DAY 72. 18 JULY. FISTERRA. "THE END OF THE EARTH".

Meindl boots and my pilgrim feet; not a single blister thanks to sheep's wool in my socks. A wonderful piece of advice from my friend Hazel who walked the Camino over 10 years ago. 

Meindl boots and my pilgrim feet; not a single blister thanks to sheep's wool in my socks. A wonderful piece of advice from my friend Hazel who walked the Camino over 10 years ago. 

So this the last blog entry of my Camino and I'm feeling sad that I won't be observing my life in the same way. I've often spotted things during the day and made a mental note "I must remember to tell them that...".

As I reached the top of the Cape this statue was awaiting me

As I reached the top of the Cape this statue was awaiting me

A more leisurely start today. The hostel is laid out in cubicles of 8 beds so I had a good nights sleep.

I go to a local bar for breakfast and bump into the Brazilian couple who greet me with kisses and "artista". They give me their email address incase I'm in Brazil.... There's a thought. I down a café con leche and a large slice of cake! The Spaniards seem to prefer a sweet breakfast; at least I'm burning the calories at the moment.

The End of the Earth

The End of the Earth

I start the ascent to the cape about 9am; it's a long but gentle climb up along the main road with pine trees on either side, but not much shade.

On the way.... 

On the way.... 

It's very quiet when I arrive, the tourist buses have yet to arrive and I walk beyond the Faro (lighthouse) and onto the rocky promontory. Granite boulders and bracken and then a dramatic cliff dropping into the Atlantic; I can hear the ocean on the rocks below, but my eye is drawn to the extraordinary powder-blue horizon softened by a silvery mist; the Edge of the Earth is indiscernible in the far distance.

Looking over the edge

Looking over the edge

There seems to be no one but me here, but occasionally someone stands up from their hiding place amongst the granite boulders and I realise I'm not alone. Mainly pilgrim types as it's still too early for the tourists.

I spend a lot of time looking; I don't think I've seen anywhere so extraordinary with such a sense of the liminal. I sit between worlds and I'm not sure which ones.

I reflect on what can be achieved by taking single steps; it seems impossible that 'little me' can walk 550 miles and probably more. The rugged mountain paths and oak forests of the Paes Basco seem a lifetime ago. It has taken a certain intent to keep going; resolution even. Though in my heart I didn't doubt that I would arrive here.

Strangely the yellow arrows become almost invisible when out of pilgrim mode, but it would have been impossible to make the journey without them. They've been constant, but slightly erratic companions and guardians.

My Spanish remains embarrassingly poor, but somehow I've got by with the patient forebearance of the Spaniards. They have been good humoured at my attempts and we usually have a good laugh once some clarity has been achieved. They have been immensely kind, perhaps big city life has inured me to a gentler way of being in the world. I'm resolved to practice "kindness to strangers", I have received so much...

On the way to the West

On the way to the West

As I look out into the silvery blue, I remember my loved-ones; those who have already slipped beyond the End of the World. The sun rising over the Cape behind me, shines thousands of sparkling lights out towards the western horizon. Medieval writers called the Atlantic the El Mar Tenebroso; the dark sea, but today it's full of light.

Out to a silver horizon  

Out to a silver horizon  

There's an information board by the side of the path; it records that there's a immense under sea mountain off the coast of Finisterra with ravines 4,000m deep. A place of silver light and utter darkness then. I can sense Janus on his stone pillar facing both....

Looking out at Light and Shade

Looking out at Light and Shade

By midday it's very hot and even factor 50 sunblock isn't working and so I make my way back to the town. By now the Cape is full of tourists, buskers and hawkers.

My phone now contains 3,700 photographs which won't upload to the iCloud, for some reason. I've had to delete all my music, books except the essential Camino ones, apps, games and videos. Before I came away I put out a request for suitable music and books to bring with me. Only Cheri replied, she wrote: "just listen to the sounds around you" and how right she was. I haven't read a single book or listened to any music on my phone since I arrived. I have walked with one change of clothes and two pairs of shoes and the all important wet weather gear. My most trusted possessions are my phone, bank card, rucksack, poncho, boots, socks, sheep's wool and walking poles. I could have survived without anything else.

