A few statistics Some in the world of cycling keep detailed records of statistics, including altitude, average speed, heart rate etc….. My only interest on these long journeys is distance and number of days. My daily mileages through France were high, occasionally just short of 100 miles a day, but once into Spain, a
combination of terrain, weather and interesting diversions kept my averages to about 65 miles per day. Overall, the journey to Santiago was 1262 miles (2013 kms) over 18 days, averaging about 70 miles (112 kms) per day. Amazingly, my journey from home to Rome (via Canterbury) last year was almost exactly the same distance (1284 miles), and now that I am in the phase of assimilating the current ride, I’m beginning to see all kinds of parallels.
A false summit? For many, the arrival in Santiago is but a false summit. Some will pack their bags and bikes and go home from there, but perhaps the most intriguing leg of the journey is still to come. The journey west will only conclude when there is no more land to traverse. That’s what the pre-Christian Celts did in search of their promised land. They sought the point at which the
setting of the sun was closest, and getting their was their pilgrimage.
Santiago to Muxía 52m
As I headed out of Santiago, the weather had turned very warm and sultry. Climbing the many hills on the route west proved particularly challenging in the heat, but it didn’t prevent taking a diversion to follow a trail to an iron age dolmen that took me along a dirt track for a couple of kms. This part of Galicia is littered with dolmens and castros, to such an extent that trails have been created and mapped out for those who want to take an extended tour.
As I approached Muxía (pronounced “Mushía”) the effect of the wild Atlantic
had an immediate effect on the weather. It turned very cold suddenly, with a sea fret creating a fine mist in the air.
At the albergue, there was a fascinating assortment of people, many of them travelling
solo. The most intriguing was a young Japanese lady who, with only a smattering of English, left her job and came to spend two months walking the Camino from France. Despite her challenges with communication, she was radiantly happy with her experience, and intends to make some radical changes to her lifestyle when she gets back home. One change will be to move out of Tokyo. A diminutive lady from Colombia, Paulina, had walked across Spain on her own, and is now going to walk back to Barcelona, where she lives. Patrick, from the French Alps, is the first pilgrim I have met who journeys these routes on horseback. Having come as far west as he can, he is about to turn eastwards and ride back home, which is on the border with Italy.
Why is Muxía on the Camino? The colourful legend describes how the apostle Santiago, who was unsuccessfully trying to convert the people of these parts, had a vision of the Virgin Mary coming to shore in a stone boat. And the proof of this? If you look on the shore, there are rock formations that look like an upturned boat, a rudder and a sail. These legends are the stuff of life!
Muxía to Finisterra 35m
A gentle saunter soutwards along the coast, with a strong northerly
wind behind, took me to the most stunning coastal views of the whole journey. Theory has it that Cape Tourniñán may be the most westerly point of the peninsula, but the crosswind was so strong I couldn’t stay on the bike to get out to the lighthouse. Heading down to Finisterra, I passed what is reputedly the best surfing beach in the whole of Spain. The conditions were wild but the sun was shining, and a dozen brave souls were
surfing the waves, in waters that were (I’m told) about 16 degrees C. If I had been a surfer, I would have been sorely tempted.
This lady from Austria (Nicole) was on the last leg of her journey, but feeling an intense loneliness. She had set off on her own from St Jean Pied de Port, but teamed up with a truly international group of about 8 people, and had enjoyed their company for more than 7 weeks. Finisterra had been the end of the Camino for most of the group, and they had to say their farewells. The friendships formed along the Camino can be very strong, and she was going through withdrawal symptoms.
Finisterra is a strong emotional draw for people nearing the end of their long journeys. The Cape and the lighthouse are officially recognised as the most westerly point of the peninsula, and people trek out to the end of the isthmus to catch
the setting sun (which will be about 10pm tonight), to leave their boots or items of clothing they have travelled in, even to burn their clothes, and for the hardy, to take a very refreshing swim in the sea (and it was very refreshing!!!). The last little ritual will be to pick up a scallop shell from one of the beaches, but today the scallop shells have such commercial value (1 euro each!), the nearest you’ll find are cockle shells.
As I scrambled down the rocks beneath the lighthouse, many pilgrims were
having their quiet moments sitting on the rocks looking out westwards. It seemed intrusive to talk, and even more intrusive to be talking on a mobile. There was an atmosphere of quiet contemplation that had as its only backdrop the crashing of the waves hundreds of feet beneath. Thankfully, the commercial impact of tourist shops and food stalls was kept well away from this almost sacred area.
The name of this peninsula, Finisterra (the end of the world) is well named for the end of the Camino. The people I have met here have now settled to the full realisation that it is time to go home, and in those immortal world of T.S.Eliot that I have quoted before: “the end of all our exploring, Will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for
the first time”. We should all go home and see our familiar home environment with new eyes. That to me, is the whole purpose of pilgrimage, to go back to where we started and know the place for the first time.