Final post: The way back home


After I turned my back on the lighthouse at Finisterre and left the town, I made my way along the beach – past the idle boat – and in the drenching rain.

As I walked along that beach I missed Alex.
I wished we had met and continued our story together, but perhaps not meeting was the next page of the story of my Camino.

I began to think of everyone I had met on my Camino, and I missed them also.
For the first time since the beginning, I felt lonely and without a sense of purpose.

A little while later I found cover, took off my clothes, and slept a dry sleep while my wet clothes made little progress in reaching a similar conclusion. I awoke to the sound of seagulls, put on my wet jeans, my wet socks and wet boots, and slowly made my way back towards Cee; where I knew I could check my internet, somehow get something to eat, and either begin walking or hitching to Santiago.

By the time I reached Cee the wind and sunny spells had dried my jeans and I busked for about an hour, receiving just a few cents; the expressions on the faces of the people suggesting I should come back in the evening and play then, when they weren’t in working mode.

Hungry, I popped into a building close to the church and belonging to the church; asking for a bite to eat and possibly a ticket back to Santiago. A bite to eat was perfectly fine and I was directed up the street to a soup kitchen where they gave me a whole load of snacks for my journey back. A beer too 🙂

With my hunger staved, I wound my way round to Albergue A Casa Da Fonte where I knew I could check my @, have a drink of water, and also meet up again with Guzman. It was at this point when I realised that I was too knackered to walk the remaining kilometres to Santiago airport and that I would instead attempt to hitchhike. Guzman very kindly prepared a cardboard sign for me:

Santiago

Having said my goodbye’s to Guzman, I began the (what I anticipated as being long) journey back to Santiago. I walked for about 5 kilometres and then decided that I was going to begin hitching.
Ok so I’ll count 100 cars and then walk on a bit more, I said to myself.

Nobody was stopping.
It was amazing how many people hand-gestured from behind their front car screen window that even though they were heading in the same direction that they were only going a little way up the road and so couldn’t stop (even though I would have taken a series of shorter rides to make up the distance). I assumed that most of these people felt guilty for not stopping, but justified this to themselves by convincing themselves that they would have only if blah blah blah.

I walked on and in the heat and occasional rain of the day found a pleasant spot outside a house on the road. It hadn’t been 5 minutes before an old man carrying in this right hand what looked like a hand scythe, came out of the house and gave me the advice that nobody would be stopping for me on a Sunday evening; besides, in Spain (he instructed) they don’t hold their thumb out, but instead wave their hand. Also, I should be more aggressive in terms of how close I stand at the side of the road. I thanked him for his advice – taking note of what he had instructed, but naturally falling back quickly into my thumb-weilding hitching pose – and also expecting him to continue onwards on his merry way and with his hand scythe. He didn’t, and for about 30 minutes he stood there on the side of the road with me – on his part doing me a great service – but from every car’s perspective I was hitching with a man with a dangerous weapon 🙂

I again thanked the man and walked on to where I stuck my thumb (and sign of course) out again and where I reminded myself of what I had learned on the Camino; that good would follow bad and that I should hold hope that a car will stop. Within minutes a van stopped. I ran up and felt a wave of relief when the driver said he would take me all the way to Santiago.

I arrived to Santiago around 8 in the evening; a terrible time for a pilgrim with no money to arrive in any city. I found a spot to sleep in a university park, in the basement of a house which was surprisingly clean.

The next day (Monday) I headed to the church of San Francisco on Rua de San Francisco:

Church-of-San-Francisco

I had heard that every 100 years this church issues a special compostela (certificate of achievement) and that this year was the consecutive 100th year. I received this very special compostela, with the burning concept in my thoughts that the next time it will be issued I will no longer walk the earth. Here it is:

Sancti-Francisci-Conventus-Compostelae

I must admit that it feels a little absurd to receive a certificate of achievement at the ripe age of 42, but I nonetheless felt it was worth the 5 minute walk from the cathedral to receive this 2nd compostela and most special confirmation of Camino walked.

Before this event – earlier in the day and just after I had packed up my sleeping bag from my spot on the basement floor – I had realised that I had no money left and that I needed my morning coffee. I played for about 5 minutes and earned the 1 euro I needed for a cafe solo, but I knew that I had to leave the centre of Santiago and head somewhere I could play and without being harassed by the police.

After receiving my second compostela I walked back along Rua de San Francisco, and back to where I had received my first compostela a few day’s earlier. It was here that I met up again with pilgrim friends and I think you can tell from the photos that I quietly yearned for some food:

Pilgrim-Maggie

Wonderful-Australian-Pilgrims

Later that day I also had a bit of money sent to me – using the last resort Mum and Dad card but of course repaying the funds sent – as my Mum was concerned about me traveling back on the plane in my smelly boots. A concern which after a while I agreed with and which led me to buy a pair of flip flops and to (with a little sadness) throw away the boots which I had trodden my adventure with:

Dead-boots

That evening I stayed at the San Francisco convent, steps away from the church where I had received my ultra-special compostela. Apologies: I don’t have the space or time right now to provide details about this night’s stay, but will add contents later in the Articles section of this website:

https://mycaminosantiago.com/category/camino-articles/

Thank you.

