Saturday, May 18, 2019

Muxia to Fisterre

We left our albergue a little later than usual. We had been warned that there was only one spot today where we could stop for refreshments, about half way through our walk, so we didn't wish to leave Muxia without breakfast. We had noticed that none of the local bars opened before 8 am, but as we made our way through the sleepy town, under a soft pink sky, we spotted one bar beside the Monbus stop that was already open at 7:30 am. It was full of other pilgrims, and we enjoyed our coffee, toast, and jam in good company.

Refreshed and ready to go, we took a few minutes to orient ourselves correctly, and make sure we were following the arrows to Finisterre, and not those leading back to Santiago.

Today's walk will take us along the Costa da Morte, or the 'Coast of Death' to Fisterra, or 'The End of the World'. There have been many shipwrecks off the coast in this section, which led sailors to name this region the 'coast of death'. It is also believed to be a place where pilgrims come to reflect on their own mortality. At one time 'Fisterra' was the end of the known world, beyond which lay only mystery. It is still thought of a boundary between the physical and the unknown or mysterious.

The route out of Muxia lead along an asphalt road that followed the coast for a bit and then climbed incredibly steeply. As we walked along at sea level, with the crescent-shaped, white sandy beaches and brilliantly blue and turquoise water on our right, we passed a large complex of square glass buildings set into the side of a terraced hill. It was probably a luxury resort of some kind, but it brought to mind a Bond villain's lair.

The steep climb brought us up onto a wide gravel path that ran along a forested ridge topped with wind turbines. We paused to enjoy the expansive view out over rolling hills and bands of forested ridges that receded into the distance. However, we were soon forced to hurriedly dawn our rain gear as an unexpected and powerful rain shower passed over us, instantly soaking the landscape.

From the exposed ridge the trail took us back into a grove of Eucalyptus trees. Signs of forest management were everywhere, from the neatly planted rows of even-aged trees, to the stands of young saplings. The warm spring air and recent rain brought the spicy scent of the trees alive.

As the sun poked through the clouds we found ourselves back in the kind of rolling agriculture landscape we enjoyed yesterday, with small fields, wildflowers, old stone walls and cottages, and the occasional house dotting the landscape.

In this section of trail we weren't alone by any means. There were quite a few pilgrims heading in the same direction we were, but a group of older British gentlemen who passed us going in the opposite direction around 9:30 am rather puzzled us. As far as we know there are no accommodations anywhere near there, so where did they come from, or just how early did they leave?

By late morning we reached the tiny community of Lires, about half way through our hike. It was a cute little town, perched on the side of a steep hill, and it boasted several albergues and cafes. We stopped at a lovely cafe in an ecotourism resort, right on the edge of the Lires estuary. It was a lovely spot with an outdoor patio, perfect for enjoying freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, and fresh homemade bread, jam, and butter. We were joined by a lovely orange cat who was eager to share our butter. Many other pilgrims were enjoying the view of the green fields, hills, and estuary with its many birds.

As we continued through town and began climbing out the other side we passed a large wedding party. The cars were blocking much of the narrow road, and the large groups of joyous people were filling much of the rest. At this somewhat chaotic point we faced a choice. We could continue on the main route, or we could choose an alternative route along the coast that was slightly longer. We decided to take the coastal route.

As we climbed the hill we enjoyed a birds-eye view of the estuary. There was a fish processing plant on the opposite shore, and we paused to watch as hundreds of gulls wheeled, soared, and dove through the air above the water around it.

As we continued to climb we came to one of the most colourful sections of coastlines I've ever seen. The glowing blue sea and blinding white beaches were far below. On either side of the trail were hills covered with with a solid blanket of bright yellow flowers, interspersed with the occasional purple blossom. The sun in the deep blue sky above was warm, but a cool salty smelling breeze was blowing in off the water, keeping us cool. We took a long time walking this section, drinking in the colours and enjoying the many small, colorful birds that were flitting among the scrubby bushes and flowers.

After this beautiful coastal walk, the trail turned inward again, and we found ourselves in a shady pine forest. The feathery canopy was high overhead, and there was a beautiful carpet of fine, intricate ferns below.

After this, much of the afternoon was spent walking along winding asphalt and gravel tracks through rolling hills covered in fields and small stands of trees. Occasionally we would pass a house, farm, or small community. It was a beautiful hike, but there was little shade, almost continuous hills, and the afternoon sun was hot.

For a few kilometers we had a strange experience involving another pilgrim. We were hiking in the same direction, and as often happens we kept passing each other. However, this lady would pass us, then wait for us to catch up while looking down at her phone or using her camera. As we passed her again she would begin walking right on our heels. There was plenty of room to pass if she'd wanted to, but she refused, no matter how much we spend up. Each attempt we made at conversation would be met with silence, and result in her pushing ahead, but then stopping again to wait for us, no matter how much time we spent taking breaks to let her get ahead. A few times we nearly tripped over each other her movements were so quick and close. Eventually she just suddenly and inexplicable disappeared. It was very bizarre behaviour, and we never figured out what to make of it.

There were no distance markers on this section of trail, but we began to see signs for Finisterra probably about 7 km outside of the town. This made the last few hours of the hike a bit of a challenge, because we were hot, tired, and unsure how much farther we had to go.

