Camino del Norte – Finisterre, the end of the world

Beth and I had arrived in Santiago on the Camino del Norte. But our adventure wasn’t over. After a day of wandering around Santiago and going to the pilgrim’s mass, we got back on the trail heading to Finisterre (or Fisterra, in the Galician language), the end of the world as believed by the Romans. It was another 73 miles, which we did in five days. This time, we took our time.

Emigrant from Negreira

First stop was the town of Negreira, shut tight when we arrived on a Saturday afternoon.

But one sculpture, placed as we walked out of town, was worth a thousand words. The statue shows a man leaving his family in Galicia to find work in the new world. The boy tries to grab his dad to get him to stay.

Galicians have emigrated throughout the world, mostly in South America. Life was tough in the 19th and early 20th century here in Galicia, as land got divided up continuously. A statue with a similar sentiment is in the Finisterre as well.

Heartbreaking. You can’t eat scenery.

The walk to Finisterre can be done by going to Muxia first or to Finisterre first. We elected to leave Finisterre last – after all it is the end of the world. On this trek, we met a whole new set of people, including most who walked the Camino Frances and those who are just walking this loop.

Sign to Muxia

It’s all very clear. On a roundabout, we reached two sets of arrows and we took the right to Muxia.

Still past this sign, on the way to Muxia, I got lost for the first and only time on the Norte. At one point, I encountered three roads emanating from the one I was on and none had a sign.

I went back and forth for what seemed an hour. Finally, unlike the Robert Frost poem, I took the road most traveled.

This is where I had the most chance to find people and get back on the trail. It was the right decision, though I had wasted a lot of extra time on what was already a long, long day.

In Muxia

Muxia is a tourist spot in its own right.

After dinner, we walked to the point to catch the sunset.

Like most churches, the church facing the sea, the Virxe da Barca sanctuary, was closed. Close by stands a spectacular modern sculpture.

From Wikipedia, “A Ferida” by Alberto Bañuelos is a sculpture that symbolizes the wound that has been done to the sea by the spilling of 66,000 tons of oil when the Prestige tanker broke apart off the coast of Muxia on November 13, 2002. The sculpture is 11 meters high, and weights over 400 tons.

Finally, Finisterre, a lively town with many restaurants, shops, and boats. Most visitors are not hikers or pilgrims but come by bus or car. The beaches are spectacular and I even put my feet in the water at the town beach. My feet were in bad shape.

We planned a short hiking day because in the early evening, we walked from town to the lighthouse and the never-ending sea. See the photo on top. Contrary to rumors, you can’t burn anything on the spot. Yes, Cape Finisterre really did look like this.

On the bus the next morning back to Santiago. The end of our pilgrimage.

580.3 miles, 15.7 miles average, 37 hiking days

Camino del Norte – Finally Santiago

Mileage post

Getting over the bridge into Ribedeo in Galicia doesn’t mean that we were at the end of our walk.  We had 186.917 kilometers (over 112 miles).

Even though Beth and I can handle numbers, we were not be keeping track of the remaining mileage with three decimal place precision.

But the Norte in Galicia has these concrete posts consistently on the trail. Not all have the mileage but all have the all-important arrow.

Now I can be bribed with clear, accurate signage, which is why I decided that Galicia is the best section of the Camino del Norte.

Galician is also a regional language, connected to Portuguese. All official signs are in two languages – Spanish and Galician. The area isn’t wild; it has well-tended farms and fields and fields of kale. We found kale in everything. See the top photo.

The people seem friendlier, even though they don’t speak English any better than those on the rest of the trail. Maybe they’re more tuned into the Camino del Norte. Better signage, more water spouts…

I think I’ve lost it – language-wise. I meet an old man with a big “Buen Camino” smile. A water fountain is close to his house, so I say

Gracias pour this. My brain has Spanish, French, English indigestion.

Albergue Villa Martin

The first unforgettable hostel in Galicia was Albergue San Martin, in Miraz, an impeccable hostel run by volunteers of the Confraternity of St. James, a British group.

This is the start of the 100K (or 60 miles). To get your Compostella, your certificate, you have to prove that you’ve walked the 60 miles going into Santiago by getting two stamps a day in your pilgrim passport.

