What’s Next

I’ve spent most of my time since returning to Los Angeles readjusting to normal life and resuming the job hunt that I’d left behind. I wasn’t quite ready to begin the monumental task of working through nearly 3,000 photos and videos to find the keepers and develop them, but I’ve finally begun. In many cases I’ll be doubling back on the photos I’ve already uploaded to this blog now that I have access to my full tool set and the time to work; so you can expect to see revisions when I start sharing.

I’ve given some thought to how everything should be presented. I have a photography website and accompanying Facebook fan page that existed before I started preparing for the Camino, and then there’s this blog and its fan page. The photography site will definitely host a lot of the photos, perhaps all of them, and its fan page would host some too. The Faces of the Camino blog and fan page will probably focus more specifically on the people I met and their pictures.

Going forward I’m going to present more portraits here, along with a few paragraphs describing a memorable moment with the person pictured, or with some thoughts from them about their experiences now that the Camino is a memory. There’s also a lot of video footage to go through, and if the quality is good I’ll compile it all together.

Walking from France to the western coast of Spain took 33 days. I suspect this will take a while too!

So, more to come. In the mean time, don’t stop walking.

-Daniel

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Madrid

Wednesday, June 4

I’m on a plane in the sky hurtling at hundreds of miles per hour over the ocean towards New York.

And the best part is, the plane has tons of empty seats. Luxury!

The bus ride to Madrid was a long one that passed through Salamanca. Along the way I watched the terrain transform back into what I remembered from my post-graduation trip, years ago. Rolling hills, scarred, strewn with boulders as though armies of giants had fought there in a time before memory.

As we neared Madrid I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was the giant cross that sits atop the Valley of the Fallen, where I’d gone years ago on my first trip through Spain. With Tina, Greishka, Vivi, Daisy, Sal… I could go on but there are so many names to list; it was a full bus on that Contiki trip. Seeing the cross again was surreal, and for a moment I felt unstuck in time, as though now and then were the same, and not separated by over half a decade. But I was so much younger then. I wish I’d been then who I am now, but such wishes are silliness.

We stopped in the southern station near Atocha, and I gathered my things and entered the subway. I called on my memory — find Alonso Martinez station. What line is this? It reaches Nuevos Ministerios… I can switch there to the 10 and take it down to my station, and walk Calle Sagasta back to U Hostel where I had booked rooms just that morning on the computer in Porto. I had stayed at U Hostel before I left to start the Camino.

I walked with my pack and my walking staff. This is not normal in Madrid. People notice, but they are a bit more like New Yorkers in that they look away and avoid asking questions.

Arriving at the desk at U Hostel, I felt that the face of the receptionist was familiar. Her name tag read Natalia. She saw my staff and asked immediately, in English, if I was there to walk the Camino. I answered in Spanish that I had finished. We continued that way for a bit, her in English and me in Spanish, until she realized I wanted to practice and matched my language choice. When she checked me in and discovered that I’d been there before she told me she remembered me a bit, but that I look different. Probably so. Lost some weight, I told her.

I had a fierce desire to wash my clothing, so I did laundry before leaving to get food at around midnight. A nearby Italian restaurant another girl had recommended was closed, so I meandered back to the burrito place, Tierra, where I’d eaten the night before I left for the Camino. That night I’d tried to order in Spanish but had to fall back on English. Not this time.

I came back, checked Facebook a bit, and went to sleep in my room, where there was a Taiwanese couple and two South Korean guys who wore facial masks before going to sleep. Ain’t in Kansas anymore.

In the morning I woke blissfully late at around 9:30 or 10. Showered, and went downstairs with my staff to ask where there might be a UPS nearby. I’d seen the trucks in the streets sometimes. Natalia searched the internet for one in Madrid without any luck. Instead she directed me to Correos España. When I arrived there they told me the pole was too long to mail.

So I had a choice. Take my chances trying to bring a conspicuously tall wooden staff through the TSA checkpoints, or cut it in half. At the hostel I asked the girls where I might find a hardware store to cut it. Fortunately the maintenance worker overheard me and volunteered to help. I followed him downstairs to the maintenance room, where he cut the staff in half with a small hand-held rotary saw.

I returned to Correos to mail it, and the woman there offered me packing materials to prepare it for shipping. Bubble wrap, paper, and tape. I spent some time wrapping it up nicely and then, when it was done, I decided that surely now it was small enough and friendly enough that TSA wouldn’t object. Currently it’s in the overheard compartment above me. So far so good.

