A note for readers: This is the 13th and penultimate in a series of articles intended to describe my experience of walking two of the many pilgrimage routes that make up Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Although I documented those experiences on Facebook as they were unfolding in October 2023, this is a much deeper look into their implications.
Should you need to review any previous articles for context, and if you landed here from Facebook, please click here for the full journal, then scroll down as needed. If you came here directly, just scroll down.
To my mind, the finest part of the trek to Finisterre is the last couple of kilometers, which is essentially an easy walk on a path beside the beach. More than an arrival, it is a return, a return to ocean waters. Can there be a more fundamental pilgrimage than this for any human?
I’m here to revisit a place that had during my last Camino proven itself to be sacred ground (though, in a sense, I suppose all ground is sacred). It was here where I walked and wandered for nine days after that first pilgrimage journey, on the beaches and moors, on the footpaths across the cape, and the road out to the lighthouse, that something began to make sense about what had transpired on the Camino de Santiago. It was here I was given a way forward, and here that I found my way home.
I wonder if I can know this kind of thing once more ̶ ̶ if I can go home again.
I pause at the stone crucifix that welcomes pilgrims into Finisterre where the path meets the sidewalk next to the coastal road. Navigating from memory, I make my way to the middle of town, then climb the hill to my accommodation for the next two nights. Consistent with this notion of revisiting, it is the same hotel where I stayed the last time I was here.
It’s late in the day, and the walk from Olveiroa was tiring. After settling in and indulging in a long shower, I lie in bed considering the places I’ll visit tomorrow, all the while remembering that first time. It was a different season then with an early-summer feel in the air, and I was a different pilgrim, living a different life. I try to set expectations aside. Sleep comes easily.
Finisterre is a cape with bay and ocean sides. The town itself lies across the waist of the land, and a three-kilometer wilderness stretches between the town and the lighthouse at the farthest point. At the very edge of town is an 800-year-old church. Inside is a baptismal font situated in an alcove where I’d once experienced a profound, spontaneous meditation, one that had led to an understanding that, at the time, had long eluded me. The rain is heavy now, and the wind is driving hard. It would be so good to shelter here for a while, to revisit that alcove and sit there quietly once again.
I find the church doors locked.
As I continue on, the sidewalk soon yields to the footpath that traces the coastal road, and I begin the long, inclined walk toward the end of the cape. Through a steady downpour and gusting head wind, I eventually arrive at the zero kilometer marker of the Camino Finisterre and the lighthouse. My last visit here included a clear-sky sunset while I sat perched on the rocks, but today’s view reveals only the churning Atlantic directly below the cliffs. The walk back to town places the wind and rain at my back, and moving along the path I consider the contrasts being shown me as the day unfolds.
I arrive at the overlook high above a pristine, deserted beach on the ocean side of the cape. I’d spent quite a bit of time here before, but again, today, it presents a very different beauty. It is wild and windswept, raw and primitive, a heartbreaking kind of beauty. I make my way down the sloping walkways to the sand, then to the water’s edge. The waves are breaking far off with the tide running low, and I walk almost the whole length of the beach before the chilled winds force me back to the walkway and a return to the hotel.
I have one more day of route walking tomorrow, 30 kilometers to Muxia. I’ve a growing sense this will likely be my last Camino trek. For this reason, there is a place I must visit on the way: the moors of Castrominan.
Bands of rain are sweeping across the cape, and the wind is actually howling as I eat a large breakfast at the hotel. As I walk to intersect the Camino route along the Costa del Morte to Muxia, the wind is buffeting hard and the pack is acting like a sail, jarring me and challenging my balance.
I arrive within the hour at Castrominan, where I pay homage to another place that holds a mystical history for me. The grasses are matted and dull green in contrast to the yellow gorse blooms that greeted me last time. I follow a path to the edge of the cliffs, the wind blowing so hard that it drowns out the sound of the heavy surf pounding the rocks below. A melancholy seeps in, and soon the tears arrive, not at all dramatic ̶ ̶ there’s just nothing more here than a simple goodbye in the air ̶ ̶ and the wind dries them quickly. But as I cross back over the moors to rejoin the Camino, I think perhaps Thomas Wolfe was right, that maybe you can’t go home again.
The walk to Muxia is exquisitely wet, with a wind that is occasionally terrifying as gusts bend hundred-foot-tall eucalyptus trees near their tops. The sound of it is sometimes deafening, resembling a turbine. I have never hiked in conditions like this, and I ruefully remind myself about the intention of grace with which I’ve been walking. I want it to be over, even given my intrinsic understanding that grace expresses in an infinite variety of ways, including the unexpected. Other than water breaks, I press on to Muxia without stopping. After arriving, all I want is to become clean and dry, and to sleep. Food can wait until tomorrow.
There is a warm and welcoming café around the corner from my hotel, and I gorge myself on a leisurely breakfast. The rain has let up this morning, the wind has laid down a little, and the skies have brightened, though still overcast. A walk to the far end of town and its rocky coast is in order.
Muxia, situated on a peninsula that points directly north, is known for its sunrises over the harbor and Atlantic sunsets beyond its craggy western edge. The northernmost end is rugged and wild, known as a place where one can become mesmerized by the elemental, thundering waves crashing ashore. A short walk leads me to find a lighthouse, a church, and a rather stunning monument known as The Wound, a large stone monolith with a gaping crack down its middle, a reminder of a massive oil spill that had once contaminated the entire Spanish coastline. I find it easy to personalize this sculpture.
I settle into a perfect spot on a rock that forms a wind shadow behind me, and sit for a long while as I think of little else other than being present here. This is not the end of my pilgrimage. It is the place where I turn for home in my heart and soul, in body and mind ̶ ̶ the place from which I’ll carry every moment of these walks of penitence and grace. The Atlantic’s waves will always find the shore here, and I will always be a pilgrim, even if I never return to walk.
Next: coming home, some final reflections, and something a bit personal.