The volunteers at the “British Albergue” speak English. They also make you a nice cup of tea as you sign in. I’ve missed a proper cup of tea with real boiling water.

No one should miss staying at the Sobrado Monastery. The imposing monastery was founded in 952 CE, though the building is more recent.

If you’re lucky, Brother Lawrence, originally from London, will fill you in on the history of the monastery. He’s so intelligent, well-spoken, friendly and open – a character from the Camino that will stay with me for a long time.

And then, the Camino del Norte meets the Camino Frances for the last 24 miles.

What was a trickle of hikers have turned into a river.

Cafes are open at 8 am, more quirkiness on the trail, because there are more people on the trail. Art, graffiti, food, water fountains are plentiful. The trail is wide and on dirt.

A person who lives on the trail posted numerous pithy quotes, which he/she thinks pertains to pilgrims on the Frances.

Finally in Santiago.

In Santiago

People are giddy with their accomplishments – good for them. We pose for  the standard photo in front of the Cathedral.

But our hiking adventure isn’t over.

Camino del Norte – Food on the trail

We interrupt this hikinglogue on the Camino del Norte to discuss food on the trail.

Meat and cheese

The meals available on the Camino are very heavy on the meat and cheese. This makes sense since the area is full of farms raising cattle, sheep and goats.

Much of the meat is processed into chorizo (Spanish sausage), bacon, and bologna. Every area has a special way of curing its meat and making cheeses. Cured meats and cheeses stay for a long time, which is most important when you have bars and cafes with a small clientele.

Asturian bean soup

The best way to enjoy cured meats is Asturia bean soup. They take fava beans, potatoes, kale and boil it with ham, chorizo and blood pudding. I tried not to think about the fat content and concentrated on the healthy beans.

But it is really “Asturian”; once we crossed the bridge into Galicia, the soup disappeared from the menu.

Since I’ve been back home, I made my version of Asturia bean soup with chicken – less fatty and still good.

In these small villages, getting fresh fruit and vegetables is a challenge. The picture at the top of this post was taken at a large food hall in a big city. In the small supermarkets, we ended up buying what looked fresh and eatable – apples one day, bananas that hadn’t gotten too soft, another day, kiwifruit that wasn’t rock hard.

Ensalata mixta

But our go-to for vegetables was ensalata mixta, mixed salad.

Unlike most salads in the U.S., the salad wasn’t tossed but laid out on a large plate: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sometimes shaved carrots and beets, half of a boiled egg and some canned tuna fish. You sprinkle olive oil and white vinegar and you have a meal. Once we discovered that ensalata mixta was a constant in cafes, I must have eaten one almost every day.

It’s wasn’t easy to cook in hostels. On the Camino Frances, you see lovely pictures of groups gathering around a communal table, cooking together. Here, the hostels were small, and most didn’t have more than a microwave.

Group dinner

You never knew what the facilities were going to be, so it didn’t seem worth carrying groceries from a far-away market only to find that the “kitchen” was a microwave and two cups. Still, we ended up cooking twice.

Here, we were in a town with several markets. After checking out the hostel kitchen, we went to the supermarket to buy dinner supplies and invited everyone around. The others took care of the wine and doing the dishes – a fair exchange.

No discussion of Northern Spanish food would be complete without mentioning (praising) Spanish tortillas (or omelette). It was ubiquitous for lunch in many cafes because it stays fresh for a couple of  days. You order a piece and they heat it up for you.

Spanish tortilla

Spanish tortillas  is not related to the Mexican tortilla we know in the U.S. It’s potatoes covered in egg batter cooked in a large cast-iron pan.

Each cafe makes it differently. Some are mostly potatoes with just enough egg batter to hold it together. Others have lots of egg and little potatoes and even a few pieces of sweet peppers.

We watched one man cook a tortilla, cover the pan with a large plate, and flip it at just the right moment. If you flip it when it’s still soft, you would get a gooey mess on the stove. That’s why I’m not going to try to make that at home.

Santiago cake

Once in Galicia, every place had Santiago cake. Very simple – almond flour, sugar, eggs and orange zest. It’s even gluten free. The cake is supposed to date from the middle ages.  If I get a springform pan, I might try to make it.

This picture shows individual tarts. Usually, it’s packaged as a big round cake that the server cuts in wedges.

That’s a cake I could eat every day – and I did.