July, the most beautiful month of the year. At least for me. After finishing the last exam in my studies, I took the plane and went back to the magical city of Santiago de Compostela. I’ve always loved the city. Walking on the streets paved with stones, surrounded by buildings that date back to hundreds of years, I can almost hear tens of thousands of pilgrims whispering their stories to the God — their sorrow, hope, wish, and fear.
Alley, a girlfriend of mine who’s on her way of self-exploration while walking the Camino de Santiago, just arrived there too — the city has been the final destination for most of the people who went on pilgrimage. Alley went even further, to Finisterre, and later Muxia, where, for some pilgrims, is the true end of the Camino. We were both very excited to see each other again after two months — the time she took to walk from Northern France to Santiago. We decided to enjoy some tapas and drinks to celebrate the planned yet still surprising reunion.
“It’s a journey for myself, you know,” Alley smiled, sipping from a big glass of sangria. “It’s been beyond description… how I’ve been feeling along the way.”
“If you love Santiago, and have never been to Finisterre, I will take you to there. Then you will know, comparing to Finisterre, Santiago is just another overrated tourist city.”
Indeed, in Santiago, you might still meet simple tourists, like me, who flew to the city for a few days, just to visit the cathedral and experience the old town. While in Finisterre, you will mostly see pilgrims who really made the journey from various starting points of the Camino de Santiago, such as somewhere in Britain, Southern Spain, Portugal, Germany, or even Russia. If reaching Santiago is a spiritual and ceremonial end of the pilgrimage, going farther to Finisterre and Muxia is extending the journey beyond the formal, to “the end of the world,” where the thoughts can be tugged in the bed of Atlantic Ocean.
We arrived Finisterre in a cloudy day. But seeing the sea and beaches is always exciting for me. I was looking forward to the sunshine coming out, so we could go to the beach. But before that, I had to go around the little town of Finisterre.
The town center of Finisterre is small but sweet, and next to the harbor. Restaurants there offer mainly seafood with delicious house wine. There are many hostels for pilgrims. Most of them decorated with either Buddhist or Christian symbols. The owners of our hostel is a German couple who lived in Spain for more than thirty years. German owners of restaurants and hostels are not hard to find in this little fishing town. Many of them came to live along the ways of the Camino, escaping from the industrial and “modern” life at home. In the dining room, there was a table with a glass cover. Under it, there were many postcards from everywhere in the world. “There were sent by the pilgrims who stayed here when they finished the Camino,” the owner said, “and they sent us postcards when they got back home, as a connection back with the Camino. The connection is life-long.”
Finally, the sun came out, and the clouds dispersed. “Let’s go to the light tower to watch the sunset.” Alley said to me, “you will love it.”
It was a rather long walk from the town to the light tower, for me, and of course not for Alley. We had to walk on the small sideroad. On our way, an old man came to us, and gave each of us one postcard with blue doves painted on it. “I made them by myself.” he said, “you get one for free. If you like it, you can buy more for one euro each.” He had a big smile on his grey-bearded face. “Thanks. But we don’t think we need more.” “It’s fine. Have a good day!” He waved, went to the opposite direction.
“I was sick for a couple of days when I started walking.” Alley said to me, “and that’s the first time when I started doubting the journey. I mean, there are not so many young people in their twenties walking the Camino… but then I realized it’s just the Camino telling me to rest for a few days, take my time. Bad days come and go, same with the good ones. When the sickness was over, I carried on.” We climbed up some stones next to the shore, facing the west, where the sun was slowly moving downwards. The sky was not fully clear. Clouds were faraway, right above the see. A show has been set only for us. It’s a show on the stage of sea, played by the sun itself. Guest stars included two fishing boats, one after another, leaving for the direction where the sun was going.
I have never seen such beautiful sunset in my life, where the awe of nature completely silenced me, us, and the other audience in the grand theater of nature. At a moment like this one, it does not matter if you own anything. The world owns you, and you know that you own the world too. You gratefully immerse yourself in the orange sunshine, with eyes closed, letting the sound of waves come into your ears.
