We have done it.. we have reached the end of the Camino. In front of us is the wide open blueness of the sea
There are no miles left to walk, we have run out of land.
Distance to the end of the Camino: 0 kms
There is one decision that everyone who walks this last leg of the Camino has to make: whether to end in Muxia or Finisterra.
“ You have to end in Finisterra,” the bi-lingual merchant banker tells us, “ everyone leaves their walking boots there or some other personal thing. You must leave part of yourself on the Camino. ..”
Immediately I am extremely relieved that we are going to Muxia. I stare at my dusty boots – they have kept me going across so many miles. It doesn’t seem fair that they should end their lives on a big, impersonal pile, plus they are expensive.
Ninesh tries to explain that we already have a studio apartment booked in Muxia but I’m beginning to think
Merchant bankers are better speakers than listeners.
“ Then there is a big bonfire,” she continues, and they burn everything… it’s like a big party.”
I look at my boots again and whisper “ don’t worry, I will keep you safe.”
When we reach the fork in the road: Finisterra to the left, Muxia to the right, we do not hesitate.. I sense the relief right to the soles of my boots.
Muxia is a small fishing town balanced on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As we walk through our last long Camino day, we keep hoping that we will see the sparkling water over the crest of every hill. Instead the way seems unendingly long and the view remains resolutely land-locked. On one of our first days on the Camino, a peregrino who had locked her front door on her life in France and just started walking, told us that if you let it, the Camino will always provide. We nodded and thought secretly that she had bought into the spiritual myth of the Camino. But on these last 2 long days of walking, just when I was thinking that we had set ourselves impossible goals, solace arrived unexpectedly On the first day, in the middle of a forest, a hidden field of blueberry bushes suddenly appeared and a table holding punnets full of berries with a jam jar for donations and on this last day, the sea resolutely refusing to appear over the crest of any hill, a gardener, shouts at us. Thinking we have trespassed we quicken our pace, but he starts waving and keeps shouting.
“ He’s saying apples,” he says.
We turn back and the gardener fills our arms with fresh apples from his tree. It is not the sea but kindness and generosity we should be watching out for over the horizon.
It is not until we have almost reached Muxia that we see the ocean, azure blue and forever, glistening through the trees.
The path for this very last part of the journey is mostly through shaded woodland. Being the less popular route, we walk on our own almost the whole way. The air is thick with heat, the silence broken only by birdsong. In front of us on the sandy path, dappled with sunlight, butterflies dance, gentle flashes of colour against the woodland green. It would have seemed fitting if the 7 Dwarves had crossed our path, hi -hoeing themselves to work. It is a Disney perfect day on this ancient route.It is not until we have almost reached Muxia that we at last see the ocean, azure blue and forever, sparkling through the trees.
The sea laps clear and inviting on the white sand as we hobble the very last km of our journey.
While I collapse on the warm rocks balanced on this Western tip of Europe, Ninesh walks a slope to the 0 km yellow arrow.
“ I’m not climbing another hill EVER,” I explain, probably more loudly than I meant to, when he suggests I go with him.
With the sun-warmed rock on my back and the sound of waves breaking all around me, I allow my mind to drift far away from aching legs and blisters. When we started our journey, 550 miles ,34 days and over 5 years ago ( we had to miss one year of walking due to Covid) it’s hard to know if we truly believed we would finish it. We were surprised enough that we had managed to start- it is rare in life that we actually do what we mean to – although being married to a man with such determination and detailed planning skills as Ninesh, makes it more likely. What I do know is that our journey across the North West of Spain has not been purely measured in footsteps. We have walked through lost villages and busy cities, across never ending fields of sunflowers and through gnarled, ancient forests. We have climbed mountains in the Spanish heat and walked beside gurgling streams in the cool shade of trees. We have spent days sharing stories with fellow travellers from all over the world, and hours walking completely on our own. We have learnt the joy of spontaneous conversation and the pleasure of solitude. We have learnt about paragliding in Argentina, the benefits of water melon for the kidneys, the luck that storks bring if they nest on your chimney in Japan and that one day someone, somewhere will realise the importance of Fabian’s Theory of Explosivity. We have met people walking the Camino for religious reasons, for personal penance, for the pleasure of walking, because it is on their bucket list or simply to prove that they can.
And over our years of walking, the world has changed. Since we started my dad has died, our children have left home, the UK has left Europe and the world has been gripped by a pandemic. It has made it harder to get here and will make it more complicated to get home.. but the Camino remains a constant in the confusion and chaos that seems to be engulfing this 21st century world. It is a relief to have arrows guiding us, to have to give no thought to the direction we travel. Real Life is not so easy. Often we find ourselves walking in the wrong direction, following the wrong arrows towards the wrong destination. We confuse desire with purpose, wants with needs, quick fixes with success. We rush head-first towards wrong decisions. We forget to stop and breathe, to allow ourselves time to think. If the Camino has has given us anything, it has given us the gift of time. Time to carry a thought to an end, time to reflect on what we have lost and what we have gained, time to admire the flutter of a butterfly wing and feel the warmth of the first rays of the sun on our backs. Life is precious and transient and full of beauty. It is not always easy to remember that.
And as for the final destination.. am I right? Is it about the journey not the end goal. ..Or is Ninesh right, is that just a load of crap? I watch the sun rise over the port of Muxia, the waters reflecting the reds and golds of a new day and realise that the actual destination has never really mattered.
We could have ended here or in Finisterra or anywhere else. Our final destination has never been a place, it has only ever been a concept, the knowledge that we have completed something that seemed impossible, the right to feel pride, for just a moment, in what we have achieved, a sense of completion and accomplishment. So much of what we try to do in life remains unfinished or is unmeasurable, the Camino has given us a finite goal and we have reached it. We do not need to burn our boots to know that, our aching legs are proof enough. And the bi-lingual merchant banker was wrong about something else too, it is not that you leave a part of yourself on the Camino, but that the Camino leaves a little part of itself with you. This is one journey, one path completed. Sometimes it has been pure willpower that has pulled us up mountains or through the pain of blistered feet but every mountain climbed, burst blister overcome has made it easier the next time because we know we have done it before.
Life is a journey full of different caminos, each with their own set of obstacles, adversities and people willing to help us. That’s what makes it an adventure. We will all of us keep on walking normally through it, until our little piece of land runs out and our journey ends. If, on the way, we have laughed with friends, loved completely, wiped away the tears of others and held out a hand to help a stranger climb a hill, then, whatever path we have walked, we will have reached the right destination.
Until then, Buen Camino.