Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I have a few extra things to share that never made it into my blog posts earlier for whatever reason. Karolina, if you’re curious, did hike back to Santiago, then traveled down to Lisbon and walked back to Santiago a third time. She told me it had a lot of road walking, and apparently a couple of people driving down the road tried to pick her up thinking she was a prostitute. (To which, I replied, OMG—I didn’t know Portugal also had an Alabama Trail!!!!) It was also a lot lonelier of a hike for her since not only does the Portugal route get a lot fewer pilgrims, but she also made the trip far into the off-season. Despite all that, however, she seemed to have enjoyed herself and thinks I should still do it someday. =) She arrived in Santiago in late November, checking a different option for the reason she did the pilgrimage so she’d get a different compostela. And last I heard, she’s back in Poland and in search of a job. She has at least one job offer going so far--which would take her to the Netherlands. She'd rather stay in Poland, but jobs for water technicians (or whatever official title she has) are apparently much easier to score in the Netherlands.

Vivian, after finishing the trail, headed off first to Greece for a couple of weeks (she was born there and lived there for the first few years of her life), then back home to Australia and seems a little disenchanted with having to work for a living again. Not surprising, really. I suspect most people would feel that way! Maybe that's why she posts to Facebook so often? =)

Hilary is still in Paris, learning French, I suppose. I see her post to Facebook occasionally, so I know she's still alive. =)

The Australian girls I had given my contact information to, and they all seemed interested in building their own soda can stoves, but so far, I haven’t heard from them again since we’ve finished the trail. I don’t actually have their contact information either. I figured I’d get it when they drop me a note to say hi! But since they haven’t done that, I have no idea what they’re up to nowadays.

As for me.... I've been keeping quite busy since I've finished the trail. Yep. *nodding* Been working on a TOP SECRET project for the last couple of months.... but I'll tell you about that in my next post.... =) 

Karolina pops Lady Gaga! This video is absolutely disgusting. ;o)

Next, a few photos that Karolina emailed to me after our hikes were done.
Karolina thought it would be amusing to take a photo of me taking a photo
of Lady Gaga. =)

At one of the sites where Karolina and I set up camp, I told her about my
tie. Figuring seeing is believing, I put it on to model it, and she
took this photo of the moment. It was actually the only
time I put on the tie until the day I left the trail to go back home.
I probably would have wore it more often if it wasn’t always at the
bottom of my clothes sack where I tended to forget about it.

I never saw this sign, much to my dismay when Karolina
showed me photos of it later. Apparently, though,
it was right there on the side of the trail in plain view.
I can’t help but wonder how big of a problem this must
have been to have had this sign created and posted!!!!

I can’t say I remember where this photo was taken. It looks like I’m headed to the water faucet.
I like the photo, though, because I really don’t have many photos of me carrying my pack.
It’s not the kind of photo I can take on my own! =) The fact that the trekking pole is
tucked under my arm like it is makes me think I have a water bottle in my hands,
perhaps taking off the lid to fill with water. I didn’t normally walk around with
my trekking pole tucked under my arm. Except, of course, if my hands were
occupied with something else! =)

I carved the sad little face into the sunflower… just before it tried
to eat my hand off!

Here’s another kind of photo I could never take myself—setting
up my tarp! =)

This is an interesting photo to me, since it was taken before
Karolina and I ever camped together and thus we didn’t really
know each other very well. I’m waiting for the running of the bulls
to start (the bulls would run down the street on the right side
of the fence). Us observers were on the left side. Vivian,
the Australian, is drinking a glass of something. And I appear
to be writing in my journal—so far as I know, it’s the only
photo anyone has ever taken of me writing in my journal. I never
really considered it a photogenic moment, but considering how much
time I did spend writing in that journal over two months, it somehow
seems right to have a photo of me doing it. =)

Karolina took this photo when we climbed the hill behind Fisterra
on our way to the End of the World!

Obviously, neither Karolina nor I took this photo since neither of us
are capable of flying without some help. So I ripped it off the Internet
to show the peninsula that marks Fisterra and the “End of the World.”
It’s as dramatic from 30,000 feet as it is from ground level! =)
The lighthouse is at the very tip of the peninsula. The town
of Fisterra is where the peninsula just starts to jut out into the ocean.

I wrote in this logbook the day I hiked into Fisterra. I wasn’t with Karolina
at the time, but I knew she planned to keep walking to Muxia and back
to Santiago and thus knew she’d probably read this logbook as
well, so I left the note saying, “Go, Karolina! Go! Go! Go!” =)
When we did meet up in Fisterra later in the day, I never mentioned
this particular note. It was for her to find if she found it, and
if she didn’t… oh well! =) Obviously, the next day, as I was
probably on a bus on my way to Santiago, she found my note
on her hike to Muxia and took a photo of her reply. =)
I can imagine that it had been a VERY wet day for her.
The weather in Fisterra the whole bus ride to Santiago was
miserably wet. *nodding*

Vivian took this photo of me resting somewhere along the trail. It was
obviously a lengthy rest since I had taken off my real shoes and put on
my Waldies. I don’t for for certain where this photo was taken, but
I think it might have been the day after I went over the Pyrenees
where I stopped for a four-hour rest break. If so, then it was
also, coincidentally, the first place I ever talked to Karolina. At the
time, though, I had no idea we’d end up becoming such good friends.

