The Camino de Santiago Part 5: Cape Finisterre

…continued from Part 4: The Way to Santiago

The towers of the Santiago Cathedral are shrouded in morning fog. Leaving west from the plaza, I follow the Camino Fisterra, ocean bound, through the western edge of town past old oak groves and city trails. Santiago is quiet in the early morning, as is this trail compared to the big crowds I saw from the Sarria stage.

I didn’t give much thought to the elevation profile, or I would have expected the steep hike up the ridgeside of Mar de Ovellas at midday, which despite its difficulty has a spectacular view of the valley behind. Descending the other side, I cross the medieval Ponte Maceria, a picturesque 12th century bridge over the charging waters of the Tambre. Negreira, the largest town before the coast, is just a few miles further. I check in there for the night.

The path continues into a flat valley for half the next day, passing cornfields and cattle farms. Galicia is rich with agriculture, which is evident whenever I see a tractor go by or livestock wander through the villages. I like it in every way but one: All of the farms smell like cow shit. But I still enjoy the overcast day as the Camino leads me along the old farm roads. That night in Olveiroa, I reconnect with Choi the Korean Chef, the only other person from the Camino Frances who I have seen out here. It’s the first meal I’ve had with her since she made dinner for me and the others back in Leon. We have one last pilgrim dinner together with Diane from Australia.

From here, the trail winds into the mountains for half the day. I leave right before sunrise and hike along the ridge next to the charging Rio Xallas and its cascading waters far below. The morning sun lights up the mountain fog behind me in tones of orange before lifting and breaking up above the hilltops. I continue over hills and open fields as I have done now for too many days to count. Finally clearing one last steep ridge, the scenery changes.

Here, pilgrims have journeyed for hundreds of miles far from their homes to reach this place, where for the first time in their lives they see the vast blue horizon line of the Atlantic and the roar of the ocean. Steep ridges descend down to the water along a ragged coast, including those of the mythical edge of the world, Cape Finisterre, which is still a three hour hike away. I hike towards it, passing by coastal towns until I reach Fisterra, leave my pack at the aubergue there, and continue on.

Here at the south end of the cape lies the lighthouse, where the westbound pilgrim can go no further. Like a beacon, it stands high above the eastern harbor and the open ocean to the south and west on what was once thought to be the end of the western lands. To kill time, I hike up the ridge. From the summit I can see the lighthouse, Fisterra, and the neighboring towns, and I wonder how many pilgrims from ancient times continued on from Santiago to reach these shores at least once in their lifetimes – to watch the sky in the west change from blue to gold as the sun descends above the water.

Early in my trip, I spent a night in a village albergue just outside of Burgos where the abuela who runs the place told me something I would never forget just as I was about to leave. She said that as I walk the path of the Camino, that the Camino will show my own path to me. Which at the time I didn’t quite understand, let alone believe. I never doubted her sincerity, but how does something inanimate like a hiking trail show me anything that profound? And how do I find my metaphorical path? What does that even mean? And even though I doubted her at the time, her words stayed with me ever since.

Now I finally understand that she was speaking from her own life. That she too had hiked on these ancient roads on a wonderful journey of her own, maybe even more than once. And that the Camino itself revealed to her the next step to take in an incredible life adventure. And she believed that this powerful place could do the same for me – so much so, I think, that she wanted to see the same Camino in the eyes of each pilgrim who wandered through her hostel in that tiny village.

And I can’t deny how right she was as I watch the sun descend like a giant ball of fire over the horizon line of the sea. I think that there is something about this that resonates with me more than I will ever know how to say in written word, photos, videos, or anything else. I didn’t believe it, nor did I look for it, but that didn’t matter.

The Camino finds you. It calls you. And if you answer, it will show you your path.

Clouds light up above the red sun as it slowly falls behind the edge of the world, still casting a soft glow on the cliffsides while waves crash on the rocks below.

At last, as the curtain of nightfall covers the ocean, I get up and make my way on the trail back to the town in the fading daylight, already thinking about my next adventure.

Thanks for reading! This story begins in The Pyrenees!