“At the hostels in South America when you check in they’ll often ask your occupation, every now and then I’ll say “captain” and wait for the rise of the eyebrow as they stare at the 22 year old whippersnapper across the counter.”
We met Thomas on and off on the road. He walked with ‘The Great Danes,’ two giants from Denmark who we briefly spoken with before meeting ‘The South African.’ Thomas caught my eye because of the way he carried himself. He was energetic, running around like a puppy dog as if he wasn’t attached to the massive pack on his back and it seemed he was always up to no good (like planning to climb the Cathedral of Santiago’s scaffolding in the middle of the night with a big smirk on his face). Thomas’s adventures did not end in Santiago and we caught up with the twenty two year old just before he was heading out to sea, working his way around the world on a yacht.
Thomas, long time no speak, how are you?
Absolutely delightful! This year has been one big adventure, filled with awesome people and crazy memories.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, I’m a born and raised farm boy from South Africa, the farm being 110 km away the closest school I spent most of my years growing up in a boarding school. After school I packed my bags and went job hunting in Barcelona, five months later I finally joined a boat. From the three years working / traveling abroad I have only been home for six months. Best memories I’d probably say was the years in boarding school, me and my three friends were always looking for some way to escape the boarding school to go for a midnight swim or KFC.
Can you tell us a bit about your experiences on the camino. What made you go out there and walk the walk? Any memorable experiences during the trip?
I was looking for some sort of adventure / challenge, one you could look back on and go ‘hhhmm, I did that, not bad.’ I mean, just the idea of walking across a country sounded bizarre to me in the first place. So about a month before the Camino I called up my good friend Adam from Australia and told him I’m going to do the walk, it would be great fun if he could join me. First of March we met in Biarritz, France and from there made our way to St. Jean Pied de Port to start the Camino. There are so many crazy stories from the Camino, but the moments I think back to and get a smile on my face are the ones where we were just being silly. Finding entertainment in the smallest of things, like filling up a coca cola bottle with sand and using it as a rugby ball, quoting our favourite movie lines as we walk along or having a 100m walking race.
What did you take away from the camino?
A lot of good friendships! Adam and myself started off alone but by the end we were a group of twenty six and it was quite sad saying goodbye to everyone at the end. You become like a Camino family.
What is one thing you will never know about the Camino unless you walk it?
The body’s incredible tolerance to ‘BOCADILLOS’ (Spanish sandwiches) haha! No, I think it’s different for every person. For me it would be how quickly a month of walking goes by. 800km seems like a lot but honestly every day was over before you even knew it!
What have you been up since walking the 800 km across Spain?
My travels only just started after the Camino really. I took my big backpack and flew to Peru in South America where I met another Aussie friend Tomo. From Lima we went up to north Peru for some surfing. There you can find accommodation for 5 USD a night, hamburgers for less than a dollar and the most amazing sunsets! My father and brother flew to Peru to do Machu Picchu with me which was really epic!. Went to Bolivia where I had to bribe immigration 50 USD to let me into the country. In Bolivia we cycled down death road and climbed an ice glacier 1000m higher than everest base camp. Next stop was Columbia. There we played paintball at one of Pablo Escobar’s mansions, watched a crazy football match where we had to run from riot police shooting tear gas and spent seven days in the coffee region of Columbia. After Columbia we went down to Ecuador, there we went to the Amazon rainforest and it was simply mind blowing! Saw heaps of cool animals! South America is such a diverse continent with so many cool adventurous things to do! I’m currently on a boat in Virginia USA.
Do you have any suggestions for people who dream about packing their bags and leaving?
Yeah, don’t over think it too much, just do it! Traveling is easy if you just go with it. Good or bad experiences, it’s all part of it. Getting lost will often help you find yourself.
When we met you told me you work on boats, can you tell us a little more about this?
At the hostels in South America when you check in they’ll often ask your occupation, every now and then I’ll say “captain” and wait for the rise of the eyebrow as they stare at the 22 year old whippersnapper across the counter haha. I work as a deckhand on superyachts that range from 65-95 meters, on these boats there are normally between 15 to 28 crew members. These yachts are like floating holiday houses for the rich people lucky enough to own them. The boss only uses the boat maybe 3 months in a year. The boss tells the captain where in the world he wants the boat to be, we take it there, the boss flies to the closest airport in his private jet, we pick him up and do a cruise to whatever exclusive island or beach he wants to go to. The other day somebody described yachting to me as a life of extremes, in the sense that when it’s tough going you really have to work hard and long hours, but when it good it’s really good, you get to see some pretty remote places around the world that you would never dream to go.
If someone wants to work on a boat, how should they approach this? What are the steps you need to take?
You need to do your STCW’95 course you have to have this qualification to work on any boat. Its basic fire fighting, first aid and sea survival. From there you print some CV’s and business cards and go dock walking. Dock walking you walk on the docks asking boats if they have any daywork for you. Sometimes you’ll find five days of day work and other days maybe a month or more and if you are at the right place at the right time you might just land yourself a permanent position.
Where are you planning on going to next?
The yacht I’m currently on is a world cruiser so instead of the normal mediterranean and caribbean, this boat goes everywhere! We leave tomorrow to go up to Greenland and from there we’ll do the Northwest passage to Alaska. The Northwest passage is only open a certain time of year because of the weather and ice glaciers. After Alaska we go to Japan. And after that I have no idea. Wherever the wind takes me.
Photo by Matt Wheeler