I’ve met more than a few folks who would suggest that I should’ve left it at the cliffs at the end of the world. Which does sound romantic, sure. But you know how sometimes you go home and dig through some old box of a few important keepsakes you saved? And as soon as you hold one, all sorts of memories and feelings come back to you that you’d long forgotten. I don’t believe in magic, but that is close enough. Someday when there are many years between me and my Camino, the staff and the shell and the Compostela will have a chance to work their spells on my foggy mind. Like seeing the stone cross over the Valley of the Fallen.

I went to lunch at a tapas bar called Orio, where I met a sister and brother duo from America, Gina and Linh, of Vietnamese descent. They sat at my table and we talked in English about their trip and mine. They’re in Spain traveling together before heading to Frankfurt for a wedding. Gina has traveled to Madrid often, nearly once each year for several years. For Linh, this is his first time in Europe.

They invited me to walk with them. The day was hot and sunny. I finally made it to Retiro park, which although lovely is difficult to appreciate on such a hot day. Everywhere the madrileñas were treating each open patch of grass like a beach for sunbathing. A bit like New York.

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We made our way to a plaza or two and then to the Palacio Real, where an accordionist was playing, though not the same song that the accordionist I remember from years ago played in that very same spot.

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We wandered to a park with ancient Egyptian structures, donated to Spain. I don’t know the history of why. I’ll have to look it up when I get back.

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Afterwards we left for our separate hostels, planning to reunite in an hour and a half or so at the McDonald’s on Gran Via to meet with a Spanish friend of Gina’s, Oscar, and his nieces and sister. Of that group, Oscar speaks the most English, though the girls are learning. His sister was very excited that I could have real conversations with her in Spanish since she doesn’t understand much English.

At a nearby restaurant we shared a bunch of different raciones, family-style, before bidding them all farewell back on Gran Via.

And then we began our bar-hunt to nowhere! First we went past the Madrid version of a red light district, so Gina could show me the strangeness of an entire block with a prostitute waiting patiently under every tree. And there, at the end of the block, police. I guess there’s some sort of agreement happening there.

We began walking up Fuencarral since I remembered there being restaurants and bars along it nearer to Sagasta. But we detoured to the right so Gina could, very excitedly, show us the gay district. She wanted to stop at the first bar we saw, but looking at the demographics inside Linh and I decided we’d rather not go into a meat market.

So we continued hunting but didn’t really find any lively bars with a good mix of people. To be fair, it was a Tuesday. We also found ourselves in Plaza del Sol, which has now become Vodafone Sol because Money. There we were assaulted by promoters for clubs. At first I was polite to them, but eventually I would just cut them off and keep walking, if I responded at all. Dear bars and clubs in Madrid; if you have three promoters standing outside your establishment, chasing passers-by as aggressively as a lioness chases a gazelle, you only end up chasing us away from a place we might have actually wanted to stop at.

We weren’t looking to stand in line outside a disco, and for some reason we just couldn’t find a simple bar with a good mix of people in it. Finally we began going back up Fuencarral towards Sagasta, but when we were a little more than half way there Linh felt that he was done. I can’t blame him, we’d been bar-hunting for something like two hours. He went back to his hotel. Gina and I continued up to Sagasta, finding that most of the bars I’d remembered were closed. But I knew with certainly that the British pub near my hostel was open, and that the common area of my hostel had a small bar too. We popped into the pub and found it dead, so we went up to the hostel and had beers. After a time we called her a cab out on the street and hugged goodbye.

A bizarre evening, but still fun for the sheer goofiness of it. Struggling to find a bar in Madrid!

I sneaked into my room where everyone was sleeping, and quietly went to bed.

This morning I woke later than the rest, except for the signs of someone new in one of the bunks. She must’ve risen early and gone out. All of us were leaving today except the mystery stranger.

I checked out, but spent some time downstairs choosing photos for the Fisterra post and uploading it. I left to get lunch at the burrito place but found it closed, so I meandered down to the plaza where the Alonso Martínez station is located. I looked at a few of the menus nearby, but in the end I didn’t have it in me to search. So, like a true American, I ate at the nearby Burger King. Hopped on the metro to the airport, checked in, and waited for my flight.

An American at the terminal recognized my shell as a symbol of the Camino. Turns out he’s been in Spain for a long while teaching English. I’d heard that it’s difficult for an American to get an English teaching position in Spain; that they prefer to hire UK citizens. But he said it was very simple. I’ll have to look into it. It’s not the sort of job that gets you closer to a luxurious retirement. But honestly, who cares? I would love to live in Spain.

New York tonight. Many reunions to be had!

-Daniel

Porto

Wednesday, June 4

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I’d considered going from Galicia to Portugal, but I hadn’t done any research, booked any trains or buses, or made any reservations.

