I´m nearing the end of my walk; in less than two days, I´ll arrive at Finisterre (the end of the earth). In some ways, it is much like the beginning.
Then, I started up a mountain in the midst of the Basque country, a region straddling France and Spain that, thanks to its remote location, has been able over the centuries to retain its unique and difficult language. Heading towards the coast, I´m in the thick of Galicia, a region with different spelling and pronunciation than Castillian Spanish. Spoken, it sounds more like Portuguese; often I ask people to repeat themselves so I can understand. The locals even look more Portuguese with their somewhat darker complexions, wider foreheads and shorter and sturdier builds. That neither the Basque nor the Galicians have completely assimilated or surrendered their distinctive identities to the forces of modernization is inspiring.
Then, the weather was clear, the sky blue, the Pyrenees various shades of velvety green. While in the last week or so I´ve trekked through snow, grappel and rain (heavy at times), yesterday and today I walked beneath a cloudless sky once the sun burned off the thick chilly layer of morning mist. It has been warm enough to wear just a long sleeve shirt, not bundled beneath four layers.
Then, my backpack was heavy, stuffed with too many things. Some I ditched, and a few items I mailed ahead to Santiago, partly as an incentive for me to actually arrive there and not bail out beforehand. I picked those up from the post office yesterday, so my pack is, again, a bit full. But now I don´t notice the weight as much; my backpack is more companion than torture device. Today I walked 31 kilometers (18+ miles) which, while challenging, did not leave me feeling like I was about to drop dead. That distance was unthinkable before the Camino, or even a few weeks ago.
Then, I snapped photos of nearly everything. Sheep, cows, mountains, waymarks of the Camino, food, and more. Now, things look less new, and I am more selective about what I shoot, but I am still trying to see with a fresh eye, to be alert for interesting compositions and subjects, even though my brain complains that stopping to photograph is a waste…can´t we please get to the next albergue and take a shower and nap? This has been the tension throughout: both wanting to just finish the Camino already (or simply quit), and not wanting it to end.
It´s tempting to heed the voice that wants to “get things over with”…but that´s like agreeing to let a steamroller flatten the present moment. Even on days when walking was painful, there was always something more beautiful on which to focus my attention. Pausing to rest, I´d stare as clouds moved across the sky, or a snail crawl along the ground. I spotted blackberries, figs, almonds, chestnuts. Over the last weeks, I stopped for several sessions of “cat therapy” with friendly felines (more than one jumped on me to snuggle). There have been many moments of near (physical) agony paired with the ecstasy of seeing the horizon filled with bold splashes and sprays of red, orange and pink and watching the colors dissolve into blue, at the beginning of the day, or into black, at the end.
If I am lucky and the weather holds, I might see the sunset over Finisterre in the next day or so. It will be both an ending and a beginning.