Vivian also took this photo, with me once again taking an extended
rest break. (Which is obvious since I had switched my hiking shoes
with my Waldies.) This photo was the taken late in the day
I left Burgos, and would be the last time I saw Vivian until we’d
meet up again in Santiago. (We’d swap emails for the duration of
our hikes, though. We just didn’t cross paths again until Santiago.)

My credentials are kind of long and don’t really photograph well—at least
not the entire length of it—but I figured some of you might want to see
what they looked like at the end of the trip. The one on the left
is the one I started with out of Le Puy. The one on the right was
used after I filled up the one on the left.

This is the other side of the credentials.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Long Journey Home

Dscn5054bOctober 16: It poured rain all night which continued into the morning, and the weather forecast I looked up for Santiago showed rain every day for the next nine days. Looks like I picked a good time to leave the trail. =)


For kicks, I put on my tie. I carried a tie the entire distance from Le Puy in case I ever wanted to “dress up for a special occasion.” I had meant to wear it on my walk out to the Finisterre lighthouse but forgot it in my hotel room. I figured I could still be the best-dressed pilgrim headed back home, though. =)


I caught the 11:45 bus out of Fisterra to Santiago, a rather depressing feeling. It was the first time I stepped on any form of modern transportation since I exited the trail in Le Puy-en-Velay more than two months earlier. I wondered if it would feel “weird” to be moving at speeds faster than I could walk, but it felt no different than it would had I ridden a bus every day for the past two months. But it did give me the blues. I just didn’t want to ride it. If I had a car, I’d need a bumper sticker that read “I’d rather be walking.” There was a certain appeal to just walking back to Santiago, but it would just be putting off the unpleasantness. And I’d be walking in the rain which would be unpleasant in a different way.


I felt sad to leave the trail, though. Usually, I’ve always been happy when my long-distance journey has come to an end. I’d be worn out, tired, and ready to leave the trail, but I didn’t feel that way at all this time. The trail was, admittedly, shorter and easier than any I had done before, and I guess I just hadn’t grown sick of it enough to want to quit yet. I felt I could go another 500 miles. I wanted to go another 500 miles, but I didn’t have time for it.


The bus ride took nearly three hours to get back to Santiago. I sat in a window seat where I could watch the ocean views, but it was often fogged up and hard to see out of.


Back in Santiago, I headed down to the trail station and bought a ticket for the train to Madrid that would leave town at 11:30 at night. There was an earlier train that would get me into Madrid that night, but there wouldn’t have been any flights out of Madrid until tomorrow requiring me to find accommodation overnight in Madrid. I figured I’d save a few bucks by going overnight in the train and arrive in Madrid in the morning. My train ticket would be both my lodging and transportation for the night.


This gave me about nine hours to goof around in Santiago, though. I picked up a few souvenirs and gifts for some folks, wrote and mailed off postcards, and loitered in the square in front of the cathedral cooking the last the cookable food in my pack. Another pilgrim came by and warned me that fires weren’t allowed in the square and that the police might come after me for cooking. After that, I went ahead and finished cooking my meal, but I positioned my pack and body to mostly hide the meal I was cooking. =) After I was done, I threw the rest of the denatured alcohol I had into a nearby trash bin. I wouldn’t be able to fly with it, and I wouldn’t be cooking anymore meals before I left the country.


I didn’t find any pilgrims I knew loitering in town—everyone I knew was already off the trail. Except for Karolina, who I figured I was taking a zero day in Fisterra to wait out the rain or was plowing through the rain on her way to Muxia. Either way, though, she wasn’t in Santiago, and I loitered around town a little bored and spent most of my time reading my Kindle.


The seats on the train were terribly uncomfortable and I didn’t sleep particularly well, but it arrived nearly nine hours later, arriving on time in Madrid down to the minute. But a restless sleep is still better than none at all, and I did get a restless sleep.


In Madrid, I checked the routes and figured out that the train to the airport was on a different track. I plodded over there and boarded, which whisked me away to terminal 4. I couldn’t exit from the train station there, though—you know how subways and light rail stations often have machines that you scan a card on your way in, then scan it again on your way out? It was like that here, except I had nothing to scan. By riding the train in from Santiago, I entered the “secure” area without the ticket to go around on the local train. Which wasn’t a big deal—until I tried to leave! My train ticket to Madrid, however, also covered the local stops, and I only had to show my train ticket to an employee standing by the exit gates and he wave his card on it so I could exit without any additional charge.