But when I woke up the next morning in Finisterre, I decided I would take the bus to Porto.

I packed and went to a café near the bus station to wait for the 9:30 bus to Santiago. Café con leche and a napolitana, per usual. Sitting by the bus stop, I met a German man who told me that if I took the earlier bus to Baio on the route to A Coruña and switched there to a bus bound for Santiago, I could reach Santiago in time to make the bus to Porto. I took his advice.

Once I boarded, I was happy to see Fabrizzio there. He was bound for A Coruña though, so this would be goodbye.

A drunk man also boarded the bus, apologized to the driver for having no money, and proceeded to spend the next half an hour regaling the driver with his life story of interpersonal difficulties and drug addiction, speaking as loudly, drunkenly, and repetitively as possible. On the way out he nearly tripped down the stairs.

We arrived at the bus station in Santiago quickly. It had taken me three days on foot, two of them very difficult days, to cover that same distance. I went upstairs to buy my ticket for the bus to Porto which was scheduled to leave in an hour. Winging it!

The bus to Porto was filled with former pilgrims, including a couple of the guys I’d met on the cliffs the night before. And as we boarded I also said goodbye to Chris, who arrived on the direct bus from Finisterre as I was in line to board mine. He was headed to Granada.

Four hours later I was in Porto, saying goodbye to the guys. An American girl came up to us as we talked and asked if any of us were staying in Porto, and if she could join up to get to the city center and find a hostel. Her name was Jamie.

She and I walked towards the historical center. Sort of. First we walked in the wrong direction for about 15 minutes. Then we walked back, found what seemed to be an area near the center, and asked locals for directions to tourist information points.

Unfortunately, the locals all speak Portuguese and I don’t. Fortunately I’d been traveling with two Brazilians for some time, so I was at least a little bit more accustomed to the sounds and words of Portuguese than I would’ve been otherwise. Of all the languages I’ve tried to get comfortable with, I find Portuguese the most difficult because of the pronunciation. It’s such a smooth language, with sounds that are so different from Spanish even though the written words are often similar.

In time we found the information center and got tips on nearby hostels. The first that we tried was full, so we went to Pilot, a hostel not far from the main street and palace. I was able to get a bed there for one night but not two, because the next night was already fully booked.

The reception area and lounge had a very nightlife vibe. The girls at the desk dressed stylishly as bartenders at a club would. It was a far cry from a pilgrim albergue. The others in the hostel were typically very young — many of them French Canadians enjoying a vacation, or a gap year between college and university. A few other Canadians, not the French variety, were beginning a tour through Portugal that would take about two weeks. Also there was a German couple just enjoying a few relaxing days away from the stress of studying.

After showering I was starving, so I asked one of the receptionists, Flavia, what she would eat if if she were going out for food. She pointed me to two places. Munchies, where I could get a good burger, or Piolho, where I could try a traditional meal from Porto called a Francesinha, which means “Little French Girl” and must be some sort of joke. It’s a large sandwich filled with meats and cheese, and encased in egg and some type of sauce. A heart attack on a plate, but very tasty.

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Afterwards I wandered the city, talking briefly with the two Germans when I saw them in a nearby park. They mentioned that they really enjoy talking to native English speakers, which is something I’ve noticed about Germans in general as I’ve traveled. The Dutch, too. It’s very different from many other cultures where, even if a person has learned a passable amount of English, he or she usually prefers not to speak it if it can be avoided.

I made my way down to the river and walked along it towards a huge bridge. There were restaurants, shops, and music. The late afternoon sun bathed the buildings and the bridge in a warm glow. Couples walked together hand in hand, or sat at the tables overlooking the river as you would along Venice’s Grand Canal. I found myself wishing somebody had been there to share the experience with me. I’ll have to go back with someone, someday.

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In one of the larger squares along the river there was a huge screen with a soccer game being projected on it, and the square was packed full of people sitting at tables to watch, being served by the nearby bars and restaurants. As I walked away from the square and through the city streets I hear cheering in the distance, and then again much closer. Just a block farther I was stopped in my tracks by locals lighting fireworks in the street, huddled in a mass outside a nearby bar and chanting “Porto! Porto! Porto!” They saw my camera and yelled to me to take a photo of the group.

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I returned to the hostel and sat a bit with some of the others, getting to know them. In time they left for the nightly pub crawl. My feet were too sore for that sort of thing, especially after wandering the city. So I stayed and chatted with one of the girls, Daniela, until very late.

In the morning I packed my things and walked down one block to another hostel nearby, Invictus, and checked in there. The guy at the counter was very friendly and insisted on being called Joe. I unfortunately only had a 50 euro bill to pay with, so after jokingly saying “I hate you so much man,” he offered to buy me a coffee at the café next door where he could exchange the 50 for smaller notes. We chatted a bit and he gave me some tips on the city.

