I’ve read that less than 10% of those who complete the Camino de Santiago actually carry on to Finisterre, about 89 km to the west. But many of those who do make it to Finisterre mark the end of their Camino by burning their boots and watching the sunset from a lighthouse a further 3.5 km southwest of town.
Christian pilgrims have been making their way to Finisterre for over 900 years but there’s also evidence that Neolithic peoples worshiped in the area up to 6000 years ago.
As author John Brierly writes in A Pilgrims’s Guide to the Camino Finisterre: “One might be forgiven for believing that a conspiracy continues to deter pilgrims travelling on to the end of the way and the world. Perhaps it is Finisterre’s connection with its pagan past – the rising sun over Monte Pindo lying to the east flooded through the entrance door to the Hermitage of San Guillerme but it’s setting over the western horizon into the Land of Eternal Youth, Tir-na-nÓg was watched over by the pagan Altar to the Sun Ara Solis. This mysterious headland marked the fault line between a Christian point of reference to the east and a pagan orientation and emphasis to the west.”
I arrived at the lighthouse shortly after 5:00 on Friday and spent a few hours strolling around the grounds, taking photos and reminiscing with other pilgrims. I burned a pair of clean socks rather than my boots as the Merrells are still in decent shape and with a good airing out they should last another few months.
Around 7:00 pm I found a spot on a rock that afforded me a clear view of the western horizon. If anyone was to get in the way of my perfect sunset photo, they’d have to climb down to a narrow ledge and carry a very long selfie stick. Even here, with a busload of tourists on hand, that was unlikely. I had the perfect spot to capture the perfect photo to conclude a perfect Camino.
There was only one problem: The sun wouldn’t set until 10:17 pm and that meant a three hour wait. You’d think the “new me” would be happy to lay down on the grass, gaze at the clouds, stare out to sea, or just spend some quiet time reflecting on what I had just accomplished. I could even dig out Brierly’s book and read more pagan-schmagan stories while burning a stick of incense like the couple seated about 20 meters to my left.
About 15 minutes into my wait, I felt an overwhelming urge to walk back to town. I don’t know what came over me but it was a force I simply could not resist. I knew that I was passing up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch a sunset from an ancient pagan altar but I didn’t care. After walking day after day for the better part of two months, it’s possible that my muscles were doing whatever it is that causes chickens to keep running around long after their heads have been chopped off. I still had something to store my hat on but what’s under the hat said “get walking.” So that’s what I did. Fifty minutes later I was in a Finisterre bar, sipping wine and eating grilled octopus. I was in a good place. A very good place.
This morning I woke up with a sore throat and a case of the sniffles but I got dressed and packed and was in the lobby at 7:15. There was a public bus to Santiago at 10:30 but if it was delayed for even a few minutes I would miss my connection to Lisbon so I had arranged for a private car and driver to pick me up at 7:30. The route that took four days by foot was covered in less than two hours in Felipe’s Audi A8.
Once back in Santiago we were allowed to board the bus about 40 minutes before departure time. I was the first passenger onboard so I claimed a sunny window seat near the back, selected some music on my phone and settled in for the nine hour drive. I also took two of the cold and flu tablets that I had purchased a month earlier in Burgos.
Afer a few minutes I woke up to find that we were moving. I peered out the window, hoping to catch one last glimpse of Santiago’s massive cathedral but we were obviously well into suburbia and I had missed it. The bus turned onto a divided highway lined with big box stores, garden centres, car dealerships and the like. We passed a large garden centre called Horto do Campo Grande. Next door was a car dealership, Santogal Honda Lisboa. Wait! Honda Lisboa?
Yep, we were on the outskirts of Lisbon. I had slept through the entire trip! Even more remarkable is that Dwight Yoakam’s A Thousand Miles From Nowhere and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar had been playing in endless rotation in my earbuds for 9 hours and 20 minutes.
Was that some sort of pagan retribution for not respecting their stories about the land of Tir-na-nÓg? Should I have caught the sunset from the lighthouse rather than rushing back to a crowded pub in Finisterre where the lady seated beside me sniffled and coughed all evening long? I don’t know. What I do know is that ‘puede provocar somnolencia’ must be Spanish for ‘may cause drowsiness.’ Extreme drowsiness, I might add.