So I made it to the airport, but this train only stopped at terminal 4. My flight was leaving from terminal 1. So then I found the free shuttle bus that would whisk me away from terminal 4 to terminal 1.


At the ticketing booth, a US Airways employee questioned me before I even got to a gate agent, asking how long I had been in Spain (about a month, I told her, not bothering to mention I had actually been in Europe for closer to two months). She looked at me suspiciously when I told her that. “How many bags are you checking?” she asked. “None,” I answered truthfully.


Now she really looked at me suspiciously, and I could see the next question on her face already: Why does a guy who’s been in Spain for a month not have any bags to check? That’s probably pretty unusual! But before she could ask, I told her that I had walked El Camino de Santiago and only had what I could carry on my back.


She visibly relaxed after that, and asked me a little about my walk before starting to question the next person behind me. I noticed two people who joined the line behind me, carrying nothing but a single backpack each with scallop shells hanging off. I recognized them from the train I had rode to Santiago. Pilgrims. I wouldn’t be the only pilgrim on this flight out of Madrid. =)


Once I was in the airport and through security, I did some window shopping to use up the rest of the euros I carried. I still had about 20 euros on me. I only managed to spend about 5 euros on knickknacks and candy, though. Not a big deal, though. I could just give the rest to Amanda. She’s always going to Europe and would no doubt find a place to spend the rest of the euros.


I also got online to check flights out of Philly. I hadn’t made any reservations for flights out of Philly, and was trying to work my way to my mom’s house in San Luis Obispo. Ideally, I’d fly from Philly to Phoenix, then from Phoenix to SLO. All flights to SLO go through Phoenix, no avoiding that!


Except all of the flights from Philly to Phoenix were full, as were all of the flights from Phoenix to SLO. And they were completely full for the next two days. So then I started looking at round-about options to get me to Phoenix. Philly-Indianapolis-Phoenix? Philly-St. Louis-Phoenix? Philly-Charlotte-Phoenix? Philly-Boston-Phoenix? Philly-Los Angeles-Phoenix? Philly-DC-Phoenix? All of these options did have seats available, although with only one or two open seats on one of the connections, it was possible I could wind up stranded in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles, or Washington DC. The flight to Seattle was wide open, however, and it would have made a lot of sense to go direct to Seattle then head down to visit my mom when flights weren’t so full. Except I had relatives in town I wanted to see who’d be leaving in a couple of days.


I wrote out long lists of available options trying to decide the best way into SLO, but regardless of which route I chose, I’d still wind up in Phoenix at the end of the day with every flight to SLO booked at capacity for the next two days. Oh, sure, someone was bound to miss their flight for some reason and I might get on, but who knows how many flights I’d miss before that happened?


I listed myself for several options I had selected, including the flight direct to Phoenix because… who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky?


I boarded the flight which left on time, and arrived in Philly earlier than expected. I made it through customs and immigration without any trouble, although two different uniformed officers saw me walking through the baggage claim without picking up any luggage and told me I needed to pick it up before I left. “I don’t have any checked bags,” I told them, “Just what I’m carrying!” They seemed surprised at this, but let me continue out anyhow. I guess it’s very unusual for people to travel internationally without any checked bags.


During the flight, I was looking at my flight options when I had another idea…. what if I didn’t fly in to SLO, but rather I took the train? If I could fly to Los Angeles, there’s regular Amtrak service from LA to SLO, then I could get around the whole Phoenix-to-SLO bottleneck. Brilliant! But I would need to buy a train ticket….


So upon arrival in Philly, I checked in for the Philly-Los Angeles-Phoenix listing I had created earlier, then pulled out my laptop and checked train tickets from LA to SLO, so confident I’d get on the LA flight that I booked the train ticket immediately.


I had a couple of hours to kill in Philly before the flight to LA left, so I first hit up an ATM. I had no American money—not one cent, and I figured it might be useful to have at least $20 in my pocket. Then I hit up the Chic-fil-A—my first fast food chain visit in over two months. =)


The flight to LA was uneventful, and arrived late at night. The next train to SLO wouldn’t leave until early the next morning, however, which left me with about nine hours to kill in Los Angeles. I didn’t really want to pay for a hotel for such a quick stop, though, and lingered at LAX for most of the night, sleeping on the chairs there. It’s great for a free place to stay—you have restrooms, water fountains, and food all readily available. Yeah, well, most of the food options were closed that late at night, but there were always vending machines if push came to shove.


By around 5:00 in the morning, I figured it was time to get to Union Station—quite a ways from the airport. There was an airport shuttle that would take me there for $7, but since I had many hours to get there, I decided to go for the city bus which cost a mere $1.50. I took a free airport shuttle to one of the parking lots, where I jumped off the bus to catch the city bus which would take me the rest of the way to Union Station.


