The flights to Santiago were quick and painless arriving just before dark. After an almost sleepless night due to ‘party people’ celebrating a Wednesday, I got my first camino stamp. This was to legitimize my pilgrim status. After doubting every turn while trying to find the path, I eventually arrived at a Camino sign with an arrow marking the start. All of a sudden, a 5’4, 50 year old woman zooms passed me. She had the infamous dangling seashell from her large backpack and I ran up to her to find out if I was on the right path to Finisterre. She said that we’d find out. She had done the full camino. We walked and talked until we hit a very challenging steep hill. This hill was about 3.5 – 4.0 km up 300 feet without mercy stops. After an inner pep talk, peppered with “what am I doing here?” washing over me like an ill-timed broken record, I managed up the hill with only two asthma attacks and the illusion that my legs were bolted to the mountain as there were moments my legs would-not-move. My pack did not make it any easier. Keeled over at the top I kept moving leaving the tortuous hill in the past where it belongs!
The air was sweet, the soil dark, ready for planting. The delicate aroma coming from the eucalyptus trees was divine and reassuring! We saw very few pilgrims on this leg and kept a keen eye for the blue, yellow seashell markers. After a total of 5-6 hours of walking with no stops…pizza, beer, a nap and some laundry were priorities! I was stiff and sore I grant you! She told me about Ibuprofen gel (the infamous “butt (hip) cream”) and I bought some right away. Because it was official, I had the “Camino Shuffle”.
The next morning, (day two) I was even feeling a little bubbly and optimistic until the blisters started and they were bad. My pace slowed, and I was alone on the path for a bit until I met Mr. Wisconsin. After great conversations about deal breakers in relationships and everything in between (which helped pass a good three hours!), I was alone again. I caught up with a good handful of other pilgrims at the one breakfast stop where Mr. Wisconsin, my personal sport tape specialist, taped my ugly horrible looking feet. No bashfulness here! We walked for two seconds together before separating again almost for the entire day. It was a long, long day, about 36 kms. I hit places of extreme lightness, almost forgetting about my pack. I also sang “Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s off to work I go” for long stretches of time. (Don’t ask). The other long moments, I prayed and reflected about everyone on and off the list. I had a lot of time and I was in a good place – I felt connected. In the last 10 km stretch, my feet were barking badly and my back was seizing yet I was chuckling under my breath. It must have been a subconscious self-preservation thing. Negreira marked the end of day two.
The 3rd and what became my official final full day on the camino… Destination? Finisterre! Oh boy. Another epically long day of about 32 – 34 km (all the walkers agree it’s about 36 km). My feet were tapped up and ready to seize the day when after an hour or so, torrential rain came down, I mean IT CAME DOWN – sideways! I laughed. I’m a west coast girl. I rung out my pant legs where the poncho didn’t reach. I kept thinking, I got this!. Then the steep decline into Caye came. A seemingly endless steep hill. I didn’t trust the copious amount of large rubble covering the uneven ground so I starred down, squat-walked down the hill praying my knees would survive the intensity. The challenge was accompanied by lovely scenery though. Ying/Yang always! First glimpse…. ocean! At the ‘bottom’ we were just over half way. After a quick lunch and another dose of advil, I ignored the advice to hang back and decided to charge on. We were separated again for almost the rest of the journey, until I met up with Ms. Carolina 12 km out from Finisterre. We didn’t talk much, just walked. The exhaustion was intense, the inclines and declines were a lot. When we finally made it to Finisterre (36 km arguably) I was overcome by the beauty, the colours, the ocean and the feeling that I had made it. We were in too much pain to do another 7.0 km to the lighthouse which marked 0.00 km. But what a great plan for the next day, my birthday. The three of us decided to share a room instead of sleeping in the dorm. It felt like university again! I collapsed on the bed until I could hobble to the shower. Then after a decent glass of super inexpensive wine later, we had dinner with some more pilgrims from all over the globe. Most of the pilgrims were German, Korean and American.
It was weird getting up the next day not needing to pack my bag before heading to the lighthouse. It was a lovely day. (Check out the photos on my Facebook page Allison Lund writer and leisure traveller). The lighthouse marks the momentous and official end of the camino. A triumph for those who did the whole thing. For me, an esthetically beautiful marker of some hard yet satisfying walking. We were digesting the moment, retreating to different corners of the point before rumbling tummies had us darting back down the hill to a Seafood place called: “Pirata” right on the ocean. The chef said that the seafood would arrive in 30 minutes directly from the sea. He made us a huge plate of gorgeous fish and seafood, perfectly prepared. Happy birthday to me!
After this glorious meal, nap time was inevitable for the others, but not for me. So what did I ‘choose‘ to do? I decided to go for a walk. (I needed my head examined). But what I did know was that the day was rich with sun, and that a sandy, sea shell filled beach was there for the taking. So I walked for hours, leisurely.
Soon it was cocktail hour on Mr. Portland’s deck off his lovely suite on the top floor of the ‘albergue‘. Gorgeous!
After intense deliberation about whether to charge on to Muxia on my last day (another 30km) or not, I finally decided to stay in Finisterre. A couple of us took a picnic to the other side of the peninsula to see and enjoy the swells of the ocean. What a gift!
We had an epic ‘final’ night chillin’ with more pilgrims who took the 4 days to arrive to Finisterre (instead of 3 like me). We drank much, ate much, laughed together and celebrated the end, whatever the ‘end’ was for each of us respectively. Two of the pilgrims were from Quebec. They had both fallin’ in love on the Camino. Apparently, I was told that some people do this crazy walk for the sole “soul” purpose of meeting their counter part. I guess it is certainly one way of vetting your life companion.
I felt fortunate to have stayed at this one hostel, “Albergue Cabo Da Vila” It is the friendliest hostel ever. Just before leaving, the sister on duty that day went out of her way to give me a huge hug goodbye.The kind of hug that makes your eyes well with tears.
Final thoughts: the Camino was harder than I expected. Many other pilgrims told me that it took them 2 weeks to adjust to the distance, weight of their pack, dealing with any physical issues etc. I certainly pushed it. There are apparently three very challenging parts of the traditional Camino. I did one of them. Many asked me why I picked this leg of the journey. I said “OCEAN”. But I do believe that there is a reason for everything, I just don’t know what that reason(s) are yet, even at this point. The idea though was to have a symbolic adventure to mark my 35th birthday. It was a memorable birthday indeed.
Everyone’s Camino experience is different. I did like many other Europeans do, short jaunts starting and stopping wherever. However, I felt like a guest on the trails of veterans (those with weeks of experience, or multiple camino experiences past). The comradery that was evident.
The scenery was lovely, the people warm, the food wonderful, the conversations philosophical and raw. People purged their feelings and emotions with strangers as there is this unparalleled special code of respect and cone of safety where being vulnerable is what happens on the ‘path’. Healing can take place alone and with others, intentionally or not. Some of the others, stay as quiet as a mouse like “Steve”, who was in the US military and a super walker, walking in flats for almost 900 kms. But smiles were often exchanged in empathetic awareness of what was transpiring along this chosen path.
Am I happy/glad that I did it? Yes, it was an experience that I had longed to have, it just came in a different package than previously imagined, clearly a la Allison. The most impactful aspect was realizing my physically endurance and strength. For many on the path, they were between jobs, marriages, dealing with issues to process, letting go of the past… I did it as more of a curious-bucket list trip.
Would I ever do the whole camino? For me, I may or may not. What I know for sure is that I have a list, longer than my leg, of places I can’t wait to visit and explore, and should inspiration hit to walk any or all of the camino, I will answer the call.