Friday, August 19, 2011

The end of the World-Cap Finesterre

Good greetings to you!
Here I sit in Finnesterre, my final destination for the Camino.  It has been a long but wonderful past two months covering 2000km across France and Spain, 57 days of surprises, trials, errors, excitment, and meeting many interesting and amazing people from all across the world. Here the trail opens people up, you pass people and say hello, where perhaps at home you´d just keep on walking by.  We´re all walking the same way, and at times I fell into stride with other pilgrims,  sharing the trail and learning of who they are.  It is amazing how much you can learn of a person just by walking with them. You don´t have to ask their name, nor what they do for a living, instead, almost instantly, you fall deeper into the conversation asking things like ¨how do you feel?¨or ¨why are you doing this?¨ there is no hesitation out here you just become bold and fearless.  In a way the camino teaches you to reach out to your neighbour and take the time to learn of them.  

My final weeks on the camino were both the loveliest and the hardest.  Hard not in the sense of terrain, but hard knowing that the distance to the end was drawing near. So much wanting the last days to last forever, taking in each moment. But also hard because there are SO MANY PEOPLE! No it isn´t the people but the change in objective.  Out here, we call them the tourist pilgrims.  They arrive 100km before Santiago...and many of them get up very very early (5am when not even a hint of the sun is in sight) and rush to the next albergue. Such is the way, but I must laugh, as in the towns I pass from around 11:30-1pm there are long lines of people roasting in the sun waiting for the albergue to open. What a way to spend the early afternoon....waiting in line, as if buying groceries.  But at these times, I continue to walk, and by 2pm in the afternoon, the trail is virtually empty, except for the crazy long-distance pilgrims.  We tolerate the heat, finding fountains along the way, celebrating the cool refreshing water before carrying on.  This is the life. Nothing else matters.  At night, when at last arriving to the albergue, shoes come off, and it is as though the feet smile to get some air and can stretch out, wiggling in the last hours daylight. You eat with other pilgrims, sharing experiences of the day, or of the other folks we have met along the path. Almost instantly, when your head hits the pillow, you fall into a deep sleep, sometimes being awoken by someone else in the room snoring...(or someones), but otherwise, a long day takes it right out of you.  Then true to the day, at 5am, someone stirs, a plastic bag is scrunched, and soon before realizing it, you are back on your feet, blinking in those first morning moments, eating a breakfast and commencing.  This I shall come to miss.  The routine and rhythm.  Each day yes, starts and finishes like the last, but it is never the same. 
Yesterday I arrived in Finnesterre.  What an incredible moment to first see the ocean and then to stand in front of it, look out and see the whole world drop away from sight as ocean turns to sky. Though I walked alone the past two days, I met up with a few friends I had made along the way once I had arrived in the town of Finesterre. Together, we made the final journey up to Cap Finnesterre to watch the sun set.  What a beautiful way to put an end to my camino. Though the day looked overcast and threatening, it had cleared in time to watch the sunset. A vibrant orange hue filled the sky.  Once the sun had passed below the horizon, we all cheered and clapped.  Other pilgrims and tourists then took their leave, making their way back to town.  The four of us stayed to watch the glow  slowly fade.  We all wanted to savour this moment.  As it grew dark, we sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean, listening to the tranquility of the waves below and the distant song of a sea bird. Each of us brought a piece of clothing we wore on the trail. As is tradition for many pilgrims, we stood together in a circle, said a small word to celebrate the distances we each had come and then lit our clothes on fire, letting the salt and moments on the camino float away into the evening sky. Before we left, we sat and talked about our journey home.  What would life be like now that we had finished? How do you take an experience like this and not lose the magic as you settle back into home life? Will it all feel a dream?  I looked at the faces of my friends. We each held a different experience.  The camino affected us all, maybe differently but we all could feel that things would be different. 
How strange it was to wake up this morning, knowing that I wouldn´t be walking far. Knowing that in the evening I would be on a new adventure, slowly making my way back to London, and then home. It´s a different camino now. A personal camino back into society. Where I will again have to learn and adjust to a new routine and rhythm. There is much reflection to come from this trip, and I feel that its unravelling will be slow. How does one wrap their head around such a grand adventure?
It has been an amazing journey. I don´t think I will ever be able to put into words this experience...some of it is too incredible to make sense. But many stories to tell and share, pictures to pour over and who know what else may come spilling out along the way!
Next stop: London and then on to home! I´m looking forward to a change of clothes (and maybe truly washing the ones I´ve been wearing, admittedly not once did my clothes make it into a washer!)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Onwards from the coast onto the Primativo.

