Camino addendum. Finisterre to Lires

I’m addicted now. Since the market made it more cost effective for me to book the flight for Saturday and stay in albergues, I’m back on the path. There’s more Camino I can walk. So I’m walking it. It’s beautiful round here, and now the emotional journey is over, the weather is back to glorious. I’ve been walking down the coast, on my own, enjoying the views.

 

Fitbit is a few miles off buzzing but it makes sense to stop here. I’m in a little coastal town between Finisterre and Muxia. I’m out of sync with the people now so I don’t recognise the faces around me, but there are still plenty of pilgrims. As always it’s the Tower of Babel. If I were to run an albergue that’s what I’d call it. Every language is spoken here on the Camino in the attempt to be understood. I try to speak in Spanish and get responses in Italian. I have compromised on German before with people from Hungary or Russia, even though I have very little in the short term memory, because it’s the only shared language. We make do. We are all better at mime now. But I love the diversity of means of expression that different languages give. We can all deepen ourselves by association and understanding of one another. We are all part of one huge body of people, with different cultures and different rules, united in a shared goal of personal happiness and societal stability. The problem always comes when one culture decides they are the only culture and must impose themselves on everyone else while remaining untouched. Or when fear of difference rears its head.

A Korean is speaking Italian to an Englishman on my left. They are camping near the beach. The sun is falling and it’s tempting to wander back with them because the sunset over the sea is astonishing in this part of the world, but I got the ultimate sunset last night and tonight I feel like I might want to just chill out and read. I’m not feeling the urge to make friends again. I’m peacefully alone as I have been so many times on this journey. 

This is a tiny village. There’s nothing but this family run albergue between here and Muxia. The other guys have left while I’ve been writing and the young Spanish guy who runs the bar came out to take glasses. Now there are two pilgrims left.  The other guy is German. I’m “English”. “Whooooah” he says. “German and English! War!”

How is it that we hold onto the past like that?


I moved to avoid unwanted awkward small-talk, which was the only option where I was. I’m never not going to be small-talk averse. It’s a thing I’ve made peace with now. I don’t hate you if you want to talk about The Spice Girls for 30 minutes. But I just might wander over to the other side of the room for a bit.


And now I’ve been exposed. There’s no WiFi in the dorm and no data. So I’m back in the bar to upload photos and had to deliberately avoid all the enthusiastic souls. “Back so soon?” “No.”

Fuck it. The internet is too shit here to upload. I’m walking up a hill to try. I don’t think I’ll be able to put a photo on this.

Holiday at the end

I woke up in a lighthouse at the end of the world.

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This morning was earmarked for gently inserting myself back into the real world after such a long time operating under a different set of rules. I’ve booked my flight back to London, and communicated with lots of the people that need communicating with in order for my life to function well when I get back. But no matter how I spin it it’ll be a culture shock. I’ve barely justified a holiday in the past apart from LA which was not precisely a holiday. It’s a function of that optimism, believing that Katie Mitchell will call me in for an audition the moment I arrive in holidayland. But enough years have gone by without her calling that she must be ringing me on the wrong number. So I went away for a long long time on another holiday/not holiday and it was lovely and hard and all the things.

At the start of the walk it felt like I was wiggling out of a shitty cocoon I’d made for myself out of fear paté and grief cheese. Then I started wondering why I don’t walk fifteen miles every day as my head started clearing. Then emotional bombardment. Those things that wake you up in the middle of the night… I’ve looked at them all, experienced them all, and realised how little they matter in the light of what is to come and what is now. Life is as long as you make it, and I’ve got an agenda to make sure I stay alive and forward as the next few decades click by.

So I had all sorts of conversations today with all sorts of people today about past and present and future. Some were hard, others delightful with people open to possibility. We have to be careful not to get stuck in patterns of victimhood or entitlement. They’re both traps. When I get back I’ll have to bang out a new hole for a different shaped me, because that’s what I feel I am. You can tell by looking at my feet. You have to go away to come back.

Meantime I have a few more days in paradise. Now I’m not walking it’s not raining, of course. The narcissist explanation is that that rain was just to remind me to get on with it no matter what the external factors are. The sun has been out all day now SHINING ON ME shining on the Atlantic while I’ve been lying on a wall making phone calls to London.

