Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This close to the Edge...

... the disc's magical field was so intense that a hazy corona flickered across everything, as raw illusion spontaneously discharged itself. - Terry Pratchett (The Colour of Magic)

That's the lighthouse and the hotel up on Monte FachoNow that all the heavy build-up is done, shall I move right on to the crux? I'd talked of the coast of death being the end of the world. Which it is. But you can't just wave your hand in the general direction of northwestern Spain and say you were at Land's End. You need a spot to point at, one GPS coordinate. Amundsen didn't just land on the beach, play with a couple of penguins and then claim that he'd been to the southern extremities of the earth. The Romans felt exactly the same way. And so there's one particular cape that they chose to call Finisterrae - which the Spanish amended to Finisterre and the Galicians prefer to call Fisterra.

Faro de Finisterre
Of course, it isn't quite the westernmost spot in continental Europe. Somewhere in Portugal takes the credit for that, but what with the earth being round and everything, it isn't so much a question of logic as a case for the heart. And gloomy, rocky Fisterra lashed by fierce storms, and with the Atlantic blowing winds that terrified the Romans and drove them mad, is certainly all you could imagine of the Edge. Unfortunately, it was all sunshine and fragrance when I visited. It was so clear that I could see all the way to Ireland. I could've used this weather in Ronda and Ronda's gloom here. But such is life.

Anyway, near the village of Fisterra is the promontory of Monte Facho. In pagan times, this was the end of the famous pilgrimage: people would walk from their doorsteps across Europe to this one spot at the end of the world and pay their respects to the great beyond. Since the Christian take-over of the Camino, most pilgrims end their walk now at the church of St James in Santiago de Compostela, a hundred kilometres or so inland. But many still carry on upto here. And in Monte Facho, there is the lighthouse - the second-most visited spot in Galicia - where they end their penance and burn their clothes.

My very own "Psycho" shot!
The lighthouse is about 3 kilometres or so from Fisterra. The walk up to it is quite spectacular, but there is nothing along the road, except for a hotel a few metres away in the same compound as the lighthouse. The promontory is very narrow, and if you stay in this hotel and glance out the window in the morning, all you see is the Atlantic. To see land, you have to lean right out the window and look straight down. I've stayed in much cheaper hotels through this holiday of mine and also in more luxurious ones - but this one is definitely the most memorable. And, of course, if you eat in the restaurant there and are a Douglas Adams fan...

I tired of seeing gigantic gothic churches and was very happy to come across a small, pretty one like this
Speaking of restaurants, Fisterra has the best seafood I've eaten in my whole life - and I come from Kerala. Clams and mussels and lobster and squid and octopus and prawns and codfish and a whole lot more. And pretty cheap, too. In Spain there's what they call a menu del dia. For a fixed price, at lunchtime, you get this set meal of a starter, the main course, dessert and a drink. Normally, the drink is a glass of wine or water. In Fisterra, though, in one place, they plonked a whole bottle of white wine on my table. And they charged just 12 Euros for the whole multicourse meal of this bottle and the most divine sea-food you'll ever eat.

I don't like to drink (the stuff tastes just horrible, in my opinion), but I come from a family of famous drinkers and this bottle somehow triggered an ancient, competitive spirit long dormant in me. By the time the meal was done, the bottle was empty and I was feeling completely miserable. I wished my competitive spirit had remained dormant. I wasn't drunk enough to not remember what happened for the next couple of hours, but there is rather a haze around the edges and a few holes in time I can't quite account for.

View from a playground. How lucky are these kids?
To start with, I tottered about town feeling very sorry for myself. And then I came upon a playground. This playground, like everything else in Fisterra, has excellent views of the Atlantic. It has a wall on one side, and then a drop down to a beach far below. I normally don't much like heights, but it's amazing how a little bit of wine does away with inhibitions of this sort. I sat on the wall with my feet dangling over the edge and contemplated the Atlantic for a while. But as the afternoon progressed, more kids poured in. Since I can endure kids only in moderate quantities,  it was time to leave.

I was conscious of an irresistible urge to take a leak and I was still an uphill climb of 2 kilometres or so from my hotel. And so when I saw a sign that said something along the lines of "the walk of San Guillermo," that pointed toward a dirt track into the hills, I took it without hesitation. I don't remember seeing anyone for the several kilometres I walked, save for a French couple who passed me on their way down. I tried to ask them what was up top, but language barriers were between us. The dude did point at his camera and blow a kiss top-side. Which was enough encouragement to continue despite coming across a herd of horses a little later. A quick google search on my phone confirmed my suspicion that some horses have a mean streak, and so I left the track and tried to cut through the trees.

The reason I mention this last is that I have come across references to a chapel to San Guillermo somewhere near the end of the trail. I don't remember seeing anything of the sort. Maybe I missed it when I took the shortcut. At the very top is a power station (and no, I'm not mistaken: even I can tell the difference between a church and a power station) that seems to be in use, but like everything else off the beaten path, it has an air of windswept desolation about it. It's amazing how so many people throng the main road to the lighthouse but everywhere else you see an average of about two people an hour. But this video hints that the church is just ruins being excavated. A lot of the images in there look familiar, save the ruins, but maybe I took no notice in my inebriated state. Though, if the stone that is mentioned there - that infertile couples apparently still use to increase the chances of conception - had been in use when I passed by; drunk or not, I would most certainly have remembered seeing the church.

But for the less religiously inclined, the real scene-stealer at the end of the walk is the views of Fisterra afforded. That is what got the Frenchman excited and it would have done the same to me too, had I been up to feeling excited. Instead, I crawled up on to the bench they've placed there, probably for precisely this reason, and took a nap. When I woke up, all ill effects of the wine had worn off and I was my normal sunny, enthusiastic self. The last three photographs are the ones I took of Fisterra from up there. I hope I've done it justice.

Waking up to the sights and the sounds of the Atlantic, a bit of walking around and a whole lot of seafood eating pretty much covers how I spent my two days there. There was also, of course, the little matter of watching two sunsets from the end of the world, but that demands a post of its own, I think.

Finis electricity line


Somewhere on the trail of San Guillermo

The day before, this tower was covered with clothes. I was delighted to see that the Spaniards have the same attitude to the "do not dump garbage here" signs that we do. Pity I didn't take the photo then.
 The Trip

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