The crack of a rifle shot.
That was the first thing I heard as I left my albergue at 6:30AM. I had planned on leaving an hour earlier, but had slept through my alarm for the first time since I’ve been here. I’m glad I did.
Another shot cut across the silence, this one closer to me.
I was not even 100m from the front door.
It was pitch black ahead.
I’m generally against using a torch at nighttime, opting instead for the mystery and majesty of the moonlight alone. This morning, not a chance. My trusty iPhone 5C was shining as bright as its little light could.
It was raining and I had goosebumps already. I heard two more shots ring out.
Three different rifles, all shooting in the darkness.
And before you roll your eyes and assume I was just scared and working myself up, I’ve grown up with guns. Hunting is in my family. I shot my first rifle when I was maybe six. I was in the Navy.
I prayed, and I didn’t put my headphones in as I pushed through the thick blackness.
The rain got heavier.
At least I had had the foresight this morning to masterfully tie a garbage bag around my pack, so it wouldn’t be too wet. Hopefully. I’m lucky I hung out with a genius Portuguese crew to teach me some simple engineering skills huh 😉
I could hear dogs baying not too far away and wished I hadn’t talked to a local man yesterday about hunting wild boar in these forests.
My phone was not bright enough.
I felt a sliver of genuine fear for the first time. I didn’t know who was on the other end of those rifles, or how well trained they were. Surrounded by trees, darkness and fog, I could have just looked like a moving target. Were their dogs only hunting boar, or would they maybe think I was game too?
I thought of my parents, and my own upbringing/knowledge of hunting and the like.
Another shot cracked through the silence right beside me. Was that thirty metres away? Fifty? Seventy? Too close, whatever the specifics. I thought of my parents again, and finally remembered the torch Dad gave me.
Of course he gave me a torch. He owns a camping and outdoors gear business – no way was he letting me go backpacking without a good torch. As fast as I could, I whipped off my pack and fumbled around until I found the small flashlight that I had never previously taken from the bottom of my pack.
Several times I’d questioned the weight; was it worth carrying? I’ll probably never use it. It’s way too bright for inside a room, and I don’t like using a light when I walk before dawn anyway.
It was worth carrying. Even if only for my last day, it was worth carrying.
That little black torch threw light out as far as 250m down the path if I focused it in, but I preferred the wide, bright spread. Those hunters probably thought I was mental swinging it up and down like a strobe light, but at least they wouldn’t mistake me for Rudolf.
The sun didn’t rise until after 8am. Or maybe it did rise earlier; either way, you couldn’t see anything for the thick, dark fog that blanketed the world.
The rain teased me. It ebbed, and then came back in quick, cold sheets a few times over. My eyes had to constantly readjust in the mist; trying to focus on the path, on the land around me, making out shapes and twists and turns.
I saw little white specks on the next hill, and realised there was a drop ahead – I must be coming up to a corner, and that was a small town down in the valley below.
I made out the river that the path had snaked alongside yesterday, but it looked a little bigger. Maybe it fed into a lake? I had passed one of those yesterday as well. I bet this would have been a magnificent panorama if the fog would disperse! This lake looked pretty big.
That’s the ocean.
Emotions took me by surprise as they welled up immediately and unexpectedly.
I made it.
I crossed a country, by foot.
I could smell salt in the air and hear the beautiful sound of the ocean once again. I was born to live by the sea.
And I had a red carpet entrance.
I had the whole day to myself, met Dom in town for one last hug and a photo with him (and half of a fingertip), and then he left for his bus and told me to go get my finish.
Santiago has nothing on Finisterre.
I had the revelation (granted, if you know a few other languages it’s not that hard), that Finisterre literally means ‘end of the world’. That’s not just a cute name that pilgrims have dubbed it.
Finis = finish, end
Terre = land, world
Finisterre, the end of the world.
The end of my Camino.
I can’t put it into words, but something deep and personal and holy happened when I reached that final marker.
I didn’t physically feel like I had walked 900 kilometres across mountains, deserts, cities and forests, but my soul understood.
My walk was complete.
There was no point in walking on to Muxia; my heart is not in it now. It would be like those few hangouts you try after a break up when you still want to be ‘just friends’ – it’s over. Don’t drag it out.
I sat by that marker for over an hour in silence. Deep stirrings in my mind and heart.
It is done.