Travels - Links to each trip

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Camino Finisterre - Day 3 Finisterre

After our final night in an albergue, we hoped for a day with better weather so we could truly walk the last few kilometers from the little fishing town of Finisterre to the lighthouse on the Cape.
Breakfast was included at the albergue and the weather looked better but there were still threatening clouds. We were on our way at about 7:30 and we set off through the town and up the hill on the road heading southwest. It only took is about 45 minutes with views over the ocean on our left before we reached the few buildings and the lighthouse on the rock that people in earlier times believed to be the end of the earth. It was only 4 km but was the final few steps of our more than 800 km (500 mile) journey from France and across Spain.
There were very few people around and it is certainly a lonely place. I still had the stone I had brought with me, selected from the James River in Richmond, Virginia. Pilgrims have traditionally taken a stone from their home with them on their journey to leave at a significant place on their journey. Many chose to leave it at the Cruzo de Ferro, Iron Cross. However although I remembered having it when I packed my backpack before leaving home, I had not been able to find it until a few days before the end of the journey. I came across it in the first aid kit which I, thankfully, had not had a reason to go to until I needed a band aid to clean and cover a scratch on my arm from a fall a few days earlier. When I tipped out the contents of the bag, the stone appeared with the antiseptic cream, blister covers and the other contents.
For many the stone represents the burdens of life that they wish to leave behind before returning home, but I could not think of any burdens that I carry with me so I had not felt bad about not finding the stone earlier. When it appeared I decided that I would leave it at the end of the earth so now I was there I took the opportunity of throwing it off the cliff and down to the waves crashing on the rocks below.
Soon after, Christa and Ute arrived. We took more photos showing we had reached the end of our journey with 0.00 km left to go. A significant moment. The rain had held off and our journey was truly ended. The sun broke through at that moment and made amazing patterns on the ocean.
We returned to the car together and set off for a final stop in Muxia. This is a small town at the northern end of the same peninsular and is a site where a tradition says The Virgin Mary appeared to St. James after traveling there in a stone ship. There is a church of Nuestra Señora de la Barca on a headland just north of the little town which contains pieces of the stone boat but when we got there the church was closed so we were not able to visit it but only to take a photo through the little window in the door.
Soon after we had left the church and climbed to the top of the headland it started to rain so we hurried back to the car and set off for the apartment in Cormé. Christa and Ute wanted to stop in Camariñas on the way for some special items and Werner and I did some grocery (beer, wine, bread and tea) shopping in the local supermarket there. Then back to the apartment for a light lunch and showers for Werner and me before a relaxing afternoon. The pilgrimage, journey, adventure, were finally completed. An incredible experience of a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Camino Finisterre - Day 2 Oliveiroa to Finisterre

