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Published: August 25th 2011
Airborne: a word that now means two important things to me. A: I'm traveling so obliviously I am excited to see and explore some new place, and B: I'm surrounded by nothing but air allowing a clean slate for my perception of the world to be completely reborn. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Santiago de Compostela before, and I vividly remember seeing the towering Catedral, the delicious almond tarts dedicated to St. James, and the expressions of relief and accomplishment of the pilgrims as they reached their goal. Yet this time was different-- I wasn't with a guided tour, I wasn't blinded by an agenda and a set list of things I ought to see. Arriving by myself I bobbed along as the bus drove into town seeing the small specks of pueblos hidden like Easter eggs in the tall and endless fields of grass. Once again all I had were Google map directions and even though this time they were in the right-- they still proved to be pointless. After two hours of looking at the non-existent street signs, double tracking, and asking local after local I finally got to my hostel. As I walked up the
street an enormous old monastery arose from the ground as if it was a part of the mountain itself. Covered in ivy I was very impressed by this building while keeping in mind the pictures I had seen off the internet and knew that I was going to be roughing it for a couple of days. As I walked inside the stench of B.O. tackled me into the ground as I came across a line of twenty or more backpackers who had just gotten off the Camino de St. James, and waiting to check-in at reception. This had become my nightmare: I was exhausted, light-headed and now suddenly I was forced to wait in a smelly line marked as the oblivious outsider. The little blonde preppy American rolling her suitcase along next to highly experienced backpackers who had just made a pilgrimage by hiking anywhere from 227 km to 800 km and more to pledge their undying love to God. Like OMG I'm on va-ca! I was a complete joke. I felt judging eye scrape against my skin as I inched closer and closer to the front desk to receive my keys and sheets. My room was very plain: one
Inside the Catedral
sink, one bed, and one incredible view. The old bell tower were right outside my windows. The monks here knew that the fancy things are frivolous and that all you need are the necessities in life and beauty in your surroundings. I ended up meeting my friend Rachel from the Cádiz program the next day for a day trip to Fisterra. Three hours driving along the Northern coast we spoke only in Spanish the whole way noting on how greens the greens were and how blue the ocean was. The coast reminded me of home-- tall trees lining the jagged cliffs, small towns, and a massive ocean forcing its presence upon the shore. We arrived, stepped out of the bus and I instantly felt the unfamiliar twinge of homesickness. The beaches contained glass worn-down by an eternity of tides, fisherman skipped on the surface of the ocean like little stones as they jetted from spot to spot collecting their prizes. The seafood here is known worldwide-- the goose-neck barnacles that are only found here are worth 200 euros a kilogram anywhere else in Europe, much like the abalones from the Mendocino coast. We walked into the oldest church I have
yet to encounter in Spain: the walls had markings on it from Pre-Roman times and the amount of years pressed down onto my brain as the historical factoids I've learned began collapsing on one after the another like dominoes behind my forehead. Buried in all of the churches history there was a surprise to be found-- a beautifully painted retablo of the virigin Mary with drowning sailors grasping at her skirts-- never have I seen that much nautical influence in a church showing the intense relationship that nature and the ocean has on the human condition for the good and the bad. We then walked to the lighthouse at the very cliff where people thought the world ended in Pre-Columbus times, and guess what was there besides the lighthouse? A bar. I can now say that I've been to the bar at the end of the world. There was a slight breeze, crazy cliffs, and deep blue, almost black water as we sat and ate our lunch on the cliffs talking and admiring the thousands of colors of blue splayed out in front of us. We hurried back to the bus stop and noticed that there was extra time, so
we chose to seek out the world famous mariscos (shellfish), from this region. On the short walk there we discussed Anthony Bourdain's experience with los mariscos as the excitement built up. After ordering the mixed platter for two which cost around 20 euro (10 euro each) the owner began to talk to us about his life and how los percebes (goose-neck barnacles) that we were about to eat were prized at 200 euro per kilogram in other places in Europe. Los percebes looked like they had dragon skin on the outside and after peeling it back one could bite off the delicious muscle that was left attached to the shell. Never have I tasted such sweet shrimp or fresh and pure navajas (razor clams). I will most likely never eat shellfish like that again in my lifetime. The old man who served us told me how he used to live in New York and then came back after his company had had taken off, and his daughter took over. At the end when we said goodbye he looked and me and told me I would be back in a year. " I'll try to, but I can't make any promises."
With an all-knowing glimmer in his eye he responded calmly with, " Oh no, you'll be back." I sincerely hope he was right. My last day was spent stressing out over the fact that Renfe (the high-speed train) was sold out for the next day, and I had to be in Bilbao. Luckily I got a bus ticket and was able to relax for the afternoon with a tarta de Santiago (almond cake) which I ate under the Catedral's shadow and watched the last steps of the pilgrimage. In that prefect setting it finally sunk in that I'll probably never come back. Thoughts of all the places I'll most likely never visit again kept drifting by, but in the same moment I marveled over how this small town drew me back in, not once, but twice.There's something very special about Santiago and Galicia: a certain aspect of mystery and antiquity that's left uncovered. Knowing this makes me curious, and the more I see the beauty, the more I see hints of what's being left unknown to me. And that, is a powerful force to reckon with.
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