I had a little walk. There’s an old hermitage that used to be a sun god shrine. It’s on a bluff overlooking the isthmus. We sat a while in thought.

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I took my pack up there and Mel and I watched as the day came to a finish. Tomorrow we will strike out to Muxia, and another good day of walking. But my flight is booked now, so this is pleasure-walking now. This is weaning my body off its habit of striking out at dawn and hurting itself by sunset. By all accounts Muxia is beautiful, and the weather looks like holding, and I’m in no rush. I’ve booked a flight for Sunday. Cheap but there’s an 8 hour stopover in Madrid. It was that or pay double for direct and give my money to Ryanair on Thursday which I don’t really want to do. Or like 300 which I won’t do on principal.

Three more days in paradise, and I have a credencial that allows me to stay in the cheap albergues. I think I can allow a holiday tacked onto the end of my pilgrimage…

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Finisterre.

I’m on a bus to Finisterre. The finish of the world. Land’s End. From there it is just the Campos Stellae over the Atlantic. The continuation of the Walk of Saint James of the Field of Stars, across the Milky Way to forever. Or more specifically to ‘murica but we’ll pretend we don’t know that yet. Here be dragons.

Sunset tonight is at 18.17. High tide is at 18.15. Then it’ll start to suck back out into the ocean. The coastline at Finisterre is affectionately nicknamed the “Death Coast”. Not as attractive sounding as the white, sun or brave coasts that they advertise elsewhere in Spain. Plus I’m hungover to all hell. Last night we tried to fit as many pilgrims as possible into a tiny bar filled with every possible form of alcohol. Then we gleefully shouted at each other for hours while spending our money and losing our motor skills.

At around 18.00 this evening, in this hungover state, I intend to be deftly scrambling down rocks past any signs saying “Don’t go here you idiot, you’ll drown.” I will be armed with romantic notions, incense, palo-santo, two of my mum’s silk scarves, a gong, a rosary, some stones and my mum’s flask of holy water. The intention of the exercise is to give myself some closure by improvising a ritual. Hopefully it won’t involve drowning, but I can’t rule it out. Hopefully it will involve some fire and smoke. Definitely it’ll involve floating my mother’s tin flask out into the ebbing tide as the sun sets over forever. All very romantic until I get hit in the face with a wave and smashed on the rocks like a ragdoll.

We all end up with dead parents. Some of us get it early, some of us late. But the only other option is to die first or never know them. I caught the dead in my twenties and it shaped my adulthood to a large extent. Grief is a process and I took my time going through it. I do love a process. (It’s why I enjoy process driven theatre – both watching it and indulging in it.) I’ll always hold my parents happy in my mind but it’s time to leave the negative bits behind – the bits I had attached to my mum’s preventable early exit. The blame. The deprioritising of myself. Time to drop that shit. That’s been a big part of this walk, recalibrating my sense of value. I’m finishing it with a wet dangerous ritual and a floating tin bottle. But first I have to take this bus.

Life is mounting up in London and it’s swiftly coming to a time where I have no choice but to stick my arms into it again. This has been a necessary journey and I’ll carry it with me. But walking to Finisterre would’ve been a bit too time indulgent. Nice to let the bus wheels do the rolling instead of my hooves. Time to let them recover before I put Scrooge’s stinky slippers back on…


Done. Ritual completed. It was extraordinary and worth every blister. Mel and I hacked down the slope ignoring the inevitable warning signs. We got to within throwing distance of the surf. The waves were crashing on the rocks. I burnt some palo santo shavings in my gong, and I lit a lot of “Saint Thérèse” incense from Lourdes. Mixing Christian, Buddhist and pagan I eventually smoked and chanted until, with Mel gonging behind me, I hurled the tin torpedo into the roaring waves, as the sun set. It had her name inside, the amethyst pendant I’ve worn throughout this walk, and my uncle’s rosary.

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Closure. This is what I walked for and it’s done. I’m lighter, literally and figuratively. These emotional weights get heavier the longer we carry them. Useful to find a way to slough them off, even if it involves a month and a half of walking and then a cliffside scramble.