I couldn’t move my things into the room yet, because check-in wasn’t until 3. So I left my bag in the lobby area and walked to the Casa da Musica as my sister had suggested. Unfortunately without buying a tour there wasn’t a lot to see, and the only English tour was later, at 4pm. So I left and walked to the nearby bus station to buy my ticket to Madrid for the next day.

As I left Casa da Musica, a little girl walked up to me quickly without saying a word. She tapped me lightly on my arm, and held a clipboard with a piece of paper on it up towards my face. Even without a common language between us it was clear enough that she was deaf, and collecting money to support an organization that helps her. I reached into my wallet and gave her the first bill I found. She mouthed “obrigado” while making the same sign that also means “Thank you” in American Sign Language, and tapped my arm again before walking away.

Returning to the center after buying my bus ticket, I stopped for lunch at a grill Joe had recommended. I asked the waiter for his suggestion and he brought me a steak with egg on top, rice, french fries, a sausage, and something similar to a small corn dog. All delicious.

Then I stopped in at a mall to buy some non-pilgrim pants and cheap shoes from H&M.

I went back to the hostel and found that Joe was gone, replaced by a girl name Gisele. I checked in with her and then relaxed for a bit. I intended to write, but instead we found ourselves talking for quite a while about this and that. Porto, the States, the Camino, Cuba and the embargo, recognizing different accents in a foreign language — whatever came to mind.

After a bit I left for Serralves, a sort of mini-Coachella that happens once a year in a park a good distance from the center that bears the same name. I said goodbye to Gisele, though we thought maybe we’d meet later at a jam session in a nearby bar, if she could make it despite an early morning meeting with her landlord.

I went to the main square and waited in front of McDonalds with a group of people for the free bus to Serralves. When it arrived it turned out to be a bus built for sightseeing tours. Open-air seating.

After a month moving only under the power of my own feet, speeding through the streets in an open-air bus with the wind whipping my face was like some sort of roller coaster adrenaline rush. This must be a small taste of how the Amish feel on Rumspringa.

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Serralves was interesting but a little underwhelming. I’d expected there to be something happening around every corner. Stages here, stages there, art exhibits, always something going on. But instead I found it was mostly a lot of people waiting here or there for something to begin. I watched a guitarist and drummer play for a bit, and wandered far and wide through the park. But I think it’s the sort of thing you have to do with friends, so you have someone to pass the time with when you’re waiting for the next set.

I left. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be a simple bus ride back like the one there. Gisele had suggested I walk to the beach, in the opposite direction from the center, and take the beach and river path all the way back. But I knew my feet weren’t up to that, not after the difficult day of Fisterra. As a compromise with myself I branched off from Rua Boa Vista towards the river, which resulted in having to navigate some convoluted streets in some less than welcoming neighborhoods. But eventually I found my way to the river and walked along it back to the center.

Joe had told me that a restaurant called Santiago cooks the best Francesinha there is. So I again found myself on a camino towards Santiago. But unfortunately it was closed; Sunday night after all. Tired and hungry, I ate at McDonald’s, which was practically a palace. Marble floors and Corinthian columns and spiral stairs. We don’t need no golden arches.

Stopping briefly in the hostel, I carried on to the bar where the jam session would be. It was meant to go on at 11, so of course it didn’t. 11:30 arrived, no music. Midnight, no music. I found myself drifting to sleep, so I paid my bill and went back to the hostel.

The next morning I left for Madrid by bus.

-Daniel

Edit:
If you find yourself in Porto and would like to visit the hostels I stayed at, here are links to their websites. Good places, good people. And no, they aren’t paying me for this endorsement. 🙂
Pilot: http://pilothostel.com/pilothostel.html
Invictus: http://www.oportoinvictushostel.com/

Fisterra

Sunday, June 1

Yesterday, for the first time in 33 days, I let a vehicle move me from one place to another instead of my own two feet.

But let’s start the day before that, when my Camino ended.

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I woke early in Olveira and went to the café for coffee and toast. Bernie and Debbie were there also (everyone was, it’s the café owned by the hospitaleros so it’s the closest and easiest place to eat). I said hello, and sat facing the television. The weather report began — clear in Galicia! Well, maybe not clear. But not raining either.

I ate quickly and left as the sun was beginning to push through the clouds on the horizon. In the cool air I walked briskly, but paused often to take photos of Galicia without rain and fog. I wandered off the trail into a field as high as my knees to get a better photo of the landscape against the glow of sun. And I walked back out with shoes and pants wet from the dew. Worth it.

