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finnis terrae

a cafe in santiago close to the bus station, Spain

I sit watching the people on the TV exclaim their happiness over the rain and cooler weather in the south. I’m emotional about how mundane the situation feels and the fact that I can’t fully understand the conversational chatter around me. It’s odd because I know this scene. Coffee before work & school drop-off. A family who orders a Colocao for their 5-year-old daughter but the milk is too hot and the mug too big, resulting in tears and only a few finger-lengths missing from the cup before they leave.

Finisterre was one of those places where I felt at home quickly. Where after a few days, it felt as though I’d been there months. As though time was passing easily yet not at all. I attribute that to the people, the community of welcoming, seemingly familiar souls - lovers of music and deep conversation, nakedness, freedom, adventure, the outdoors.

I arrived in the town from the Camino Francés to a whiteness that hid the horizon and almost everything from my view. A Californian girl, Sonnet, and I found an albergue called “Sol do Lúa” which we picked because the sign had a wooden carved sun. As we entered, we set in motion a series of events with reappearing names and faces of people we’d known in other lives.

That first night, we went to the 'World Family’ cafe, entering from the dreary rain outside to greet tanned, dark curly locks behind tables of macrame and jewels, plates of veggie burgers with baby fried potatoes swerving between the many people around us. A painted sign a over the bar read: “NEVER TRUST   THE HIPPIES”. I knew that I was home.

The discovery of the mountain-bookended beach called 'Praia do fora’ solidified the need to stay. Fennel, carrot flowers, spearmint, dandelion and brambles led the way over a small hill to the playa where play was always of the essence. For many of us, it was the first ocean dip after weeks of hiking/pilgrimage. Tan lines the complement to hiking get up walked valiantly to the edge of the Atlantic, to the expanse of the blue, unknown blanket that they dubbed the ‘end of the world’ in Medieval times. From ‘Finnis terrae’ in Latin. I liked the idea that this is where you ‘died’ after completing the ancient pilgrimage. For there’s no life without death. No beginnings without ends.

At the cafe, I joined the hiking sandal-clad community on a makeshift dance floor of cleared tables to an eclectic mix of YouTube queued rock classics, techno, reggae, Psytrance and Spanish sing-a-longs. There was hand-woven jewellery and unbrushed hair, impractical haircuts and an increase of piercings. Om-printed scarves and esoteric tattoos. It sounds superficial, but these are the symbols that I look for to find my kin, for it takes a little longer to identify the values of my tribe. A little assumption goes a long way.

I met Veró that night through Sonnet, who got my number and invited me for brekkie the next day. It was flow from then on out. A friend of Veró's, Chelsea buying incense to burn in the street. Bumping into the wholesome boys from Barcelona that I’d passed on the trail a week before to know that we would meet later again if we were meant to. Organising to meet at 'Oceanus' - you can’t miss it - Chelsea told me. Collecting shells and throwing the frisbee in the fog. Sharing a quarter loaf of raisin & nut bread with queso de cabra in the homely hostel kitchen with Camille a highlight. Yoga in Spanish with ‘sonrisa interior’, ‘inspirando profundo’ and ‘suelto’ becoming part of my growing vocabulary. Learning my Mayan oracle to be the ‘Guerrero Amarillo’ from a book written by the hospitalera from Seville.

At the nightly fires on the beach, I met a man from Austria who wore a top hat and had walked the camino with his two donkeys that were tied up at the top of the hill. A playful soul called Alex from Madrid/Russia who carried on his back a guitar case including an extra pole-like case with five flutes and a bird whistle. Veró’s sister had known him for three years or so, from coming to Finisterre in the summer, yet this time the stars had aligned and they’d fallen in love. I watched them run naked together through waves, retiring afterwards to read translated tarot under a makeshift camping towel and stick shelter from the midday (4pm!) sun to later improvising, bundled in each others’ scarves on cobblestones under warm lamplight in a corner of the town overlooking Langosteira beach.

Up until this point of my travels, I’d been stabbing around in the dark for a homely feeling. Why come all this way when the friends and landscapes at home that I’d now established were so supportive, so uplifting and so growth encouraging? Even though there was some resistance, a deep internal voice persisted at me to take the plunge and walk the globe without a plan once again. I had to listen.

Six weeks in, the reasons why are becoming clear to me now. Finisterre showed me an alternative reality of the places I’d felt most at home. Broome, in the North-West of Australia and then, more recently in the Northern Rivers.

A common thread in landscapes was appearing. Natural places of expanse near oceans. Time alone. A community small and connected enough so that familiar faces greeted me without me having to seek them or arrange any plans. Established hang-outs. Seasonal places that always had an influx of humans coming and going. Word of mouth essential to connect us.

After not using social media to fulfil this part of me, I yearned to share and be inspired by ideas, others’ adventures, journeys and lives. I was on the lookout, my senses heightened for the things I spiritually needed after my basic requirements for food, water and a place to stay were taken care of.

More and more, I am having a conversation of homecoming. Of community building and slowing down again after the period of treadmilling as if time were running out after the pause in external living that came with covid.

And so I write to you now from a cafe near the bus station, anonymous as anyone and no one where I use the bathroom to brush my teeth as I wait for my bus to the next place. In between worlds, in between people, in between knowing, yet within them all the same.

You Start Dying Slowly

(a poem shared with me by a hiker named Bryan from Cornwall amongst the bunks of an albergue somewhere near Finisterre)

You start dying slowlyif you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colours

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice…

~Pablo Neruda

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