 

Journey’s end: Santiago de Compostela

Today mostly involved running round in circles whilst people told us we were in the wrong place. It’s raining again, and after the simplicity of walking we have to integrate with the world again. We aren’t very good at it. In the morning we wandered into town, where there were far more people than I was used to seeing on an average day and i didn’t like it. We went to the correct place, decided it wasn’t the correct place, went to loads of incorrect places angrily, and eventually went back to the correct place again even more angry and wet as well. The atmosphere in my little group has been fractious and confrontational. It’s because we have done good work towards ourselves this last month. Our unconscious self-destruct tendencies are trying as hard as possible to undo it all and reset to old patterns already. Humans are strange fish. Good to catch it though. This work runs deeper than that shit.

As far as arbitrary destinations go, Santiago is a pretty attractive one. I got my Compostela and dedicated it to my mum in case purgatory is real. I had a little cry to the stern Spaniard who gave it to me. “Did you enjoy your pilgrimage?” he asked. “I think maybe. It was hard though,” I responded.

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Mel and I got the compulsory cathedral jumping shot.

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We walked around looking at shops selling bollocks to pilgrims. I’ll probably buy some of the bollocks before I leave because it’ll end up being happy memories.

It has been hard. But beautiful. Shifting. Emotionally complicated. Physically unfamiliar. I’ll need some time to process the processing, and because we have all arrived with so many people who have walked alongside us for so long, there’s a sense of a social obligation tonight. People are talking about dancing. I think it might kill me to dance on these feet but I’m game for trying until I fall asleep at about ten. I’ve only walked a fraction of my usual walk today. According to the Templar’s Fitbit I’ve walked about 697 miles since September 30th but that factors in midnight journeys to the loo and going back and forth to the bar. Still well over 600 clear miles. “When you set out for Ithaca, hope that your way be a long one.”

All for a piece of paper, and to go to mass in the cathedral. At least I didn’t have to kill hundreds of men who were trying to marry my wife.

It’s interesting watching mass in a language you don’t understand. It brings the theatricality of it all to the fore. People in costumes and hats sitting in power places holding props and sounding impressive. Lighting and relative positioning being used effectively to tell a story of splendor and importance. I sat at the base of a stone pillar doing gongyo under my breath. We were lucky today. They have a giant thurible that they only swing from time to time. It’s like a huge pendulum full of burning frankincense. It’s expensive as they employ six people dressed as Templars who know how to make it swing without killing anyone. It’s a very impressive sight and I’m glad I was there for it.

At the back of the church, behind the guy with the best costume, there is a statue of the apostle, James, whose body is here because that body they found was declared to be his by the Pope. Throughout the service as important things are said importantly, a constant stream of people pass behind the statue, who is facing the audience. Their hands snake up and gently throttle him as the hatman blithers. It’s called embracing the apostle, yet he’s positioned in such a way that you have to put your hands round his neck.

I think we have the Korean supergroup to thank, as they arrived in town today and were in the cathedral. Their travel company likely paid for it to swing. For once I’m glad to be staying in the same town as them, as they couldn’t fill all the albergues if they tried.

Not quite time to return to the world. I’m going to Finisterre tomorrow, to float out mum’s water in the sunset. Then I’ll think about flights. Or maybe walk to Muxia and THEN think about flights. Or maybe flights to Morocco…

Home might be pleasant for a day or so…

Day 42 – O Pedrouzo to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

I get up. It’s raining. I pack my bag. My body is used to this process now, and my mind. I’ve organised. Most things are ready. Sleeping gear comes off. Walking gear goes on. Big socks. Thermals. There’s my fleece. Good old fleece. There’s my windproof – thank you Stephanie – still a bit damp, but what the hell. Magic trousers. Boots. They were soaking. Are they dry? Yes! Amazing. My cunning plan of jamming them onto the top of the radiator and tying them together with their own laces actually bore fruit. I assumed it would collapse like Brexit. Thank God. Last night’s espadrilles on the other hand… they’re terminally damp I fear. Still they go in the bag. I refill my flask of water. It jams into the little pocket next to the battered scallop shell. Then I blearily put the waterproof cover on my pack. I’m still not fully alert as I do it, as I discover later. Outside it’s raining like Blade Runner. My mind is on that.

