A Sad Christmas Story

Muxia (pron. Moo-SHEE-a) iIMG_7689s a charmingly picturesque fishing village in Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain. It lies on what is known as the Costa de Morte – the coast of death… ostensibly because of the many shipwrecks found in the surrounding waters.

For such a small and otherwise sleepy village, one that barely registers on a world map, it’s had a faIMG_7716ir share of sad stories.

If the name Muxia sounds vaguely familiar, you might remember the news stories when the oil tanker “Prestige” leaked thousands gallons of slick oil and sludge into the Atlantic off its shores in 2002. A tall granite sculpture, with a crack down its middle, commemorates the disaster that took years for Muxians to overcome.

IMG_7660But there is much more to Muxia…

The main road passes the center of town, passing a beach, boardwalk, shops, cafes, the ‘bus station’ (really a parking spot reserved for a bus that passes through daily) and a port, where local fishermen pull in their daily catches for nearby restaurants, hotels and homes. There are two panaderia (bread shops), a carniceria (for bacon and pork loins), three little supermarkets, a libraIMG_7727ry, cultural center and a single public telephone that stands alone on the main street, seemingly untouched, like a quirky relic.

The vendors who sell wares at the weekly market peddle fresh produce, clothes – including the ubiquitous checkered apron-dresses that Galician women wear while carrying out their daily home-making (or cow-herding) chores.

The elders (senior men of the village) congregate daily aIMG_7731t cafes, while young mothers are often seen meeting up with friends and window-shopping late into the evenings, with babies and toddlers in tow.

The sole employee at the local asesoria (advising on financial and legal matters) also happens to be the sole ‘travel agent’ in town. Her name is Sinora Barca. Barca means boat. Which might sound comical, until you learn that many people and busiIMG_7664nesses in this village are named Barca. Why so…?

You would have to head over to the very end of the village, right to the tip of the peninsula, to find out.

Each year, more and more pilgrims wrap up their Camino after Santiago, arriving in this coastal town, but more precisely to the spot at the furthest end of the peninsula, to the tres pedras – where, according to legend, three stones are imbued wIMG_7661ith significant mystical powers.

Finally, just below the memorial and atop a rocky cliff and large grouping of stones, lies another pilgrimage site, the Santuario da Virxe da Barca. It’s a church dedicated to the Virgin of the Boat and refers to a legend related to St. James the Apostle.IMG_7581

For a few reasons, I felt that my Camino ended at Muxia (though technically I walked about 20 kms more, to spend a few days at what is billed as a post-Camino retreat).

I spent a few days before and after the retreat in laid-back Muxia, visiting with Gabriel (a local pilgrim whom I’d met a few days before on the Camino), talking to locals, creating a labyrinth on the beach – and contemplating the elements while leaning against the rocks by the IMG_7584sanctuary.

It was peaceful for awhile, then the weather would turn, the winds would pick up, the tide would come in, the waves would begin to crash and spit, the chill would take hold, I would shake and shiver – but still I would wait until the very last minute just to catch a glimpse of a glorious sunset.IMG_7667Which is why I was so saddened to read this morning about the smoke that was detected (just in time) and the fire that engulfed the inside of the church yesterday – on Christmas morning.

But it was the video footage that really made my heart sink. Because, with the stillness that settles on that tip of the world whenever the sun begins its slow descent into the ocean, this was a magnificent sight to behold.. one that might, in the wake of the destruction, not re-appear for many years to come:

IMG_7591It was only when I reached the farthest reaches of this village last month – rather than to Finisterre, before it –  that I truly felt like I had reached the end of the known, visible, tangible world. For the villagers, the believers amongst them above all, it must feel like that today.

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