Monday, October 10, 2016

Fisterra, Muxía, and a Sunset at the End of the World

If you happen to find yourself in Santiago de Compostela and have run out of things to do, I’d recommend going on day trips to check out more of Galicia’s beautiful cities and natural wonders, from the “Glass City” of A Coruña and Roman-walled Lugo to the pristine beaches of the Cíes Islands and the natural hot springs of Ourense. You can reach some really exciting places on a one-hour train ride, but if you know how to drive stick shift, it’s best to rent a car and head out west to hug the coastline until you reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Muxía, Spain
Lighthouses at Muxía

The historic fishing villages of Noia and Muros will whet your appetite for Gothic architecture and seafood tapas, whereas coastal Carnota has kept an entire beach reserved just for you. Just around the corner, the Ézaro waterfall is the only point in mainland Europe where a river empties into the sea via a waterfall.

The cherry on top (the shrimp on the paella?) is without a doubt Fisterra, also called Finisterre, from the name the Romans used to describe this area, finis terrae—“Lands End.”

Fisterra: The true ending point for the Camino de Santiago

Fisterra, Spain
The shell marks the way
The Camino de Santiago proper ends at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the supposed remains of the Apostle St. James are buried. Medieval Christians would go on pilgrimage across northern Spain to reach the Christian world’s third-holiest site. Afterward, many would proceed on to Galicia’s Atlantic coast—which is, after all, only 89km (55 miles) from Santiago. In Roman times, you could find an ara solis or “altar to the sun” where the lighthouse stands today, so this rocky outcropping has likely had a spiritual pull on humans since time immemorial.

A handful of pilgrims today continue to make the extension from Santiago to Fisterra, motivated by a desire to collect more stamps in their pilgrim passport…or perhaps drawn by the inexplicable allure of the sea. Barely a tenth of all pilgrims who reach Santiago keep walking to Fisterra, so this lonely, three-day hike offers an introspective escape from the hordes on the camino francés. When I hiked this route three years ago, I enjoyed passing through thick, fragrant eucalyptus groves, over old, eroded ridges, and next to rural family farms and ranches.

Fisterra, Spain
The lighthouse
The 0,0 km marker is posted at a whitewashed granite lighthouse that towers over the cliffs below. It serves as a beacon for the fleet of fishing boats that moors here every day as well as for the dozens of pilgrims searching for the Way. Plodding wearily in between the throngs who have parachuted here on charter buses from Santiago, they’re overcome with joy, having finally reached their goal. Many have walked here on foot from the Pyrenees Mountains back in France—with the blisters to prove it.

Traditionally pilgrims would burn their stinky clothes and bathe in the ocean, and you can often find some sun-bleached t-shirts tied to crosses or tattered hiking boots with sentimental quotes plastered nearby. Whether they walked 3 or 30 days to get here (or rode on a 3-hour bus tour), everyone ends up hanging out on the cliffs to watch the sun pass beneath the horizon in the evening.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...