The city bus was an interesting experience. It took about 1 1/2 hours to travel 19 miles, and I felt a little uncomfortable after about a half hour when the bus was packed with standing room only and I realized that I was the only white guy on the bus. Where were all the other white guys? I’ve seen white people in Los Angeles before. I know they exist! Or at least they used to…. What happened to them all? Not that I have any problem with people of all sorts of races and nationalities, but people of all sorts of races and nationalities would have also included white people too. Why did they seem to be excluded? I had this strange feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and it didn’t help matters when a guy carrying a large painting he made got into a loud argument with someone who accidentally bumped it on the crowded bus. There was a lot of anger and yelling going on, and I worried that one of them might suddenly pull out a knife or a gun and my little bus journey would wind up on the morning news.


Fortunately, they both got off the bus, at separate stops, without coming to blows, and I finally got off the bus myself near the end of the line at Union Station where I had another couple of hours to kill before my train to SLO departed.


I bought a sandwich, and read my Kindle while waiting for my train to depart, which it did. The train from LA to SLO is absolutely wonderful to ride if you ever get a chance. It follows along the Pacific Ocean for much of the route with amazing views practically the entire way. Although it seemed strange to be admiring the Pacific Ocean. It took me two months to hike the Atlantic Ocean, and now two days later, here I was looking at the Pacific with barely any walking at all.


The train route also takes you through Vandenburg Air Force Base—where they launch rockets and satellites on a fairly regular basis. The west coast version of Cape Canaveral. I wouldn’t be riding on any spaceships getting back home, but it seemed like that was the only form of modern transportation I wouldn’t be riding on this journey.


I finally arrived in SLO, a few minutes early, about 60 hours after having left Fisterra, covering a wide range of modern transportation options: Bus, train, train, bus, plane, plane, bus, bus, train. My mom picked me up in her car, rounding out my travels with a personal vehicle. Truth be told, though, after so much time in buses, trains, and planes, I could have been perfectly happy walking the rest of the way to my mom’s house from the train station. =)


My adventures were done.


For now. ;o)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 65: The End of the World!

Dscn4908bOctober 15: It rained once again overnight, but once again, the rain had stopped by the time I woke up in the morning. Early in the morning, the sun even came out for a bit. Just to say hi, then it curled up back in its blankets (i.e. clouds) and went back to sleep.


Walking to Muxia, I could count on one hand the number of people I passed along the route. Literally. I passed four people, all hiking in the opposite direction, heading back to Santiago. Walking from Muxia to Finisterre, I met nobody going in my direction, but I did pass half a dozen people heading into town as I left it, and today I passed an additional 30 or so people walking in the opposite direction. By all means, that’s not a lot of people compared to the rest of the Camino Frances, but compared to the numbers I passed on my way to Muxia, it was a dramatic increase!


And the walk into Finisterre was largely uneventful. The last several kilometers were downright awful—along a busy road with fast moving traffic.


My first stop was heading to my hotel to drop off my gear. Turns out, it wasn’t really a hotel at all—more like a multi-story house. It sat near the top of a hill with fantastic views of the city of Fisterra. The door was locked, and I knocked, but nobody answered, much to my annoyance. There was a phone number one could call, but that’s hard to do without a phone. I sat down on the bench on the porch and waited for someone to arrive and read my Kindle to kill the time.


But it was windy and cold outside, and now that I wasn’t walking around anymore I grew increasingly cold. Tired of waiting, I put my Kindle away and headed into town. At least I could see the sights and maybe find some people I knew. Karolina, I knew, was expected to arrive into town sometime today, but I didn’t know when to expect her. We agreed to look for each other at the municipal alburgue, though, and whoever arrived first would leave a note for the other. So I headed in that direction first.


I found the alburgue, which was currently closed and would be until 3:00 in the afternoon. Karolina, however, was clearly somewhere in town since she had written a note for me on a napkin taped to the door saying she’d be back at the alburgue at 3:00. So I knew Karolina was in town, but I didn’t know where in town. I scribbled a note under her note saying something like, “I’ll be back at 3:00 then!” and left, wandering along the waterfront admiring statues and in search of anyone I knew.


I hadn’t been walking for more than five minutes when I saw Karolina walking in the opposite direction, a fortuitous find! =)


We took an outside table at an empty restaurant, and Karolina went in to order us a couple of Cokes. She bought my drink for me saying she owed me since I had secretly paid for hers without her knowing it when we departed ways two days earlier. I told her about Muxia, and she told me her toe was doing better and she had arrived in town hours earlier and already had walked out to the lighthouse. “Hey!” I protested, “we were supposed to do that together!”


“But I want to go back!” she quickly insisted. “There are a lot of opportunities for silly photos!” And she wanted to watch the sunset from the “end of the world.”


