Week 16: Mi Vuelta a España

12/12/22 – 18/12/22 216 km

The forecast for Monday was bleak. There were warnings of extreme levels of rainfall and electrical storms. Despite my desire to make progress, I knew it wouldn’t be today. I spent the majority of the day hand washing my clothes, a task passersby may argue I had neglected over the past week. I then turned my attention to preparing for the final push towards Santiago de Compostela and then on to Finisterre – otherwise known as the end of the world!

Around 5pm ‘cabin fever’ set in. It was then that Jannick (a fellow pilgrim from Germany) and I made the fatal decision to go to the local bar for a caña (small beer). Two bottles of wine and six chupitos (shots) later we stumbled in. One piece of advice to anyone who has never been to the more ‘provincial’ areas of Spain, you should never ask the landlord if he makes his own ‘orujo’ (rocket fuel). Of course I already knew this, but one never learns. On the plus side when we finally run out of oil, NASA will be able to contract him to fuel any future space missions. The stuff was lethal. Despite the rain, the evening certainly wasn’t a damp squib!

I have no idea how I managed to drag myself out of bed the next day. At least this time the pain was self-inflicted. When I left the Albergue that morning, I was 83 km short of Santiago and I had intended to walk the bulk of it that day. The first two kilometres were hell due to a combination of light drizzle and the alcohol sweats. It served me right. I stopped three times before reaching the twenty kilometre mark. My hangover wasn’t helped by the fact the path was extremely dull. I was forced to walk on or next to the road for the majority of the day.

After lunch I started to worry that I would not make the Albergue in Silleda, which would take me to 43km for the day. To compound matters the rain was now hammering down and I was soaked to the core. Thankfully after thirty three kilometres I saw a sign for an Albergue that wasn’t marked on my map in the tiny village of A Laxe. I didn’t think twice. I was in, showered and asleep before I had time to consider it.

This of course left me with a dilemma the next day. I was now 51km short of Santiago de Compostela and having lost the Monday to bad weather I knew I had to do it in one go. It was a slog. Climb after neverending climb after… you get the point! When I was 12km short of the city I stopped to check the location of the Albergue. It was three kilometres in the opposite direction to where I needed to be the next day. Given that it was already dark, I made the decision to use back roads to skirt around the city centre and visit the Cathedral the next day.

So, on the morning of Day 106, whilst the other pilgrims slept in, I dragged myself out of bed, again, to the ‘Oficina del Peregrino’ to register my arrival in Santiago. There I was issued with my certificate acknowledging completion of the Via de la Plata. I imagine I would have celebrated more if I didn’t have another 1,500km to walk. So as the other pilgrims made their way home via taxi, bus or train, I carried on towards Finisterre.

Before leaving I called into the Post Office where I begged the attendant to keep hold of my package for one more week. I couldn’t face carrying the tent until it was absolutely necessary. It was raining as I climbed out of the city towards Monte de Vidán. I was a sweaty wreck when I reached the top but the view back towards the Cathedral made it worthwhile. It always does. After a few hours walking I was at the foot of the day’s longest climb. I stopped for a coffee.

The final push was a struggle and I was grateful in the knowledge that this bit would be downhill on the way back! Once in Negreira I stopped at the supermarket to grab essentials for the next day and then made my way out of town to the Albergue. The rain was torrential by this stage. Fortunately the forecast was better for the next two days. With this in mind I decided to wear my trail runners the next day as my feet were starting to hurt again after so many kilometres in the boots.

I left just after eight o’clock, it was still dark but I didn’t want to waste time by stopping to get my headtorch. I wish I had, because after about twenty seconds I stepped in a puddle and my feet were wet for the next two hours. Rain or no rain I always seem to be soaking. The day was full of gentle climbs and descents as I made my way from one quaint Galician village to the next. At around 2pm I stripped down to my shorts for the first time in weeks before embarking on the final climb to the Albergue, which was located in a renovated school house in the village of Oliveiroa (don’t worry, I still can’t pronounce it either).

The next day I was up early and had a filling breakfast in the local bar. Today I would finally reach the end of the world and I was feeling excited. Although this was only a short Camino, less than one hundred kilometres, I was finding it hard to motivate myself. Walking is so much more difficult when you know that you have to come back along the same route. The path was also more difficult than anything I had encountered since the GR 7.

After spending the morning climbing gently to around 300m, where I caught my first glimpses of the Atlantic since Andalucía, the path then dropped dramatically down to sea level and the town of Cea. There I bought supplies for the next few days before climbing and descending two more times. At around 4pm I arrived at the Albergue in Finisterre. It was closed. After a few frantic phone calls I found a lovely place run by a couple of Italians. They were working there until they had saved enough money to continue walking.

I dumped my bag, grabbed my head torch and then jogged the final three kilometres up to the famous lighthouse. I was like a kid when I arrived. Words can’t describe the feelings buzzing around my head. On a more sentimental level I also knew that I had come here with a purpose. When my dad died, I was never afforded the opportunity to scatter his ashes. I have never had a place to visit, a place where I could feel closer to him.

At the start of Day 2 of this walk, after swimming in Cala Taballera, I picked up a small stone. For me it has been a symbol of my dad. I carried it with me for 106 days until I reached Finisterre. I then climbed down to the water’s edge and threw it in with all my might. I know it is only symbolic, a meaningless gesture perhaps, but it has driven me to get to this point. It was the most poignant moment of the trip so far. I then climbed to the peak of the hill overlooking the lighthouse where I watched the sun set before running back to the Albergue.

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse. Wind speeds were forecasted to reach 80 km/h and subsequent reports state they were stronger. As I walked along the seafront the wind was so strong I could barely stand straight. The water was whipping in off the sea and it took all my force to walk in a straight line. The higher you got the worse it became. After what felt like days I was back in Cea – halfway to the Albergue.

Just as I was about to embark on the gruelling climb out of town I bumped into Jannick walking the other way, he was now a day behind me. It was so nice to see him again. Buoyed by seeing a friendly face, and a strong tail wind, I was up the hill in no time. After a few more hours I was back in the school house just in time to watch the World Cup Final. Of course it rained the whole way.

It’s all east now – bring on the final third!

4 thoughts on “Week 16: Mi Vuelta a España”

  1. Once again absolutely brilliant, Mike. Horrible wey moments mixed edith very touching one’s. Really enjoyed reading the blog again. Hope your Christmas was enjoyable and hope that the final third is as memorable as the rest for you. Take care mate.

  2. Once again absolutely brilliant, Mike. Horrible wet moments mixed with very touching one’s. Really enjoyed reading the blog again. Hope your Christmas was enjoyable and hope that the final third is as memorable as the rest for you. Take care mate.


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