To the End of the EarthOctober 5 in Spain
One quite amazing feature of our hotel in Santiago is that it features a “24 hour breakfast buffet”. I had never previously heard of this innovative idea, however it is actually quite simple. Instead of breakfast only being available between certain hours (eg 7.30 to 10.00 am), the buffet is available at any time of the day or night. This would even make it possible to save valuable time each morning, by having your breakfast before going to bed.
After completing our walk to Santiago yesterday, it was a huge relief not to have to don my serious walking shoes and backpack once more. I was even able to leave my walking pole in my room. With sandals on my feet and nothing on my back it almost felt like flying.
Our day began with a guided tour of the old city precinct with a local expert guide who introduced herself as Maria. She certainly was a huge reservoir of information and proceeded to teach us about the place at every opportunity. When she explained that confessions would be heard that morning in the cathedral “in seven languages”, I couldn’t help but wonder how people got on who were not able to speak seven languages. (Sometimes my mind just works that way).
She also explained that the cathedral is being seriously damaged because, some years ago, much of the roof area was covered with concrete. Although this might have seemed like a bright idea at the time, it actually caused damage because the building was no longer able to breathe. Expensive restoration works are now underway to remove the concrete layer and replace it with something more akin to what was originally installed about 900 years earlier. Another example where the original builders really knew what they were doing after all.
After a couple of hours of this serious touring, my brain reached memory overload and I was really glad that I could finally wander off by myself for a little respite. There were a couple of small matters that I wanted to attend to. The first of these was to receive my final stamp in my pilgrim passport. Douglas pointed me in the direction of the pilgrim office , so I went in the door with my passport in hand. The only trouble was that about 400 others had arrived before me and had formed a huge queue snaking throughout the building. It looked like a line of football supporters waiting for finals tickets.
Since I did not want to spend all day waiting in a line, and since I was not interested in getting a piece of parchment paper, I invoked the well known “Plan B”. In another room there was a much shorter line to a man sitting at a cash register. In a very short time I reached the front and explained that all I wanted was a little stamp. He understood perfectly and dutifully proceeded to stamp front and back of my black book. It was all over.
The other task I wanted to do was to spend more time inside the cathedral. We had spent so much time walking to the resting place of St James, that I thought I had better at least pay him my respects. At the entrance door I had to get past, not one, but two gypsy “beggars” who had almost succeeded in making entrance impossible without paying their own form of admission price. It really seemed a shame that this behaviour was allowed.
Once inside I spent some time gazing at the ceiling and all the other adornments inside. I had to agree that the place really is huge. I could have spent a lot of time looking at all the minor chapels, statues and images, but I was looking for St James. When I saw a big queue I assumed that I must be on the right track. I joined the rear and slowly shuffled forward every few minutes. It was only when I got closer that I could see that the queue was not actually to see the crypt of St James, it was to hug the statue upstairs. Since I was not much interested in embracing a statue, I ducked out of the line of huggers and went downstairs to see St James instead.
Once through the narrow doorway and down a few steps, I came to a grated opening where the silver casket of St James was situated maybe 4 metres away. On the floor there were numerous pieces of paper where pilgrims had left prayer requests or messages for the saint. I looked at the casket and wondered what (or who ) was really inside. The lid was firmly closed so the mystery will have to remain unanswered.
With my two tasks thus completed, I felt that my mission here was finally over. There was, however, one other unfinished piece of business that I wanted to do on my final full day in Spain. I had not yet had a seafood paella. I found a nearby café that was willing to satisfy my curiosity and my hunger at the same time and I have to admit that it was fine eating.
Although the prime objective for the Camino is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago, for many pilgrims there is a secondary objective as well. That is to continue walking until you can walk no more. That happens when you reach the Atlantic Coast at Finisterre. In Roman times this was regarded as the westernmost point of Europe and the name Finisterre literally means “End of the Earth”. That was where the maps finished and where the unknown began. It was Christopher Columbus who famously sailed into this unknown to discover the new worlds beyond.
For a pilgrim to walk from Santiago to Finisterre it usually takes an additional 5 days of walking. For us it took a leisurely 90 minutes by bus. The rolling green hills along the way were liberally covered with eucalypts and pines and it made me feel like we could have been driving through parts of Victoria.
Cape Finisterre is a beautiful spot, surrounded by steep cliffs dropping down to the ocean over 100 metres below. The late afternoon was warm, the sky cloudless and the air still. I sat on a rocky point and gazed out at the endless ocean and imagined how the ancients could really feel that this was the end of the world. I also took the time to think back over some of the events of the past three weeks. We had shared so much together in that time. Much of our walking time had been spent talking to fellow pilgrims and, for a brief time in our lives, everything was so simple – just keep walking westwards. And now we were here. This marked the end of chapter one of our adventure. Tomorrow morning most will be travelling to Portugal and the two Christines will be leaving to continue their own adventure.
There was a tradition among pilgrims to burn all their old clothes when they reached the ocean. Presumably they would then start afresh and the rest of their lives would begin. Although the authorities are trying to stop this tradition (this is a high fire danger area after all), we noticed that pilgrims had left a number of items behind – boots, socks, walking poles, etc. Some of these had been tucked into the rocks.
Then it was finally time to return to the bus for the very last time with Raoul. We were headed back to Santiago for our final night in Spain.
After dinner some of us went for a walk back to the Cathedral. There were still hundreds of people there and we were attracted by the sounds of some nearby music. It turned out to be a group of colourfully dressed musicians who were playing a wide variety of stringed instruments and singing well known Spanish songs. Throngs of happy students were singing and clapping to the music. You would have had to have a stony heart not to feel touched.
Somehow it felt like the perfect way to finish an amazing trip.
Buen Camino indeed.Read more