Finisterre – nothing prepared me for this day of surprises at the End of the Known World. Rain fell in torrents throughout the night and right through breakfast and on goes the poncho so I can reach the coach stop which is a ten minute walk away. I am fortunate, not first in the queue, but in the four front seats sit three friends; I claim the fourth seat right there in the front, almost under the little swinging bruja who hangs from the rear vision mirror on the windscreen.
I set her a task, she who hangs there with her miniature broomstick, please sweep away all the rainclouds before we reach the end of the world.
I am grouchy inside, tired. People are late, the guide is stressed, time ticks past the witching hour scheduled for our departure. Stuff them, I think darkly, I would leave them behind. Planes don’t wait for no shows, Satyananda once told us, and the logic of his comment gave me such boldness that years later when I was in Urfa waiting for the coach of tourists to arrive so I could join them for a tour of Harran I waited for seven minutes past the departure time and demanded to go anyway.
When I had booked the trip earlier the man said the tour would go even if I was the only person. I pressed the case, reminding the Turkish travel agent of his own words –the Kurd standing behind him laughing hugely and silently at my challenging a Turk, the historical oppressor in their land – and I was given a taxi. All to myself and no extra charge. I sat begum-like in the back all the way to Harran and the eighth century, was gifted a hoopoe feather from a cloudless sky at the temple ruins of the moon god Sin, and given the keys of the Renault 12 by my handsome, chivalrous, Kurd driver when I told him I had the same model car back in Oz. He had seen the hoopoe feather fall, seen the cloudless, birdless blue sky, spoke of special signs and the Eye of Allah, became intensely solicitous of my footfall amongst the jagged and uneven ruins.
Back in the office he waxed lyrical to his colleagues of my driving, my negotiating the labyrinthine alleys of Urfa and everyone, including the Turk, was in great good humour. I was given their delicious apple tea, blowtorch sweet, and told the coach had broken down anyway, somewhere east of Nemrut Dağ.
Much too late we leave, the stragglers are a honeymoon couple for whom time is a notion that belongs far beyond their rosy world. Each time we stop for the sightseeing along the way my legs complain at having to get up and walk. Gene and Sandy sit behind me, they are also tired and our couple of days rest has proved our legs far less than infallible. I am more tired than I know.
Ponte Maceira, waterfalls, Cee, forgettable Muros, all with a guide whose English is unrecognisable as my mother tongue. Her words delivered as bullet sound-bites without nuance or punctuation render them incomprehensible. A most excellent accent with barely a trace of English ... Was that church bombed or struck by lightning? Did Napoleon rape and pillage or restore and improve? Which war? World War Two, the Spanish Civil or the Christians and Moors? And telling us in English what to look out for on the right as we passed whatever it was two bends back because the Spanish explanation took a kilometre to say ... all rather vexing.
I asked her when was lunch. Uh oh! Two o’clock, she snaps. Two o’clock! I gasp, remembering breakfast was at seven o’clock. Lunch in Spain, she fairly growls, she’s obviously met the lunch-at-noon brigade before, is two o’clock; you are in Spain, we lunch at two o’clock, don’t you know.
I was in Spain for breakfast I reply, but it doesn’t stop me being hungry after 5 hours. Golly, it will be seven hours without food, I feel a coma coming on!
But, here we are at Finisterra. The rain stops; the blueness of the sky astonishing in its clarity. The very earth is different. I step on to it and feel a sizzle, an amalgam of goose bumps, and I am alive. Gone my grouches, my grumbles, my aches, my lurching on the walking stick, I am on the Camino path and it carries me. It is true, so many pilgrims say it, the Way will carry you, it is true.
The 0.00 kms sign on the last milestone is one thing, the Faro de Finisterre another, the lonely Cross a third. Being given the sello for the End of the Known World brings an upwelling of tears to all of us who had walked so far knowing our limitations would prevent us the final difficulties of walking the four days to Finisterre. I am so glad I came.
I leapt from the coach and fairly hop from craggy rock to boulder to see signs of fire pits and smouldering ashes and then, round a particularly sheer and rugged protrusion, a curl of smoke. Two young men are burning their pilgrim clothes. I congratulate them, they are brimming with light and joy, one asks if he can take a photo of me with my camera at the end of the world. I demur, I have not walked to it, but then, oh yes please falls out of my mouth – I am here! My gratitude glowed, tears flowed. The two young men are Italians, from that region of Switzerland.
Down then to the town, my spirits transformed, I grin at the tour guide, tell her the place is wonderful, she is Galician, compliments for her country melts stone. She smiles back, we are fine. Sandy and Gene and I choose an empty restaurant on the quay, we are hungry and think the service will be quicker.
We learn from the moment we are rationed to portions of bread for two given to three the reason the restaurant is empty. Gene, the most affable of men, asks for a portion of bread divisible for three and is served with a volley of words in which, yes of course I’ll just cut some more for you, is not discernible. The dishes are as mean and measured and poor and pricey. We do not intend to leave a tip.
But as we sit alone and obvious in this empty restaurant one of those moments occurs: Cindy! How lovely! I call, for here she is, and as pleased to see me. She comes to sit with us awhile. She has not met Sandy or Gene, not once along the 500 miles. Isn’t it curious who we meet and who we miss even walking the same path at the same time. Cindy and I had not hoped to meet again after our sharing at breakfast days before, had not bumped into each other, yet here she is. She had caught a local bus to Finisterre yesterday and will walk the long day to Muxia tomorrow. I promised my body I wouldn’t push it anymore but we had a little talk and decided we could manage one more day! We laugh, swap emails.
Cindy is from Boulder and when she hears I am from Glastonbury laughs and tells Gene, who commented that Boulder is a bit left of field, that Glastonbury is the last word in way out there and makes Boulder look boring. We hug, take photos, wave goodbye and she calls out: start from Le Puy, your smile will get you through France, a smile speaks twenty languages!
And so on to Muxia, named for the monks of an 11th century Benedictine monastery. The rock, the sail belonging to the Virgin of the Boat, is clear to see, but no going through the narrow hole nine times for me; Men-an-Tol cured me of crawling through little holes in or under rocks for all time. I love the legend though: St James, Santiago, came here in despair thinking he had failed in his mission and the Blessed Virgin appeared sailing in to the land in a small barque to console him and say indeed he hadn’t failed at all.
Each one of us feels this to be the true end to our long walk; each of us sit on the sea pounded rocks lost in reverie and sea spray, silently. My pilgrimage is over.