenging day but we end up in Boente after walking a marathon. Not much time for pictures or even enjoying the scenery. It was there. The trail was great. We found some big ants and some little cars. There were dogs and beautiful ancient bridges. But in the end it was a just a long day of walking. Both of us are ready to complete this journey and return to the ones we love.

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain

What a bunch of bunk that statement is from “My Fair Lady”. We didn’t have that much rain in the Meseta. Here in Galicia it looks like a rainy day, all day, everyday, for the next week. I may have to stop and get some rain pants. We had a pretty quiet nights sleep in this 40 bed Albergue with just Pascelle and I here. Not sure where all the other pilgrims are that will just be starting today. Sure won’t complain about a good nights rest to prepare us for slogging through the rain. Stopped at the first coffee house in Barbadelo and were inundated with the kids we passed climbing the hill. Stopped at the first coffee house in Morford and were flooded with new pilgrims that pushed their way in and demanded service. Disgusted we left without food or drink. Walked 1/2 a click and found a wonderful bar and had a great omelette. New rule on the final stretch of the Camino, don’t stop at the first bar. Two crazy hard hours and we seem to be ahead of the crowd but I am ready for a break. Pascelle and I stop at Los Andantes in Vilachá and find an actual vegetarian bar. Resting up we prepare to push through the next big town and get up the trail away from the new pilgrims. Pascelle likes to capture a picture of the dog of the day. My picture lost. This was the actual dog of the day. Wait that’s not a dog. Here is the dog. I never know what might capture my attention. Today it was a canola field in bloom. We make good use of the sunshine and have a big day reaching a small Albergue in Castromaior. Second night where we are the only pilgrims. It will be a quiet dinner. Our hostess is actually from Lima, Peru. We struggle a bit with the language but get by with Google Translate. Checking our maps it looks like we are an hour away in a car from our destination. We are both ready to be done and return to our lives. The next couple of days we will push ourselves.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Today we start in a cold drizzle as we walk along the road in the clouds. The trail is still snow covered. At Biduedo we see a rainbow inviting us to return to the main Camino trail. The snow has melted away. We walk along splashing through the snow melt running down the trail. Winding through the countryside we begin the descent through gnarly moss and vine covered oaks.

We are met along the way by some friendly dogs and once in awhile one not so friendly. This is an active farming area worked by many generations. Sustainable farming has been their lives for centuries. We stopped at the bottom of the hill in Triacastela for a coffee con leche. Then off through the farmland to Furela where we stopped for a bite to eat. The rain comes and goes but is pouring as we arrive in Sarria. It is here where the mass of pilgrims start their journey as it is the closest location to meet the minimum distance of 100km required to earn the Compostela certificate. The guide book reminds us to be living pilgrims and not project a superiority just because we started further back. We follow such pilgrims into Sarria and wish them a Buen Camino. Hope we can maintain nonjudgmental acceptance as the trail gets busier towards Santiago.

The People We Meet, the Views we Enjoy.

Start with a lovely morning walk through the mountain canyon following river’s path. We stop in Ambasmestas and meet a couple who moved here after walking the Camino. This is a common story in the people we meet. This couple is from Russia. They have tried many locations in the world from Costa Rica to Malaysia. They chose Spain and have been here three years making a business for themselves and enjoying the life and space they have chosen. It is a blessed spot. We had wonderful pancakes so I had to tell the kids about our granddaughter, Lola, and Pancake Patio and the wedding late night pancakes. Moving on we pass through several small villages on our way to the climb. At Herrerias we take a short breather and then begin the ascent through the forest. It is a steep but beautiful climb. The day is humid so we get warm quickly. This is so exhilarating. The views of the valley grow below us. As we reach La Faba we find a small community with a church and gardens and a small shop and a bar. Here we meet another worldly couple that gave up the international city life to work in a spot of the world where they can find Joy in their lives. She is from Brazil and he is from Italy. They walked the Camino and found this community. There are several of them living in commune and serving pilgrims. They have converted a 300 years old priest family house into an Albergue, communal kitchen and bar. The Albergue used to be the School house for the village. The stable is now the communal kitchen, restaurant and bar. The association works together to grow the food. In several fertile gardens. We have some tea with them and then continue our climb. The vistas continue to change and become vast as we rise. Now we are above the forest and exposed to more wind. The snow covers parts of the trail. The further we climb the broader our view becomes. We cross over into Galicia just before arriving in the hilltop village of O’cebreiro. Here you begin to see the architecture change and the thatch roofed structures that have been here a long time. The food also changes a bit. No more lemonada. The server says it is too cold on this side of the mountain for the things you found in León. You also begin to see Santiago Cake now. A lovely treat. After a good lunch we decide to put another 12 km behind us as we start across the mountain top road moving up and down with the highway. The trail is covered with snow on this side of the mountain. The views are amazing. The weather changes several times. We consider a couple stop point but settle on a nice Albergue in Fonfria. We have had a big day. At dinner we meet a couple from Australia that have chosen to live the backpackers life in early retirement traveling the world and living modestly meeting people and seeing things. After the Camino they will head to Scotland.