Finisterre is known as the “end of the world” because, hundreds of years ago, people thought it was the westernmost land in the entire world. Of course, back then, they didn’t know that the New World even existed, and measurements for longitude were notoriously imprecise. Not only did they not account for the New World, but it’s not even the westernmost land in the Old World either! Portugal sticks out much further west, as do islands such as Iceland.


But back in the day, Finisterre was believed to be the “end of the world.” We clinked our glasses in celebration of reaching the end of the world. “I never imagined that the end of the world would be so pleasant,” I told Karolina. =)


Karolina suggested that we could return on December 21st, to watch the end of the world from the end of the world. “That would be very cool,” I agreed, “but I don’t see that happening.” =)


A little before three, we got up and walked back to the hostel for Karolina to check in. The line had formed outside of it, a line that went terribly slow, and I told Karolina that I was going to head back to my hotel and try to check in and dump my gear while she was standing in line there.


Back at the hotel, there were people inside this time, and I threw out most of my gear from my pack only taking my journal, camera, snacks, and water, then immediately headed back down to the hostel to meet up with Karolina again.


I was a little surprised to see that she still hadn’t gotten her bed yet. That line was moving SLOW! However, she was at the head of the line, and seated talking to the person doing the checking in, eventually taking her in back to show her around and where to find her bed. I waited in the lobby. The man doing the checkins returned without her, and I watched as he checked in a German girl I didn’t recognize. He liked to talk. A lot. A very friendly man, but given the size of the line, I thought, he really shouldn’t be making small talk with everyone right now. The German girl, apparently, had a problem with her credential. Due to the limited number of beds in Fisterra, they’ll only allow people who can prove they walked to town to check-in at the alburgue. And typically, you prove it with the stamps on your credential. Those who’ve bussed into town won’t have those stamps. I couldn’t see the girl’s credential from where I sat, but she had to pull out her digital camera and show him the photos she took along the walk before he was finally willing to let her check in.


Karolina came back out about five minutes later, and we headed out to the lighthouse at the end of the world. We decided to take the scenic route to the lighthouse, visiting a beach on the west side of the peninsula first. Karolina expressed an interest in swimming in the ocean. “You go,” I told her, “and I’ll take photos. That water is way too cold for me to swim in!” I knew it was cold, because I had touched the water in Muxia. The waves crashing on shore here were quite large, though, and Karolina wondered if it was even safe to swim there. I hadn’t really looked at the waves, but I did now, and I had to agree, they did look like they could be dangerous. Those waves could easily knock you around and pull you out to sea. “Yes,” I agreed, “Maybe you shouldn’t swim after all.”


She did, however, take of her shoes and socks and jumped in the shallow part of the water for a minute or two just get her feet wet. =)


Then we headed over a large hump overlooking the town. Not unlike the one I went up in Muxia, in fact. Fisterra was also located on a small peninsula and had a large hill between the town the tip of the peninsula. We didn’t have good maps of the area, but it was pretty easy to figure out which direction we ought to be going to get there—UP!


At the top, the wind was absolutely terrific, all but blowing us off. We took a few photos, then scrambled down the back side towards the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula and the end of the trail. At least as far as my hike went, it was the end of the trail for me. Once I reached that lighthouse, I’d be turning around and going home.


The lighthouse was just your normal, typical lighthouse. Nothing particularly noteworthy there, but the wind was phenomenal and quite cold. A thick layer of clouds filled the sky, and we feared we wouldn’t see the sun set at all. We both really wanted to watch the sunset at the end of the world, though, and hoped for the best. We’d linger until after sunset, though—just in case things cleared up.


Pilgrims, at the end of their hike, have a long tradition of burning the worn-out clothes from their journey. Evidence of fires littered the place, although I’d been told by other pilgrims that fires were no longer allowed after one of them broke out into a wildfire years ago. If fires were prohibited, though, there weren’t any signs I saw saying so, and clearly a lot of people chose to ignore that rule. I had no intention of burning any of my perfectly good clothes, but Karolina had panties and a shirt she wanted to burn. The panties, she told me, were worn out already with lots of holes. The shirt she could still use, but she had bought a T-shirt at a souvenir shop that said, “No pain, no glory!” with an image of badly blistered feet, so she had an extra shirt now.


Given the incredibly strong winds, though, trying to find a safe place to light it was a little challenge. We eventually settled on an area next to a rock—a small cubby hole of sorts—and Karolina set to work to burn her panties. I gave her my denatured alcohol—I had emptied the inside of my pack, but the denatured alcohol was in a pocket on the outside of the pack—since it would make it a lot easier for her to start the fire. She poured a bit on her panties, stuck it in the rock, and lit it with her lighter where it went up in flames with a POOF!


