Along our way through Galicia there are many small churches, minute in comparison to most seen before. Crucifixes and statues of Mary are common along the path and so are stone markers (stele). To me they looked historic and displayed the distance remaining to Santiago.
Even today there are a number of cultural survivals from Celtic times, often reminding one of Ireland and Scotland. The bagpipes are still common here and the sounds and melodies are similar to those played by the original Celts and those in the British northern regions. In Galicia they are called gaitas. I have never been to Ireland but assume that, in terms of atmosphere and appearance, the farms and villages resemble those found there. This applies especially to the ones which I passed later after Sarria where the lush green grazing fields meander over hills and valleys, surrounded by stone walls – as I have seen on pictures of Ireland. Even the food is comparable, soup is common and helps to warm from the inside and, the region being close to the ocean, many fish dishes are offered. I could sense the earthy strength of character of the people as I walked through their hamlets and I felt that I gained from the strong spirit around me.
In very early days the Celts were known for their deep-seated tendency to spirituality and for fiercely clinging to their pagan beliefs. This is what attracted St James, who hoped that, once he had successfully spread the word of Christ, the Celts would become fervent Christians, just as they had been fervent pagans. St James may have paved the way for their conversion, but it probably took a long time after his death before the inhabitants of the many valleys and hilltops began worshipping the one God.
Eighty kilometres further west of Santiago is the coastal town of Finisterra. Perhaps the culmination of mysticism is to be found here: it was known as the end of the world as far as the ancient inhabitants, the Romans and the people of the Middle Ages were concerned. Finisterre is on the edge of the Atlantic where the sun dips into the ocean; it is just about the most western part of Europe and the distance to the next continent, North America, is around 5000 km. No wonder those before us believed it was the end of the world and found it inspiring and bewildering.
Our hostel father in Ruitelán was a very particular person and the house rules were explained to each and every pilgrim on arrival. One rule was that the outside door during the night would remain closed until 6:30 in the morning and that he would wake us at six am. It is one thing to have rules but quite another for those rules to be followed. Just after five the next morning one of the Frenchies switched on his headlamp and rummaged about, stumbled down the steep, wooden stairs to the bathroom below, then returned, made up his bed and fidgeted with his belongings, finally leaving with his backpack – only to return because the outside door was, as promised, locked. The inconsiderate Frenchman, after chatting away with his neighbour, went back to bed but by then most of us were awake and had lost precious sleep. Finally, at six, Ave Maria by Handel woke us officially. No one got up before the music stopped, surely a sign that everyone savoured the moment and the prospect of a relaxing start to the new day. I certainly enjoyed our wake-up call as well as opera excerpts and other pieces that followed.