I can quickly write now that it is THE diamond in the rough regarding affordable and secure sleeping options in Santiago de Compostela.

After a long, deep night’s sleep I awoke to the same type of expressions which I tend to wake to whenever I share sleeping space next to people who haven’t earplugs or for whom sporadic cries out loud in the dark of night greatly disturb their nocturnal slumber; I’m rarely popular come the time to wake up in the morning.

That morning I headed for a place to book for the night ahead; the place where Alex and I had spent our night together when I had walked into Santiago for the first time last week and when I received a very pleasant tug of my rucksack from behind, changing my arrival to Santiago destiny in the irreversible way which is so characteristic of the Way:

Pazo-de-Agra-Pension-Santiago-de-Compostela

Ah! To live like a civilised human being on my own terms again!
I washed my sleeping bag, my clothes.
I typed in the wifi @ password and was positively shocked that the @ worked and that it was fast.
I checked my emails. I watched YouTube. I savoured every minute of my time in that room, with the private bathroom located down the hall.
For some reason I couldn’t help but whistle the melody from Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel, or Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.
With each minute of relative luxury spent, I felt further from the experience of the Camino.
I didn’t mind though.
I was ready for comfort over divine wisdom.

I decided to head out for tapas.
Sitting at a bar I got chatting to an Australian girl (Kat) and she let me know about a free dinner for a limited number of pilgrims at the Hotel Parador; the most exclusive hotel in Santiago de Compostela and one of the most exclusive old hotels in the world. So the myth I had learned about in Saint Jean Pied de Port was true!
Further info regarding this free meal for pilgrims at one of the most exclusive hotels in the world will shortly appear in the Articles section of this website:

https://mycaminosantiago.com/category/camino-articles/

Thank you.

That evening I met up with Ines again and her unbelievably handsome (Italian) husband, who is the spitting image of Daniel Craig (the current James Bond). Also, he is a lovely guy and it was equally lovely that he thanked me for being the gentleman and for giving Ines my sleeping bag that night when I again felt the magic of the Camino, felt the warmth of fire, and the warmth of friendship:
https://mycaminosantiago.com/2014/06/15/walking-out-of-the-meseta-arrival-to-leon/

Of course – even though I would never make a move on a married woman – I had fallen for Ines before then; the day and night that I stayed at the Ermita San Nicolas:
https://mycaminosantiago.com/2014/06/12/castrojeriz-to-fromista/

All 3 of us had a beautiful evening; chatting, trying out various seafood tapas and of course various types of Spanish wine. I complemented Antonio on his looks (I as a hetrosexual man) and I also complemented him on his amazing wife; my now amazing friend.

We said our goodbye’s in the main square.
Earlier an Italian pilgrim (Luka) had given me an unexpected present and together all 3 of us now shared that present; wide-eyed and with eternal smiles on our cathedral-lit faces.

I returned to my room and awoke in the morning to prepare – with a head feeling like a dishwasher – to head to the airport and make my way back across Europe to the place which I call home but which I feel anything but.

I took the bus to the (Santiago de Compostela) airport.
Further info regarding travel to Santiago de Compostela airport will shortly appear in the Articles section of this website:

https://mycaminosantiago.com/category/camino-articles/

Thank you.

My flight was on time:

EasyJet-Santiago-to-Geneva

I was one of the last people to board the aircraft and found 3 seats to myself; subsequently sleeping the entire duration of the flight.

I arrived to Geneva airport, collecting my rucksack and picking up my (unbroken) guitar from the fragile luggage section.

Ok Nev, get to the centre and play for money I thought.
It was raining.
I had no distance left to adventure inside of me.
I was no longer a pilgrim walking my distance to the sea.
I was again Joe Public, ticking out my behaviour within the cogs of normal society.

With no money (my last day and night in Santiago had been expensive) I took a gamble and got on a train for Zurich. I sat in a train carriage entrance area, got out The Pilgrimage, and began reading the final pages; not really concerned about my upcoming fate when the ticket collector would arrive. A slightly camp ticket inspector arrived, asking for my ticket, and I nonchalantly raised the book from my field of gaze and responded a bit arrogantly that I was a pilgrim returning from Santiago without money and that I needed safe/free passage on his train. Amazingly he said it was fine and I continued sitting and reading on the train heading from Geneva to Zurich. Saint Gallen to be exact, although my plan was to sleep at Zurich airport for the night.

I arrived to Zurich airport – hungry – went to the airport information counter to see if I could somehow get something to eat, and the lovely woman there gave me 10 CHF and a bit of cake. I was reminded again of the incredible hospitality received whilst traveling within Switzerland (Germany too). I found a quiet spot, slept the night, and woke up to continue my fare-less journey upwards towards the German border:

Leaving Zurich-Airport

I do just want to note here that I am not proud of travelling without a ticket, but I had no card or money with me and why hitch when you can get away with a more comfortable, safer, and direct form of transport.