We woke up to rain and as we had breakfast we decided that walking the 7 hours to Finisterre in the rain was not going to be part of our plans for today. The only transport out of Oliveiroa is by taxi. We had 4 people who wanted to share and we ordered a taxi that would arrive at 8:45. It actually showed up at 9:00 and one of the people said they were going to go later in another taxi so now we were 3 people. Werner, myself and another Werner from Austria.
The taxi took the three of us the 18 miles to a town called Cee. It cost €20 so only about €7 each. From there there would be a bus to Finisterre. The bus would not be for at least an hour so we found a café for a cup of coffee while we waited.
In the meantime the rain had stopped and the weather looked better so we decided to walk the 12 miles to Finisterre and hope the rain would hold off.
It was a nice walk, first out of the town, then over a hill and finally along the coast.
Through some little villages on the coast
Views across the inlet but the clouds were too low to see much
Then our first view of the town of Finisterre and the Cape with the lighthouse behind
It was a pretty walk and the rain held off for most of the way but as we were just approaching Finisterre it started and it was poncho time for about the last 20 minutes of the 2.5 hour walk. Not bad but it meant we were wet when we arrived since there was nowhere good to shelter on the way.
We found an Albergue quite quickly and there seem to be plenty of them here. We settled in and tried to decide what to do. It continued to rain on and off and we decided not to try and walk the 7 mile round trip to the lighthouse today that is truly "at the end of the earth". It is just too wet and cold and no visibility. If it had been before Santiago or if the weather had been reasonable we would have walked the whole way but there is no incentive for us to endure the weather here now. Our goal of completing the Camino de Santiago is achieved and this is now bonus time.
After settling in Werner and I went and found a warm café down by the harbor for a snack and a beer. It was full of people from Germany and it seems that most of the people who continue on by bus or on foot to Finisterre are from Germany.
Then back to the Albergue and time to write about our day.
Later in the afternoon I went to find a supermarket for a bottle of wine since it was so cold everywhere. Who can believe it is May 29 and still so cold. I don't think the temperature has got much out of the 40's today (<10°C). On my way I ran into Freddy from Belgium who we had met in our Albergue on our first day, April 24, more than a month ago and often met on the way in between. He said, buy a second bottle for me and we then sat together, Werner, Freddie and I and had a great time together for a final time. He leaves tomorrow to go back home in Belgium.
Werner and I then went to look for a place for dinner. A restaurant was recommended and we found it. They offered a menu for €10 and we ordered it. The first course was a very good and tasty chicken soup followed by a plate of fish and potatoes. There were not many bones in the fish and I enjoyed it too. Dessert was Torte de Santiago and coffee. Of course there was also a bottle of wine included so we were happy, especially after the two bottles we had shared with Freddy.
After dinner Werner and I went for a walk around the harbor but it was just too cold and windy so we soon went back to the Albergue. The weather seems to be clearing. It it would be nice if it were a lot warmer. If it is dry tomorrow morning we will start walking to the Capo de Finisterre before Christa and Ute arrive and meet them on the road but I am not very hopeful.
Now to bed to get warm!
Today we only walked 12 km, 7.5 miles, but we are pleased that we have finally arrived at "The end of the Earth". It is not very friendly!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Camino Finisterre - Day 1 Vilaserio to Oliveiroa

Christa and Ute brought us a point where we hoped to find the Camino to Finisterre crossing a road. The G P S could not find any of the villages on our map so we had to try and find it the olf fashioned way by actually reading the map and looking for the turns. We did quite well but never found the village we were looking for . Suddenly at a crossroads we saw peregrinos walking along the road. I jumped out and they said, yes, this is the Camino so Werner and I got our backpacks out of the car, said a quick goodbye to Christa and Ute and joined the others. It was about 8:30.
We were looking for a village called Vilaserio and after about 2 km we came to it. It was not where our map showed it so we probably would not have found it driving. Christa and Ute had their own program for the day so continued on their way.
We continued on the Camino which is well marked. The weather was cool and soon we had to get ponchos out for a heavy shower with enough wind to make sure our trousers also got wet. It only lasted about 15 minutes and then there was sun again. The trail was hilly and went from gravel roads to asphalt but there was not much traffic except farm vehicles so the walking was quite easy.
We continued on for about two hours before we came to a café where we had a café con leche and bought a boccadillo to share later.
While we were having our coffee a second heavy rain shower came by so we missed that one. Back on the road continuing on towards our planned stop for the night at Oliveiroa.
One more hill to climb and then we could see the lake Embalse da Fervenza. A lake formed by a dam.
Another rain shower, this one only about 5 minutes but enough to make us get ponchos out again, and then we descended towards Oliveiroa which is near the end of the lake.
Over a bridge and another 2 km to the Albergue which is modern and very nice. It was about 2:00 pm. We were assigned beds and then a beer to go with our boccadillos for a late lunch. We would have stopped for lunch earlier but there were no dry places to sit after the rain showers.
The Albergue is called Albergue Horreo. I now know that is the name for the grain storage buildings we see everywhere. They are "Horreos". There is a big one in front of the Albergue. In this part of Galicia the walls are made completely of stone rather than wood.
Today we walked 22 km. Tomorrow we will have 30 km to Finisterre. The weather forecast is for rain most of the day. If that happens we may take a take a taxi and bus to Finisterre. We'll decide in the morning. We don't want to walk all day in the rain.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 32 - Lavacolla to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

