santiago to fisterra


walking to fisterra, near cea, 2016


the time has come to stretch my almost 46 year old legs and take a walk. i have just bought a new pair of boots and i want to use them for the upcoming long wintertime camino, so walking to fisterra is an opportunity to check them out and see how they go on my feet. ahhhhh my poor old travelling boots from last year! they have been waylaid en route from australia and are still being held hostage by the spanish postal system. somewhere in the back of my mind i wonder: will they ever be released? i remember the lady at the australia post shop at the aspley pick and pay hypermarket in brisbane. there i was, all excited by my two boxes and she was all doom and gloom about the boxes and and their contents ever making it out alive. i don’t do the insurance thing on principle, but when faced with the real possibility that my “things” might be lost there is a twinge of concern. i love those boots! and now that lady’s words are making me begin to hold grave fears for their safety…..

to finish their caminos, some pilgrims choose to keep walking about 90 kilometres past the cathedral in santiago de compostela, towards the coast and a place that was once referred to as the end of the earth~in gallego ~”fisterra”. this walk is sometimes also accompanied by a camino to muxia, about 30 kms down the track. or, sometimes people do it the other way around. my original plan is to go to muxia (on the advice of an-other), but this plan, like many plans, ends up morphing into something else.

it will take me four days of walking to get there, and as i set out on the first day, it is grey and damp, and this dampness seems to be permeating everything, even the ancient stones of the plaza de obradoiro where the cathedral sits. my mood this morning seems to have picked up where my arrival from last year’s camino left off. this weather and its’ best friend the grey feeling are the bane of living in galicia and the principal reason that i cannot imagine living here for any great length of time. as i walk past all that cold stone, my mood sinks into some kind of strange, nostalgic bog. now i am not walking, i am wading through the sticky thickness of unexpected and unfounded loneliness. it is often this way with first steps. there is an initial resistance to movement, to the shifting of energy that causes my feet to almost stick to the earth. uffffffffff! i feel heavy and lazy in these first steps. i may not know why i feel this way, but past experience with first steps taps me on the shoulder and reminds me. i’ve had conversations with this tiny passenger before. just push through, she says, don’t succumb. it is tight and dense though and it takes me most of the day to get to the other side of this internal fog. i should also note at this point that i did all of this without a morning coffee. enough said.

the first night is spent in negreira- 21 kilometres away. i have to do a bit of bush bashing to get to the albergue, which is big and clean and impersonal. the mattresses are covered in plastic and i dress the bed with the disposable undersheet and pillowcase given to me. i choose a bed in the deepest darkest corner of the back room. i am knackered. the day has been an emotional wandering along a path through a fog of mental discussion around reciprocity in relationships, and the various interpretations of the words “unconditional” and “boundary”. it is hard work walking with the questions and the words and with nothing to distract me other than the sounds of my footsteps and my breathing. someone said to me recently that it takes one and a half days of walking to empty the trash and disconnect from the world. one day down.

at 4.30 am i am dreaming to the sounds of shadowy albergue gremlins getting ready, maniacally stuffing endless plastic shopping bags into backpacks with infinite rusty metal zippers. hang on! this isn’t a dream! they are pilgrims. waking in this way when all i want to do is snuggle down and keep sleeping sucks. i remember the importance of earplugs…..then of compassion…….and finally of patience, especially with myself and the irritation that i just can’t help feeling. i now remember some other sage words that i recently heard, suggesting that the best course of action in such a situation is to just bite the bullet, get up and start walking too…make some lemonade… but unfortunately between the darkness and the rustling sounds i can’t seem to find a lemon squeezer anywhere so the sour feeling has nowhere to go. i can feel murderous impulses at the edges of thought, curdling the sweetness of rest.

so, i am up and out of the albergue early. the sun is just beginning to come up as i do the reverse bush bash, and this has the effect of coaxing me gently into the fresh joy of early morning wandering under trees. sigh. i stop at a bar and have breakfast, falling into conversation with a woman about an italian pilgrim who accidentally lit half of fisterra on fire when he was burning his boots at the end of his camino. just the mere mention of bushfires and australia pops into my mind for a split second. god, i feel like i am far away in this bar in negreira. but then comes the reminder that i am in fact in the middle of a semester of teaching remotely and that there are digital fragments of academic life and relationships travelling to and fro constantly from elsewhere in the form of whatsapps, facetimes, and skype conversations. as i sit on the stool, these fragments of thought matter are right there, pinning me psychically to a place that is thousands of kilometres away. it is slightly schizophrenic.

off i go walking and i wander up through a few desolate galician villages, past horreos and cemeteries that are cracked and falling apart in all the right places. there is an old lady in an apron standing in the main plaza of one such village. she is feeding a number of hungry kittens that are running around, forwards and backwards, playing and jumping and following them into the triggerthoughtflow i find myself in santorini, watching the family of six kittens that nektarios and i lived with in the house near monolithos beach. i spent hours taking photos and playing with those kittens, sometimes just sitting and watching them sleeping in the afternoon sun, piled one on top of the other, trying to stay warm in the early autumn chill……………….and then back again with my footsteps taking me through curved streets and up behind the village with the old lady, and the new shoes are going ok, but my legs are stuffed, there is no doubt about it. despite last year’s experience, the first day of walking has me right back where i started. i am once again fresh camino meat.

