Negreira and Olveiroa/Cee (Days 43 and 44 on the Camino)

Days 1 and 2 on the Camino Finisterre

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imageThe walk to Finisterre – the end of the earth – is seen by many as icing on the cake of the Camino. It is definitely a way less travelled. Only about 10% of the people who complete the Camino continue on to Finisterre. But, that is part of the charm of this optional extension to the Camino. Many walk this route, which is about 93 kilometers long, as a reward for completing the Camino or as a way to wind down after the intensity of the Camino. The route is beautiful as it crosses some remote yet lovely portions of Galicia and it does offer a termination at the Atlantic Ocean. In any case, Clint and I had planned to walk this route and we are now two days into it, with one day remaining before our arrival in Finisterre.

imageWe left Santiago yesterday morning (Monday) under clear skies, resuming the Camino from the plaza in front of the cathedral. We ran into a couple of our Camino friends again (Ken from Manchester/Liverpool and Elke from Austria) at the plaza and said our final goodbyes. We then followed the directional arrows through a city park and on out of the city. Most of the route for the day was wooded and provided a lot of shade, which was very welcome as the sun rose and the temperature followed suit.

The biggest challenge for the day was the ascent of Mar do Ovellas. This mountain wasn’t so high (only 275 meters/825 feet) but the steepness of the ascent, only 2 kilometers in length, made it a physically demanding sector. We were greatly relieved once we reached the top. But, as with much on the Camino, the views were spectacular and, with good weather, the hike was satisfying. We were told that last week it was especially wet and windy in these very hills. We saw many tree limbs down and across the path and gave thanks that the bad weather was gone.

imageOne highlight of the day was walking across the Ponte Maceira – a magnificent medieval bridge over the rio Tambre. The adjacent medieval town is very well-preserved and retains the ambience of its historic past. About mid-afternoon we arrived in the more modern town of Negreira and checked into a private albergue for the evening.

As a simple explanation, there are basically three types of albergues available for pilgrims. There are municipal albergues run by local municipalities or states, there are religious-affiliated albergues run by parishes, monasteries, or convents, and there are private albergues run by individuals or pilgrim associations. Any town on the Camino might have albergues of any or all of these types. All of them offer the same basic amenities (bunk beds, bathrooms, showers, laundry rooms, kitchens, and often WiFi) and will charge between 5 and 10 euros for the night. Some also offer food and other services, but these are not typical offerings. Our experience was that most of them are reliable and, even though they are pretty basic, the price is right and they offer a good nights rest.

This morning we cheated a little. The planned route for the day was over 30 kilometers in length. We have discovered that 20 kilometers is a good daily distance for us. Anything in excess of that becomes oppressive and abusive to our old bodies. So, since we had already completed the Camino without cheating, and since we only had a few days before our return to the States, we gave in and took a taxi to the midpoint city of Olveiroa and began our day’s walk from there.

imageOnce the day’s hike began, we crossed a long stretch (over 12 kilometers) of high moors that our guidebook says is “one of the longest and most isolated stages on the whole Camino.” There were no services or food/water on this stretch, but again the scenery was glorious and the pathway was fairly level and in good condition. At the end of the day’s hike we were additionally rewarded with our first views of the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Finisterre. We traversed a steep descent to sea level and entered the seaside town of Cee where we have checked into another private albergue for the night. Tomorrow we will continue the short remaining distance into Finisterre.

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imageOne nice thing we have noticed on our hike to Finisterre is that we have totally lost the tourist hikers and those who hike sin mochillas (without backpacks.) All the hikers we met today were “authentic” pilgrims – most of whom had started weeks ago in St. Jean Pied de Port and were carrying their own packs. It was a welcome change and it felt good to be among those who had taken the pilgrimage seriously enough to hike in an authentic manner.

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¡Buen Camino!

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Santiago (Day 42 on the Camino)

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imageI guess you could say that today was the official end to our six-week long pilgrimage. First of all, we attended the pilgrim mass at the cathedral and received one of our final Camino graces – witnessing the swinging of the botafumerio, the giant incense burner for which the cathedral is famous. The botafumerio is not swung at every service, so we felt blessed to see it. The botafumerio is suspended from the ceiling by a very heavy rope and swinging this giant (about 6 foot tall) incense burner requires the efforts of six specially-trained men known as tiraboleiros. The ritual, performed at the end of the service, sends the botafumerio swooshing from one end of the side transcripts to the other, almost reaching the high, vaulted ceilings, and reaching very high speeds – I am told it reaches as high as 70 mph! – as it swishes back and forth in an arc probably reaching almost 150 feet in length while spewing forth copious clouds of incense smoke. To see this event in person is breathtaking and was nothing less than icing on the cake that has been our Camino pilgrimage – a true Camino grace. (Apologies for the quality of the photo below taken with my tiny point-and-shoot camera.)

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While in the cathedral we took the time to mount a stairway behind the main altar and embrace the golden statue of St. James which overlooks the church proper. Then we descended into a crypt underneath the altar to see the ornate silver casket where the remains of the apostle reside. It was a very meaningful and spiritual moment to be in the presence of one of Christ’s apostles and the personage who was the focus of this entire pilgrimage.

