Three years after completing the 500-mile Camino Frances, MEP and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh headed back to the Camino to finally reach ‘the end of the world’ with best friend Mary. Her Camino diary was originally published by Her.ie.
My Camino by Maria Walsh – Part 2
Day 4 – Feeling the pain and the camaraderie
Today was the day that we knew was going to kick our derrières!
Mary and I left Hotel Millan at 7am. Again, a later start than most Pelligrinos (Pilgrims). With a rolling 28km of hills and road ahead of us, we estimated a 1pm arrival to Hotel Casa Jurjo in Abeleiroa.
A lot of small battles were fought and won by the legs and minds today.
Today was different to most Camino days. There was little to this route except hills and road. There were not many cafes or stamp collection points. We did not pass a single church, which added to the day’s intensity. Those welcome chapels afford the voyager the chance to catch their breath, take refuge from the blistering heat and, of course, to send up silent prayers.
It was a slow, quiet day, passing few fellow Pilgrims. Those we did pass had their attention fixed on overcoming the difficult route ahead of them. Many of those Pilgrims would have travelled quite the distance, from places such as St. Jean Pied de Port, or Le Puy.
I was reminded quite often today that, for many, the journey to Finisterre is the end of their Camino. It is the end of their adventure and the end of their pilgrimage, which brings with it a mix of hopefulness for the future coupled with sadness that the journey has concluded.
We stopped twice in cafes en route today. One stop in particular, at Cafe La Penne, was special. The Barista was a local Spanish man who was welcoming, especially when we shared we were Irish. He was wearing an Irish wristband, gifted to him by a Galway Pilgrim. They had sadly lost touch some six years before, and the barista was eagerly awaiting his friend’s return.
Today we covered 26km from Abeleiroas to Cee. We woke energised to get a late start at 8.30am. Our hotel, Cas Jurjos in Al Porto, was bustling with wedding preparations.
Mary and I fell into step once again, commenting on the dull pains that niggle our shins and hips. We’re really feeling it today!
Sunburn was kept at bay as Mary overloaded her pasty Irish skin with sunscreen. At the risk of jinxing us, our feet are good. The trick that I learned from when I walked the Camino in 2016 is paying off – I lather my feet heavily in Vaseline before I set off each day.
Mary and I have a similar fitness level, so we’re able to keep in step with one another and we have an unspoken understanding of when we both need to stop and catch a breather. We stopped in a cafe for our usual cafe con leche and homemade orange juice, all the while eavesdropping on the morning chats between the locals. We left wondering what their day ahead entails…
We discussed how we both experienced pain and difficulty in sections of the walk the day previous. Each different to the other. A reminder that someone walking a similar road may find different sections more or less strenuous than you and vice versa.
We discussed how this journey would be difficult if walking with someone with differing levels of ability to you. This section of ‘The Way’ to the ‘end of the world’ is quieter than our previous Caminos. There are parts of this road that have unexpected hills and steep declines. We laugh as we both agree that this route must be like giving birth – when you arrive to Muxia, euphoric, suddenly forgetting all the pain!
Our advice if you are going to step onto the Camino journey with someone is to walk a beach or two, start strolling with no time restrictions in forests and get your feet, knees and hips ready.
The person you may share this walk with has to be comfortable with silence and with you ranting about whatever it has happened. It should be someone who will make you laugh and challenge you when you need to be challenged. It’s important to allow yourself and your waLking partner the option to fall in and out of conversations. On some days that’s even more essential than a good pair of walking boots or a packed bag.
Even though yesterday had been earmarked as the most strenuous section of our journey, at certain points today, due to the heat and aspects of the climb, we both found today quite the difficult walk. There is always a sneaky hill waiting around the corner, just when you think you’re done.
After the small village of Hospital, there was no any Cafes or toilets for 15KM. For a Pilgrim, this is often the most difficult challenge as you are then lost in nature. I love entering into small towns and villages, waving to locals and stopping at ease when and if ‘nature calls!’.
We came upon a closed church at Capela das Neves. Pilgrims were dotted around it, and instantly it was a special moment to sit and catch a break.
The 3km descent into the town of Cee was hard on the legs, but as I lost myself to the words of Santana’s So Smooth and Mary danced to Afro Pop, we were soon upon the town. On arrival, we fortuitously fell upon a wedding. What a glorious welcome watching a couple have rice and confetti thrown over them and fireworks blast in the distance in the honour of love!
