- Oct. 25 – Santiago de Compostela to Negreira. 21 km.
- Oct. 26 – Negreira to Olveiroa. 33.4 km.
- Oct. 27 – Olveiroa to Muxia. 34 km.
At four o’clock on Friday afternoon I was following the trail through a grove of eucalyptus when I rounded a bend, the trees opened up, and there, in front of me, was the sea. The shock of it felt like a blow. My Camino was over. I still had several miles to walk – south until the trail curled around the entrance to a peninsula, then north again to Muxia, a little town where the peninsula ends – but that view of salt water was the moment when I stopped looking into the future as a place where I would be walking every day.
It is 791 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, then another 88 from Santiago to Muxia – 880 kilometers, more or less, or about 550 miles. I spent 39 days walking this distance, including five layover days in big cities. This means I walked for 34 days, averaging 25.9 km (16 miles) on every day I walked. This is only five or six hours of walking every day – enough time to feel fatigued, especially early in the journey, but little enough to have given me many luxurious hours in church courtyards and in the narrow canyons of ancient streets. In retrospect, I think my pace was about right.
I am struggling to find a way to describe the meditative aspect of doing so much walking that neither overstates the case – making the endeavor into a kind of search for Zen enlightenment – nor diminishes it, since it seems to me to have been the most important part of my journey across Spain. There is no direct analogy here to the disciplined meditation of the far East, that I have attempted a few times and failed at miserably; I almost never attempted to control my thinking while I was walking. What I’m talking about is much simpler than that.
Your feet hurt. The sun is hot. The pack straps are nipping at your shoulders. There is a large rock in front of you that you need to step around. A yellow flower. You plant your pole in the dirt and put a little weight on it. A figure far in front of you pauses and shades her eyes with her hand.
There was always room in my mind for more than this immediate experience, but, for hour after hour, whatever I might have been thinking was secondary. The important thing was the walking. Even the previous paragraph, in which I try to list sense impressions, conceptualizes them too strongly. These were not ideas so much as they were the workings of a healthy animal.
The intake of breath before laughing. The moment between stubbing your toe and the arrival of the pain. Realizing that the baby is asleep. A fresh stick of gum. When you know you’re going to sneeze, whether you like it or not. Uninterpreted life.
My insistence on this idea reveals, among other things, how easy my life has been. Most of my labor has been with my mind, or, sometimes, and often as a variety of entertainment, solving problems while using my hands. Almost entirely mindless physical effort has been rare and brief. I had a taste of it when walking the John Muir Trail, fifteen years ago, but that hike took only three weeks and covered less than half this distance. I had almost forgotten the value of the experience.
The mist clearing in the morning. Snails on fennel. The smell of smoke. White dust on your boots. A woman tucks her hair into her cap. Lichen on a bridge. Warm sweat on your back. Shreds of eucalyptus bark underfoot. A glimpse of the sea.
This is the last entry in my account of walking the Camino de Santiago. Writing it has been a pleasure. Thank you for giving me an audience.
The view of one of the cathedral’s towers as I left my hotel in Santiago.
I saw this graffito with great relief, since it was my first good indication that I was walking toward Finisterre – the end of the world.
The view back toward Santiago as the sun begins to rise.
Me and a way-marker.
A chicken atop a steep bank.
Wind turbines line all of the ridgetops between Santiago and the Atlantic.
I saw a number of German Shepherds that had been put to work as cattle dogs.
This must have been a nice little place before the roof fell in.
My first glimpse of the sea.
A surf fisherman.
This sanctuary, Virxe da Barca, marks the end of this branch of the Camino. It is at the tip of the peninsula, just above Muxia.