Nothing is better than this moment.
For Alley, it must have been a different feeling. The view of sunset is a reward for all pilgrims who made the journey, who went through hardship and spoke with strangers and their own souls while walking. I heard the sea telling me “it’s all going to worth my effort.” I wondered what Alley heard.
The coast of Finisterre is where you can feel the existence of spiritual world, if not “worlds”. Believing generates power to go forward. No matter if you want or not, close your eyes, you will lose yourself in the nature, where you can finally find yourself.
In cities, where we are cut out from nature, we are often cut out from connecting with ourselves. I’m thankful for the three days in Finisterre. Not only because I reconnected with the grander world, where it’s not filled with phones and clothes and computers and jewelry, but composed of sun, wind, sea, sand and trees. I’m thankful, because even now, sitting in an apartment in a big city far away from nature, when I look back and remind myself of how I felt during those three days, I feel connected to all those feelings that had made me grateful and truly happy.
some say, it’s pointless to compare cities. different histories shape each city in different ways. but junior high school geography tells us, so does our own experience, cities appear mostly along rivers, where great civilisation were built up. humans need to cultivate with water, since survival has always been the ultimate factor for any species. what else? massive group of people tend to settle themselves at relatively plat area — if it is somewhere among the mountains, they live in a valley. some principles like these can be probably applied to most of cities in the world, while they are still different for reasons. it is these reasons that make the comparison possible, and also, make the cities carry distinguished beauties.
being on the road. visiting cities. nature is beautiful. no one is empowered to doubt what nature stands for. but as humans, what we made within nature, and beyond it, is what truly amazing and worth sincere appreciation. cities, concentrating humanity, merciful or sinful, stand for what humans are capable of, and what humans really are.
a short visit to a place always fails to present the most of it because of limited time and lack of overall experience. what we can do to make the best out of it is simply hear stories about the city, the stories of the people who live there. and, by looking, closely, we can tell more than we imagine.
people are pretty. too simply expressed but it is somehow true. people are worth of love, being loved and loving others. although sometimes they are cruel, stupid, blind-minded, selfish and mean, when you view them as a whole, you can’t be mad at them anymore. when you see love and kindness shine upon the ruins of human grace, hope stands still, strong as stone.
urbanisation once drove the mass who used to live in the fields generations after generations from lands to the big industrialised, modernistic centres. nowadays, some start to flee back to the rural area and go back to the embrace of nature. cities are described as monsters that ruin people’s lives by destructing their health, physically and mentally. it is true. but changes are also leading to a promising future. preservation of history in cities as in preserving blood in human’s vein; keeping botanic gardens and trees alive to tell humans — don’t forget that you’re never alone. i am not able to find a reason to leave the towns and cities for good, to only appreciate nothing but birds singing and wild flowers, since i know, for me, once a while, relaxation in the arm of mother nature is vital, but to know that I’m able to do something with my “useless” mind is even of much more importance, which is always possible, in somewhere a corner, in a city.
like every person, every city has its own personality. getting to know a place is like befriending with a person. you approach to her, greet to her, and hopefully, she greets back. maybe you’ve heard of this for several times, that if you want someone to start to like you, the first and most important thing is to be a good listener. so you ask about her stories. she tells you what she likes. then you comment on it with some of your relating experience and, importantly, with open-minded and nice smile. if you have time, to live at a same place as she does, more time and chances are available for you to know her even better; if not, she becomes part of your journey, a part of the lovely memory.
every one of us is a traveler, alone on the road. we come across each other, spend time together, through the good and/or the bad, then farewell and take care. and then, move on. when you meet a city, the best way is always walking on the streets, looking up the buildings, watching people’s interactions, tasting the local cuisine, and ideally, listening to stories from the locals.
cities do not fall. dynasties sink and rise but cities are always there. what is also forever holding up there is what created cities. minds leave traces in the cities where they passed by, in parks, libraries, schools, even public bathroom walls. modernity passed its prime but it’s still speaking out. With the least of rationalistic influence, I would say, cities stand for what humans are capable of, and again, good or evil.