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After the service we were blessed to meet up again with several of the individuals and families with whom we have been traveling for the past several weeks – some of whom we hadn’t seen for days or weeks. These were bittersweet meetings since we will likely never see these new friends again as we all go our separate ways and return to our homes and lives. We have felt like a family while on the Camino and have enjoyed sharing this unique experience together. Here are some photos of the people we have been walking with. (We also met up with Juan Jesus from Valencia, but unfortunately I didn’t get his picture.)

MaryAnn from Sweden

MaryAnn from Sweden


Molly (age 22) who hiked with her grand-parents Bonnie and Bob from Virginia plus Bob from Holland

Molly (age 22) who hiked with her grand-parents Bonnie and Bob from Virginia plus Bob from Holland


Ken from a town somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool, England and Elke from Austria

Ken from a town somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool, England and Elke from Austria


Clint and I along with Kate and Tom from Cincinnati along with others pictured above.

Clint and I along with Kate and Tom from Cincinnati along with others pictured above.

imageLater we visited the Pilgrim Welcome Office and received our Compostela document – in Latin and suitable for framing – documenting the official completion of our pilgrimage. By coincidence, the Franciscans, who are celebrating the 800th anniversary of their order, were also issuing a special compostela at their nearby convent and church. So, we visited their beautiful church and received this document as well.

Tomorrow we will begin a newer, and much shorter, extension to our pilgrimage as we head for Finisterre – the "end of the earth." We will be hiking for about 3 or 4 days and will arrive at the spot that medieval people thought was the very end of the earth. It is the westernmost point on the Iberian peninsula. The trail traverses a mountain range before descending to the sea coast leading into Finisterre. It is reportedly a very beautiful place and we are looking forward to seeing it in person in a few days.

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¡Buen Camino!

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Santiago

Two happy peregrinos at the end of their pilgrimage.

Two happy peregrinos at the end of their pilgrimage.

Heaven and Earth are full of His glory.
Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of The Lord.
Blessed is He who comes.
Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Give us Your peace.

¡Buen Camino!

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Santiago (Day 41 on the Camino)

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Nearing Santiago

Nearing Santiago

Well, we have completed our pilgrimage. Today, under cool, cloudy skies, we hiked the final 20 kilometers into Santiago. Six weeks and 800 kilometers (500 miles) ago we embarked on this fantastic journey. Now we can see the cathedral a few blocks away, but have not yet visited it. Our plan is to attend the pilgrim mass tomorrow at noon. We will also visit the Pilgrim Welcome Office to obtain our Compostela – the document certifying that we have satisfied the requirements of the pilgrimage to Santiago. This will proudly hang in my home office for years to come along with my completed credencial (pilgrim passport) that has the stamps (sellos) from every albergue and many other landmarks that we collected along the way.

As I reported yesterday, it may take a bit of time for this experience to really sink in and for me to realize exactly how it has affected my life. But make no mistake, I do feel changed – a different person, somehow, from when I left San Diego in early September.

Walking today we saw large numbers of pilgrims who had been bused to the day’s starting point so they could experience the Camino a bit as they walked the final few kilometers into Santiago. At one time this would have been unsettling to me. But, one way I have grown during my pilgrimage is that I feel happy for them that they also get to experience this fabulous experience in at least a small way.

imageHiking the Camino is an experience that is impossible to convey to others in a way that can be truly understandable. A person needs to actually make the pilgrimage to truly know what it means. We can try to explain what it is like to walk for several hours every day for weeks on end in all kinds of weather with a heavy pack on your back and how this affects your being. But, we will fall short in our efforts. I truly hope others might be encouraged by my experience to make the commitment to experience their own Camino. It will be the experience of a lifetime and will change you in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Santiago under morning light.

Santiago under morning light.

¡Buen Camino!

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O Pedrouzo (Day 40 on the Camino)

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The metaphor “40 days and 40 nights” has taken on new meaning for me as I completed my 40th day on the Camino today. It seems like I have been walking for months, but in two days I will be standing before the great cathedral in Santiago and contemplating what this pilgrimage has all meant to my life. I realize that I may not have the full answer for weeks or months after I return home. But, I feel certain that the effects are tangible and significant – that I am changed from who I was at the start in a wonderful, inexplicable way.

Another magnificent Camino sunrise.

Another magnificent Camino sunrise.

imageThe Camino was good to us today, perhaps in recognition of the misery we experienced yesterday. There was residual wetness from yesterday’s rains, but no new precipitation, which was a blessing. We saw a lot of new pilgrims on the trail today – a far cry from the days when I was able to hike the Camino for hours without seeing another pilgrim. We are told that there will be even more tomorrow since bus loads of pilgrims are brought in to walk the final day into Santiago. I hope it will be a meaningful experience for them as it has been for me.