Anna and Oliver

Good greetings to you from Oviedo, Spain.  Here I sit, in a fairly large library in the old part of this city, waiting until 5pm for when the pilgrim hostel opens! Outside is market day, where little kiosks are set up with clothes and umbrellas with very cheap prices enticing the tourists to look for a good bargain. My eyes glances a few times, but what do I need? I am just a pilgrim, with my home on my back, life is simple, only carrying what I need.  It´s beautiful in its simplicity, though my trail shirt is slowly thinning, I feel that it will carry me through to the end.
 What a week it´s been, travelling alongside the coast of the Atlantic ocean, trails that at times wound along the beach (yes on sand even) up on cliffs to overlook the ocean and reaveal phenomenal bluffs, sea birds, boats and all kinds of exciting beach life. True to the beach lifestyle, folks begin to set their chairs out in the early morning sun, lazing on the sand, and occassionally going into the salty water to cool their skin, before returning to their lounge chairs for more bronzing. I got my perfect opportunity in SantoƱa, to take a refreshing swim in the ocean, after a long hot sunny day of walking.  But the trail has been exciting.  Twice, I have had to take a boat to cross the water in order to meet back up with the trail, and another day, was required to take the train, one stop in order to cross a large river.  Kind of exciting to shake up the day a little.  I loved the boat rides, being able to sit and watch the surfers in the waves, paragliders flying about off shore and the coastal winds rushing through my hair as I took it all in! Phew! Yesterday, after much ho-humming, I hopped a bus from Llanes to Oviedo.
This past section along the north coast, has certainly been one of beauty and have felt like I am on a lovely holiday, but I was beginning to feel the strain of too many cities and too many paved roads.  It was hard to make the decision to skip a portion of trail especially this far into the journey, but there were two reasons why I made this decision! First, my trip up until now, has been filled with very long days and distances, and second my time is running out.  I want to savour the last 2 weeks on the trail, drink in the experiences and landscape and make it to Finnesterre. For me, walking to Finnesterre holds more importance than being along the coast. I want to see the end of the world and feel like I have reached where I set out to go.   So I move away from the northern coast, which was lovely, but now I turn to the mountains and then  will join with the main route to Santiago before setting out to the end of the world! This route (the primitivo) is an old pilgrimage trail that winds through the Asturian mountains.  The trail I have heard is more rugged (compared to the highways and paved roads of the past week, this will be a relief for my feet!), with camino winding up, down, over and through the mountains, revealing small villages containing a more rustic vision of Spain.  The Camino del Norte, goes through a lot of larger towns and cities, making it challenging to feel like you are on a great journey, and not just walking from one big place to the next. But the journey continues to be amazing. It is just different and I find that I miss the heart of the camino....there was something to be said to walking through the small quiet villages. 
 Over the past three days, I made some new friends and had the pleasure to travel with them.  Both were from Germany, Oliver and Anna.  I only got to walk with Oliver for one day, before he fell back due to an overwhelmingly heavy bag and foot problems caused by said bag. Anna and I continued on together for another two days before splitting in Oviedo, as she wanted to drop down onto the traditional Camino Frances. We plan to meet again, in 10 days time, when the two trails join, taking us to Santiago. Pretty neat. If it all works out, I look forward to be able to have a familiar face to finish with in the end, and share of our two very different trail experiences! 
Today, my final rest day of this trip, has been one of transition, preparing for the last leg. I can now feel that Santiago and my time on the trail is winding down. It´s crazy.  Spain is certainly very different from France.  I have found that there are very few who speak English.  The spanish, it is clear to see, are proud of their country and their language!  It doesn´t matter if I tell them I cannot understand, they just wave their hand as if to say, that doesn´t bother me, and continues on speaking in spanish, happy to share information, stories, directions.  Me not able to really understand any of it, though I try. Body language as it turns out is very effective when it comes to communication. So long as hand wave in an orderly fashion indicating details, I would say my spanish comprehension is improving! A good story to follow-up is while walking along the highway.  I had lost the trail, as the markers tend to be sporadic. As I was walking, a police car came driving down the road going the opposite direction.  When it saw me, it put its lights on, as the window rolled down with an arm jutting out beckoning me to go over. As approached the car, there sat two cops.  The driver began speaking to me in Spanish, looking at me with determined eyes. I looked at him as any foreign tourist would, shook my head and said "non etiendo". He kept on speaking. Five minutes passed and eventually I nodded my head, at last I understood and we were both relieved. Before they left, the driver gave me a high-five. From what I could gather, he was concerned for my safety and insisted that I walk on the other side of the road where I could see the cars and be less likely to be run over. The spanish don't care if you don't understand.  They have the time and will converse with you endlessly in hopes that they can reach out to you. I have gotten good use out of my little phrasebook, stumbling over small simple phrases.  Downside, is ask a question in Spanish its hard to know what the answer is for lack of language skills.
Everyone is so kind along the way, pilgrims and spaniards alike.  Everywhere, an excited face greets you in recognition of being a pilgrim.  I love how along the trail, you can meet other pilgrims and easily stop to talk, or join together walking for a short bit and share experiences, thoughts, ideas or give information to the town ahead. I feel lucky to share the trail with so many interesting people!  I met my second group of Canadians over a week ago.  A group from Lethbridge, Alberta actually and we happily fell into conversation about our homeland.  There was 6 of them, and this was their 8th year on the Camino, doing small two week sections. Next year, they hope to reach Santiago.  Can you believe that?! Eight years, flying across the pond, picking up where you left off?! Inspirational and head and heart always seems to be filled with the stories and feelings of amazement.
So, as I move into the last weeks out here, I am excited to see and walk through the mountains, to have days where I can just savour the time on the trail and not have to rush through the day, and to see the end of the world will be a moment that I feel will bring tears to my eyes! To each of you, you are always in my thoughts, I feel the pull towards home drawing closer and am looking forward to the visits that will be had and the stories to share.  Enjoy the sunshine, the fresh fruits of August (its peach and berry season!!!! not to mention pie season!)

Until the next, big hugs and cheers!
The trail winding along the cliff with an incredible view of the atlantic
Anna and I on our last day by the ocean