As we approached the town we again saw the deep blue sea, and began to see clusters of red roofs along the coast down below us. Eventually we found ourselves winding through neighborhoods, tall palm trees and tropical looking vegetation filling the gardens and spaces between the homes. It felt like we wove up and down the hills and through the suburbs for quite a while before we finally found ourselves on the outskirts of the town.

As we made our way through Finisterre we noticed signs of disparity. We saw derelict and abandoned houses, potholed streets, and tired looking locals mixed with newly renovated buildings, expensive looking resorts, and tour buses. The cheap hotels, Americanized bars and restaurants, strip clubs, and souvenir shops on the edges of town reminded us a little of the 'anything goes', or 'party' atmosphere that pervades in Niagara Falls in North America. However, when we reached the old quarter of town, where many of the albergues are located, we found a more welcoming and less commercial atmosphere.

Finding the two albergues either closed or fully reserved, we checked into our somewhat underwhelming hotel, and then made our way back out into the town in search of the tourist information office, or the municipal albergue, both of which issue Fisterranas, the certificates of completion pilgrim's can obtain if they walk to Finisterre from Santiago.

We saw a sign for tourist information above a storefront, but it turned out to be a souvenir shop. Although it was after 1 pm, the municipal albergue was closed. We eventually made our way through the meandering stone streets to the main square, and located the modern and very busy tourist office. We were pleased that it was still open at 4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon, and gladly joined the line of other pilgrims celebrating their completion of the Camino outside. We showed our stamped credentials, stated where and when we began our Camino, what country we came from, and our age, and received our third and final certificate for this pilgrimage.

Although siesta was still going on, we found a restaurant with a covered outdoor patio that was open. We enjoyed omelettes, salad, fries, and a pint as we sat and reflected on our journey across Portugal and Spain, which was almost over. We also discussed our upcoming hike across Canada, which is very much on our minds these days.

After dinner we visited a small grocery store and purchased some chocolate and a bottle of wine to enjoy while we watched the sunset from the end of the world. The tiny shop was full of locals buying ingredients for dinner, and lots of other pilgrims making similar purchases to ours.

When we returned to our room we discovered that someone had been inside it and gone through our backpacks. This was slightly unnerving, and we decided to bring everything of importance with us when we headed back out to the lighthouse point to watch the sunset later that night.

The lighthouse, called the Faro de Finisterre, is located on a spit 3.5 km from the town. As we walked out to it, we were part of a steady steam of other pilgrims.

Along the way we passed the Santa Maria de Areas church. This interesting looking church, with its stone base and red tiled roof was built in the 12th century. Unfortunately, it was closed and so we continued on uphill towards the Finisterre lighthouse. 

When we reached the end of the pedestrian walkway, we came to a huge parking lot filled with cars, tour buses, and RVs. There were a lot of people milling about, even though the sun wouldn't set for another 2.5 hours.

We stopped at the cairn marking the zero kilometer point of this pilgrimage. Along with many other pilgrims, we took our photos at the cairn, the famous lighthouse in the background.

We continued on to the Faro de Finisterre. The square base and octagonal tower of this active lighthouse reminded us of the one we saw in Bonavista, Newfoundland Canada almost straight across the ocean. It wasn't open to visitors, so we continued around it to the rocky shore beyond.

As we made our way out onto the promontory, surrounded by water on three sides, we came to a communications tower. Pilgrims had fixed shells, ribbons, messages, stickers, notes, locks, and remembrances all over the bottom, creating a monument of their hopes, dreams, prayers, and intentions. It was really quite beautiful.

As we stood on the edge of the world, we thought of the old tradition by which pilgrims would head down to the beach, burn their clothes, and swim in the ocean. It was a symbol of cleansing, transformation, and rebirth. We saw signs around the lighthouse prohibiting fires, and realized people must undertake the ritual on the long sandy beach closer to town. This made sense, since we were perched high above the water on top of a steep and rocky coastline out here.

We wandered back up to the parking lot and stood in front of the huge stone cross that keeps watch up there. It was a familiar symbol, something we'd seen smaller versions of all across Galicia, and along the lengths of Caminos in France, Spain, and Portugal. It felt somehow as if it had helped to lead us here.

Although the sun was still well above the horizon, we took our place among the other pilgrims scattered along the steep, rocky coast, already looking out at the ocean. We watched the birds soaring above and below us, and saw a tiny sailboat and a large freighter silently slipping past on the shimmering sea. After so many days of walking, we just sat there, still. We had literally walked until we reached the end of the road, on the very edge of the world.

As the sun slowly sunk below the horizon a Spanish gentleman began playing a classical guitar and singing softly on the rocks above us. It was a peaceful and beautiful end to a wonderful experience.

As darkness fell an enormous full moon rose above the hills on the opposite side of the bay behind us. It left a long shimmering trail on the surface of the Atlantic, and lit the pathway for the crowds of pilgrims making their way back down towards the lights of the town together. For a while it seemed like someone was following us in the darkness, but we reached the town without incident.

We sat for a while with a glass of wine and reflected on the day and our journey here. We've walked along the coast of death to the end of the world together. What have we learned along the way? It all seems a little too big and a little too close to process at the moment. As this journey comes to an end, we are about to embark on one that will take more than three years to finish. As with every ending, this also a new beginning.

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