Saying Goodbye At The End Of The World: The Life And Times Of Jefferson Smalls

This is the first post I've written after completing Nomadic Matt and David Farley' Travel Writing Course. Let me know if you can tell the difference!

 

It's the end of the world. I look out to the horizon and see nothing but the ocean, grey and flat. I feel small and alone, sitting there against the jagged rocks of Cape Finisterre. Once thought by the Romans to be the physical end of the world, it is there where I am about to say goodbye to a dear friend. Together we have marched almost 800km along the Camino de Santiago, only to arrive at an inevitable farewell.

Finisterre. El Camino de Santiago.

We had met, quite coincidently, in France. I had just crossed the Pyrenees on foot, an act that was far more challenging than I had anticipated...though admittedly, my physical preparation was a far cry from admirable. With virtually no training I departed the sleepy town of Saint Jean Pied de Port and headed into the hills, managing the hike more out of stubbornness than any sort of physical prowess. The continual ups and downs were taxing, a hard endeavour on my not-so-aged knees. The trek required a perpetual leaning in as the unstoppable winds that battered the mountainside pushed back against my meagre efforts forward. The cutting shriek of banshee gales drowned out all other noise, leaving me to reflect on the stunning vistas that knelt before the summit. It was August, and it was hot.

With a sweat-soaked back I worked my way ever closer to the Spanish border, my joints taking the brunt of the burden as I sidestepped down the rocky mountainside. I had left the paved roads behind, having entered the forests and fields that forever painted the landscape. Wherever there wasn't the greens and browns of grass and trees there were the azure streaks of a bright summer sky. Gentle wisps of clouds were the only blemishes on the canvas above, white flecks that disappeared hastily under the windy charge of the mountain range.

The Camino Portugués: The Portuguese Way. EL Camino de Santiago.

It was there, in the borderlands of France that I met Jefferson. He was alone, separated from the pilgrim crowds as he rested on the woodland floor. He was a rather big fellow, thick and stout and faded by the elements. He looked a little rough around the edges, but I nevertheless reached out and extended my arm in friendship.

I helped him up off the ground, and within moments we had bonded. For the next 30 days Jefferson and I were inseparable. We became the best of friends, helping each other through all the Camino had to offer: sharp wind and icy rain, heavy fog and scorching heat. We were a team, he and I, and I honestly doubt I would have managed the journey without him.

But every journey has an end. Ours took place at finis terrae. 

Finisterre. The end of The Camino.

With a final, silent embrace and a kiss for luck I nodded farewell. My jaw was awkwardly tense as I stifled a tear, not wanting to be seen weeping as I weaved between the gathered pilgrims. I looked back to see him leaning against a red and rusted metal tower, watching me disappear into the crowds and fog of the world's end.

His name was Jefferson Smalls and I would never see him again. He was my walking stick.

My walking stick on The Camino de Santiago.