Camino de Santiago, north Spain
While studying abroad in Madrid, Spain I was fortunate enough to bike the Camino de Santiago during my spring break thanks to the Claire Marie Rogers Matthews Memorial Award. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino has existed since the 8th century and stretches all across Europe, although the most traveled routes begin in France and continue along central or north Spain. Until the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived a year, but today thousands participate in this journey of spiritual growth. The goal of this trip was to investigate the story behind the revival of this tradition and its cultural significance in present day society while exploring the northwestern region of Spain.
I left Madrid with fellow Laurentian Maria Mignano and began our 245 km trip in the coastal town of Luarca, continuing through the towns of Ribadeo, Modoñedo, Vilalba, and Arzúa until arriving in Santiago de Compostela. On this journey we biked on country roads in the lush, rural landscape of Asturias and Galicia, two of the northern autonomous communities of Spain. We biked in torrential rain, wind, and radiant Spanish sun, through coastal towns along the Camino and up miles of hills that seemed to have no end. We stopped to enjoy sights of rural countryside, cliffs, mountains and valleys with small, nestled villages. In Arzúa the less traveled north trail connects with the more traditional route through central Spain. We biked alongside hundreds of other pilgrims, some on bikes, but most on foot. Quaint, family-owned restaurants and hostels along the trail welcomed pilgrims to rest and recharge. It was truly a magical experience to finally arrive at the cathedral and gaze up at the official end of our journey, soaking up the moment with hundreds of other dirty, exhausted, spiritually revived pilgrims. We all had the same common goal, but no doubt our journeys were unique.
Some of my favorite parts of the trip were exploring the ancient part of Santiago de Compostela, where we were able to talk to pilgrims from all different parts of Europe. We even got to see a traditional procession to the Cathedral, a ceremony in which cloaked participants parade statues of Jesus in different stages of his life to the cathedral. Although I am personally not very religious, this was a solemn, breathtaking and unique experience that I will forever appreciate. The importance of religion in Spanish culture is something that I understand much better now that I have lived and seen its presence in daily life. Another of my favorite aspects of the trip was seeing the lush green landscape of the north, exploring places so typical of Spanish culture that tourists normally do not have the time to appreciate. I was reminded of my home state of Vermont, which made me both miss home and feel at home. For this reason it is still my favorite region of Spain, that I feel so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to explore. I improved my Spanish skills, confidence and independence on this adventure. However, I also took the opportunity on the road to reflect on my time in Spain and strengthen my connection to Spanish culture with every kilometer I traveled on the same route as 1000 years worth of pilgrims before me.