My decision to walk the Camino de Santiago in March this year was made about four years ago, in 2015, when I was sitting in Cafe Cervantes in Santiago de Compostela on a rainy October evening.
I contemplated on the last days when a blonde woman in her Fifties sat down at the table next to me, her clear blue eyes and calm energy catching my eye.
It turned out she had just finished the Camino, and as the rain outside didn’t seem to stop anytime soon, we had plenty of time to chat away. She continued to tell me her story of losing her husband recently and how the only way to cope was wanting to get out of her daily life and do something extraordinary. When I looked at her she looked peaceful and happy even, as she confirmed how being out all day walking in every weather, sweating, running out of breath in the mountains and being almost bored by the long straight roads in the plains was the perfect space to grieve and slowly say goodbye to a life that had changed drastically with her husbands’ death.
While we were speaking a chord in me was struck. I had arrived in Santiago in the morning, after a series of events that had made my planned holiday looking decidedly different than anticipated.
Two weeks prior to the the lovely meeting I sat tired and in a questionable mood in my store in Berlin (that I have since moved on from), just having broken a stone I was about to set into silver at my work bench.
I looked at Isa, my lovely polish assistant and said: Isa, I soo need a break. I don’t want to be here... I am in a really bad mood!
Isa looked at me in her calm way, smiling. „Yes?“
„I need to get out! I need an adventure, move my body, breathe fresh air!“
„So go. You know I am here and can take care of things.“
Yes, I knew I could rely on her. But there was the question of um, money. My funds were tied up in stones as they say. Everything my business made, I put back into it. Every extra spending was stressing me out. But I needed to have a short holiday, as it seemed I didn’t have one in ages and I warmed to the idea of just doing something random.
In the following days I kept my eyes open, checked flights, and offers but still wasn’t sure. Until I scrolled through Facebook and saw a post of a friend of a friend: a skipper who needed to sail a yacht from the German north coast down to Lisbon. He had two team members and would like to „rent“ out two extra spaces they had. The route would be going through the Atlantic, Brest, Gulf of Biscay, Porto, Lisbon. My heart beat faster. I always loved the ocean, having lived in California for two years close to the beach where I learned surfing. I didn’t know how to sail but the post said there wouldn’t be a need, but if the person coming on board would want to help and learn, even better. I checked dates and realized I couldn’t do the whole journey but I sent a message enquiring if it would be possible for me to join for 10 days, either coming on board in Brest or La Coruna? To my pure joy, it was, we agreed on a fee and so I set off to book a flight to Madrid, a bus to La Coruna and a return flight from Lisbon, for ten days later.
I looked through my closet thoughtfully trying to pinpoint what could possibly be worn on a sailing yacht on the Atlantic in October and found nothing, besides a shirt and sweater. By then I had received a full list of what I needed to bring and most of that had the word ‚waterproof’ attached to it. My clothes were not that.
As the flight date approached I had checked off most items on the list and realized this spending should have been factored in by me when making the decision to go, but I comforted myself that I would get a „sailing course“ almost for free in return. On my inner movie screen I saw my hair tousled from the wind in just the right way and my complexion tanned, taking on more and more sailing adventures in the future. Who knows? Maybe I could even become one of those people sailing permanently through the world’s oceans, working remotely, skyping with home to arrange what needed to be done and then going for a dip in the green sea.
On the day of my flight to Madrid, I was positively nervous – too many people in sailing shops had warned me to sail the Gulf of Biskay in October.
I also felt slightly non trusting towards my already-on-the-sea skipper, as he had brushed off my questions via text a bit too nonchalantly . But then I reminded myself that I did indeed have wanted an adventure. Be careful what you ask for.
I shouldered my huge duffel bag, looked at my phone. A taxi would be arriving in 5 minutes my app announced.
Another text beeped. I saw it was from „my“ skipper, and I smiled, how nice of him, I thought, he is wishing me a safe flight! The text read: „Won’t be able to make it to La Coruna to pick you up. We had some problems with the boat so anchoring in Brest now, and probably staying here for a a week or two. Sorry. Maybe another time“.
My mouth clapped wide open. At the same time the doorbell rang: my taxi had arrived.
I looked at that text again, re-read it and still it didn’t change. What?
I had spent weeks on preparing for my absence, the cat sitter was booked, the money for gear was spent. I wasn’t so much disbelieving about his cancellation, but I was speechless about the carelessness – if they are now in Brest, I was racing in my head, they must have known days ago, that they won’t be able to make it. Why leave it to the latest possible time to cancel? This sounds like scam artist out of the book but I hadn’t transferred any money yet to him, all the time I wanted to get his account details to send a pre-payment, he changed the subject. Now I knew: He must have doubted all the time that he would take me, maybe yes, maybe not.
The doorbell rang again and a switch in my head turned and when would I ever not go on a trip, there is no way I’ll let the plane to Madrid leave with seat 32B empty.
When I checked my bag, I was remembered that now I was going to main land with my bag full of things you only need on the water.
But so what. Maybe this is the true adventure now – including maybe meeting a handsome yacht owner somewhere who would offer me a sailing trip – and voilà look at that – I am already decked out (*pulls a rainproof sailing jacket out of the duffel bag*)
Yet, there was no handsome stranger and also no yacht waiting mysteriously for me at any point of my trip. I arrived in La Coruna at a weather that made it hard to distinguish where the horizon was, and sky and ocean met. I only saw a grey canvas with a boat sometimes going by (was it them?!) that made for a great monochrome photo. Since I never travel without my camera, at least I could build up my „bad weather but kind of beautiful“ series.
Two days later I had photographed the hell out of this seaside town and shot „grey“ in all sorts and shapes. It was time to get over my grief that overcame me whenever I looked at the Atlantic and move on. Which is just what I did when I walked into the smallest car rental place outside the station and rented a white compact car that blended nicely with the grey.
The new plan was to drive compact car and me down the coast to Finisterra. It was still raining and miserable, my mood was slightly damaged although I tried to hold my head high but it just seemed natural to head to „the end of the world“ which is what centuries ago people believed when they went to Finisterra.
The coast is indeed beautiful and the green grass and yellow lichen make a nice contrast to – you guessed it – a grey sky. Gulls screamed and one time I sat on a rock I saw a whale. I told myself how magical this moment was, but then it started raining again and I spotted a boat somewhere in proximity to where the whale had been and my mood sank again. That could be me over there!
Much later in Lisbon, when I had just reported my wallet stolen to the hotel I was staying in and almost cried because of 9 days rain and my bad luck and a holiday gone really wrong, the TV mounted on the wall announced that two boats off the coast were still missing. They would have to stop looking for survivors soon. I asked the receptionist if this happens often around here, as she seemed very non fussed about it.
„Yes, with is kind of weather, can happen“.
And although this would serve as quite a fulminant, mysterious plot in my story, none of these boats were with „my“ skipper. But I realized there and then, that if I was miserable on main land because of the constant rain and fog, how would I have felt on the yacht going up and down the waves?
It must have been a strenous journey, even if you leave seasickness out of the equation. This just wasn’t meant for me and adventure was nowhere to be seen as well – well, if you don’t count the airline losing my duffel bag on my return.
In hindsight this feels like a very long moment to show me the truly important aspect of the trip – when I sat at that table listening to the dutch woman and her Camino and thinking: Wow. Someday I will do that too.
Which is just what I did four years later on March 8, 2019, when I stepped out of the first albergue of many to come in St.Jean Pied de Port, carefully balancing my 11,5 kg backpack which was about 2 kgs too heavy.