We were awake early and ready to leave by 6:45. Breakfast was set to start at 7:00 but they were ready when we came down so we had our breakfast and were ready to leave by 7:15. It was once again a cold morning, about 4°C but the sky looked as if the few high clouds would soon clear. The first part of the final stretch was uphill and we soon warmed up as the sun rose.
We continued through woods and small villages, past the Spanish TV station studios at the top of the hill then started our descent towards Santiago. Soon we were in the suburbs having stopped to get one last sello (stamp) in our pilgrims passes before we entered the city. It was exciting to get our first sight of the cathedral towers and then to stand in front of it at 9:00 am. There were very few people about and it was still cold in the shade by the west end of the cathedral as the sun was still quite low in the east.
Our first view of the spires of the cathedral
We arrived at the back side of the cathedral but soon we were around it.......
And stood in front of the impressive west façade
We made our way to the Oficina del Peregrino, Pilgrim Office in a street behind the cathedral which had just opened at 9:00 and soon we were in front of one of the people who examine the record in the Credential (pilgrim passport) with all the stamps and decide if the record meets the requirements for the Compostela, a document in Latin that certifies that you have completed the requirements of a true Christian pilgrimage.
We all received our Compostelas and our journey was officially completed. It was a very special moment for all three of us. Now we are entitled to a 50% reduction in our time in purgatory when we die according to the ancient doctrine.
There was also a place where we could leave our backpacks for the rest of the day for €1 and we all took advantage of it. At that moment I received a text from Christa that she had arrived and was waiting for us in the square in front of the cathedral. We soon met her and of course it was photo time and also emotional.
Since Werner and Josef wanted to get some information about their return travel from the Pilgrim Travel Office, Christa and I went to look around the cathedral. There were not many people there yet and I found it both exciting and humbling to be able to visit the tomb of St James, my patron saint in a crypt below the high altar. The relics are in in a silver casket in a small chapel that at one time was part of a Roman building but the cathedral has been built above this so most of the original Roman building is no longer there. No crowds yet and there was time for a moment of prayer and thanksgiving at a prayer desk in front of the casket.
The cathedral is huge and was built especially as a pilgrim cathedral with he high altar above the tomb and smaller chapels around the outside. It was built in the 12th century and like the other great cathedrals in Burgos and León we have visited on this journey it is an amazing accomplishment. Huge high arches with only simple decoration and unlike León not much glass. Now there are lights but in early days it must have felt very different. Pictures are difficult and I was too excited to take many. Christa has some and I will try and add them to this blog at a later date.
We still had time to find a cup of coffee and then meet up again with Werner and Josef to find seats for the noon pilgrim Mass. Back into the cathedral at 11:00 and already many of the seats were occupied. We found seats and waited. By 11:30 all the seats were full and the Mass began promptly at 12:00.
A nun led the singing but the whole service was in Spanish including a long sermon. I did not understand much but my Latin from 55 years ago let me believe he spent a lot a time talking about sinners. After the pilgrimage I did not think that was a very appropriate way of encouraging us further to good works. However the most exciting part was at the end when they lit the worlds largest incense censor "botafumeiro" which with the help of 8 men is lifted up and swings across the whole church almost up to the ceiling spreading smoke as it flies. An amazing site! This was followed by a blessing and the service was over.
We left the cathedral, bought a few souvenirs and found a place to share a final lunch together. Josef is leaving us and heading out tomorrow for Finisterre. Werner and I are going with Christa for a few days to the apartment she has rented to give Werner's leg a rest. If he improves he and I will probably walk part of the Camino to Finisterre and on to Muxia.
Well, this will be the final blog from this adventure. For me it was spiritual, physical and as some would say "Adventure before Dementia" .