I lift and drop my backpack on in a long practiced gesture. I’ve seen people do it in the past and marveled at their fluidity. Now it just makes sense. It’s safer for the straps, it’s safer for my back, and I have the arm strength and the smugness of long practice. I can be like that guy now – the guy who looks at you struggling to put on your rucksack and silently judges you.

The outside world beckons. I peek through the door. Horizontal freezing hideous rain. This is the wet rain that President Trump told us about. This is wet from the standpoint of water. Should’ve built a wall.

I steel myself. A wooden boat containing breeding pairs of all the animals in the world bobs past. I take a deep breath and plunge through the door after it, into the arms of nature.

Ten seconds later I’m in the café next door. “Café con leche por favor”. It’s only 16km to Santiago. Fuck swimming. I reckon I can wait this one out. I definitely plan to try.

As I gently sup my coffee, everyone in the café runs to the door exclaiming as nature drops a big one. It’s like a vast paddling pool suddenly exploded directly overhead. “Wow” we all say, thrilled to be under cover. I would’ve been out in that if I’d gone on a mission. Shortly thereafter, though, assuming that was the bulk of it, I decide the mission can’t wait any longer. I get my poncho on as best as possible and head out. Immediately, unfathomably, things start to improve. I couldn’t have predicted it, but I waited out the rain.

The path into Santiago is considerably more pleasant than the way into any of the other big towns we’ve threaded through. Effort has been made to keep nature visible on both sides for as long as possible despite the encroaching suburbs.

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The rain stops entirely, but the wind still blows and somehow I lose my rainproof backpack cover as I walk. Didn’t put it on properly. Just in time, really. One and a half hours before journey’s end. If it rains before I stop, all my stuff will get soaked, but it doesn’t. The weather is perfect. Unexpected. Even a bit of sun. I finally get into the city limits.

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I stop within 1km of the cathedral. Tomorrow, immediately upon opening, I’ll get my Compostela there. But this is the end of the journey. 42 days, on the 42nd parallel. The answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. How many roads must a man walk down? This one.

Tonight I’m staying in a huge seminary that I booked yesterday. It’s the last night of the year that the place is open. Lucky as it’s the cheapest place in town. I’m in a big dormitory on the third floor of a building that used to be for training priests. The usual protocol. Plastic waterproof mattress and pillow. Paper sheets. My own sleeping bag. Stinky blankets. Farting snoring people. Almost certainly one old man who will noisily leave before 6 just for the hell of it.

I’m off into bed now as I’m writing this later than usual. Bedtime. Oh joy. 1km left…

 

Day 41 – Boente to O Pedrouzo

Last night the man next to me was forensically exploring the line between snoring and shouting, whilst the guy opposite me was diligently and ceaselessly sawing through an endless plank of wood. I managed a little rest until shoutysleep man woke up at five and – (by the sound of it) – started crunching up crisp packets and inflating a space hopper. Knowing that the rain started at 12, I dragged myself up and out just in time for rosy fingered dawn.

The morning was gorgeous, hiking through perhaps the last of the classic Galician countryside before the suburbs start. I was alone again, and enjoying the peace and the beauty. It’s a lovely, fertile, wet part of the world. Shortly before noon I arrived at Tia Dolores biergarten, and got undercover just as the rain descended. At Tia Dolores they sell Peregrina Lager by the locally brewed bottle, and you get a white pen. Once you’ve finished you can write something on a bottle and add it to the collection.

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People write all sorts of things on walls and signs and bottles along this route. Some of it is great, some incomprehensible and some trite. It’s scattergun. There’s enough variance that something will appeal to everyone. Leonard Cohen’s Anthem is an incredible song, and when I first heard his “crack in everything” lyric I wept. But I’ve seen it written so many times in different forms since I started this journey “everything is crack so for make light in” that it has faded in potency. I now prefer the home grown ones.

Here’s the Camino Slogan Generator. Start with something universal in our experience on the Camino, so “Life”, “love” or “the Camino” are good examples. Now pull a random noun from somewhere. Anything will do. Compare them both and try to make it sound profound. Win. Using themes from my camino blog so far: “The Camino is like clams. You have to crack the shell to get to the tasty bit.” “Life is like a piggypillow – it’s ridiculous and arbitrary but you can still learn to love it.” “Love is like a cheap blue poncho. Even if it doesn’t do what you hoped, it’s your attitude that determines your happiness.”

