June 19, 2011 Olveira to Finisterre

Left albergue and walked to town of Hospital, last cafe before 12 km stretch of wilderness. Felt there that I couldn’t go on due to being sick and considered calling a taxi. Dragged self up hill out of Hospital and somehow managed to keep going to Cee. Catia and Jacueline caught up and had long conversation.¬†Views of Cee and Concurbion spectacular as walked down into towns. Walk here began to make me feel I’d made the right choice, though at Cee I began to think about taking the bus to Finisterre. Learned that since it was Sunday the last bus had already passed.

Kept walking to Finisterre and finally came to Langosteire Beach, overlooking the town, still about 2 km away. Had cervesa with Catia and Jacqueline, Luke and Gal, then walked in water to Finisterre. Very sensual and beautiful with warm sun on my head. Arrived at albergue and decided to stay there. Received Fisterrana certificate and threw stuff onto my bed then set out to find Rocky. Finally found Rocky at beachfront bar with Monique.

Had long conversation and learned Sebastian would join us for drinks at Faro Lighthouse. Sebastian arrived at 21:00 and we had dinner then took a taxi to lighthouse. Watched sunset with Catia, Rocky, Monique, Sebastian. Seb and I shared last drops of Cilantro. Tears as I write this. Ultimately our group joined by another 8-10 more and much revelry and laughter.

At 23:30 time to get Seb back to his cab, so took cab back to Finisterre and had long, good bye conversation with him at waterfront, ending in long hug. After Seb’s good bye shared long goodbye conversation with Monique in which she told me I had done a good job of being a priest on the camino. Bed in albergue.

Next day: Long breakfast at street cafe including final good byes to Catia, Jacqueline, Monique and many others. Taxi return to Santiago, then dinner with Rocky, Luke, Gal, and Brooks and Jamie of Birmingham, AL. A beautiful and blessed camino 2011.

July 19, 2010 Xunqueira de Ambia to Ourense

In My Dinner with Andre last night we had a tender discussion about angels and saints. He told me about his family and divorce and the 1000s of kilometers he’s walked on caminos. Afterwards it was off to the albergue for a good sleep.

As usual in albergue living people start to stir and head out at the ridiculous hour of 05:00. Dawn didn’t come until 07:00, so clearly their reason is to get a jump on albergue beds in the next town. That makes me so sad that beds become a competition. I prefer to begin my walk sometime soon after dawn and trust to the camino to provide a bed at day’s end.

At 06:30 I gave up trying to sleep and was next to last out of the albergue. Today’s walk to Ourense, largest town in my camino, had three main stages — a) tiny bedroom villages, b) industrial zones, c) dense urban areas leading to the old city.

I walked through the tiny bedroom villages with Kjell and Oddbjorge of Norway. Kjell’s English is quite good and he told me the story of how his 1998 camino changed his life. After the camino he came home, simplified his lifestyle, and retired so he’d have more time to volunteer at church. Then he complained bitterly about the Norwegian government forcing the Norwegian Lutheran church to accept homosexual clergy.

Kjell and Oddbjorg walked slowly, so I walked mostly alone through the industrial zone. Here I nearly flipped my first bird (yes, nearly) when a driver missed me by inches from behind as he passed a truck on a narrow road. I jumped as his car whizzed by just inches away.

As I started into the urban section I caught up with the kissy Spaniards and their friend, who was hobbling now with an injury. I tried to help them find the albergue, but I wasn’t that committed given I had my heart set on a cheap hotel somewhere in the center city.

In the urban areas the yellow arrows always seem to disappear, so I had to ask directions several times to get to the Plaza Mayor. I finally found it then was about to sit down for the day’s first beer when I was stopped by a camera crew. A man in a rainbow tank top asked me if I’d be interviewed. I told him I didn’t speak Spanish that well, so he did the first part of the interview in English. He asked me how I liked Ourense (me lo gusta) and where I was from. I told him and also volunteered that I’d just walked 22kms and was very tired and was looking for a hotel. He asked me how many stars, one, two, or three? I told him 2-3 and, off camera now, he sent me to a hotel about a block off the Plaza Mayor.

I checked in, went across the street for a great enselada mixta, then sat to type my daily note to Gail on my iPhone and strategize about laundry (do it now) and dinner (do it after the blazing sun goes down). Ourense has a reputation as the hottest town in Galicia, and today’s temps — likely 95 to 100F — were confirmation.

