I was welcomed to the north of Spain with pouring rain. The landscape had a green richness I constantly compared to the yellow, dry hills I had grown used to in the south. People spoke much slower and seemed more grateful for my attempted mumbles of broken Spanish. All this I noticed on a beautiful train journey from Porto. I was staying a day in Santiago before starting the Camino.
I slept in my first albergue in the center; a large room filled with 60 bunk beds for pilgrims. Most people had walked with Santiago as their endpoint. From 2-week-long walks through the north of Portugal to 3-month expeditions through France. Most pilgrims slept all day and limped through the hostel.
I was doing the epilog of the Camino, from Santiago to Finisterre, the end of the world. Starting tomorrow – after seeing the city center, sipping Galicia beers in the cute sunny streets, enjoying northern tapas, and watching relieved pilgrims finally reach the impressive, but blue scaffold, Cathedral. I also picked up a pilgrims passport; a small booklet with route information and spaces for stamps to collect at bars, cafes, and albergues along the way.
Then I attached a small shell badge to the side of my bag.
Day 1: Santiago to Negeira
It’s strange to walk through a city in the early hours, alone and lost, but feel that it’s safe because you are part of something, this collective energy of the Camino. A group of people all moving the same direction, just spread out over different points along the path. But there’s a thin line between walking the Camino de Santiago and just wandering aimlessly, hoping you are going the right way.
I was so unprepared. I had left my big backpack in the Santiago hostel, along with passport, train ticket, and laptop, and brought with me a tiny backpack stuffed with the bare minimum for five days. I was wearing old, new balance trainers and blindly hoping it wouldn’t rain because I didn’t have a waterproof coat. I had no idea where I was going and no practical information, except some pieces of paper my friend had kindly photocopied for me from her own Camino book. But I figured walking is walking – and, as it always does, everything worked out just fine.
More than fine, the route was incredible. After almost 3 weeks traveling cities, surrounded by people and carrying a heavy backpack, I felt light and free in nature. I quickly discovered that this walk was full of small but lovely things. The sunrise over Santiago when I looked back over my shoulder. A local dog that walked beside me for a few kilometers. Shadowed forests and surprising columns of dusty light. After so much time in cities, I was so ready for this – the immediate beauty of nature.
Day 2: Negeira to Olveiroa
I woke with the rest of the Albergue at about 6:30 and set off early to start a 33-kilometre day to Olveiroa. I loved the soft morning light and followed shell signs into a forest. The morning was spent passing farm buildings, slowly climbing hills with magnificent green field views and being chased by the sunrise.
Looking out for the shell signposts of the Camino is almost fun and like a game. They lead you down unexpected paths and through tiny villages that you would never normally visit. Villages that you quickly glance at through train windows. Villages that merge into the landscape from the windows of a plane. Walking is to travel as slowly as possible and you feel rewarded for your patience with these tiny, up-close details and insights of Spanish life.
Long sections of main roads were tedious. But soon, you were led into nature again. In one ear, I listened to music and in the other; I listened to what was around me. At Santa Marina, 13 kilometers from the end, I stopped in a cafe. The afternoon sun was blazing and I fully appreciated a cold beer. The rest of the day was tough. Trainers proved useless after a while and I felt every large stone beneath my feet. But every now and again a shaded bench would be waiting and the scenery was as beautiful as ever.
Eventually, I arrived, paid 6 euros for the Xunta Albergue and enjoyed an evening surrounded by tired pilgrims, eating and drinking, and completely taking over this small village in the middle of northern Spain.
Day 3: Olveiroa to Corcubion
I left immediately in the morning, following a wonderful canyon pathway with the distant sound of a river rising up and echoing through the valley, until stopping at a cafe after an hour of walking. I sat back and watched the sunrise with a coffee. Many people in Andalucía had raved about the nature of Galicia. I was so glad to be slowly walking it.
After about 10 kilometers, there is a split in the path. Left to Finisterre and right to Muxia. I took the left road, which guided me up a hill to my favorite moment along the Camino. Walking upwards, there is a sudden viewpoint when you reach the top, where the road dips down again and an expansive coastal scene stretches out into the distance. It was breathtaking – to unexpectedly see the ocean and know that, from now on, you are slowly descending to reach it.
I followed a dusty path down to the coastal town of Cee. After being promised spectacular sea views along this route, I was happy to be finally beside the water. Everything in this area is dominated by the blue ocean, so open and expansive. It is almost as though you can tell; the water is empty of land until America.
On the third day, many pilgrims carry onto Finisterre. But I slept in a quiet albergue up on a hill above Corcubion, where my friend had insisted I stay. I understood why – it was my favorite place along the route. With only two of us staying the night, we had a small dinner together with the manager of the hostel, a volunteer who had been traveling the Camino for two years. We drank beer outside and spoke Spanglish until the sun went down.
Day 4: Corcubion to Finisterre
Day 4 was a short one but one of the most spectacular. The route hugged the coastline the whole morning. Every corner offered another amazing view. I stopped on various beaches or walked along the sand. All the time, watching the water get brighter with the passing morning. Finisterre stood in the distance from the beginning, sometimes lost behind hills or trees, but waiting promisingly at the end of a headland.
The walk into the town is exciting, paved between sand dunes with a long beach running parallel. Wooden paths leading straight to the beach. Hills full of wind turbines behind you. Stranded fishing boats. The most perfect shells scattered on the sand. With only 10 kilometers to walk, I arrived into Finisterre at 10:30 and had breakfast in a harbor café.
It is a tradition in the evening for all walkers to travel an extra 3 kilometers to the end of the headland, where the milestone reads zero beside an old lighthouse. That point is the end of the world, where the water extends infinitely and pilgrims watch the sunset. But throughout the evening, the fog had rolled in and you couldn’t see further than the edge of the cliffs. We walked there anyway but it was a disappointing anti-climax, especially for those who had traveled months to reach this single point.
But for me, 5 days of sun outweighed one evening of fog. I still hadn’t needed the raincoat I didn’t have, my trainers were still holding together, and I was happy to be in the beautiful final destination of the Camino de Santiago.
Finisterre. The end of the way. The end of the world. The end of my travels.