The route was windmills and river canyons, green stones in the water, hilltops and sunlight. And somewhere forward was Fisterra.

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I was about to follow a marker past the last hospital when a woman who worked there called to me and warned me there’d be nothing for 15 more kilometers. So I stopped and had a sandwich and a Coke. Bernie and Debbie were there, and we wished each other a good walk as they stood to go.

Leaving the hospital I began to walk and talk with two Americans, Chris and Duncan, both from St. Louis. Chris is active in the Catholic association on his campus and had organized a group trip from Sarria to Santiago, and afterwards he continued towards Fisterra. Duncan is a friend of his who came on his own to join him.

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Along the path we found two horses standing, munching grass. One took a quick liking to Chris, responding to scratching behind the ear as gleefully as a dog.

In time Duncan fell behind at a slightly slower pace. Chris and I walked a long way talking, and so the kilometers to the coast passed quickly. We arrived at the top of a hill, where a marker read “To the end.” In front of us we could see the coastline and a few peninsulas. One seemed to extend farther than the other and it had the right shape — it had to be Fisterra.

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Sitting nearby and enjoying the view was a German I’d seen a few times but not spoken to. Chris knew him (it turns out Chris knows everyone. He’s very outgoing). We chatted a bit and took photos, and Chris decided to stay at the hill and snack a bit. The wind was in my sails; I kept going.

The descent was steep and rocky. I was glad to have my walking staff. I found myself zigzagging across the wide path to find the flattest ground, but at times there was none. Stone to stone in uneven steps. Down and down.

I finally reached flat land again and came upon the first coastal pueblo. As I passed through I saw a dog in the street, near a house with an older woman out front and some chickens. I came towards the dog and reached out, and she shied away, head down. But she didn’t run. I reached my hand out more slowly until she allowed it to touch her. Then she tucked her head away again.

I kept my hand out but brought it back a bit towards me. She stepped forward. A little more and we touched again. Suddenly she was open and affectionate, letting me pet her and pressing up against my leg when I stopped. Sometimes she would back away again, but she always returned.

The old woman had been watching. I smile at her. “Te gustan los perros?” she asked. You like dogs? I replied yes, that wherever I go they are always my friends. I smiled and said goodbye.

As I passed through Cee, I was stopped by two old men. One first tried to guess my language, and he lit up when I responded in Spanish. He started telling me about all the languages he can speak, and telling me about the way the path went and where I could stop to eat. His friend often tried to get a word in without much success. A woman passed by and as she left he told me she was Italian, and he speaks Italian. We said goodbye in every language either of us knows.

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As I left the old men, Bernie and Debbie caught up. We only briefly walked together and discovered suddenly that the Camino was not well marked here. The arrows vanished. I started asking locals which way to go. Bernie and Debbie followed albeit hesitantly. Finally we came to an open park with a view of the ocean, a road along it, and the next pueblo. A local told me to head there to a plaza where I would find arrows again.

Bernie and Debbie stayed behind to snack. We said goodbye. I wouldn’t see them again, it turns out..

I walked to the next pueblo, finding arrows along the coastal road. But within the pueblo they were again poorly marked. Locals directed me towards the church, and another man there pointed me down the correct street which climbed up to the back of the town. Finally there were arrows again. I found myself in a narrow alley, walls covered in vegetation, climbing steeply out of the town and up the hill behind. It took me briefly through the woods until it it came out again to another town and then went on to rejoin a road, then left it again for the hills which offered the best view yet of Fisterra, which still seemed so very far away.

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Onward and onward and onward, seemingly forever. Finally, I emerged onto a beach-side path that led into Fisterra. Many pilgrims walked the sand as the path diverged inland, but I wanted to stick to it in case there was anything interesting along it. Eventually the path joined the beach again at a bar, where I found Sven relaxing and enjoying a beer.

He urged me to drop the pack and go enjoy the water, but I was a man on a mission. Many pilgrims seemed to be checking into albergues first and leaving their packs there, planning to go up to the lighthouse another 3km away for sunset. I couldn’t stop. I had to reach the end with my pack on my back and my staff in my hand, so I kept going.

It was the hardest 3 kilometers of my life. I hadn’t sat down since I ate that morning. My feet burned and ached on the asphalt and I could feel that the skin was not doing well. But I couldn’t stop. The street climbed and arced along the hillside until finally I approached the lighthouse, surrounded by tourists and cars and buses. Feelings swelled as the final marker appeared in front of me. 0.00km. People were posing with it, but they stepped away as I got closer.

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I reached out with my hand to touch it, to make it real, and sat down on an angled stone in front of it. Not so much sitting as collapsing. My head down, I took some time to just be there, exhausted, at the end.