The first thing I saw, back in Lourdes was “Va vers toi meme.” Go towards yourself. That resonated with me, and even if the next 8 people who saw it thought it was trite, all it needed is that one hit. I’ve said it to a few people since. I’ve been going towards myself ever since.

I wrote something on my lunchtime beer bottle and stuck it with the others. Then I took a deep breath and dived into the waiting deluge. We’re coming into the suburbs now, so we’re walking down main roads. On the main roads huge logging trucks go past at speed. The roads are flooded. Imagine the spray. I could’ve been laminated and still would’ve ended up with squelchy boots after the first couple of trucks had had their way with me.

As when I was ejecting high speed liquids all night in a freezing Filipino convent, I found myself wondering what it is specifically that I need from this bloody cold swimming competition. The Camino is supposed to give you what you need not what you want. That’s what they write on all the sign posts along with personal stuff like “To Stacey I love you very mrummble nurr grmm”.

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I tell myself I needed the norovirus to get better at parenting myself. I’ll probably find out soon enough why I need a 60km land-swim with squelchy boots on.

It’s 20km to the cathedral and I’m going to get my Compostela on Sunday morning not tomorrow, so I’m under no pressure to front crawl to the finish line. A leisurely breast stroke tomorrow, and then on Monday this crap is supposed to ease off.

Day 40 Camino – Palas de Rei to Boente

Oh hooray green grass. Wahoo mushrooms etc. Screw you Al with your desperate attempts to put a positive spin on everything. I got soaked to the fucking bone. Every inch of me. I took my phone out of my pocket and jammed it down the front of my pants to keep it dry. The alarm went off on vibrate at 2.42 UK time as it does every day. It’s meant to help me and a good friend of mine to stop, look around and be grateful. The call to presence was no more pleasant than the surprisingly unwelcome vibration in my pants. I didn’t want to reach down to stop it though. I let it keep going. Then I discovered I could make it go on snooze for 8 minutes by punching myself in the dick. My legs were wet. My neck was wet. My phone even got wet in its cosy new home. Wet Wet Wet. I could feel it in my fingers. I could feel it in my toes. There I was yomping through the Galcian countryside humping a massive bag full of clothes and gongs and fucking pig shaped pillows, occasionally swearing and frequently deliberately and precisely punching myself in the cock.

Earlier in the day we made good time. We breezed through lovely little towns, finding crystal shops, churches and weird little buildings for drying maize.

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The crystal shops are a surprise to me. I thought of this walk as being very Catholic, but I’ve met a fair few hippy types around, and there’s clearly a market for jingly jangly new age bullshit.

On which subject, this morning I was chanting, mostly for good weather, and some old pilgrim guy turned round, caught my eye and air-crossed me hard. It was meant as an attack but I took it as a blessing and thanked him. I’ll take a blessing in any language. My belief structure is mine and it’s not at war with yours. But the poor guy must be exhausted, with all these crystal shops to hate as well as wayward types like me who find the wrong things helpful because we’re wrong wrongy people.

We stopped early because we can do what we fucking want. It was a bit jarring because Mel was ahead scouting albergues in the next big town. But both Luisa and I have inadequate rainproofs and we were miserable drowned rats. We had both decided miles before we found it that we would stop at the next open albergue so we did. A little later, Dustin and Mike stopped by in their excellent rainproofs having sent their packs ahead and booked a hotel room. That’s the way to do it. It’s another footstank albergue for us tonight. And a tasty meal of meat with meatmeat. That’s what you get for not being waterproof.

Back when this trip was a theory, I thought that tomorrow morning I would stride into the cathedral at Santiago triumphantly, flanked by my personal mariachi band, the inevitable dancing girls, fireworks, my true love, and the goddess Athena. I’m still a couple of days out, particularly in this weather. And the best I’m going to get at this rate is Dustin enthusiastically clanging a cowbell, a raven shitting on my head and some old bloke aircrossing me because I don’t think the things he does. Life ain’t a story, kids. But whatever shit happens it’s always possible to turn it into one. I’ll have to go that way instead. Forty days and forty nights? Meh. I’ve got loving to do, stories to tell, and lives to improve. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

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