Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre and back (bus, 81km each way).
Santiago de Compostela to London (plane, about 2,000 km).
Many pilgrims leave Santiago de Compostela and do one last walk: to the Atlantic Ocean. Finisterre (from Latin finis terrae) was so named because in Roman times, it was considered to be the end of the known world. It’s a three-day walk, or roughly an hour by bus.
There are three things pilgrims must do in Finisterre, according to Efren Gonzalez. (I’m linking his Finisterre vllog here, so you can watch it. We’re Efren Gonzalez fans around here. Fair to say, Will?) They are:
-Take a dip in the ocean.
-Burn something that’s been with you the whole way (like your clothes, or the underwear you washed every night in the sink for A MONTH).
-Watch the sunset.
Then, it’s said, the next day you’ll be a new person.
We planned to do a quick trip to Finisterre by bus, then return to Santiago de Compostela for a flight to London, and then another flight the next day back to San Francisco.
This would have been an end of the world/end of the journey kind of day.
In that other, non-pandemic life where I would have been finishing the Camino with my husband and some of the best people we know in the world, this would have been day 27 without my dogs, the chaise lounge where I’m writing this, my laptop, cereal and television.
I’m so firmly ensconced in my at-home world right now that it’s hard to imagine being gone long enough to miss it. These days, a trip to the grocery store still feels somewhat momentous, a little trepidatious. When I come back after thirty minutes, the dogs greet me like I’ve been gone for a week, and I feel compelled to report on the conditions, like I’ve been out on the front lines: “Hardly anyone in Winco at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday. Almost everyone wearing masks. Produce was pretty picked over, though…”.
But if I had indeed been gone for 27 days, I would have driven my companions insane with my constant worries about my dogs—what they were doing, if they were happy, if LG was able to sleep without me, if LG was still eating her food, if they were already going crazy with pre-4th of July fireworks. Every single night, no matter how exhausted I was from the day’s walk, I would have had a difficult time falling asleep without LG’s nine-pound body tucked up against the back of my knees. I would have checked my email obsessively for mandatory dogsitter reports (I prefer the “proof of life” version with the dog holding the day’s newspaper).
“The dogs are fine,” Will would have told me, approximately twenty-seven times a day.
And twenty-seven times a day, I would have sniffed back some tears.
Coming back from anywhere always seems to take twice as long as getting there in the first place.
I’m not sure how much of this Will and I shared with our Camino traveling companions in advance, when we were planning our trip and buying our plane tickets, but he and I have had some uniquely bad experiences with air travel. We were once denied entry to a flight that our luggage had already been booked on; that was also the night we slept under a café table at Heathrow. We’ve had missed flights and delayed flights and rearranged plans—and it’s all fine, really. It’s part of the adventure. It’s just not that much fun when you’re exhausted, when you haven’t had a really good bath/shower in a month, and when you’re sick to death of the two clothing options in your backpack.
About a decade ago, I chaperoned a school trip to Washington D.C. and New York: twenty-two 7th and 8th graders, me and my colleague Tu. During this week, I don’t think I got more than six hours of sleep a day, and each day was nonstop go-go-go. In the last twenty-four hours of the trip, we bused from DC to New York, walked all over Manhattan, went to a Broadway show, bused back to Brooklyn for only five hours of sleep, had an early breakfast, wandered around Ellis Island, and got on a plane. The second after I counted and double-counted and triple-counted to make sure everyone was on board, I buckled myself into my seat, leaned my head against the seat ahead of me, and fell into a dreamless sleep. The next thing I remember, it was six hours later, and Tu was shaking my arm and telling me we were landing soon.
I’d slept through takeoff, food service, in-flight entertainment, and turbulence. And my neck was killing me.
In 2002, after our month-long trip around Europe, we were beyond ready to be home, but we had to make our way back to Paris. Our last stop before the final train was in Zurich, and we had a few hours to kill before our train.
“What do you feel like eating?” Will asked.
The appropriate answer would have been fondue, or some sort of Swiss delicacy. Anything that you wouldn’t get in the States: that’s our rule when traveling. But the answer that shot out of my mouth was, “McDonalds.”
And so, we ate that night in a three-story McDonalds with the most modern seating I’ve ever seen in a McDonalds, the whole restaurant pulsing with techno music. It wasn’t bad food; it had the requisite salt and fat contents to make it taste quite good. But the point, right then, was comfort. The point was that we wanted to be home, that we missed even the crappier aspects of home.
It’s good to set out on a journey, but it’s also good to return.
And that’s tomorrow.
Paula Treick DeBoard