This evening, we found ourselves at an hour-long Mass. The women of Cee are fashionable and as we sat and reflected on our day, we were absorbed into the culture of local life. Strolling once more after the mass finished, we stumbled upon a performance by a youth orchestra. What a way to say buenas noches to the 80km completed so far!
Buen Camino amigos, for tomorrow we reach ‘the end of the world’. Maria x
A Galway wristband is a reminder of home
We took a photograph, waved goodbye, and for the remainder of the journey I reflected on our fortuitous meeting and of the connections that Camino fosters with people all over the world. How many people are left with charms and memories of charming people?
Our hotel is based a few kilometers off the Camino route. We spotted a Camino Ways sign by a bus stop and, after trekking down a hard hill, we were able to catch our breaths and wait for the hotel owner to pick us up. This is unusual for Camino, but a welcomed trip as the town of A Picota is larger than Lago where we had finished walking, and we were greeted with welcomed bottles of cold water.
After a dinner to wrap up our evening, we were booked to return by taxi tomorrow morning to where we stopped – no kilometers missing, we promise!
Our evening was spent catching the sun behind the hotel – a hard task for two busy minds. As the hotel was preparing for a wedding tomorrow, we found ourselves surrounded by peacocks, hydrangeas and dream catchers. A surreal moment!
We were both reminded of life beyond the Camino. After catching up with friends and family at home and saying goodnight, it’s now time to rest our tired legs and gather our energies for tomorrow’s 26km.
Day 5 – We danced our way to the end of the world
Today gifted Mary and I a day like no other. Earlier in the week, we chatted about the way to Finisterre being like childbirth. People only remember the moment of euphoria, and forget the pain endured in getting to the ‘end of the world’!
This morning from Cee was busier than any other morning. Pilgrims were moving, eager to arrive at their final destination.
We met Leonardo, a 69-year-old from Mexico City. He was an amazing spirit, and we shared our reasonings about the meaning of life. An accountant, he retired three years and has been in Europe since April. The Camino was suggested to him in Lisbon and he bought a bag, a pair of walking sticks and took off.
He is a man who practices meditation and Bikram yoga every day. Mary and I shared a few kilometres with him and took some photographs. Our parting was textbook Camino: someone stops for a few minutes for a photograph, or a coffee, or just catches their breath and time moves away. We hope to connect with him again. He was a special spirit.
We were met with a guy smoking a blunt, with Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry blaring from his backpack. He was on his way to work, blasting a boom box. Together with Ben, a Hungarian PE student, we moved in sync to the beat that only Bob could capture for us. No English shared. No one needed to speak. Music can be the greatest connection when language becomes a barrier to conversation. The five of us danced our way onto the shores of Finisterre, a joyous few minutes shared together.
I can’t tell you the impact days like today have on Pilgrims. Finisterre is a standard seaside town but has the ability to capture thousands of Pilgrims each year. Most of these visitors would have walked over 120km to soak in the folklore and spirit of Finisterre – which was known as the ‘end of the world’ in Roman times. Some Pilgrims walk even further. Some, like Mary and I, had our journeys from previous years to complete.
With Cee, where we started our day, only 16km away, we arrived in Finisterre before noon. We strolled the town, caught the sea, sand and sun on the beach, and sipped coffee in the greatest Pilgrim cafe/bar in Finisterre, called ‘The World Community’ while listening to some music from an inspired Pilgrim.
This wasn’t the end of our experience. Mary and I were eager to capture the treasure many of us want to experience when we’re finished Camino, (for now at least). We walked the 3.2km out of the town to the cliff at Faro de Cabo Finisterre.
Having arrived with plenty of time to settle and pick a spot to watch the sunset, we talked about what this trip has offered us, and what it reminded us of. As the sun changed its colours and shape, we listened to To Ramona by Sinéad Lohan and sent gratitude and intentions into the approaching night sky.
At exactly 9.55pm the sun set, and as it disappeared beyond the sea, I was left with an overwhelming sense of solace. A feeling of deep understanding of the greater things that are happening for us. A feeling of deep appreciation of our environment that is an extraordinary natural healer for all who allow it in.
I can not do days like today, or experiences like Camino the justice they deserve. I can only say if you happen to read this, or the Camino is ebbing into your life by a friend or family member talking about it, then acknowledge that it may be time to gift yourself the space and mystery of Camino.
For now I say buenas noches, for tomorrow our journey continues to Muxia.
