11 October 2012

Camino de Santiago day 14: Santiago - Finisterre

We woke up in our hostel in Santiago, earlier than any other day of the trip, to attempt the ride to Finisterre (Fisterra in Galician). We had been waffling about this decision for the entirety of the previous day. It was 90km and we had heard it was one of the hardest stages of the camino. But Alberto had always wanted to get there, so in the end, we headed off.

We stopped at a panadería in Santiago for a few breakfast pastries and we headed out the other side of Santiago by 8:30am. Right away, we were on the Camino proper (rather than a road) with plenty of rocky, root-y, muddy slopes. Alberto enjoyed it, but I found it really challenging. We let a pack of MTB's pass - there seemed to be several connecting MTB trails in this area - and passed a few walkers as well who were obviously heading out for their three day trek to Finisterre. It was very slow going for me, and I dismounted several times. Of course, I'd been doing this throughout the whole trip whenever the terrain got too technical, but having to do it so early, and on this day, made us both nervous. Throughout the rest of the trip we never truly had to be somewhere by nightfall. We had plans, but we could alter them. But now, we had to reach Finisterre today in order to be back in Santiago the following evening to catch our night bus to Madrid. Faced with a definite destination, the stress of making such slow progress was powerful.

We actually stopped on the side of the trail for a long while and considered our options. It's hard to describe, but I felt so low in those moments that I just truly didn't believe it was possible that I could make it to Finisterre that day. I didn't want Alberto to lose his opportunity to reach Finisterre, and begged him to continue on without me. We were still close enough to Santiago that I could have reached it easily even if I walked the whole way. Alberto didn't want to go on without me and turned  his bike around to start heading back, giving up on his dream. But eventually, he came up with a simple suggestion. If we really weren't making good progress, we could stay overnight tonight in one of the towns before Finisterre, and cycle the rest of the way in the morning. Even if it meant we missed our night bus to Madrid, we still had a spare day before our flight from Madrid to London. We didn't have to make it to Finisterre that day at all. With that psychological barrier removed, we were able to continue on.

Alberto used his GPS to divert us to the road where possible, which helped us make good time to Negreira, the first stop at 23km into the ride. We were there by 11am. The sense of progress we felt on arrival really cheered us up and I began to believe again that we could make it to Finisterre. We stopped at a supermarket to pick up food for later, and Alberto admired the old-fashioned pharmacy, which had wooden drawers for all their goods and the computer hidden out of customer view.

The approach to Negreira
After Negreira we mixed in a bit more Camino with our roads -- and it helped that sometimes the Camino was on roads. It was very rolling terrain, as we had come to expect from Galicia, but fortunately the day was cloudy which meant it wasn't too hot, so the hills didn't slow us down too much. I actually remember telling Alberto that I was enjoying them!

We stopped in Olveiroa, the last stopping point for pilgrims before Finisterre, at about 3pm for lunch. We called a pensión (like a B&B) in Finisterre to reserve a place to sleep, now confident that we'd make it. We asked the woman at the bar about the rest of the route. She said it was uphill from Olveiroa, then flat to Cee, and then mixed to Finisterre. Of course by this time we were so skeptical about such descriptions from locals, I'm not sure why we asked.

She wasn't lying about the hill, anyway. It was steep, but the roads were very quiet so we didn't actually find it too challenging. I reflected on how much fitter I'd become since starting the ride, knowing that a hill like this early on would have seen me struggle.

We knew that the sights along the camino would get better as we approached Cee, and so stuck to the proper path for the last part of the trip. We saw our first bit of ocean and got really excited, and then we even saw Finisterre in the distance. Alberto kept looking at his GPS, which registered us at 350m above sea level. Finisterre was at zero. When were we going to lose all that height?

First glimpses of the sea
We soon found out. The camino heads into Cee on a 1km ridiculously steep and rocky descent. Alberto was thrilled at the chance to ride such terrain while I dismounted and walked virtually the whole kilometer -- which was honestly tricky enough! I kept thinking I'd turn a corner and see Alberto lying in the path having been thrown from his bike, but he actually made it down fine and turned around after a while to come look for me!

Beginning the descent
Once in Cee, we joined the coastal road to Finisterre. At one point the camino turned right up one of the steepest paths I have ever seen in my life. It was a paved pedestrian walkway, but was as close to vertical as physically possible for people to walk on. Alberto struggled up in his lowest gear, but I dismounted without even attempting it. We went along a few more trails and then rejoined the coastal road, which wasn't too busy, although busier than many of the roads we had been on on the rest of the trip. We started to see Finisterre come into view, and the sun began to come out just in time for our arrival. We passed the beach on the edge of town and decided to change into our swimsuits and enjoy the beach while it was still light (it was about 6pm). The water was pretty cold but we had to say we'd been in the Atlantic ocean!

Fisterra in the background
Alberto took a walk along the beach and found the most beautifully formed scallop shell. After resisting  the urge to join pilgrims carrying mass-produced white shells for the entire journey, it felt fitting to have a genuine one to take home as a souvenir.

We then headed to our pensión, which gave us a pilgrim's price of 25 euros for the room - when you divide it by two, cheaper than some of the hostels we paid to stay in and share a room with several others!

After a shower we headed to the lighthouse, km 0 on the Santiago - Finisterre trail. This is where people normally burn articles of clothing or leave their boots when they complete their journey. There was a small fire going, and after much consideration we decided we shouldn't burn our clothes as they were all synthetics, and it wouldn't have been environmentally friendly. So we burned the printed-out elevation profile of the route - not that it had done us much good!

Large collection of boots left by other pilgrims
We watched the sunset on the tip of the peninsula, chatting to other pilgrims and watching some particularly zealous ones burn their hair in the fire (on purpose). Then we headed to the harbor to have a delicious meal, and back to bed for our early morning bus back to Santiago, to start our journey home.

Stats for the day:

Odometer: 95 km
Moving average: 11.8kph
Overally average: 7.8kph
Moving time: 8h 37m
Stopped time: 4h21 (including our time at the beach!)
Max speed: 59.8 kph

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