I buy my supper in a supermarket for tonight; just fruit and vegetables. I need a night off from Menu del Dia! I also buy water for the plastic bottles.

All of a sudden at about 6pm fog rolls in from the sea; it's dense and reduces visibility down to about 50 feet! It's also cold and I have to put on extra layers. No wonder it is called Costa del Morte; lethal for pre-radar ships plying a craggy granite coast.

At about 7.30 the Hospitalero and I go to collect water from his neighbour's well, carrying a new pale blue plastic bucket. It's a lovely sound to hear the spare water crash back down into the depths.

In a lovely blue plastic bucket

In a lovely blue plastic bucket

I then go to collect the sea-water from a beach near the harbour and take a series of photographs of the water in plastic bottles, with the fog forming a misty, myopic backdrop. I had in mind a lovely sparkling powder-blue Atlantic with a silvery horizon, but the 'End of the Earth' had its own idea and refused to be photographed.

RESPECT.

So I  have completed my journey to collect waters from the 'End of the Earth'. Tomorrow I'm walking to the villages of Lires and then Muxia and from there back to Santiago by bus; where I will become a tourist and fly to Seville and onto Cadiz by bus for a holiday.

One of the photographs will become an edition of postcards that will be printed in Santiago de Compostela; the distillate of 550 miles of walking.

So this is my final Camino blog. I feel I will be returning to a different country to the one I left on 10th May. I sense unsettled times ahead; the need to guard an inner stillness and a clarity of vision.

So dear Friends: SEA WELL.

THIRST: from the End of the Earth.    Sara Mark, 2016  Digital photograph

THIRST: from the End of the Earth. 

Sara Mark, 2016

Digital photograph

DAY 66. 12 JULY 2016. SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

In the 'Field of Stars'

I have walked 500 miles 

I have walked 500 miles 

I wake about 7am and decide to stay another night in the Alberque; it's only 2 miles from the Cathedral and I don't have to worry about my pack. 

Santiago is a large modern city and I walk into town through the usual suburbs and highway engineering, but the bustle of traffic ceases at the Porto Santiago as I enter the Old Town. Concrete and tarmac remember granite and terracotta. Old palaces, churches, monasteries and arcaded streets begin to appear. 

The  "Compostella"  is the official stamp to say I've completed my pilgrimage to Santiago. 

The  "Compostella"  is the official stamp to say I've completed my pilgrimage to Santiago. 

There are a few early-bird pilgrims in the Cathedral square, but no queues at the Pilgrim Centre, where I have my Credencial stamped with the "Compostela"; the official sello that confirms I've completed my pilgrimage to Santiago. The man behind the desk shakes my hand and I feel he understands what it means to have made this epic journey; I sit in the courtyard to appreciate what I've achieved and the support team of hospiterlos, waiters, cooks, pilgrims and the many kind Spaniards that have made it possible.

Navigating towards Santiago  

Navigating towards Santiago  

My certificate says I've walked 805km (498miles) but I'm rounding it up to 500 miles to cover all those detours I made... it's probably a lot more.

Next I head for the Cathedral. It's smaller than I imagined; Romanesque with Baroque additions. The facade is under scaffolding and I can hear the reassuring tapping of masons' chisels on granite.

The chancel is a riot of silver and gold with huge pink cherubs supporting a golden canopy over the statue of St James; all reminiscent of a magnificent fairground carousel. Glorious. 

St James in his silver shrine is hugged by thousands of pilgrims! The giant  silver incense burner (botofumerio) is in the foreground. 

St James in his silver shrine is hugged by thousands of pilgrims! The giant  silver incense burner (botofumerio) is in the foreground. 

I visit the shrine of St James and as invited, embrace the ornate silver cover on his shoulders and thank him for the journey. The words that come to mind are 'fear not' which is different to 'be brave' and then 'endeavour', which is both a verb and noun.

The Romanesque church is elegant and simple

The Romanesque church is elegant and simple

 Endeavour (n.)

