Reverse Camino Day 5: Finisterre to Cee

My first day in reverse, attempting to find my way, and the insufferable Australian

Total distance on foot: 8.7mi / 14km
Towns traveled through: Finisterre, Sardiñeiro, Corcubión, Cee
This day in 2013: Day 43-44

What was it like to walk in reverse? That’s what I wanted to know too the morning I left Finisterre behind.

Before I could do this, I had to return Ruby’s bright pink blanket which she’d accidentally left with me the night before. It was still early, the sun barely up and a cool, damp wind blew off the Atlantic into Finisterre’s sleeping streets.

Looking up at her locked hotel, I noticed two men come out of the entrance. As I approached, they held the door open for me, but not without a quick, funny chat in English and Spanish. On my way out, the two men turned into six Spaniards and a young American from Chicago. We gabbed a moment and, as they smoked and laughed, the older Spanish guy complimented me on my English. His humor hinted at my rudeness, but when I’m tired, I’m unable to speak any Spanish or French. I’d offended, but not horribly. They waved me off with a rousing buen Camino!

*

The first thing I did was wander around the familiar town and look for the yellow painted arrows until I was sure I was on the path, but I then doubted myself over and over. The arrows weren’t as frequent as I’d imagined they’d be. Walking along the high road by the beach, I sensed this was the right direction. Without my compass, I couldn’t verify it. Over and over I wondered as I walked, Is this the Camino? Am I on it?  Any hope that I might remember the route from three years ago dissipated quickly.

Along the way, I passed several old men of varying girths out walking their tiny dogs on skinny little leashes. Whether or not I was on the Camino, they didn’t volunteer and I didn’t ask.

Eventually, the road led to a flagstone-and-concrete path just uneven enough to make walking difficult. Memories surfaced of being here with Meg and growing exhausted before we could reach the town. There wasn’t another soul around. I felt every pound in my pack. On one side, the Camino follows the contours of Playa Langosteira, a long, crescent-shaped white sand beach and on the other pine forest. It was so quiet, I felt a little spooked to be alone.

Here I was again, walking the Camino. When would reality start to sink in?

Then the path went up and up to a road in a spacious neighborhood, but I didn’t know where to go. Do I cross? Do I stay along the road? Go back? I stood still for several moments looking at all my options. My guidebook had real maps, but none large enough to show the minute detail I needed. The arrow painted on the asphalt was faded, but once I saw it, it couldn’t be unseen. Cross the road. This went on for hours. The uncertainty. The stopping. The anxiety. The sudden spotting of an arrow or cairn. More tentative forward (backward?) movement.

If I slowed down, took a deep breath, and waited a few moments, it was easier to find my way. This Camino was going to be a turtle’s race, not the hare’s.

*

At times, I did actually recognized the path. A cute little farm with a tall fence, a sweet orchard, and happy chickens in a coop made me smile, just like the first time. What a range of feelings I had three years ago, walking with Meg—scared, sad, torn, afraid of losing my joy forever. Other times laughing with her and feeling so happy. As I retraced my steps on terra firma, images and memories surfaced, returning with clarity and emotion like I had hoped they would. Rather than resist, I let all of it wash over me.

There was a single yet significant moment walking under the magical oak trees, when I sighed with unconscious contentment. In response, my inner voice asked, “Is this all you needed?” Yes. Yes, it is. After scrimping, planning, and anticipating this for so long—just walking—so simple, yet everything I needed.

*

As the day advanced, I encountered interesting characters along the way.

Chloe from Montana said, “Of course there’s an Oregonian walking the Camino backwards!”

Irma from Holland—when I offered her one of my handmade inspiration cards—told me just how perfect the message was for the question she’d been pondering. She teared up. Then she asked a little breathlessly, “Are you an angel?”

A cute young man from NY and a raven-haired dancer from the UK were walking together. We chatted for a bit, and despite the ring on his left hand, he had that wistful look I recognized so well. The end is coming. Are you living the life you want?

At lunch, I sat with a twenty-something guy from Cork and a woman from Germany—both of them employed in law enforcement—who questioned me with increasing intensity about Benghazi. It wasn’t until they left I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time. Plot twist: the guy paid for my lunch and hugged me goodbye. What was that? 

