On the day it rained so heavily - the day we walked from O Coto to Arzua - Dad and I stopped about midday at a tiny cafe. It was crowded with pilgrims sheltering from the rain under a blue tarp stretched over outdoor tables and chairs. We greeted pilgrim friends as we sat down and turned our attention to our cokes and potato chips (the best sustenance on offer in the cafe).
The couple at the table next to ours did not appear to be pilgrims. They weren't wearing the 'uniform' of hiking boots and rain gear. The gentleman greeted us and asked about our Camino, where we started, when, and (of course) about Dad's age and health. He then told us that he was a taxi driver from Santiago and the young woman with him was his niece. He was driving her to Sarria so that she could start her pilgrimage there. We all commiserated about the rain and the walking, then he and his niece stood up to go. We said goodbye and joked with him, "See you in Santiago!"
People are so nice and friendly all along the way.
Three days later, the sun was out and Dad and I were in Santiago. We had obtained our compostelas, handed in our clothes for washing, and were standing at the concierge desk asking about the bus to Finisterre when we each felt a tap on our shoulder. "Hola amigos!" It was our friend the taxi driver from the blue tarped cafe. We were as delighted to see him as he seemed to see us; and the concierge said (pointing to our friend),"He is the best taxi driver in all of Santiago! You should have him drive you to Finisterre and Muxia."
So that is what we did. We arranged with Jose that he would pick us up at 10 on Sunday morning and take us on a day trip - a scenic drive winding along the coast up to Finisterre, then to Muxia, and back to Santiago. Then Jose offered to drive us for free to the travel agency where we could complete our travel and lodging arrangements for heading home.
The drive on Sunday was amazing. Jose pointed out and explained the importance of 'horreos' (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hórreo) - the ubiquitous and often ancient corn cribs that dot the Galician landscape.
Galician culture is essentially agrarian, which Jose pointed out is very hard work. He said that all households with even the tiniest plot of land will grow a patch of corn. Corn bread and a soup made with corn are staples of the farm diet. Corn also feeds the dairy cows. Galicia is a major supplier of milk and cheese. So, preserving the corn harvest is crucial.
The horreos are built on stone stilts that serve two purposes. They keep the harvested corn up above any flooding in the rainy, river-rich province and the shape of the capstones on stilts prevents rodents from getting to the grain. The sides of the horreos are slotted to allow for ventilation which prevents mildew in the damp weather. All of this, Jose communicated with slow, careful Spanish and hand gestures.
He drove us to a church dating from 1327 and showed us the ancient gravestones on which no names appear. Instead, symbols indicating the occupation of the deceased are carved into the ancient stone slabs. Footprints indicate a zapatero (shoe maker), an anchor in a circle indicates a sailor/boatman, and line drawings of the tools of the trade indicate carpenters and blacksmiths.
As we arrived in Finisterre, Jose spotted two peregrinas who were standing at an intersection trying to discern the way. Some pilgrims, rather than stopping their walk in Santiago, continue on foot to Finisterre - literally translated as 'the end of the earth' - where it is said that the pagans used to gather to worship the setting of the sun.
Jose rolled down the car windows to shout,"Buen Camino!" and point the way for them. He told them that his passengers (me and Dad) were also pilgrims. We asked the two women where they had begun their pilgrimages. One had started in Leon. The other, a young woman, had started in Switzerland. She had already walked 2000 kilometers and soon would reach the end of the earth. We congratulated them both and went on our way.
As we approached the shoreline, we passed a pilgrim family, a mother and her young daughter (about 8 or 9 years old) leading a burro loaded with packs, a toddler brother seated on top, followed by Dad leading a second burro, also bearing packs and an even younger child. They were carrying flowers and leaning into the wind that whips the coast.
We slowly drove onward and upward until, finally, Jose parked the car. We got out and he pointed the way for us to walk out to the edge. Dad and I walked on and were soon greeted by familiar faces, pilgrims we had met along the way. Some we had not seen for weeks, others we had seen the day before in Santiago.
At the very edge, there is a stone cross where some pilgrims leave tokens. There is also a fire-pit where many pilgrims burn something they have carried or used on the journey. Some burn clothes. Some even burn their boots.
Dad and I consigned nothing to the flames, but stood in the whipping wind and billowing smoke, and looked out beyond the edge of the earth. This was once the very last bit of the known world. What lay beyond the ocean's horizon was as much a matter of speculation and faith as what lies beyond death.
We bowed our heads for a moment, then turned back to the known world and a smiling Jose.
From Finisterre it is a short drive to Muxia, an even smaller village and another edge place. Again, we scrambled out on the rocks to see the ocean waves breaking huge and turquoise blue under a glowing gray autumnal sky. Deep breaths, and back to the taxi for the return trip into Santiago.
We had done all that we set out to do. Now we would make our ways home.