BootsnAll Travel Network

At the End of the World!

After trains and buses from 8 a.m. till 7 p.m. yesterday, including a two-hour layover in Santiago de Compostela, where the action at the bus station is better than an erotic movie (more on that another time, but let me say now that Chaucer was not wrong about the Camino and its affect on the lusts of the pilgrims)–after all that long schlep, I finally got to the End of the Earth, Finisterre. Fisterre. Finis Terra. I am here with the warm sun, a blasting fierce wind, more seagulls than I thought possible in one place, and many young pilgrims with shaggy heads, walking sticks, hiking boots, and wild joy. As I was walking the 6 km road up to the lighthouse at the end of the world just before sunset yesterday, a young man with a lean face, glasses, and blonde curly hair was walking down the road barefoot, carrying his shoes, smiling. I beamed a great smile at him, and he burst into English (so much for my thinking I am not instantly recognizable as an English-speaker): “I am enjoy life this moment. Everything is beautiful. I am beautiful this moment!” I opened my arms to him and shouted, “Yes, you are beautiful!” He rushed into my arms, gave me a long hug, and then backed off, his eyes full of tears, and kissed my hand. It was that kind of afternoon.

The place, a great rocky promontory surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic, gleams in the sun. The village is small. Only a couple of stores sell tourist-junk, mostly shell-art of the same variety sold in Mississippi. Heather and blackberries (deliciously ripe) grow out of the stones. It reminds me a little of the Scottish Highlands and a little of Hout Bay, near Cape Town, but it is warmer and brighter and more joyful than either. Gulls wheel and cry. Hundreds of brightly-painted fishing boats bob in the harbor. Garlic, sizzling butter, and open grills roasting fish perfume the air.

There is a feeling among the pilgrim kids, the tourists of many nations in their fine cars, and me. We have gone as far as we can go. We have reached some ultimate point in world travel. This is it. This is the Lourdes of wanderers, the holy grail, the end of the Camino. It ends, as yesterday ended for all of us, as the sun sank into the sea beyond arrangement of holy stones left by the megalithic peoples who also built the dolmens and left the standing stones in Carnac, Ireland, and other places near the sea. The symbol of this place is a triple spiral, like the ones found at the great Irish sites. People have been making pilgrimages here for a long time.

We are all smiling at each other. I saw two arrive on donkeys, many on bicycles, some (like me) on buses, others in cars, and scores on their own two feet. There is a camaraderie of the joyful in this place, like nothing I have known anywhere else in my life. Everyone who is here is happy to be here, with the possible exception of a few waitresses and waiters who are a bit grumpy, a few scrawny cats, and a couple of homeless dogs. For most of us, it took some doing to get here. I don´t know if it is this joyful every day here, or if yesterday was particularly wonderful because the weather was absolutely perfect. I´ll see if the same feeling prevails all day today. There is only one computer in town, so I probably won´t blog again till I get to Santiago.

Everyone speaks Spanish to the tourists, although many speak Galician to each other. It sounds like Gaelic to my ignorant ears. My Spanish is slower than it ever was before, because when I open my mouth, first Portuguese wants to come out, then French, then Sesotho (which is really unhelpful!), and finally my rusty and confused Spanish resuscitates itself. I stumble and stutter and mix languages horribly, but I am getting by, and the joy needs no language. It is palpable, as is the beauty.

There are no hostels here except the one for walking pilgrims, so I have a hotel room, and for the first time since the day I arrived in Lisbon, I have a bath tub, and I don´t have to take everything with me to the shower room and dress there. Everything is twice as expensive as anything in Portugal, so I wouldn´t be able to stay long in Spain, but I´m glad I´m in Finisterre, and I can`t wait to see the scene in Santiago on a Sunday. On the way here I encountered two other solo travellers, both in their twenties. One was a Californian who just finished Berkeley and is taking some time in Europe before starting graduate school. I eavesdropped on her having a long conversation in English with an Austrian couple: the subject was Arnold Schwartzenegger, and whether the Austrians or the Californian were more ashamed of him. Hilarious. Then I sat next to a young Dutch woman, also taking her reward between her batchelor´s degree and her master´s. She doesn´t speak Spanish, so she was having trouble in the train station in Vigo, and I helped her, and then she sat by me and talked all the way to Santiago. She is a hefty young woman, and she explained she is Roman Catholic and on pilgrimage, but not walking. “I am a good Catholic,” she explained, “but if I get to heaven, I don`t think the deciding factor will be whether I walked the Camino or took the train.” Very sensible, I thought.

Here in Finisterre the only walking pilgrims are quite young. I notice that I have allowed a little bit of a sense of shame to creep in (how I always do that! most exasperating!) because I have not walked the Camino. I have walked over a hundred miles on many different pairs of shoes, in churches and chapels and monasteries and alleyways, along beaches and across plazas, but I have not walked through the corn fields and vineyards, following the golden arrows. I talk a good game about being fine with that, but there is this creeping shame that I want to put behind me. It helps that I have not seen ANY women pilgrims my age who walked alone. Even Joyce Rupp had a companion. So I can justify it. All that remains is to forgive myself for making what I know was, for me, a wise decision. But today I am in Finisterre. The sun is shining, the ocean is glinting and flashing, and I am very, very happy, even with my little shadow of shame for company.

Like that young man I met on the road yesterday, to my eyes, everything is beautiful. I am beautiful this moment. For the first time in my life, I want to buy a T-shirt proclaiming I was here.

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3 responses to “At the End of the World!”

  1. Christopher says:

    Kendall, lovely entry, though I’m reading it a few days later, surrounded, like you, with papers, papers, papers. Whatever to do with them? Here are a few sentences from Juan Ramon Jimnez, who was haunted by boxes of his own writing and felt compelled to revise them…

    For me the world has two parts– oen where there might be papers of mine, and one where there are none. How restful, the second!

    No day… without erasing a line and tearing up some paper or other.

    No page is too insignificant not to be torn up.

    In the papers in my wastebasket, what beauty, what rhythm and color, what a dull, restless kaleidoscope!

    And this one, which may pertain, if work=life:

    Let our work be free of us: the scaffolding taken down, the future philologist outsmarted: naked, smooth and round like the egg of a bird or the seed of a plant, like Venus on her shell!

  2. Harriet says:

    My oh my! Gorgeous, inspiring and exceptional writing.

  3. Kathryn says:

    Thanks, Harriet. I hope you get there. I want to hear YOUR story!

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