It’s a late afternoon, early fall October day, 65 degrees of cloudless skies and warm sunshine. I’m sitting at a picnic table in a local park, a cup of Starbuck’s carmel apple cider within arms reach. I’ve got my “Camino writing setup” here: wireless bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPhone. I haven’t used this keyboard since the Camino, and my fingers are getting used to typing on it, again.
It’s fall in Pennsylvania, and these might be the last days of sitting outside in the sunshine. The last days until next year, that is.
I had an entire summer of sitting outside in the sunshine, typing away with a drink by my side. Actually, if anything was missing from my last day on the Camino, it would have been more sunshine. But I did have the sun when I most needed it, and here’s that story (the very detailed, extremely long story. You’ve been warned):
I can’t remember what time I woke up and started to walk on my last Camino day. Early, I think. Even though we didn’t have far to go- only 11 km to Finisterre- there was a lot I wanted to do with the day. I wanted the early start not only to keep up with my routine of the previous 5 weeks, but also to enjoy as much as I could. To soak it all up, because I didn’t know when, if ever, I would be back.
Which meant, of course, stopping as soon as we could for the first cafe con leche and croissant of the morning. Emma had left before us so it was just Sonal and I as we walked away from Cée: through the town, past the beach, and over to the other side of the little cove, to Corcubión. Less than a 2km walk, and the perfect time to stop for coffee. As we were leaving the cafe and walking back to the Camino route, we saw our hospitalero from the night before coming towards us. We greeted him with a smile and he stopped directly in front of us with a stern look on his face. Reaching his arm out and opening his hand wide, he muttered, “The key, please.”
Whoops. We’d been given a key when we checked in the day before, and I’d been in charge of it. We’d never needed to use it and I’m still not sure why we had it, but I’d forgotten all about it. Sheepishly I routed around in my pack and placed the key in his palm. “Gracias,” he growled, and walked back to his car. The night before, Sonal, Emma and I had been convinced that he knew we’d taken wine glasses to drink by the water. It seemed as if he’d been waiting for us when we’d gotten back to the albergue, watching us with a suspicious eye.
Sonal and I walked away quickly. “How did he find us?” Sonal whispered. “Do you think he was driving along until he saw us?”
“I don’t know but I feel like he’s always watching. Lets get out of here!”
Giggling, we left the town of Corcubión, climbing up a steep, narrow track, through tall trees. We walked along a road for awhile, then noticed a small path leading down to some sand. Taking a detour we explored a tiny, private beach, where the blue-green water lapped onto the shore, where I found smooth pieces of emerald sea glass.
We headed back to the road, following the Camino onto a path that hugged the side of a hill, leading us on a high route that paralleled the water. Parts of this walk had great blackberry bushes lining us on either side, and we stopped every few steps to pick the ripest berries, their juice dripping down our fingers.
Closer now to Finisterre, we talked about stopping again for coffee if we passed a cafe. About 2km from Finisterre we ran into Emma, who was sitting on a stone wall on the side of the Camino, just before a beach.
“I was waiting for you guys,” she told us. “I decided that I didn’t want to walk to Finisterre alone. Is it okay if I join you?”
“Only if you’ll agree to stop for some coffee, first.”
Just ahead was a bar that overlooked the ocean. We grabbed seats outside and drank our cafe con leches and ate our tostada, and waived Mo-mo and Silka over when we saw them passing. When we finished we took off our hiking shoes and our socks, and walked down to the sand. The beach would take us the final two kilometers into Finisterre, and I couldn’t imagine a better way of finishing the walk: in my bare feet, walking next to the ocean.
The day had become increasingly cloudy, and as we posed for photos, standing on the sand with our packs and big smiles, we worried about the chances of the day clearing up. It’s tradition for pilgrims to head to the lighthouse once arriving in Finisterre, and camp out on the rocks to watch the sunset. “I think we’re going to see a sunset,” I said. The others nodded.
We finished our walk on the beach, wiping the sand off our feet and putting on flip flops, and then walked up to the road. All at once, I remembered that I had a note in my phone about a place to stay in Finisterre. I’d read about it on a blog months before, and I’d copied the information down, stored it in my phone, and had completely forgotten about it until that moment. I don’t know what made me remember- Camino magic? Albergue do Mar was the name, and we walked up the road, rounded a corner, and there it was, looming in front of us. Three stories, big balconies, right next to the ocean. We walked in, doubtful about the chances of there being any beds left. We were early- it was only 11am- but this was the kind of place that filled up fast.
We asked about beds and what do you know? There were four left. “We’ll take three of them,” I said with a smile. We were lead upstairs and into a room and given the two sets of bunk beds closest to the floor-to-ceiling windows that had a view that was nothing but ocean. This time, for the last time, I requested the top bunk. After spreading out my sleeping bag and climbing up the ladder, I laid on the bed and stared straight out onto the ocean. A 10 euro view. Amazing.