I heard the click of cell phone cameras behind me. I guess the tired pilgrim at the end of his journey makes for a photogenic moment.

But the stone wasn’t really at the end. The lighthouse was behind it. And behind that, the cliffs. I stood, took a few photos of the stone and with it. I kept going.

On the cliffs I found many people, some of them burning articles of clothing or paper on an altar that bore a cross, or on the rocks nearby.

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I descended as far as I could, my feet sending my brain constant and painful status updates. Shut up, we’re nearly there.

I found a boulder that was as far as I could safely go with my bulky pack, and sat. The end of the world at last. The end of the Camino, 33 days and hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers from the beginning.

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Eventually I stood again and climbed to a rock closer to the lighthouse. I took off my right boot to see what my foot was complaining about. Not good. A new blister, and a lot of damaged skin. An old French woman walked over to see how I was, frowning a motherly frown as she looked at my foot. She offered water but I assured her I had some.

I was the only one there with all my belongings, and people noticed. Another woman came over to me and offered me food that looked a bit like a date. I accepted it with thanks. I was very hungry.

After bandaging my foot a bit I put my boot back on and endured the 3 kilometers back to town. I found an albergue and a supermarket where I could buy some foot cream to help heal the skin, and took some time to shower and relax.

But not too much time. I wanted to go back up for the sunset. I ate at a nearby bar; pulpo, razor clams, and chipirrones.

I really do think a pulperia would do well in Los Angeles.

At around 8:30 I left for the lighthouse, arriving about an hour before sunset. I climbed back down to the boulder I’d sat at earlier and stayed there for a while taking photos and video and enjoying the warmth. Nearby I saw three wild goats approach, munching on the grass. There wasn’t much room on the cliffs and normally there are many people here, so I was surprised to see animals. More photos and video, of course.

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I climbed back up and found a boulder with a good view of both the sunset and the people watching it. Next to me were a pair of boots with a small bouquet in them; a recent tribute to the end of someone else’s journey

The crowd was growing. I heard a lot of German and Korean and a bit of French. But I didn’t see Sven or Kasumi as I’d expected to. Maybe Kasumi went the Muxia way, or maybe she didn’t do Fisterra in 3 days. Sven must’ve stayed in town, I suppose.

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As sunset neared I saw Chris and Duncan and called out to them. They came over to my boulder and said hello, as did the German from earlier, whose name I learned was Markus. He had started about 100km farther back than me, deeper in France. So for him, this sunset was even more significant. I took video as the sun dipped. The guys passed around a bottle of wine. The lighthouse lit up, and we began walking back under the sliver of the waxing crescent moon.

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I was glad not to be alone at the end.

Back in town we went a bar where live music was set to go on at midnight. Which means it actually went on at 12:45, because Spain. We drank some beers. Most of the guys were half asleep. As we sat we saw the cute hospitalera from the municipal walk in with her friend, and Chris and I went over to chat with them. The musicians finally started playing; something in between rock and flamenco.

Soon after, we saw that the rest of the guys were getting up to go. We said goodbye to the girls and left.

Chris turned to Duncan and told him it was time to go for a dip in the harbor. Duncan cursed him but followed. I’m blessedly immune to most peer pressure at this point, but I came along to see if they’d really go into the frigid water on a cold night.

Sure enough, they did. They stripped off and Chris charged ahead into the shallow water near the boats, and Duncan followed. A few moments later they came back out, dressed, and we walked back towards the municipal. I said goodnight to them as they entered, and continued to my albergue farther on.

The next morning I woke, had breakfast, and boarded a bus to Santiago and then Porto on a whim. I’ll save all that for the next post.

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-Daniel

Olveira

Thursday, May 29

Today was rain and rain and hills and rain, for 34km and change, alone. I’m not sure if the weather reflected my mood, or my mood reflected the weather. I took only a few photos.

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Back home things change. Doors open and close. And of course they do — the world doesn’t stop turning just because I go on a stroll. Hopefully when I’m back I’ll have a few open doors to choose from.

Come tomorrow, when I’m standing by the sea at Fisterra, I think I’ll have walked somewhere around 560 miles. I’ll have crossed from the border of Spain and France all the way to the far west coast. And you know what? It really wasn’t that hard. Yes, I’m sore and I have blisters and my tendons and muscles and bones ache. But really, truly, it wasn’t that hard.

Life, on the other hand, is hard. There aren’t yellow arrows to keep you on track. There’s no guidebook to give you an idea of how far you have left to go to reach a goal. You don’t get to put your feet up after walking, call it a day, drink some beer, and eat some food; there’s always some business needs doing.

