At the End of the World

~ Camino de Santiago part 5: from Santiago de Compostela to Fisterra ~

B and I were eager to continue our journey to the mythical destination beyond Santiago: Finisterre. The shifting extremes of Galician weather proved to be our first great obstacle. We were stranded in Santiago by a driving rain that flooded the yard of our albergue and we ended up spending two extra nights here waiting for a break in the weather. The sun came out eventually and so did we, heading to the town of Negreira about 22 kilometers away. Our route wove around verdant hills and townships of decreasing size, all the way to the river Tambre just a few kilometers from Negreira. It was here that legend holds the devious forces seeking to destroy the remains of St. James were thwarted by a miraculous bridge collapse. The Roman soldiers tracking down James’s disciples were swallowed by the river and their mission aborted. The town council of Negreira bears a representation of the event on their seal to this day in honor of those who struggled to preserve the remains of Spain's patron saint.

Monument to the Emigrant,
Negreira is a modern town with an illustrious past. The Counts of Altamira, whose domain extended to the walls of Santiago itself during the 15th century, called this area home. Their castle and main seat is now in ruins but we had a chance to see what remains of their manor house on our way to the local albergue. Negreira suffered greatly, along with the whole of Galicia, from the numerous waves of emigration in recent centuries. Generation after generation of young men have secured passage west to the New World in search of greater opportunities than those available here. The town features an evocative monument to the emigrant that depicts a man leaving home with wife and child behind. The xunta albergue is situated on the outskirts of town and we were less than thrilled at the prospect of walking there and back (especially once it started to rain) but made the journey nonetheless to dine at a local restaurant run by a salty matron with little interest in her customers.

We started off the next day and tried to stay ahead of the rain to no avail. The showers came and went, battering our rain gear and making us thankful for the steady asphalt beneath our feet. The poor fare from the night previous had given us both a case of the runs, slowing our progress and making the rain showers all the more inconvenient. Fortunately, we were equipped with bismuth tablets, oral re-hydration salts, and our medical training from Peace Corps enabling us to get to the town of Vilacerio by the afternoon and check into a private albergue. Vilacerio is a small hamlet with little for travelers other than the albergue and a nearby bar/restaurant (owned by the same couple). The limited menu provided few options with which to heal ourselves but we made due and at least had the time to hydrate and rest.

Mural on the outskirts of Olveiroa
The rain was falling heavily the following day as we broke our fast in the town cafe. We decided to make for Olveiroa in full rain gear in order to try our luck finding food better suited to our condition. The rain soaked us through during the first two hours of our walk and then stopped, threatening us for the rest of the way but holding off that we may dry. We found the xunta albergue in Olveiroa to be the most inspiring adaptation of the government model on the Camino with a series of warm chalets spread across one section of the medieval town . These were complimented by kitchen facilities and stables. Our raiment had dried to a light dampness during the walk and although we did not find the drying machine we had hoped for, we were able to hang up all of our clothes in our chalet. We took a much needed warm supper at the nearby As Pias pension house and were supplied with a heavy pour of herbal orujo to aid our sleep and heal our bowels.

Hiking off the high moors, near Cee
The next morning met us with sunshine and a renewed feeling of strength that pervaded our bodies. We took off into the hills around Olveira with vigor. This would prove to be one of our favorite hikes of the entire Camino. The stage starts by dancing around the river Xallas with a beautiful view of the reservoir (Embalse de Ponte Olveira y Castrelo) below complemented by the peaceful whirl of the wind farms above. The path itself was paved with an alluring green stone. Clouds had literally lifted and the beauty of Galicia once more revealed, the gray skies only returning once we ascended into the bleakness of the high moorland. This track of wilderness is shrouded in legend. Accounts of the Vakner, a demonic troglodyte of the forest, or the Holy Company described by H.V. Morton as an “invisible presence trying to place a lighted candle in your hand, and should you open your hand and accept it, you are lost – you have joined the Holy Company of Lost souls condemned to wander about…until they can thrust their candle into the hand of some unsuspecting stranger” only serve to make the misty forgotten landscape seem more forbidding. Our Lady of the Snows is also found here, an ancient hermitage where the waters are said to have healing properties. We made our way through the thickening magic, myth, and miracle around us and got our first view of the ocean as we began our descent into the aptly named town of Cee.

Corcubion harbor on Thankgiving
We found a private albergue called Camino Fisterra in nearby Corcubion that appeared open at first glance, but after waiting for almost two hours for the hospitalera (and making several inquiries both next door and on the phone as to her whereabouts) we decided to stay at the local hotel Horreo. This proved to be well worth the added expense given the view and extensive breakfast service provided by the hotel. We thus awoke on Thanksgiving morning to a beautiful view of the boats in harbor at Corcubion and a filling meal before setting out at a leisurely pace to Fisterra, about 6 kilometers away.

Hiking into Fisterra
Fisterra today is a summer tourist destination. Two thousand years ago, this was the site of the Roman trade settlement of Dugium and an important stop on the shipping routes between Cornwall and Palestine via Rome. This area held an immense significance to Celtic and Roman sun-worshipers who maintained the fabled Ara Solis (Sun Altar), an older object of pilgrimage than Santiago itself. It was here that St. James allegedly came to spread the gospel following the death of Christ. This was considered the literal End of the World for countless generations (although it is not even the western most part of Spain) and still holds an attraction today.

The end
The walk was pleasant, with clear skies prevailing until we reached the town itself. Our trail was predominantly along the coast, providing an inspiring view of the roiling Atlantic, waters aggravated by the looming onset of winter.  The xunta albergue in Fisterra was closed for renovations and we took accommodation at a nearby pension house to drop packs before taking our lunch and setting out to reach the end of the Way. We found the marker indicating the 0 kilometer point just before the lighthouse that now sits where the Ara Solis may have one day been. Today, there is a small shrine to the pilgrim on the other side: a brass boot facing west across the Atlantic and a fire pit to allow for the continuation of rebirth rituals in modern times. B and I brought articles of clothing that had covered our backs for most of the journey, from Zambia and across Spain. We burned them here along with some tobacco to signify that which would die here. The end of the world is a windy place and our synthetically enriched textiles smoldered in the Atlantic breeze before catching alight. We threw our walking sticks to the ocean crashing below us and walked back into town as a light drizzle began to fall.

Monument to the Pilgrim, Finisterre
We moved into an albergue the following day to allow ourselves a few days to explore Fisterra. The town has an innately mystical vibe made more pronounced in the less populated winter months. Our days were spent meandering cobbled streets beneath a mountain rumored to hold the spirits of wicked witches and pious hermits alike. We watched the fishermen and gazed west across the vast expanse of the Atlantic before us, towards home.

Hiking down into Cee from the high moors.
Wayside cross, Fisterra.
Monument to the Galician Emigrant, Fisterra.
Burning clothes and tobacco at the End of the World, Ara Solis (possible site), Finisterre.
View of a small cove and fort opposite, Fisterra.
Certificate of completion issued to pilgrims by the Council of Fisterra.

No comments:

Post a Comment