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WALK TO THE END OF THE EARTH
 
(2023 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: DARCY RHYNO



Last year, I hiked part of a new route that circumnavigates Prince Edward Island. The Island Walk or Camino de Isla has 32 segments, each walkable in a single day. Islander Bryson Guptill created this trail after walking the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Its cathedral was built to hold the remains of Saint James, one of Christ’s apostles and the patron saint of Spain. After meeting Guptill and sampling The Island Walk, I wanted to see what inspired him to make Canada’s own version.

When I arrive in Santiago, I discover a bustling city filled with as many backpacking pilgrims as residents. Waves of road-weary walkers arrive in the sprawling plaza in front of the towering cathedral. Some fall to their knees, weeping. Others hug their fellow travellers and cheer. Yet, for many pilgrims, the cathedral is not the end of their journey.

The Camino to The End of the Earth

Some extend their pilgrimage to walk a seven-day loop (or day trip by car or bus) around Cape Finisterre and back. The extension is a way to share the experience of many millions of pilgrims before them whose religious journey was made all the more significant by visiting Finisterre (The End of the Earth) and the hike from there along the Costa da Morte (The Coast of Death).

The road to Finisterre—the place pilgrims have called the end of the Earth—winds through rounded hills and alongside silver beaches. The last section rises to a rocky headland crowned by a lighthouse. A bronze sculpture of a hiking boot is bolted to a weathered boulder in front of the lighthouse. The monument marks the pilgrim’s age-old custom of leaving behind worn shoes in celebration of their completed pilgrimage. Perched beside it, high over the roiling ocean, I spot a fishing boat bobbing on the waves like a toy in a bathtub. Looking beyond it to the horizon, I understand how pilgrims in medieval times with no knowledge of the Americas would experience a walk to the end of the Earth as a satisfying epilogue to their spiritual journey. Through their eyes, I can imagine how they believed there was nothing beyond the sea as if the sudden drop of these Galician cliffs into the ocean is all the Earth there was.

The French Way

At the lighthouse, I meet honeymooners Catie Greene and Chas Klisis from Colorado. Greene, an Episcopalian priest, and Klisis, an engineer and amateur photographer, started a one-month pilgrimage in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains. They followed the 790-kilometre French Way, the most popular of all the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes, across the northern plains through the foothills of Galicia—a distinct region with its own language, culture and rich culinary traditions—to its capital, Santiago. With a few free days left before flying home, the newlyweds headed here to see Finisterre.

When I ask whether their pilgrimage has left them with any important life lessons, they tell me that it has. But, adds Greene, “We don’t know what the lessons are yet. They’re still emerging.”

Costa Da Morte

The walk around Cape Finisterre leads north along the Costa da Morte for a long one-day hike to another rocky finger pointing into the Atlantic near the seaside town of Muxía. Here, Santuario da Virxe da Barca (Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Boat) rises above a rocky coastline. Despite several rebuilds including a fateful fire that occurred in 2013 on Christmas Day, the popular gravity-defying church miraculously stands against the constantly tumbling ocean surf.

Deeply rooted in Christian legends, the sanctuary is named for a stone boat with special powers that carried the Virgin Mary here to encourage Saint James’s evangelical mission. There’s a peculiar nine-metre delicately balanced boulder that doubles as a religious totem for many pilgrims. When I stand atop this boulder there’s a grinding noise that devotees believe is a sign that one is free from sin. Another boulder, in the eyes of pilgrims, is said to be the remnants of the boat and has miraculous powers that can cure ailments for anyone who crawls underneath.

I imagine Bryson Guptill leaving his pilgrimage around Cape Finisterre, ready for his next challenge and inspired to create a similar experience on his beloved PEI.

For me, experiencing these walks first-hand exceeds anything that can be said in words. I have, however, discovered that long walks in the natural world connect us to the environment and to that inner dialogue we all share, making our lives like a story that has a beginning and an end.

Once you’ve reached the end of the Earth and faced a sea that reminds you of your own mortality, you know it’s time to return home.

GALICIA’S HEAVENLY SEAFOOD

Galicia is known for seafood. Wild harvested and cultivated shellfish, finfish and octopus are popular along the Costa da Morte. For its menu and its location on a stretch of white beach framed by a wide bay and distant mountains, the Restaurante Tira do Cordel near Finisterre is excellent and at the same time, typical. Inexpensive, set breakfast menus are designed for pilgrims. The Menú del Día (Menu of the Day) starts with fish and includes an entrée, bread, drink and dessert. Razor clams, barnacles, whole grilled fish, crab and scallops—the symbol of the Camino de Santiago—star on the menu.

Travel Planner

For travel details to Galicia and its Camino de Santiago routes see turismo.gal and caminodesantiago.gal

For more information about the walk around the Costa da Morte, visit turismo.gal/que-visitar/xeodestinos/costa-da-morte

Spain’s official tourism site spain.info/en

 
 
 
 
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