And you don’t know for sure that everyone you meet is going down the same path as you. Chances are they aren’t. So maybe you get to know them in the way you really would like to, and maybe you don’t. Maybe they just come and go. Or maybe they pop in and out until one day when they don’t pop in anymore.

Tough stuff. If only figuring it all out were as easy as walking a few hundred miles.

Cross your fingers for good weather tomorrow. Finisterre!

-Daniel

Santiago de Compostela

Monday, May 26

This should probably be the big, exciting, epiphany-laden post, right? Not yet, I’m afraid. I’m here in Santiago, in a fancy-schmancy pensión hotel with towels and everything. Fancy by pilgrim standards, anyway.

We left O Pedrouzo a bit late. The room was very chilly and it’s no easy task getting out of bed in the cold. There were 20 kilometers between us and Santiago, and for much of it the extended family walked together. The Camino around here isn’t as enchanting as it is in the early etapas in Galicia. More streets, fewer magical forests.

The reality that I would reach Santiago today didn’t settle in for a while. Actually, it hasn’t settled in at all. Tomorrow I’ll stay here for the day. It will be the first time in 30 days that I haven’t woken early, packed my bag, laced up my boots, and trekked to a new town. The Camino isn’t done for me — I go on to Finisterre. But there’s an overwhelming feeling of finality here. I even feel aches that I haven’t felt before, as though my brain has given my body the go-ahead to start reporting all the damage I’ve done to it.

Tuesday, May 27

Continuing from yesterday…

We stopped for drinks at a bar called San Marcos, where there were campgrounds. And also chickens, rabbits, and a large goose all wandering free, except when the bartender saw them nearing the tables and ran at them, arms flailing to chase them away.

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The sun hid and the chill grew worse as rain clouds came closer. I saw Stacy, the woman from California I’d spoken to often and occasionally walked with, as she entered the bar. I walked over and said hello. We hugged; it had been a while since we’d seen each other and neither of us was sure we would again. The bartender snapped our photo and I went back outside.

After collecting a few photos of the unfriendly goose, I threw my backpack on and joined Miguel and Larissa in leaving the bar. The others stayed behind — they often enjoy longer breaks than I prefer. I like to keep the rhythm going.

We carried on towards Santiago as it began to drizzle. We passed Monte de Gozo, stopping briefly at the pilgrim monument there. As we entered the outskirts of the city Stacy caught up and we spoke a bit about the news from Santa Barbara.

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It was two kilometers to the city center. The camino brought us around the side of the cathedral before revealing the expansive plaza in front of it. We walked to the center and dropped our bags to the ground. We sat, we stood, we hugged, we took photos holding our backpacks high in the air. Victory.

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Then we ran around looking for a place to sleep, and settled on the fancy-pants pensión.

Showered and changed, we walked to the Pilgrim’s Office to receive our Compostelas. The line was long but quick. I was greeted by an Australian, given my Compostela by a Spaniard, and I bought a tube from an Irishman to store it safely. And now it sits, hopefully secure, in my backpack. A long walk for a piece of paper — thank goodness that isn’t the point.

Still, I’ll probably frame it.

We went for coffee and found the others. I took portraits, of course.

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Virginia

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Luca, immortalized as he saw fit.

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Kasumi and Virginia

Then we went to the Parador, to the old garage off to the side. It’s a quasi-secret that the first ten pilgrims to arrive there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner must be served for free. It’s a requirement by law, I’m told, and part of an old tradition. Here’s another secret: even free, it’s not worth the price. The food was bland; a product of obligation rather than pride. Go to a restaurant and buy a good meal. You earned it.

I was interrupted while writing yesterday when Virginia messaged me. The group was down in a bar near the cathedral. Miguel and I decided to go, and as we were preparing Larissa came back from a walk and joined us.

We joined the group just as Fabrizzio and Ignacio were leaving. Virginia, Luca, Alejandro, and Kasumi were still there. Over drinks and tiny sandwiches, called montaditos if I remember correctly, we convinced Kasumi to stay in town an extra night so that those of us walking to Finisterre would be leaving on the same day.

We drank, we ate, and then we wandered out to find another bar for orujo. We didn’t find it. Instead we stumbled across the same group of older Catalan men we’ve seen often. They were piss drunk. We all wandered together to a nearby club/bar where the Catalans ordered a queimada — a bowl of orujo blanco, with coffee beans and orange and lemon, set aflame before serving. The server passed out papers with an incantation on them; something in Gallego about witches, spirits, and other things that go bump in the night along with the forces of earth, water, and light being called on to help make the drink. Next Halloween, queimada in Los Angeles.