We watched her panties burn for a while, and I took of a video of her burning them. That worked well enough, and then it was time to burn her shirt. She took off her jacket then her shirt—a little to my surprise. I thought she had the shirt she wanted to burn in her pack and thought she was actually undressing in the cold, windy weather—for a brief moment, at least. Turns out, she had another shirt on underneath the one she wanted to burn. Drats! =)


But it did leave her in a short-sleeved shirt on a very cold and windy day. She must have been freezing! But then again, maybe not. She’s from Poland. Maybe she considered this warm weather? =) She quickly put on her other shirt and her jacket and added the shirt she took off to the fire. Burn, baby! Burn! Her shirt burned a lot bigger than her panties did.


After the fire went out, we returned towards the lighthouse and entered the bar there to get out of the wind and cold, ordering a couple of drinks and once again toasted to the end of the world as we waited for sunset.


The clouds were too thick, though, and there never was a sunset. “Figures,” I told Karolina, “that the sun doesn’t set at the end of the world.”


We walked back to Fisterra in the dark and as I entered town, I walked on the street and saw a dog running loose near a church. I pointed to it, warning Karolina to watch out for the dog (we were still joking about the “cow hit man” that was out to get her)—and, not watching my footing, I had put a foot on the edge of a storm drain. The storm drain wasn’t level with the street, though. It dropped about an inch under the street level, and not expecting it, twisted my ankle and fell flat. “Arwwfh!”


A pain shot through my ankle and up my leg. ARGH! That hurt! Karolina looked concerned, asking if I was okay.


Dang, my ankle hurt. I managed to get back up on my feet and hobbled along a bit, judging the injury. It hurt, but I’d done worse to myself than that in the past. “I’ll be fine,” I told her, limping heavily. “It’ll definitely be hurting for a few days, but I’ll survive.”


Then we both started laughing. How can you not? I’ve now walked over a thousand miles from Le Puy, across two countries, and now that my hike is OVER—quite literally, it ended at the end of the world!—and on my way back home, I sprain my ankle severely. There was once in France when I sprained my ankle badly, but I had been completely free of sprains in all of Spain. And now, after I reached the end of my hike, I suffer my worst injury in Spain. Ha!


Karolina challenged me, “Is this going to go in your blog?” She knew I kept a blog of my trail adventures, although I don’t think she’d read any of it while she was on the trail since she didn’t get online very much.


“Absolutely!” I replied. “The irony is too great not to include!” Although truth be told, I wish my stumble hadn’t happened in the first place. My ankle was throbbing!


“I never did see the dog you were pointing at,” Karolina told me. Yeah, I suppose my spectacular crash could have been a little distracting. =) And apparently, the dog had left before I managed to pull myself back up on my feet.


Karolina helped me pick up my water bottle and umbrella—both of which had gone flying out of my pack in my crash to the ground—and we continued into town.


We passed Kathy and Erin, walking in the opposite direction—two of the Australian girls I had camped with. The other three had already left back to Australia from Santiago, but Kathy and Erin had time to keep walking to Finisterre and Muxia. They were in search of a place to stay, though, since the municipal alburgue was already full. Someone had told them there was another alburgue up the way they were walking. “There’s something up there,” Karolina and I agreed, “but we weren’t really paying attention to that since we both already had a place to stay. But we’ve definitely seen signage for an alburgue up that way.” We didn’t talk for more than a couple of minutes, but it was nice to see them again one last time. They were the only people I recognized since leaving Santiago—except for Karolina, of course.


We stopped at Karolina’s alburgue where she dropped off some of her gear and picked up warmer clothes. While she was doing that, I waited out in the lobby, the line now gone, and asked the guy to stamp my credential. Why not? I had nothing better to do while waiting for Karolina. She stamped my credential, asked about where I was from and made idle chit chat, then handed over a certificate for reaching Fisterra. This certificate was a lot nicer than the one I got in Santiago, but once again, I found myself not really caring much about it. The credential, I felt, was a far better souvenir of my hike. Not only did I carry it the entire distance from Le Puy, but it had all sorts of interesting stamps I’d picked up nearly every day of my hike. That credential told a story—a story of the places I stayed, restaurants where I ate, people I met. The certificate… just didn’t seem so interesting.


I noticed a second stamp resting by the first one and asked the man about it. The second stamp, he told me, was given to him by a Korean, and he’d stamp that into the credentials of anyone from Korea. “I’ll be happy to take it too!” I told him. I’d only replaced my credential barely a week earlier, so it still had a lot of empty space. He stamped that in my credential as well—the last stamp I’d get of my hike.


Karolina and I went out to eat at a nearby restaurant, eating hamburgers that actually were pretty decent. Not great, but decent, which in Europe is pretty good. =)


Outside the restaurant, we hugged and parted ways, never to meet again. This time, it really would be a final goodbye. Well, perhaps someday we’ll meet again, but it’ll likely be a long, long time. I don’t exactly get out to Poland very often, and she doesn’t get out to the United States all that often. I’d be going home. Karolina enjoyed her Camino hike so much, she decided to continue it. She’d continue on to Muxia and walk back to Santiago, at which point she’d take a bus or trail to Lisbon and walk the Portugal route back to Santiago again. I was a little jealous of this—I had originally intended to do the same thing when I started off from Le Puy but eventually decided to chop off that section so I could slow down and smell the flowers.


