01 February 2010

El Camino de Santiago

I'm back from the longest walk I've ever been on in my life! We set out Thursday morning from the cathedral in Santiago and started walking to the end of the world, Finisterre. Before we left we stopped in at the cathedral to hug the apostle Santiago (Saint James for the English speakers), as is the tradition when you're in Santiago. Post-hugs we posed for a photo in front of the cathedral and hit the trail with backpacks and little else. There were six of us--three Americans, one girl from Brazil, a guy from Japan, and one from China. The trail is well-marked with conch shells and yellow arrows. It's almost impossible to get lost, so we started walking and fell into a sort of rhythm.

The first day we walked a little over 20 kilometers to a town called Negreira. The weather was perfect, and we made it to Negreira at about 6pm, still excited about the walk at this point. We checked in at the albergue, basically a hostel specifically for pilgrims on the Camino, and headed into town to eat something. Besides our group there were two guys from France, a girl from South Korea, and one guy nobody talked to staying at the albergue. There was plenty of space because not many people do the Camino in the winter.

After a good night's sleep we set out for the next town. It rained a lot on the second day, and we didn't make it near as far as we had hoped. We were aiming for a town called Olveiroa with a public albergue, but we had to stop in a place called Maroñas where there was a private albergue. The public albergues cost 5 euros a night, and you can't sleep in them unless you have the credential for the Camino. Every time you stay somewhere you get a stamp on your credential as a form of proof that you completed that part of the Camino. If you do 100 kilometers, you get something called the Compostela that is like a certificate of completion. The private albergues also have stamps, but the cost varies. This one was still cheap at 10 euros a person, but we didn't have heat. We nearly froze.

Day three we were warm as soon as we started walking because we had been so cold in the albergue. It rained off and on all day, but this was the day we hit some of the prettiest (and most difficult) places on the Camino. The way the towns were spaced we needed to walk about 33 kilometers. We were already really tired, but we needed to make it to a town called Cee so that we could get to Finisterre on Sunday. Day three was mostly climbing large hills and crossing rocky, muddy paths. It was the most difficult day by far, but when we got to Cee we were incredibly comfortable.

The albergue in Cee was closed, but a lady at one of the places we stopped to eat told us about a reasonably priced hotel in Cee. It was called Hotel Larry, and the man who runs the place is arguably the nicest man in the world. We were the only people staying in the hotel, and it had an attached restaurant where we ate a delicious dinner. During and after dinner, there was a group watching a soccer match between Real Madrid and A Coruña, all fans of Coruña. Sadly for them, Madrid won. I heard every swear word I know in Spanish (and several new ones) strung together in one sentence.

Hotel Larry was one of the highlights of the trip, but after two showers, sleep, and breakfast we were back on the Camino for the last 16 kilometers to Finisterre. We got to the town of Finisterre around the middle of the day, but of course the "end of the world" is on the other side. So we walked and walked and walked. We were worn out, but the last leg of the trip runs right by the ocean and has an incredible view. We were so close.

Our ultimate goal was a lighthouse on the point that is considered the end. In case you were wondering, the world ends on top of a very large hill. Within two kilometers of being finished I was regretting ever having started because I was so tired. It was that moment where you question your sanity. We got there at about 5pm and realized we had finally found what we had been walking toward for four days. It was a breathtaking view. We just sat and watched the sunset.

Those four days are kind of a blur in my mind, but it was an incredible trip. The trail goes through tiny towns--some with medieval structures still intact--through the woods, up small mountains, and right by the ocean. We saw a little bit of everything. We had time to think, time to talk and get to know each other a little better, opportunities to meet new people, and as always a chance to practice our Spanish. As great as it was, I'm glad to be back in Santiago, clean, dry, sitting down, and wearing makeup. But I've now been to the end of the world.

You can go on your own version of the Camino through the photos here and here. It's much easier on your feet this way, but the pictures can't quite do the scenery justice.

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