Returning home under lockdown (part 2) Ken Scicluna’s journey from Spain back to Malta

Santiago de Compostela, Galica, Spain – the destination of the Way of St. James

It was the 10thof March, my birthday, when I had to fly to Santiago de Compostela, a city I knew well as I had been on the Camino several times over the years. In Santiago I had to meet some friends of mine to collaborate on a project, and also would have the opportunity to photograph the city again. On my second day the project was cancelled along with my return flight to Malta. That evening I headed to my favourite bar and whilst sipping my favourite cerveza 1906, along with a delicious pinchoof tortilla de patatas, I decided what my next move should be. I was toying with the idea of walking towards Finisterre, but that would take me only four days, whilst the Camino do Norte was impractical. I had a flight from Porto on 19th March so that left me ample time.

I finally decided I would head to Porto on the familiar Camino Portuges and do the last bit by public transport. The next day I eagerly took the route out of Santiago. My destination was the small town of Padron. Some friends of mine, hearing the news and knowing I was in Spain, called me to check I was fine. As I had left Santiago around noon I only managed to hit Padron at around seven in the evening. I met many pilgrims heading in the opposite direction. The majority were young Germans, but I remember there were Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian and and an Italian. I remember vividly earlier that day meeting three young Germans who were amazed I knew Giessen, the town they came from as I had visited thanks to a friend who was a lead opera singer at the theatre. We took a picture together for memory and I continued on my journey.

I walked to the historical centre of Padron to buy a raincoat and some food for the next day and was pretty excited to be on the Santiago route again. After speaking to several pilgrims of their journey and the situation in general I slept soundly and the day after was eager to get back on the route. My destination was Caldas de Reis, a pretty town with thermal fountains dating back to the Romans. One of the pilgrim hostels which I tried to check into was closed – upon inquiry I was told the Spanish government was closing anything related to the state in that area. I had checked two days previously at the pilgrims’ office in Santiago if everything was normal on the route and they were positive. However, the following morning, whilst checking the news on my laptop, the owner, an elderly Spanish lady, told me all would be closed from that day onwards. Initially I thought she meant the albergues but she said only food shops and pharmacies would be open and there was a decision pending on closing the borders. I immediately changed plan again and decided to head to the bus stop, where I met around ten young Germans waiting to get to Porto – the majority seemed pretty nervous and didn’t take my jokes very well! They also heard that the Spanish border was to be closed soon. My aim was to arrive at Tui, at the border with Portugal, hoping all would be fine on the other side. I had to take three buses initially to Pontevedra and another to Vigo from where I would head to Tui. It was around one o’clock when I arrived there. From the bus I could see deserted streets and shops with closed shutters. Upon arriving close to the border I could see a policeman outside the police station but I was not stopped. I crossed the bridge, usually very crowded, and only met what seemed to be an elderly pilgrim from America headed to Spain. I told her everything was closed there but it seemed she did not understand me.

So I was in Portugal. I ascended the stairs to the historic fort of Valenca hoping nobody would stop me. And nobody did. It was pretty surreal. The churches and all the places in the fort which usually cater for tourists and pilgrims were open. But I was the only one around. Two kilometers later, in the scorching sun, I stopped at the first bar I found, and got a refreshing Super Bock – I spoke a while with the owner and the three people inside and it seemed all was pretty normal there. I had intended to go to a place I stayed last time, a lodging in Vila Nova de Cerveira. I had anticipated five hours on foot and my calculations were precise. I was the only pilgrim on the road. That evening was a memorable one; against all odds I met a German couple who offered to share their very abundant and delicious meal with me. Despite this, more unwelcoming news came; everything was being shut down and a decision to close the airports in Portugal was pending. As I had no tent and was several days away from Porto, I was left with few options. Against my will I thought the most practical option would be to catch the flight the following morning which left at 10.20am. The only available transport was a bus which arrived at 9.45am. I presumed the streets would be empty being a Sunday and the airport not too crowded and the worst thing which could happen would be missing the flight and therefore would have to improvise how and where I will stay. I know Porto pretty well so it would be all fine. I did however get the flight back to Malta!

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