One German guy went on and on about the daily distances he’d walked the whole journey. Rattling off each day’s mileage as though from a spreadsheet in his mind. Now that he was nearing the end, was he examining how well he’d done? Did he have something to prove? Was he starting to question that this walk might be about more than just distance?

*

In Cee, I was walking along the road as the sun got higher. Even though I’d lost the official Camino, passing the houses with their whitewashed steps and pots full of red geraniums was scenic and pleasant. I was planning to stop here for the night, so I wasn’t stressed about the exact route. You just go all the way around the tiny harbor, then up the hill on the other side. At the top and almost completely out of Cee, I stopped at an albergue for the night. Even though it was only about 2pm.

I’d survived my first day of walking backwards. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

*

If you ever want to connect with locals, show up at a privately-owned albergue just as they open to pilgrims in the early afternoon. As the sole peregrina for almost an hour, Pedro gave me the royal treatment. He let me choose whatever bed I wanted. He offered me beer. He helped me operate the laundry spinner and then re-hung my clothes when the rack blew over.

Later, when I was clean, we chatted for a long while about pilgrimage (he’s done many sections of the Camino himself) and about how it changes your life. How simple it is. How deeply satisfying. His albergue offered complimentary sheets and towels because he’d learned how precious those were as a pilgrim. By late afternoon, we were buddies. I was even translating for Pedro when non-Spanish-speaking pilgrims showed up.

*

Which, I’m sorry to say, made it all the more awful when the Annoying Australian Woman arrived. I should have kept my mouth shut, but she and a friend peeked in trying to decide whether to stay, and I piped up with, “It’s a great albergue! They even have towels!”

Entitled. Demanding. Snappish. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how someone could have walked the Camino so long and not gotten the message that “the traveler demands, but the pilgrim is grateful.” Over the course of the next few hours, she would interrupt me while I was talking to others, resting, and journaling to say things like, “Tell him I want some food.” and “Why should I have to know how to speak Spanish?” and “You know what kind of hill you have tomorrow?!” (And to think I’d only been worried about that for months.)

I could not shake this grumpy, demanding character. Her friend seemed to have the patience of Job. AAW napped for a while and when she woke, she was a ravenous dragon. She complained to me that there was no restaurant at the albergue, nowhere nearby to eat (except two places she didn’t like the looks of), that the heat-and-eat options available for purchase weren’t her normal preference, and that she couldn’t understand the Spanish directions on the noodle package (this, despite me pointing out the handy picture diagrams, “Oh, I can’t be bothered with that!”).

“Does she want me to make it for her?” Pedro asked me in Spanish. I bristled and didn’t want to translate his question. It’s not his job to be kind to this rare bird! But when I did, she said yes. In astonishment, I watched as he prepared the soup, set the table, and served it to her—and she didn’t thank him. She ignored him like low-life servant!

Later, she complained to me that there was no heat in the albergue, though it wasn’t cold and ample blankets were available. “I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, mustering the last ounce of patience I had.

“Well, you sold me on this place.”

Are you kidding me?? Of all the blaming, victimy, passive aggressive, fill-in-the-freaking-blankety-blanks…

“You know?” I paused to regain my composure. “I’ve had a hard day too. I need you to cut me some slack.”

“Oh. Well, there was another girl who spoke Spanish who told me she wouldn’t translate for me anymore.” And do you wonder what the connection might be??

*

Escaping to the patio in front, I passed Pedro and said in Spanish, “What a pilgrim! I’m so sorry about this woman. You have amazing patience.” He grinned at me, the tiredness visible in his eyes.

I missed home. I missed Mary. I thought of Nancy whose quote was pasted on this day’s journal page, “May flowers spring up where your feet touch the earth. May the feet that walked before you bless your every step.” (Macrina Wierdekehr) Seeing these words made me a little misty. This is the experience I want to be having, not dealing with this demanding snip. Could there be some message here for me?

But then a kind man from Ireland joined me, and we had a great chat about what he’d learned now that his journey was ending… and why I had returned after three years to walk the Camino again. This was more like it. My clothes dried in the breezy sunshine. I wrote in my journal uninterrupted and sipped a glass of wine, feeling grateful for life.

