Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Indian Who Went Up A Mountain And Then Later Went Down By The Sea

Those out there who share my movie tastes would readily agree that beaches are boring and distasteful. Lots of sun, sand, salty water and hordes of people. And weedy, tentacly things twining themselves around your legs. I'd take a Hammer Film coastline myself anytime - cliffs plunging into the sea, waves crashing against rock, windy gloom, thunder and lightning, and lone lighthouses on rocky promontories defiantly holding fort against the elements, signalling humanity's eternal war at the edges of civilisation. Nothing man-made stirs me as much as lighthouses.

Thus, for people like me, there is Galicia, out beyond most tourist radars in north-western Spain. Even for the mighty engineers and seafarers that were the Romans, this was the end. Beyond the treacherous costa da morte - the coast of death - from where the wild wind comes that gave them nightmares, there lay nothing but the tempestuous Atlantic stretching unto infinity. This was finis terrae - the end of earth. And so, they built a ring of lighthouses separating the living from the great beyond, and turned back.

The most famous of these lighthouses is Torre de Hércules, so named because legend has it that it was Hercules who built it with his own hands. But since no airline is ever going to let that club on-board, the next best way is the train from Athens to Milan - which takes close to two days, then the overnight train from Milan to Barcelona, and finally another overnighter from Barcelona to A Coruña. A draining journey - even for a God.

And so, modern theory has it that it was the Romans who built it in the second century AD, which makes it the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world. A Coruña is the wealthiest city in Galicia and a bustling port, but I didn't do much here except visit the lighthouse. I saw quite a few lighthouses in Galicia, as well as the Costa Brava in the east, but this was definitely the most interesting of them all. It's built on a small hill, with a tiny beach on one side and an endless meadow on the other - and so has the solitude that a lighthouse so needs to give it character. I think I spent as much time walking around on the hill as much as inside the lighthouse. Very few people frequent the tracks cut into the hill and the rocks there are excellent places to sit down and contemplate the Atlantic - especially if its your first meeting with her.

The inside of the lighthouse is, of course, a must-visit. Going over the pictures I took, it looks like I forgot to take any in there - which is nice and cozy, with an endless spiral staircase all the way to the top, and little rooms with nice views and history lessons along the way. And finally, the very top with spectacular views of the ocean and the city. Not a bad introduction to the Atlantic and green, rainy Galicia.


The Trip

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