DAY 6 – Time for reflection as our journey comes to an end
We arrived at the information centre at 9:00 am to collect our Compostella, certificates for completion of the Camino, after successfully walking close to 54 miles. It’s a surreal moment acknowledging the journey you have overcome ahead of walking to the final destination of Muxia.
For those visiting Fisterra, we recommend a visit to Etel & Pan, a coffee hotspot conveniently located beside the centre. As we waited to collect our Compostela certificates, Mary and I sat in silence collecting our thoughts, reflecting on our Faro de Fisterra visit the night previous and our personal journeys along the way. We congratulated fellow pilgrims who received their Compostella. A special time for a pilgrim. A special time for us. Mary and I then headed north to Lires, making tracks before the sun intensified. Today’s path was a combination of road and forest. Strolling into people’s back yards, farms and worksites made me wonder how our Spanish friends feel about pilgrims arriving every day in droves. Towns and villages can be difficult to find on this route, but the greenery and seascapes here are truly stunning. We met many pilgrims journeying back towards Fisterra from Muxia, which can seem like a difficult walk if you’ve already conquered a voyage to the end of the world. Our route was short in comparison to others with just a 16 km walk to achieve. Today has been the only overcast day we’ve seen since starting our Camino in Santiago de Compostela. After walking to Lires, we were driven 15 minutes west to a family-run rustic hotel, in Casa Fontequeiroso just outside Muxia. Meeting Anxo, a young boy who had just finished an English camp was a highlight, particularly seeing his joy at practising a new language. Over our first home-cooked meal since arriving in Spain, we listened to him play the Galician bagpipes. A gorgeous moment. As we close our eyes and rest for our final 15km walk tomorrow, we are grateful for this evening, a home away from home, a sincere and genuine welcome in a Spanish casa.
Day 7 – Take time for yourself and make no apologies about it
I write this two days after leaving Muxia and Santiago and my brain (and feet!) are still very much on ‘The Way’.
When it comes to the experience of the Camino, it is exceptionally difficult to switch ‘off’ and find the words to share the brilliance that goes with Camino.
I said goodbye to Mary in Santiago. I took an earlier flight, and she spent her final hours strolling around Santiago and visiting the Cathedral.
Even though we are catching up again soon, it’s a bittersweet goodbye.
I woke today with the desire to walk more kilometres (or clicks as some would say on the Camino). The seven days gifted me some downtime after a busy three years since my last pilgrimage. I gifted myself time on this journey, lifting a significant weight. I was afforded time with my greatest friend. I was afforded time along the seafront. I was afforded time with myself to think about what has been achieved and what I want to work towards now.
The simplistic nature of ‘The Way’ removes all the noise I experience on a daily basis. The only ask from Camino is that you put one foot in front of another, follow a yellow ‘Way’ marker and you move.
There is no magic wand at the end of the Camino, trust me I looked! Between Muxía this week and St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in July 2016, I was left feeling ‘undone’ in both places. I believe, for me, I am still on ‘The Way’.
To my fellow adventurers who might be reading, here are a few notes for you.
If you have the opportunity to walk a day, two days or even three weeks, take it. Take it and make no apologies for taking that time (a lesson I am still learning!)
Invest in a good pair of hiking/walking shoes, a bag and a journal. Check out the Irish Camino Society which has events and talks throughout the year. As many will know, Ireland has a rich Camino history.
Many believe the Camino is heavily linked to religion but it’s not. I am a practising Catholic and spirituality is important to me. On my first Camino, I attended mass every evening. I did that because it afforded me a window of time to sit and reflect (and pretend I know more Spanish than I do!) Some people might find that window of time sitting in a coffee shop or by a river instead, it’s your personal journey.
There is no rule book. There is no right way or wrong way. There are no set kilometres to walk every day. There’s just you and what you want to give and take.
All fitness levels, all ages, all sizes, all orientations, all religions can take part in the Camino. In 2016, I spent a day walking with a Bishop from Barbados. This time, Mary and I shared some steps with a student from Hungary and a retired man from Mexico. It’s open to everyone and all are welcome.
The more you put into anything, the more you get out and that’s especially relevant for the Camino.
You meet extraordinary people, you see extraordinary landscapes and most importantly, you learn something extraordinary about yourself.
Until we meet on ‘The Way’…
Buen Camino Amigos.
Maria travelled with CaminoWays.com and her diary was originally published on Her.ie.
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