I spent some time at the cathedral — a beautiful church. And I debated with myself about a change in my plan to stay at the hotel I’d reserved given my quicker pace. I could pretty easily get to Santiago on the 23rd at my current rate, but my hotel reservation isn’t until the 25th. I decided to ask Gail’s help online to try to find an available Santiago hotel for the 23/24 then head to Finisterre on 25/26. I left the decision open, though, as I knew a lot could change and I had laundry to do.

August 28, 2008 Finisterre

The two hour bus ride to Finisterre was a delightfully different way to travel across Spain. We sat in the front row of a double-decker bus with an enormous windshield before us that allowed us to see everything within 180 degrees. We arrived at Finisterre, walked the tiny downtown, and then caught a taxi to the hoteljust a few yards shy of the lighthouse itself. We made a reservation for dinner at the hotel’s tiny restaurant and settled in for a delicious meal as the fog rolled in across the water. That night our sleep was interrupted by the sound of the fog horn blowing just a few yards away, and in the middle of the night we awakened to a thunderstorm that moved from one side of the cape to the other with constant forks of lightning flashing all around us. It was a very dramatic welcome to the end of the Earth and a fitting end to an amazing journey.

Postscript: I was very blessed with excellent health throughout my 800 km (500 mile) camino in May, June and August. I was more than satisfied with the journey itself. In fact, it had captured my imagination in ways I would never have guessed. And the fact that I returned, over and over again in the subsequent years, demonstrated the allure that this ancient journey has even for a modern pilgrim like me.

I had begun the pilgrimage expecting it to be a walk of solitude and introspection. I’d quickly learned that I had a deep hunger for community. The highlight of this and subsequent journeys was actually the pilgrim relationships I made and the new friends I discovered. In the coming years I would return to college to improve my Spanish, I would plan more caminos along other routes to Santiago, I would sponsor my son, Luke, on a camino of his own, and I would advise hundreds of other pilgrims on a UK Internet Forum.

At its heart, the Camino de Santiago is slow travel. Instead of driving through a region to see its sights, the pilgrimage walk allows one slowly to absorb a region, step by step. Today I cannot drink a glass of La Riojan wine without tasting the camino again. The fragrant nectar, made from grapes of this northern region of Spain, evokes all the feelings and many of the smells of the walk. Somehow the physical exertion provides an opening for Spirit, almost like a treasure hunt in which the next turn or the next cafe table or the next church holds surprising and delightful rewards. Even albergue life, with its uncomfortable bunks and symphony of snores has an attraction. They, like other parts of this amazing walk, hold the joy of camaraderie, of shared ordeal, of celebration and quiet conversation, of the search for the Divine in the separation from the routine and immersion in the extraordinary.

August 27, 2008 Santiago Rest Day

The previous night Gail and I had eaten at a small restaurant near the hotel then headed back to the hotel for an early night in our comfy room. The next morning we enjoyed a Hotel Altair breakfast (croissants, ample fruit, great coffee, exotic jams and jellies) and then went to get Gail’s completion certificate, the compostela. After a little exploring and time taken to greet other pilgrims we’d recognized from our walk, we headed to the cathedral for the noon pilgrim mass. The place was jammed, even though we’d arrived early. At the end of the mass, seeing that the famous botafumeiro (a large censor, lit with fragrant incense and swung on a long rope from transept to transept) was not to be used in the service we went back to the hotel. We heard from people afterward that the botafumeiro had indeed been used, but just at the end of the service. The funnest part was left until the end.

Through the day we enjoyed shopping along the narrow streets of the old city and meeting pilgrim friends over cervesas or red wine. We took the short walk to the bus station and arranged a ride to Finisterre the next day and I arranged a hotel at the tip of Capo Haro, just at the end of the famous cape that earns the nearby town it’s Latin name, “End of the World.”

As Gail took a well-deserved nap that afternoon I returned to the cathedral for some quiet time on my own. I walked down into the crypt to view the small sarcophagus where tradition says Saint James’ (Santiago’s) bones are kept. I prayer to God a prayer of thanksgiving, then headed back up to the nave to think and prayer and remember. I decided to pray for every single pilgrim I’d met during the walk and to give God thanks for the memories of our meetings. So I prayed for them all, and as I prayed tears of relief and joy and loss streamed from my eyes. The camino had reminded me of my love of discovery — discovery of foreign lands and discovery of the joys of friendship. In this church I came to realize that God is indeed present on a pilgrimage — present each step of the way, present in the laughter and embrace of pilgrim friends, and present in the traditions of an ancient Christian community that calls us to live beyond ourselves, stepping from our comfortable lives into God’s joyful embrace.