Walking back to my hotel, I realized I had left my trekking pole back at the restaurant. And I decided not to go back and retrieve it. I didn’t need it anymore. I had plenty of them at home already, and it’s hard to travel with. It can stay at the end of the world.


My room was quite nice! =) The views out the windows were awesome too!


This is the view out the window in the previous photo. =)


Karolina runs into the ocean. At least the shallow
area, after the waves have already crashed.


I pose with MM 0.0. The trekking pole, alas,
would be left behind by accident where we’d later
eat dinner.


Karolina burns her shirt and panties.


The lighthouse at the end of the world!


My certificate for reaching Fisterra.

Karolina burns her panties.

Karolina has a lot to say as her shirt burns,
but you can't really hear any of it over the wind in this video.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 64: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Dscn4785bOctober 14: It rained hard overnight, pounding my tarp with a terrific noise waking me up several times during the night, but I stayed high and dry curled up under it and the rain stopped by morning. The ugly clouds continued to linger, however.

I packed up camp and headed out. Next stop: Muxia, one of two locations that pilgrims often walk to beyond Santiago. By all accounts, it’s the less popular of the two (the other being Finisterre). Most pilgrims I knew planned to stop walking in Santiago, but a large number of them intended to bus on to Finisterre. Even if they didn’t plan to walk it, they still felt compelled to push onward. But nobody—absolutely nobody I talked to seemed interested in visiting Muxia except Karolina and myself. If you’ve watched The Way, they filmed the ending in Muxia which I would have thought might give it some added pull for some people, but it hasn’t as far as I can tell.

Regardless, I wasn’t expecting much myself—just another milestone along my journey to Finisterre. A big one, though. =)

I pulled on my pack, popped on my iPod and marched to the sea.

I had long since hiked off the edge of my map shortly past the fork in the trail leading to Finisterre and Muxia and was hiking blind at this point, dependent on the waymarks to guide my way, so I was a little surprised when I crested over a small hill and saw the ocean just a couple of kilometers away. Although I had no maps, I did know the distances between landmarks and towns on the trail, and Muxia was further away than that. I had assumed the trail would hit the coast at Muxia, but it didn’t. It hit the coast north of Muxia, then followed a series of roads southward towards Muxia with wonderful views the entire way. The trail itself didn’t actually touch the ocean here—it just wound through the coastal towns, and I had no desire to get off the trail to get to the ocean. I’d get to it when the trail was ready to take me to it. In the meantime, I enjoyed the wonderful views the trail did provide of the ocean.

Another hour later, the trail ducked through some eucalyptus trees to a boardwalk through the sand, a beach just outside of Muxia, and I stopped. The view took my breath away. I could see the town, set on a peninsula jutting out into the ocean, with a cute little harbor filled with boats in front and a nice little hill rising up behind it. Wow. I really had no expectations when I arrived in Muxia, never having really seen any photos about it or even heard much about it, and the stunning beauty of the area took my breath away.
I stood there, just looking, tearing up, for a minute or so. I was here! At the Atlantic Ocean! I had made it! I didn’t expect to get so sentimental—I still planned to hike all the way out to Finisterre. My hike wasn’t over yet, after all! But this felt like the end of the trail for me. Santiago was a major milestone to be sure, but this was the end. The real end. Maybe if I walked to Finisterre first, I’d have felt like Finisterre was the real end, but standing there within stone’s throw of the Atlantic Ocean, that feeling of having reached the end of the trail overwhelmed me.

I set my pack down on the boardwalk to keep it out of the sand, threw my trekking pole into the air in celebration and walked out on the beach, running my fingers through the sand and the surf. When was the last time I had touched the Atlantic Ocean? I couldn’t remember. Hiking through the Florida Keys, perhaps? In 2008? I picked up some rocks to throw and skip into the Atlantic.

I went back to the boardwalk, sitting on its edge and took more photos. I spent about a half hour there, just admiring the view, feeling a little reluctant to keep going and actually finish my hike. I really didn’t want my hike to end just yet.

When I got up to continue, my iPod started playing a Kelly Clarkson song I had downloaded (for free—legally!) just before I started my hike which had a catchy, upbeat tune and a refrain about “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… Stand a little taller! Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone…” It somehow seemed immensely appropriate for the end of a 1000-mile walk, and I set my iPod to keep playing it over and over.

I walked into Muxia, swinging my trekking pole around wildly in tune with the music, feeling on top of the world. I didn’t stop in town, except long enough to take the occasional photo, pushing through towards the harbor and walking out to the end of the jetty protecting the harbor. The view of town from the tip wasn’t as nice as I had hoped for, but that was because it put the sun directly behind the town and really muted all of the color of the town.