Early 15C., "pains taken to attain an object," literally "in duty," from phrase put (oneself) in dever "make it one's duty" (a partial translation of Old French mettre ...from Old French dever "duty," from Latin debere "to owe" (see debt.) One's endeavors meaning one's "utmost effort" is from late 15c."

The incense was originally to cleanse the air on the arrival of thousands of smelly mediaeval  pilgrims.  

The incense was originally to cleanse the air on the arrival of thousands of smelly mediaeval  pilgrims.  

There are bagpipes playing in an arch beside the Cathedral; they bring tears. Their plaintive flow are embedded in the heritage of this part of Spain and remind me of the majestic and rugged beauty I have experienced. This journey has taught me about embodiment and encounter; my body and its relationship with the ground under my feet and the beauty and decay before my eyes. Everyday I have encountered Place; it's people, culture, scenery, flora and fauna.

Celtic heritage

Celtic heritage

Santiago is full of souvenir shops selling everything a pilgrim or tourist could desire... staffs to lean on, gourds to drink from and shells to wear on your pack.  

Shells, staffs and gourds...

Shells, staffs and gourds...

Then there's thousands of silver bells, statues of St James, tee-shirts and painted plates. But what will I take home I wonder? 

I didn't buy one of these... 

I didn't buy one of these... 

I spend most of the day quietly sitting in bars writing and sorting photos. Coffee and cake, a Menu del Dia lunch of delicious lentil stew followed by a mixed salad.

Then a visit to the Cathedral Museum, sadly all the text was in Spanish but still amazing. The granite carvings were once covered with gesso and painted so the cathedral must have been covered with colourful stories. 

A painted granite carving in a church near the Cathedral.  

A painted granite carving in a church near the Cathedral.  

I attend the Pilgrim Mass at 7.30pm. It's all in Spanish of course, I wish I could have understood the homily. All the way through I could see arms protruding out of the shrine to hug St James; he has given us a wonderful journey. Then the 2 mile walk home and bed. A wonderful day.  

DAY 44. 20 JUNE 2016. GIJÒN HOLIDAY.

Early birds  

Early birds  

A lovely quiet night with a slow start. I ring Orange at 9am and they tell me there's no irregular activity on my account. They have an English language Customer Care number so I can have a proper conversation rather than double guessing, so that's a relief too.

The beaches are immaculate- here's why. 

The beaches are immaculate- here's why. 

Yesterday I realised I had left my gaiters at the other albergue, so I have a long walk along the sand in the sunshine to retrieve them. I know my way now! They were still on the drying rack in the garden.

Trip Advisor and Google say I'm 0.5 km away from the Botanical Gardens, which turns out to be a 4km error, so after wandering up and down the road trying to find them, I have a coffee to recover and jump on the bus. It's closed when I get there because... it's Monday.

So back on the bus into town to try and buy boot waterproofing and another pair of running socks; much better than Marino wool liners because they are elasticated to fit left and right feet and don't wrinkle inside the outer socks. Mission accomplished. Sports wear seems a lot cheaper here. They cost me £4.50 instead of £17.00! My feet will decide. 

I pass the Apple dealer and get further reassurance about my phone and then find the bus station to buy a ticket for tomorrow. People are so patient with my less than basic Spanish.

Gijón is a big city. Most of the modern part is ugly tile-clad blocks of flats with shops at street level, but it's vibrant. Still very few chain stores; plenty of individual classy boutiques, haberdashers, fabric, baby wear and shoe shops, as well as hundreds of small bars. I come across the market and wander through admiring the jamon, cheeses and fresh fruit and vegetables and then have a tortilla and beer at 2.30pm; there's a poster for a bull fight on the wall in the bar.

All things bright and beautiful  

All things bright and beautiful  

In honour of St Peter and St John

In honour of St Peter and St John

I finally get back to my room and set out for the beach at 4pm. It's gone! The tide has come in, so I sit and listen to a guitarist play flamenco in the sun and watch the vast selection of dogs and their owners stroll by. It's strange to have stopped here for three nights; I feel I have caught up with myself and I'm excited to see my father and Linda tomorrow.