Just before the German border, at Schaffhausen in Switzerland, I took a break from the train and set up shop outside a shop window and began timidly playing instrumental guitar in the cold light of the morning:

Busking-in-Switzerland

It was raining. My motivation was low. A lovely Swiss couple gave me 5 CHF; I bought a beer and food and then continued on in a Swiss train until I crossed over the border into Germany and reached the first big town on the way: Singen.

It was here in Singen that I played with heart and soul for around 2 hours; earning 26 Euro in total by the end of my session on the main high street there:

Busking-In-Singen-Germany

Busking-Money

I continued on through Bavaria, as a fare-less passenger – and found that I was soon in Nurnberg. There had been no guards on the trains at all and I put this down to it being a Saturday and also perhaps the fact that Germany had the night before won their Quarter Final World Cup game against France.

Within a day I eventually drifted back to the Czech Republic and was able to take full use of the Czech Crowns which I had been carrying in my wallet all these weeks since first entering over the Czech/German border.

Returning home I was shocked initially at the length of the grass in my garden and the general jungle nature of it. Hiding beneath weeds I found the onions and garlic which I had been looking forward to harvesting upon my return:

Garlic

Onions

As you sow, so shall you reap.

What comes after the Camino?

Neville David Thomas

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Categories: Walking into Spring and Summer [My 3,109km walk from Prague to Finisterre | 2014]Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

12 comments

  1. I’ve enjoyed following your journey. I’d never heard of the Camino before I moved to Germany and began to see the trail markers everywhere. It was nice to see where the markers lead, thank you for sharing your Camino experience!

  2. Hi Nev,

    Thank you for sharing all this adventure and these pictures! I walked from Caluire (near Lyon, France) to Aire sur l’Adour in March and I wish I could walk all the way to Fisterra. But 3100 km as you did, I’m impressed. I wish you all the best for now, although they say that coming back is hard… Let us know how you feel!

    • Hi marcheurdetoiles!

      Thank you very much for your comment and for following my adventure.

      Your walk was still far and I suspect difficult from Lyon because there isn’t a Camino path there (?).

      Quite a few people gave me a big thumbs up for walking the distance I did, but I’m quite humble about it because anybody can wake up and walk each day. Of course, there were times when I felt exhausted – both physically and mentally – but I think a real challenge would be to do the walk in the middle of winter 🙂

      Yes, it is difficult coming back.
      Nobody wants the adventure to be over and everyone wants to harness and somehow keep the magic feel of the Camino.

      The life lessons on the Camino though will always stay with you and you can always draw on the experience so this is where I find solace, in a time now when I am not on the Camino and surrounded by amazing pilgrims.

      I am so glad that I kept the daily blog with my thoughts and photos; they are an instant reminder of my experience and bring me warmth and comfort.

      Thank you so much again and Buen Camino!

      Nev 🙂

  3. Hi Neville,

    I’m an Englishman in Prague and stumbled across your blog as i’m planning the same journey. I wondered if I could get any advice from you about the route etc,.

    Regards

    Brook

  4. I remember reading some of this blog back in late May 2014; I was starting the camino with my best friend on June 2nd and was looking for some last minute tips. I completely forgot about it up until now, and decided to look it up. Seems like you had a great journey and stayed about 5 days ahead of myself and my mate Eamonn for the entire journey – we arrived in Santiago on July 1st and in Finisterra a few days later, ultimately sleeping on the more secluded beach for the next ten days, playing music and drinking wine over bonfires with dozens of pilgrims – luckily the weather stayed good the entire time we were there! And though I can’t remember her name, I remember meeting and having a long conversation with the Irish girl from the above photo on my first or second night in Finisterra (always remembered the numerous fellow Irishmen).
    Man, that was a great trip. Thanks for rejogging my memories of it!
    All the best!
    Owen

  5. Hello Nev,
    I stubbled on the address you gave me when you came and spent a night at my place while opening a book where I had placed it. I live in Pregny Chambésy Geneva. Perhaps you remember the place (and me!). You came, eat, slept and talked! It was good meeting you. I had often wondered how you were doing on your way to Santiago. Reading some of your writings I saw that you came back by plane. While you were at my place you said that if you had not found the answer and taken your decision accordingly, you would continue walking. I then made the deduction that then you finally did, perhpas…I hope you are well and alive. Thank you for sharing some of your experience with “us”, Dounia

    • Hi Dounia. Great to hear from you! Yes, I am still alive and well. I also remember our lovely chat and the lovely cheese. Yes, I had a lot of time to think on the Camino, but ultimately when I reached Finisterre I felt there was no more distance left to walk and felt it would be selfish to continue walking without first seeing my children. Have you thought of walking the Camino???

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