is May 1, a special day for me. It marks the second anniversary of my
start of the Appalachian Trail. Yesterday I walked the last miles of
the Camino to the Atlantic Ocean in Finisterre – literally the
end of the earth. On the walk into Finisterre I got to take off my shoes
and socks and walk almost a mile along a wide sand beach washed by gentle
The water was cold but I strayed in and let it lap at my toes a number
of times. About 3/4 of the way along I put down my pack and undid the
scallop shell (the traditional symbol of a pilgrim on the Camino) that
hung on the back of my pack. I gave it a kiss and threw it back into
the sea from which it came a symbolic gesture on the completion of my
I had been walking an additional two days past Santiago where I arrived
on Wednesday the 28th and got my official "compostela", a
document written in Latin signifying completion of the official pilgrimage
route. But the route does continue on for another 90 kilometers to Cabo
Finisterre along the ancient Celtic lay lines to a place where the Celts
who inhabited the area before the Romans had built a temple to the sun
at the place where it disappeared into the ocean at the end of each
Those last couple of days were filled with emotion as has most of this
journey. I have walked in areas of incredible beauty and the outward
aspects of the trip have been mostly bright despite some contrary weather
along the way. But the inner journey has been somewhat less clear, a
bit more murky. Part of it has to do with the loneliness of walking
in a foreign country where language presented a problem. I could always
manage to communicate my basic needs but often that was the extent of
my human interaction. This is not to say that many wonderful things
did not happen in personal interactions and it was always great to find
some English-speaking folks with whom to share experiences. But a touch
of loneliness hovered around this walk unlike my experience on the AT.
And it also seems that more change is at hand in my life. A relationship
seems to be ending and as I mentioned in an earlier message, it also
seems to be time for a new direction. As I walked those last couple
of days it seemed like this journey was a second bookend on a period
in my life that began exactly two years ago to the day as I headed south
for my long walk on the AT. Walking out to the cape yesterday seemed
in some inexpressible way like the finishing of a longer and more abstract
It actually was a pretty incredible day. All the way across Galicia
from Ponferrada where my last email was sent (and from where I write
again today after a 7 hour bus trip) was marked by uncharacteristic
clear skies and warm afternoon temperatures. On the morning I arrived
in Santiago, as if on queue, clouds began to stream in from the Atlantic
and by the time I was on my way later in the day, occasional light showers
next day was more of the same with more wind and heavier rain off and
on all day. On the last day into Finisterre, heavy clouds again scudded
in across the rolling hills of Western Galicia. I left the quiet hostel
at first light (very few pilgrims venture beyond Santiago) and began
a climb into the blossom-covered hills. At the high point of the day,
which came at around 8:30 am, sun broke through the clouds and rain
on the hill off to the south created an incredibly intense rainbow which
shot straight up into the grey shattered clouds. A few minutes later
cold rain caught up with me and I pulled on my poncho as it pelted down.
But 15 minutes later it had stopped and as I crested the top of the
ridge I caught my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean way off in the
At first I wasn’t sure if it really was the Atlantico. Distant
clouds, I thought or fog or ??, but as I stared and wondered it became
clear that it was the ocean gray under a gray sky and still a long way
off. The remaining walk was one of the wilder ones since the Pyrenees.
Narrow paths and rough tracks wove among the high hills. I had to ford
a wild brook. A fox scampered off the track and into the gorse. The
high spots were bare with yellow scotch broom like blooms. On the slopes
plantings of pine and eucalyptus sprawled downward. It was still miles
to the coast but the walking was good. Rain came and went and seemed
to me a cleansing baptism washing away the dust of the formal Camino.
And in fact in the last miles before reaching the ocean a spring near
a little chapel in the hills is purported to have healing properties.
When I reached it I plunged my head into the water that spouted from
a metal pipe and let it wash down my face and neck.
at last at the ocean I walked the beach already mentioned and then walked
right through Finisterre and out the final few kilometers to the high
headland of Cabo Finisterre. At the lighthouse is the final bollard
of the Camino Finisterre with a downward pointing scallop shell marking
the end of the journey and "the end of the earth". I ran into
Frank there, a German who had also walked the last miles from Santiago
and who had shared albergues with me on the two previous nights. We
took photos of each other at the marker with our cameras. And then I
noticed something else that had special meaning for me. Not far from
the bollard was a peace pole. Most of the messages were greatly faded
because of the constant exposure to sun and weather, but the message
on the north side of the pole remained clear and bright and in English
read, "May Peace Prevail on Earth". How could there be a better
But I’ve left out a lot - so very much about the days between
Ponferrada and Finisterre. In brief, I walked over 300 kilometers in
8 days through the incredible beauty of the mountains here in the eastern
part of Galicia through the mostly pastoral and rolling hills as I journeyed
toward the ocean.