Flamenco by the playa

Flamenco by the playa

Now I'm sitting in the evening sun in a square with lots of chattering Spaniards, drinking a glass of white wine and pinchos (bar snack) which are free and left on the bar to nibble. Mussels and ham on small rounds of bread. No pilgrims in sight...I'm in another world.

Enjoying the evening sun

Enjoying the evening sun

I wonder around to find supper and order a salad; huge. The locals drink vast amounts of sidra. You usually have to buy 750cl bottles and it's poured in small amounts into straight-sided tumblers from about 2 foot and then gulped immediately - no sipping.

Cider bottle 'tree' on the harbour quay

Cider bottle 'tree' on the harbour quay

DAY 29. 6 JUNE 2016. COMILLAS REST DAY.

I woke up feeling stiff and my feet rubbed so decide to stay another day and catch up on the blog; it's helpful to stop and process the journey every few days otherwise it all melds into one. Annie has decided not to walk further because of her blisters and is taking the bus to San Vincente later today. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out for her; the walk out of Santander was unrelenting; ugly urban fringe and tarmac. Which is fine as part of a larger whole, but a shock to the system on Day 1 perhaps. 

I'm finding the Camino to be a constant series of challenging encounters and uplifting glories. I rise up every morning and it's waiting for me and every evening brings its own challenges too. A constant abrasion of routine, niceties, expectations and assumptions. You can tell long-term pilgrims; we have a slightly feral quality!

I spend most of the day sitting in cafes writing and when Christine wanders by- it has to be lunchtime. I had noticed a nice looking restuarant the night before, just up the road. A family run place; the daughter owns it now and her father, the chef, pops out from time to time to see that we're enjoying his food. And we are!

A big mixed salad followed by grilled sardines. The water comes in a metal bottle with the words "el agua què nunca ha visto la luz" (the water that has never seen the sunlight). Christine's tuna is so big, we're going back tonight to finish it for supper!

At 3pm I leave to book into the albergue. It's very nice (5€) but with only 20 spaces- I should have queued an hour earlier! The Hospitalera is kind, stamps my Cedencial and sends a few of us pilgrims to a private house with rooms nearby (€15). Tonight my room-mate is Ron, a lecturer in chemical engineering from New Jersey... hey it's the Camino.

We meet up at the restaurant at 8pm for a nice evening of good food, wine and conversation. Bien Camino!

DAY 2. 10 MAY. BAYONNE TO IRUN.

DAY 2
A restful night with breakfast en terrace in front of the station. I wander into town across the huge fast-flowing Adour river- the colour of dark jade and on to the Cathedral. It has a lovely modern golden altar frontal and lectern. 

In the dark at the back a woman sits at a desk in a pool of light. She stamps my first selo in my credencial- now I feel like a real pilgrim with my shell on my pack and my first stamp. In fact I am a real pilgrim. 

My pack is too heavy so I'm posting my iPad onto Santiago. I'm going to blog from my phone- tricky. I will have to add pictures as and when I find an Internet cafe, if such things exist on route? 

Three fellow pilgrims are waiting for the train to Irun. I eye up their packs....

The TGV arrived late and then crawled along to Irun, so it a felt very relaxed start. We stopped at St Jean de Luz; a pretty resort where we had a family-day on the beach the year before last. Happy memories! 

Now I'm sitting in another coffee shop in Irun waiting for the mobile shop to open. I met a nice old Italian Camino veteran on the train who showed me how the yellow arrows work.... extremely low key considering I'm navigating 500 miles by them. More anon.... Amen. 

DAY 1. 9 MAY 2016. HAM TO BAYONNE

Ham to Bayonne. A long day full of queues but I met my first Peregrina at Stansted, an American woman walking the route Frances. We commiserated about the weight of our packs and travelled to Bayonne together by bus from Biarritz. 

Bayonne is a nice old city on the River Adour- a wide swift flowing and deep turquoise colour. Now I'm staying in a small and basic hotel near the station. Very quiet and clean with the joy of my own shower!

 

pouring with rain so I've had to buy an umbrella - wondering what I have to get rid of out if my pack to compensate? Necessity will decide to doubt! 

 

Im discovering that blogging is difficult on the iPad so bear with me as I've decided to try out the phone instead. 

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