Tonight we are staying at a municipal albergue in the town of O Pedrouzo, about 20 kilometers from Santiago. We’re not certain where we will stay tomorrow night. There is a large albergue (400 beds) about 5 kilometers from Santiago that looks good. But, we may choose to walk further into the city and stay at an albergue there. The reason is that we want to finish our pilgrimage on Sunday morning in time for the noontime pilgrim mass without any undo stress. We will evaluate,our alternatives as we approach the city.

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I caught some of the locals checking me out.

I caught some of the locals checking me out.

Our approach to O Perdouzo was in large part through wooded acreage. There was quite a bit of wind as we passed through a large eucalyptus grove, which reminded me of angel wings again – perhaps cheering us on and encouraging us as we complete this six week pilgrimage. Or, maybe it was just my imagination. But, what a wonderful possibility it was. We have also been walking for days besides hundreds of chestnut trees which line the pathways. When I see the chestnuts littering the path I am reminded of the recipes we make at home using chestnuts and it makes me envious of the locals who can walk out and collect as many of these wonderful nuts as they can carry. Is this, too, another Camino grace?

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¡Buen Camino!

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Arzua (Day 39 on the Camino)

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One thing we have learned on this pilgrimage is that the Camino has a way of humbling everyone who travels on her. Just when you think things are going your way and your plans are good and solid, the Camino will remind you that you are not the one in charge.

imageToday, the Camino humbled us and we finally decided to throw in the towel for the day after only hiking about 13 kilometers. The day was miserable for us as we found ourselves in heavy rain for almost 4 solid hours before deciding to find warm, dry quarters for the night. We had done pretty well in moderate rain over the past few days, but this was something different. It was a steady hard rain all morning long. We were pretty well soaked in spite of our rain gear and there didn’t seem to be much point in going on since the rain did not appear to be letting up at all. So, we are now in a very nice albergue in the town of Arzua and will continue our pilgrimage tomorrow morning. More rain is predicted, but there is no prediction of “heavy rain” as there was today.

One consequence of our stopping early today is that we will not arrive in Santiago on Saturday, as previously planned, but on Sunday instead. Our overall schedule allows for this and so we will just shift our planned activities by one day and go on from there. We had been warned about the possibility of rain in Galicia and now we have a new understanding and appreciation of that warning.

Actually, though, we have been greatly blessed so far on our pilgrimage in that the weather has been exceptionally good up until the past 3 or 4 days. So, we will count our blessings and continue on to Santiago tomorrow. The forecast for Santiago is warm and sunny and we are looking forward expectantly to our arrival there on Sunday morning.

¡Buen Camino!

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A Calzada and Melide (Days 37 and 38 on the Camino)

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imageEdging ever closer to Santiago (only 3 days away on our current schedule), we departed from Portomarin yesterday under cold but clear skies. During the day there wasn’t even a wisp of clouds in the sky – a welcome change from the rain we endured yesterday. The countryside continues to be astonishingly beautiful. You wonder when the less beautiful scenery will appear, but the Camino continues to deliver.

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imageWe saw many more pilgrims on the way than previously. A large group were students apparently from a Catholic school who were hiking the last 100 kilometers to Santiago. There were perhaps as many as 50 of them (maybe more) – mostly boys, but a few girls with the older groups. One thing that impressed us was how well behaved they were. Plus, there was very little apparent adult supervision. We only could identify 2 or 3 adults traveling with the students. One was obviously a parish priest since he was addressed with the honorific “Padre,” while the others were most likely teachers. But, the kids seemed to be having a great time and we didn’t see any sorts of problems with them at all.

We have decided to change our planned itinerary a bit as we near Santiago. We are trying to limit our daily hiking distance to about 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) and selecting our albergues in less frequented places to avoid the large number of new pilgrims and help ensure we will have a place to sleep. We have also chosen a schedule that will allow us to sleep on the final night only about 4 kilometers from Santiago, thereby ensuring that we will be at the Cathedral in time for the noon pilgrim mass on Saturday.

imageSo, our stopping point for last night was pretty much in the middle of nowhere – a place on the map identified as A Calzada. The only thing there was the albergue, 20 kilometers from Portomarin – a small establishment with only 10 beds. As hoped, most pilgrims passed this place by, heading for the next bigger town, about 5 kilometers away. This was fine with us. As it turned out, we were the only pilgrims staying at this perfectly adequate albergue. This means it was a quiet night and we weren’t disturbed by any other early rising pilgrims. Plus, we had the bathroom to ourselves (didn’t have to share with anyone) and the proprietor’s wife cooked dinner for just the two of us. It was sublimely wonderful.

The trail was a little muddy in spots!

The trail was a little muddy in spots!

Today we continued on to the town of Melide (population of about 8,000) which is an in-between stop for most pilgrims but has a lot of available beds. The day’s hike was pretty miserable since we had rain all day long – some of it was the heaviest we have seen to date. Portions of the trail were especially wet and muddy during the heavier downpours, but we arrived in Melide and are now warmly ensconced in a newly built albergue with all the amenities. And, we believe the worst is over. Weather.com promises us that it will be sunny and warm in Santiago on Saturday when we plan to arrive. That will only be three days from now. The excitement and anticipation is mounting as we come to the denouement of our 6-week long pilgrimage.

¡Buen Camino!

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