and so on i walk, towards santa marina (22 kms). on the way i make the second breakfast stop at a bar and devour freshly made tortilla. some of the same pilgrims from the night before are there. there is an old american guy and his grandson, a danish woman and her daughter. we move out of there in dribs and drabs, bravely facing a somewhat steep asphalt hill with the help of strong coffee and full stomachs, keeping on the path until santa mariña comes into sight. now my legs are throbbing, so it is time to stop walking. lunch at the albergue is accompanied by a conversation with a pilgrim from barcelona. i dive into fried eggs and potatoes and a salad of cold, ripe tomatoes dripping in olive oil and salt. there is crusty, spongy galician bread and the whites of the eggs are crackly and curly, punched full of holes by the hot oil. the egg whites remind me of my grandmother, gabriela (she used to fry them in this way). i love that something so simple and homely as fried eggs can be so richly laden with memories……… over the rest of the afternoon i collapse into a siesta, i read, i drink a beer, and i make some calls before going back to bed. once again i fall headfirst into the deeply comforting sensation of tired muscles (not without first casting a spell to keep early morning bag rustlers away). for the first time on this walk i feel satisfied as i melt into the lighthouse’s sleeping bag. gracias carlos

it is the third day, and having sloughed off the world i now feel like i want to engage with others. walking partners come and go, beginning with a german woman, britta. then, at a rest stop an australian bloke comes up to me and requests to walk with me so that he can talk australian for a while. who hasn’t felt this way at least once? it is sweet to relax back into language like this for a time. spending time with an australian is another blast from a country that continues to feel so far away. talking with this person about australia, i feel myself slipping into the comfortable shoes of that other persona, the “feigning connection but never really connecting” persona that comes from being brought up in a third space of disconnection with what they might call the australian identity and the spanish identity whatever they are. i was always slightly freaked out by this feeling of disconnect, until i realised that inhabiting this third space has its own cultural norms and ways of being. it has exactly the same weight, size, and value, as anything else in the universe. it just is. the encounter with this dude is also curious from the perspective of difference and repetition because he resonates in the strangest of ways with an-other person that i know. this intertextuality brings the feeling of tender absence woven with honey threads of desire. in that moment, i want what i cannot have, but it feels good anyway because it ultimately reveals the things that i didn’t know i wanted so much in the first place.

this man and i walk to a town called cee, we check into the albergue, have showers, and go out. i buy a pair of thongs (flip flops), we go to carrefour, eat burgers and have a few drinks. in true irreverent aussie style, he is wearing a javanese sarong and he does this, not just because it is made with a very beautiful fabric, but also because he is on a mission to provoke people. like the matronly spanish women who have happened to settle at the table next to us. (stereotype alert!) …..dripping in gold and with hair held in place by a moving haze of hairspray, they have emerged from their no doubt immaculately clean houses, having left their small, similarly perfumed pet dogs to run around in manic circles on sanitised tiled surfaces. they are out to pasear and to have an aperitif with their husbands and shoot the breeze with the other chooks (end of stereotype). in response to the double takes that the perfumed and tightly coiffed ladies do as he walks past, my compatriot announces that “there are 300 million men in the world who wear sarongs you know!”. it is an excellent point. i vaguely wonder: how do they look at me, those women? i have visible dreadlocks forming in the under layers of my hair. i am wearing an old t-shirt, and god help me my nipples are currently unprotected by a bra. my leggings similarly don’t leave much to the imagination. i have also styled this look even further with the pair of green thongs that i bought fifteen minutes ago for 1.95 at the bargain shop and a plastic carrefour shopping bag containing my hiking boots. never was i more in need of coconut oil. the tightness of these ladies is provoking me to feel kind of feral and i like it. the permission to go wild is after all one of the joys of pilgrim life. after a short wander around the night streets, we head back to the albergue and crash. it is the sleep of the dead. today i have walked 30 kilometres and i will be honest with you, my legs have had better days. the fresh meat needs to toughen up.

the final day we walk to fisterra. first, there is breakfast at a place with fake sepia photos of paris on the walls and chairs with backs that look like toilet seats. this gives my compatriot the perfect opportunity to use the word “dunny” and enjoy a moment of linguistic abandon. he also gives me an in-depth analysis of his experiences of ordering cups of tea in spain. now we are walking, and there is chitter chatter and some fairly motivated wandering that takes us up through the town, over a hill and across to a view point where we see fisterra for the first time. it is a beautiful sight. the blue sky and crystalline glitter of the sea look like they are gently cupping the wide bay sitting just beneath the township. there are a couple of steep slopes down at this point and some dodgy crossings across roads. the sun is burning brightly in the sky as we wander into town. i am feeling a sense of peace now, having walked across the dense fog that began to emerge through those first footsteps out of santiago. the sun has burned the clouds away and i feel strong and clean, ready to walk.





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