When I left here 8 days ago, I walked in slowly rising country surrounded
by high snow covered peaks to Villafranca
where I stopped for a bit and chatted with a couple of young Canadian
girls who had just completed there Camino and come back to work at a
crazy little alburgue called Ave. Fenix were I will walk to tomorrow.
Since it was still early in the day I decided to walk on and took the
scenic route which took me high into blossom-covered hills.
Everything was in the tender grasp of spring and wild color sprawled
across the landscape. Literally everything was in bloom - heather like
plants in white yellow and a purply pink, and blossoms of purple, yellow,
pink, blue and shades all around the rainbow. I walked utterly in awe
of the beauty around me that ran steeply down the high hills and up
the other side almost always with the snow capped peaks in view behind
me. And at the end of the day I arrived at one of the little jewels
of albergues a private one run by a fellow named Carlos and called the
Pequeno Potala - the "Little Potala".
Inside I found a warm welcome (the hostel had been recommended by my
Canadian friend Derek who I have come back in hopes of meeting) and
sported prayer flags and photos of the Dalai Lama. Carlos called me
the Loco Americano for the distances I had been walking (over 40 k that
day with major climbs on the scenic route). When I left the next morning
- first out the door as usual - he gave me a hug and sent me on my way.
The next day was another morning of climbing back to almost 5000 feet
but the weather was good and the views just kept expanding as I followed
small tracks and narrow dirt lanes up through tiny hamlets to the pass
at O Cebreiro.
From here to Santiago the topography settles and the land turns more
agricultural composed mostly of small farms with lots of little dairy
barns. I was reminded much of my New England home by the rolling hills
and woodsy areas heavy with the lush and gauzy greens of spring. The
days were bright with sunshine and spring blossoms. The mornings were
cool and dewy with a few days of morning fog which burned away in the
sun. The light was incredible and color blazed all around. In fact one
of the things that has been a common experience of my walks has been
a clearing of the senses especially visual. The world takes on clarity
and crispness, a vivid richness that is almost overwhelming at times.
the 26th I walked 54 kilometers - something over 30 miles - to set up
my arrival in Santiago
on the morning of the 28th. In the end, the official end of the Camino
at the cathedral in Santiago seemed more a waypoint to me. I visited
the cathedral early on the morning of the 28th and quite by chance lost
the official Camino on my final approach to the church but because of
that arrived at the Puerta del Perdon "The Door of Pardon"
which is only open in special "holy years" of which 2004 is
one. It had been my desire to enter through this door but my guide which
referenced it gave no information about its location. As I walked across
the square and noticed the gates open on a small entry at the rear of
the cathedral I wondered if I might have found the door I wanted. A
statue of Santiago Peregrino was above the door recognizable by the
scallop shells. I walked up then asked in my broken Spanish if this
was the door I wanted. A beret headed gentleman who was entering indicated
spent some time in the cathedral in prayer and meditation. Visited the
crypt where the bones of St. James one of the apostles are said to be
inside a silver chest. Then I headed out collected my credential of
completion and felt the need in my feet to continue on to the Atlantico
where I would be able after more than 500 miles of walking over 26 days
be able to look out to the west and home.
I’ve come back to Ponferrada to keep a date with my friend Derek
- who inspired me to come to the Camino. We agreed some time ago to
sit on a hillside in Spain and fold origami cranes together. Once that
is done, I think it will be time to head home to whatever the Camino
that began yesterday holds for me.
Just one last comment before I send off this message. It has been amazing
how whenever I was about to stray from the Camino someone would appear
and point me in the right direction. In the predawn in a city whose
name I don’t remember a man pushing a wheelbarrow lead me through
narrow streets to the right road. In a small hamlet a man stopped me
in my tracks with a loud yell and pointed my to the proper exit from
town after which his dog silently leapt at me after I had turned about.
I was chased down by a construction worker on a bicycle when he saw
me turn the wrong way down a street.
One of the most unusual happened on my last day before entering Santiago.
I was walking by the airport outside of town on my way to the alburgue
at Monte del Gozo where I would spend my last night 5 kilometers from
the Cathedral. There was a lot of construction and everything was torn
up. I started down what appeared to be the correct path around the work
area and just happened to look to my left at a house that bordered the
street. There in a window was a woman pointing. No words, no sound just
a face in a window and a finger showing me the way.
Maybe there will be more to say when I am back in the States - I’ll
let you know. Till then, my love to all. Thanks for your support in
whatever way you have lent it. It eased the loneliness to know that
you were all out there.
Peace and Blessings, Bruce