*

In the morning, I stiffened when the Australian woman sat down across from me on the couches as we tied our respective shoelaces. She looked at me in the eye and said, “I hope you have a wonderful Camino. Truly.”

Then she thanked our host.

This proved to me, once again, that you cannot know another person’s heart. No doubt, I was definitely back on the Camino.

14 thoughts on “Reverse Camino Day 5: Finisterre to Cee

  1. Good timing Jen!
    I am doing a modified Camino as my feet dictate. Skipped 80 km from Nigera to Burgos… 2 days physio… Walked 4 days of Meseta then trained it to Santago. Now on my way to Fisterra. Will be in Cee tomorrow night. Going slowly… I think that has been my Camino message. In all honesty I haven’t loved it. The people I connected with yes. The annoying, loud, littering pilgrims… No!
    I’m sure I’ll reflect more after I return home.
    Look forward to your next installment. It’s actually more fun reading about your Camino than doing my own. Good take away from that I suppose! 😉

    1. Oh wow! You’re there now!! Woohoo! Trusting your body, going slowly, and connecting with people are insights you’ll take home with you. Perhaps the noticing of giving away your energy to noisy pilgrims has a hidden gift too (ask me how I know). 🙂 Sending thoughts of healing, presence and integration as you walk to Finisterre. ❤

  2. I cannot tell you how much I’m enjoying reading about your journey. I think you must have the patience of a saint! Whoever you are Jen, when I read your story my heart opens. Thank you. We’re hoping to walk the Camino next summer despite my arthritic hip and knees. We’ll see.
    Alison xox

    1. Awww, Alliison–thank you for these words! I’m smiling like crazy knowing my writing touches you. Something about the Camino brings out the best in me. Mary might agree I’m a bit less patient at home! 🙂

      If I can help in ANY way in preparation for your journey, I hope you’ll let me know. As a fellow arthritis beneficiary, I can relate to the fears and concerns that arise in anticipation. But still! How exciting!! ❤ Squee!

  3. I am back from Fisterra a few days now and I enjoyed my few days rambling from Santiago. What’s interesting is the number of people who were walking “back” to Santiago from Fisterra after arriving at the coast. Cee is a lovely village by the sea however I didn’t stay there. May you have many happy days ahead of you! David.

    1. Congratulations on your Camino! ❤ Given all the blue arrows back to Santiago, I'm not surprised there are so many returning. I had many more funny looks from westbound pilgrims from Santiago-on than getting there from Finisterre. 🙂 Cee is adorable, isn't it? Thanks for the sweet note!

      1. Thank you so much Jennifer! I have made a promise to myself that I will stay in Cee next time. I’m not sure if you remember from 2013, but there is a long descent into Cee. That view looking into the harbour is amazing! Walking “the loop” is becoming more and more popular so you should come across even more people before you arrive at Santiago! Buen Camino and I will continue to follow your travels! 🙂

  4. Buen Camino! Wow…the nerve of the Australian, even if she thanked him the next morning…hope you don’t run into her again haha 🙂 Thanks for the follow. I look forward to reading more of your backward Camino!

  5. I love the bit about the Australian woman. We’re not all that bad I promise. It is amazing just to listen to people at the end of the day because most of you have walked the same path and distance. Some people complain no end because it rains some people talk about slipping over in the mud and having a good laugh others like me tell you how beautiful the rain and mist settles on spider webs and make for good photos. Look for beauty in everything your alive and on holiday.

    1. Oh, Aussies are great! She might just have been having a stupendously bad day! 🙂

      It certainly is amazing how we can walk over the same terrain and have such vastly different experiences. It reminds me how important it is to choose my attitude when I can!

  6. Hey Jennifer. I remember the Australians that day, I stayed with them in a few Alburgues over the following days. They were wonderful and so funny, but at first like yourself, I didn’t know how to take them, when they told me their stories I had to hold back tears. Your right, none can truly know another’s heart, but that is the wonderful surprise and fulfilling nature of humanity, how I miss the Camino….

    1. Hi Ray! I must learn it over a dozen times a day that my reactions are ALL about me, and not the other person. I love knowing about your experience with the same people! This proves the point! 🙂 Thanks for commenting. .. I miss the Camino too. ♡

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