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As the flames in the bowl burned higher and higher, the chanting began. I kept my camera trained on the bowl and recorded video, complete with the drunken slurring of the group as they read the words. Finally it was all served. Strong stuff. After a cup of it you feel the fire in your belly. Helpful on a cold night in Galicia.

Before we left we said goodbye to Virginia. She’s on her way back to Granada now.

This morning I set out to find breakfast but instead I found Juanito. We talked a bit before I moved on, and immediately I found him again in the plaza in front of the cathedral. I walked on and came across Larissa who had left the habitación before me, and hurriedly tried to bring her to Juanito — but he had disappeared.

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Jonggu. Juanito. John. Giovanni. Alegria del Camino.

Except he hadn’t. We went into the cathedral before mass and I saw him there. With Larissa and Juanito reunited, I went down to the tourist’s office to get a map of the route to Finisterre, and then returned for mass.

I sat with the two of them, a statue of San Tiago surrounded by gold decorations of angels and cherubs and saints before us. The mass began. They called out the names of the many cities along the road where pilgrims who received their compostelas the afternoon before had began, and announced the countries represented in each group. Saint Jean Pied de Port: Brazil, South Korea, the United States of America…

We took each other’s hands for a moment.

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In a quiet time I prayed on behalf of my friend Daisy as she had asked me to do when we met for dinner before the big trip. We first met in Spain and both live in Los Angeles.

As the mass continued with beautiful song, I found myself beginning to comprehend the end. Beginning to understand that the faces that I’ve seen and seen again over and over on the Camino — sometimes of dear friends, others to whom I never said more than “Buen Camino” — would soon leave my life. I felt the water in my eyes but held it back.

Juanito never holds back; it’s one of his endearing qualities. And as he cried, I found myself crying a bit too. It passed.

We left and found Miguel. We’d planned to go for lunch but the plan changed. Larissa and Miguel would go buy non-pilgrim clothing. I don’t need that, so I went to get food. On the way I met Juanito and three South Koreans. He said they were all going to lunch in some market nearby. I went along. We wandered and wandered and I had to stop and ask for directions a few times. Finally we arrived and found that the market had no restaurants. And Juanito said he had promised some other people he would eat lunch with them, so he left. There I was with my three new Korean friends in a market without a restaurant!

We turned back up the street and stopped for lunch along the way. I got to know them a bit, and they me. When they asked me what I did and I told them, they followed by asking what movies I’d worked on. And at the end of the list they clapped! A very odd feeling.

I guided them back to the cathedral and we said goodbye. I had to be back at the room by 3 to meet Larissa and Miguel.

I arrived and we immediately left for a meal with Alejandro. Paella. Not the best, unfortunately.

Back the the pensión my parents messaged me. They looked up some flights for me to return. June 4, from Madrid to New York.

I have a ticket now. Talk about finality.

Tomorrow I leave for Finisterre. Three days. Then I’ll need to get a bus back to Santiago, and a train to Madrid.

Though I’m still thinking I might stop in Portugal if there’s time. It’s so close and I’ve never been. But I have to be sure I can make it to Madrid in time for the flight.

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-Daniel

Palas de Rei, Arzúa, O Pedrouzo

Sunday, May 25

The days blend a bit. The first, it rained all day. The next the sun came out, then hid again, and came out again, and continued the pattern even until now in O Pedrouzo. When we left Portomarín we found Juanito again, and I said to Larissa that here in Galicia something amazing happens every day. A shame the camino here always smells of dung.

Unfortunately after we found Juanito we lost him again. He was walking with a lot of pain. But perhaps in Santiago.

Sometimes we’ve come across Michele, or Virginia and Lucca, or Kasumi, or Diego and Ísabel, or Fabrizzio. In my mind it’s a fog, like the niebla we usually pass through in the mornings in the valleys and forests. We joke that O Cebreiro is hiding in the mist.

Tomorrow I’ll arrive in Santiago. It will be one month exactly since I left Saint Jean Pied de Port some 500 miles ago. It seems I’ll probably spend more than one day there. The arrival day, then the day to attend the mass and receive my Compostela. And then I’ll continue to Finisterre, another three days away. And then, something. What is “something?” Going home? Am I ready to go home?

Until now, Santiago never felt like an ending. Just a pit stop. But knowing that most of my companions will stop there brings a sense of finality to it all. Like the book ends tomorrow, and Finisterre will be an epilogue or a story in the appendices.

I’m not really sure what to say about it and the feelings are more than a little swirly, so I think I’ll leave it at that for now. Let’s just have some photos.

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Larissa

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Miguel

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The renowned pulpo in Melide

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-Daniel