Santiago to Finisterre
The walk between Santiago and Finisterre covered 89km traveling through forests. Very little of the walk was through natural forests. The majority of their forests in this area are managed wood lands used for timber. You can clearly see the varying maturity of the different sections.
Villages in this area are also more sparse, as a result services are limited. I took three days to cover the distance. The vast majority of my traveling was uneventful sans my trip through Corcubíon.
Corcubíon is the last large town before Finisterre. Laying on the coast it is quite beautiful. I was on cloud 9 as I was almost finished with my hike. That is until I was nearly mugged.
In Corcubíon, the Camino became very hard to follow. I missed a turn somewhere and ended up on a very narrow side street. I didn’t think anything of it because I knew the general direction of the Camino. So I just followed the street. A big guy (6′, 250-275 pounds) walked out of a dilapidated building and looked around. I nodded. He nodded back. I kept walking. I walk about 50 feet and glance to my left. He’s coming up on my left side quickly. It startled me but I didn’t think much of it at first. He said something but I only catch “donde” and “amigos.” I played dumb and just smiled. He was asking where my friends were.
He kept pace with me about 5 feet away. Having to work to keep up with me, I knew he was not just out for a walk. I ignored him for about 50 yards and then slowed down abruptly and crossed the street. He also crossed the street and ended up right beside me again. Now I got a little tense. His vibe was just wrong. I slowed my pace a little. He slowed his. He glanced at me about every other step. I slowed to almost a stop and crossed the street again. He followed. At this point I can see the street is going to merge with another street about 150 yards ahead. Weighing what’s going on I came to the conclusion he’s up to no good. I’m was about to become a victim.
I rationalized if he was going to do something it would be in the next 30 seconds. I think what to do. I have a knife in my pocket but it’s folding Swiss Army knife. It would have been clumsy. At this point he hasn’t done anything aggressive so I am reluctant to pull a knife on the guy.
I walked a few more steps and remembered the metal nail file in the waist belt zipper pocket of my backpack. Not ideal but he hasn’t produced a weapon so it’s a slight advantage. He’s on my right. Between his glances I subtlety reach down and unzip the pocket and pulled it out. Fortunately I used it an hour before, so it was on top of all the junk in my zipper pocket. I didn’t have to rummage around to find it.
File in hand, I nonchalantly started cleaning my nails. He glanced left again and then down at my hands as he could see I was now moving them. As he watched, I flipped the file forward in my right hand so he could see what it is. He stopped dead in his tracks and muttered something. I kept walking and merged with the street. I glanced back. He was still standing where he stopped and was scowling at me.
He appeared very angry he missed his opportunity. I high tailed it out of the area as fast as I could walk.
Over the next hour my adrenaline flowed. I contemplated the situation over and over in my mind. Had I read the situation right? Or did I essentially threaten someone begging for money. I thought about body language, how close he walked to me. He crossed the street twice to stay with me. No, I read it right. He was looking for an easy payday. I was a tired, lost pilgrim on the wrong street at the wrong time.
I contemplated reporting it when I arrived in Finisterre but not speaking Spanish and essentially nothing happening, I thought better of it.
I can thank a martial arts background for keeping cool and control of myself. I didn’t act desperate or scared, either of which would have escalated the situation. Funny, something I studied over 20 years ago aids me to this day.
I spoke with a friend back home who is a former police officer. He reinforced I read the situation right. He said there were two components which turned the situation to my advantage. I slowed my pace, which showed I wasn’t “scared”. And I showed I was willing to fight back if necessary. It was an innocent Revlon metal nail file, but it showed I was not an “easy” target.
I took control of the situation by those two actions. By no means am I advocating fighting back is the answer. Every situation is unique. The guy wasn’t prepared to take on someone who was willing to fight back. In this case, I was lucky. Had he produced a weapon of any kind, I would have given him anything he wanted. Money and possessions aren’t worth being injured or dying over.
I offer the following advice to pilgrims on the Camino. Make sure you stay on the Camino. This incident occurred in broad daylight. The volume of people traveling provides a layer of safety. If you find yourself lost, immediately backtrack to the last known location in which you were on the trail.
Secondly, travel with other pilgrims through towns, even if they are unknown to you, stay close. There is safety in numbers. The first thing the thug asked, “Where are my friends.” If there would have two or three of us, it’s unlikely this situation would have occurred.
The remainder of my walk into Finisterre was great, albeit an adrenaline filled one.