We changed into bathing suits, thinking we might go to the beach if the sun would ever come out, and then walked into town. We found a bustling seaside restaurant and sat down to one of the best meals I’d had in Spain: a menu del dia lunch of pulpo, fresh seafood paella, ice cream, more baskets of bread than I can count, and two bottles of wine. We were at that table for at least two hours- I think we waited for our paella for nearly an hour- but it was perfect. This was the end, we had walked to Finisterre, the ‘end of the world’, and there was nothing more that I wanted than to sit there with my legs stretched out, sipping a glass of wine, and talking to my friends.
And then, just as we were paying the bill, Emma looked up at the sky. “I see blue. I see blue! The sky is clearing!!” We immediately headed out and walked 20 minutes to one of Finisterre’s beaches, the clouds moving out as we moved towards the ocean. And five minutes away from the beach, the sun came out for the first time that day. We cheered, and when we got down to the beach, we sat on the sand and let the warmth of the sun wash over us.
“This might be just what I need to be able to go into the ocean.” I walked down to the water in my bathing suit, not convinced that I would make it in. The day, despite the sun, was cool, and the water even cooler. But standing at the water’s edge, feeling the sun on me and looking out to the expanse of the ocean, I knew I had to do it. So before I could talk myself out of it, I jogged into the water, to my knees, to my waist, and then I dove under.
I’ve always loved the ocean but this was about something more. When I dove under and let my feet come off of the ground, it meant that I had walked until I literally couldn’t walk any further. It was something I didn’t realize I needed to do until the day before, when I saw the ocean. Not only was I walking to the ocean, but I was going to walk into the ocean. My final Camino steps.
I popped out of the water, sputtering. Sonal and Emma were on the shoreline cheering, and then just as quickly as I went into the water, I ran back out. Too cold! I dried myself off as best as I could with my super absorbant, super small REI towel that didn’t even fit around my waist, and then sat on the sand and watched as Emma swam in the water. And then, as if timed just for us, clouds rolled back in and the sun disappeared.
We headed back to the albergue and showered. While the others rested I took my journal and headed out to a bar around the corner, where I ordered a cafe cortado (an espresso shot with a dollop of milk, it was my first of the trip and I think it will be my afternoon coffee drink if I ever make it back to Spain), sat outside, and wrote all of my thoughts about the last day.
I’d told the others I would meet them back at the albergue at 7:30, and that I would pick up some food that we could take up to the lighthouse. I stopped by a small supermercado, picking up two baguettes, a bar of dark chocolate, a bag of potato chips, three peaches, and two bottles of wine. When I met up with Sonal and Emma they nervously asked about the wine I bought (in only a few days with them I’d earned the reputation of being frugal- why buy a 6 euro bottle of wine when you can get a perfectly good one for 2 euro?). But on this night I splurged: 12 euros for a bottle!
I loaded up my pack with all of the food and wine, plus most of my other things. Even though I’d taken my ‘last steps’ when I ran into the ocean, we had another two kilometer walk up to the lighthouse. I still wanted to feel like a pilgrim. So with my walking stick in hand, we set off, climbing on the path that ran alongside the road, walking through fog and mist and thick, heavy clouds.
Every five minutes or so we would turn to each other and say, “We’re going to see a sunset.” Doubtful, dubious looks on our faces, but we kept repeating those words. “We’re going to see a sunset.”
Closer and closer and then we were there, at the 0.00 kilometer marker. We posed for more photos, nothing but thick clouds behind us where there should have been an ocean. The lighthouse was just ahead, and around the corner we’d find the rocks where pilgrims set up to watch the sunset.
I looked to the others one last time. “We’re going to see a sunset.”
We walked past the lighthouse, Emma anxiously climbing the stone steps up the side of the rocks. I looked at her face when she got to the top and she was beaming. Sonal and I arrived behind her, and there, out across the ocean, was the sun. It was straddled by thick lines of clouds, but it was there, a band of glowing, orange light spreading out over the water.
We settled on the rocks and opened the 12 euro bottle of wine, poured it into small plastic cups and stretched our hands out to toast, everything illuminated by the golden light. We broke our bread and talked about the Camino: about our experiences, the things we learned and the things we would take away from the journey. And then, as the sun began to dip down towards the horizon, we became quiet.
At first so much ran through my mind: my first, nervous steps out of St Jean Pied de Port. Those beginning days of walking, the people I had met, the friends I’d said goodbye to. The wonderful moments and the harder moments. Arriving in Santiago. It was all spinning around in my head and then it stopped, and all I thought about was something Rudy from Chicago said to me, about three weeks before. We’d just sat down to dinner in San Nicolas, and I swept my hand around the church. “Can you believe this?” I asked him. “How did we get so lucky? To sit here, in this amazing place, with these beautiful people, to eat an incredible meal. Why do we get to do this? Why do we get to be here?”
Rudy’s face was beaming and he nodded as I spoke. Then he tilted his head back and looked upwards, up to the heavens. “All you can do,” he said, “is be thankful.”
I sat there on the rocky cliff at the edge of the world, watching the sun set over the ocean. Lower and lower and just as the last sliver of sun disappeared, I smiled.