While studying abroad in Spain for the full academic year, I and two other St. Lawrence students decided to further our endeavor in immersing ourselves in Spanish culture and history by undertaking the famous pilgrimage the Camino de Santiago. With only a week for Spring break, we chose a shorter route “el camino ingles” which met the minimum of 100km distance requirement. Many routes start along the French and Spanish border and move westward. Our route started above Santiago in the city of Ferrol, and we traveled south.
For the trip we loaded our backpacks and flew to northern Spain. The plan was to stay at albergues, which are small hostels specially made for pilgrims doing the camino like us. We would wake up each morning and walk between 20 to 34 kilometers a day to the next albergue. Our first day we deviated from the plan and ended up walked twice the expected distance to the next town, cutting a day out of our trip. Another discovery that we had was that we were not apt to waking up at the crack of dawn with the other pilgrims to get on the road early. Our more relaxed approach involved not leaving bed until 9 or getting on the road before 10. There were also many frequent stops to explore the small towns, ocean cities, and ancient countryside ruins that we walked through. Through in the occasional mid afternoon nap and it became highly unlikely we would make it to the next albergue early enough for an open bed space. As a result of this we would find secondary options for nightly lodging that always led to interesting acquaintances and experiences. I personally think that this was the better combination because we got to interact with other pilgrims while on the trail during the day and then stay with locals for the nights.
After five days of walking, and several blisters, we reached the destination Santiago de Compostela. In the center of the cobblestone city stands a grand cathedral dating back as early as the 11th century. In front of the cathedral hundreds of pilgrims gather, dropping their backpacks and metaphorical weight that they carried with them on their journey and filling themselves with a sense of euphoria. People from all over Europe as well as other continents, different routes and length of time on the camino are united in the common feelings of pride and community. We got certificates with our names written in their original Latin officiating that we had done the Camino de Santiago.
Because it was the Easter Holy Week, there were additional cultural traditions that are not normal circumstances. After some hot showers we witnessed extensive religious processions that would loop throughout the entire city and incorporated shrines, full-size crosses and people in shackles. It was different, but a powerful and moving image to finish the pilgrimage with. We fly back to Madrid with a deeper understanding of Spanish history than merely living in the capital city could have provided us.