But I was still on top of the world and that wasn’t going to get me down. No, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It must be true—it’s right in the song! =)
I still wanted to climb up to the top of that hill behind the town, though. I saw a map of the town while walking into it which looked like it had a trail leading to the top of the hill from the end of the peninsula, so I started following a road in that direction.

I passed a nice little church, which was just getting out and edged around the side and out of the way of all the people exiting it. I passed a couple of small houses—wondering how they ended up out there all by themselves.

Then I turned a corner and stumbled into a jaw dropping view of a magnificent church overlooking enormous waves crashing against equally giant boulders that made up the shore line. I gasped audibly in surprise, having no idea that that was there. Above and to the side of it was a rock monument that looked like an enormous slab of rock with a jagged crack through the center. Clearly a man-made construction, and I had no idea what it represented, but the sheer size of it fascinated me. The whole view was overwhelming, but in a good way, that that feeling that I really reached the end of the trail hit me again. I might keep hiking for another day to Finisterre, but Muxia was really the end of the trail.

I took more photos, then found the trail leading up to the top of the hill overlooking town—fantastic views. I threw my arms in the air, punching my fists in the air, doing a little jig of happiness with Kelly Clarkson. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger….

Eventually I came back down from my high, both figuratively and literally, and walked back into Muxia where I stopped at a restaurant for lunch. The restaurant had wi-fi available, which I used to check my email and booked a hotel room in Finisterre for the next night.

Leaving town, I was a little sad. As much as I wanted to stay the night, I was still drawn to Finisterre. What if it was even better than Muxia? After all, that’s where nearly everyone who continues past Santiago winds up going—not Muxia! Nope, I wanted to keep going. Finisterre or bust!
Leaving town, I let my iPod start playing other music now. Looking back at Muxia, I was a little disappointed with the views. On the way out of town, the harbor and “downtown” area were out of view on the other side of the peninsula. This side was kind of plain and boring by comparison—rather anti-climatic compared to the view I had going into town. I passed a few people straggling in, having walked all the way from Finisterre that afternoon, and felt a little sorry that their first view of Muxia was from the “wrong” direction. But they’d see the nice views soon enough. =) And really, it was a nice view from this direction—just a little boring compared to the phenomenal views from the other direction!

I walked for a couple of hours out of town, eventually setting up camp between Guisamonde and Frixe in a field that didn’t seem to be used for anything at the moment. I set up my tarp again—rain was still in the forecast, and condensation would likely be an issue regardless.

Somewhere near Muxia, I passed the 1,000-mile mark of my hike. Not that anyone paid attention to miles in Europe—at the end of the day, I had calculated, I had walked 1627.4 kilometers. Knowing that something like 1.61 kilometers was 1 mile, it was easy to figure out I needed to pass 1610 (or so) kilometers to equal 1000 miles, and I was now 17.4 kilometers passed that.

I wrote in my journal and read my book until it was too dark to see, then I laid back and listened to my iPod until I fell asleep for the night.

I’m not really sure what this is. It looks like a machine built to
pump trash into a trash can, but what?

I’ve reached the Atlantic Ocean! That’s Muxia in the background.
And the hill behind the town that I wanted to climb up.

Running my fingers through the surf. =)


A small church where services were just ending as I passed by.

This slab of cracked rock is obviously a monument of some sort,
but I don’t know what for or why. I found it strangely
hypnotic, though. =)

Stumbling onto this really took my breath away! The photo
doesn’t really do it justice, though. They never do. *sigh*

The harbor from the top of the hill behind Muxia. I first walked out to the point
on the left jetty when I got into town. =)

Muxia from above, and you can see the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it on both sides.
From the top, you can turn around and see yourself surrounded by the ocean
on three sides, but that’s much too wide of an angle for my camera to get!

I have no idea who this is. I just liked her silhouette against the rocks. =)

Walking back into Muxia after my trip to the tip of the peninsula.

Make up your minds—left or right?! =)
Actually, this section of trail has people walking in both directions.
For those waking from Finisterre to Muxia, they’ll to right.
For people like me walking from Muxia to Finisterre, we go left.

You see a lot of these raised stone structures used to keep corn or other
foodstuffs away from animals in Galicia. I’d wondered at first how
they got into them since there was no obvious way into them,
but this one had a ladder leading up to it. Ah-ha! =)
The very first photo of this blog entry has one of these raised
structure on the right side of the photo. Obviously, in this
photo, I was more interested in the ladder than I was the structure
itself. I like how it’s framed from under the structure! =)

Home, sweet, home. For tonight, at least. Late in the afternoon, the
weather actually started to get nice! But it wasn’t expected to last very long….

Just because I know you wanted it. ;o)