By Julie Lynberg
Now that we have completed the first half of our journey to Santiago de Compostela from Leon, I have been able to observe some ways that my sociology major is helping me analyze Camino people and practices.
As we set out each day before the sun has reached our section of northern Spain, individuals come together as we walk and start a repeating process of communication and connection. This communication is such an essential aspect of the Camino and reproducing the society formed along the way because of the opportunity to create a very unique group of people from many different countries with countless different stories. It is interesting then to see how it’s complicated by language barriers and how people still manage to overcome these barriers and form group bonds. Many people in our group have met interesting people and formed friendships with strangers as they try to learn about each other’s lives and countries in ways we’re not able to by reading a textbook or attending a lecture.
I also see how symbols of group membership bonds with other peregrinos and immediately establishes understanding. Many fellow hikers have shells strung to the outside of their hiking packs, repeating the tradition from the midieval years when pilgrims carried shells as a sign of their religious pilgrammage to prevent thieves from stealing their belongings. Hikers are further recognized by sturdy walking sticks and muddy hiking boots. For many these hiking boots secretly create painful blisters and swelling as each peregrino pushes their body forward, knowing that each kilometer means one less until reaching Santiago. Our combined spiritual, historical, or physical reasons for completing el Camino only intensify our group connections and exemplify the many different ways individuals bond with rituals, activities, and shared goals.
Photo: Julie (right) talks with Serene as the two prepare their journals for class.
By Serene Cherian
One thing that I really love about this experience is how it greatly pertains to what I want to do in the future. Being a double major in international studies and Spanish, I believe that being here and doing the camino has really opened up my opportunity to be more independent and practice my Spanish. There are also people from all over the world, some who don’t speak Spanish, that I also talked to. For example, I met a couple from Belgium, and I was able to exchange information about our reasons for doing the trip and our experience thus far. It has been very rewarding to be able to interact with so many people from different places. I chose international studies because I love learning about different countries and individual cultures and traditions, and this experience has really allowed me to do all of that. So basically, not only am I able to interact with the natives of Spain, but I am also able to learn about people that come from everywhere, doing the same thing that I am doing. I am looking forward to the last few days of the camino and absorbing all it’s worth.
Serene hikes with Julie on the Camino.
A statue of a pilgrim in Lèon gives one pause about the journey.
A modern rendition of a pilgrim, found just before the Cruz de Ferro, where pilgrims metaphorically and physically unload their burdens into an ever-growing mound of rocks.
A mosaic in Masarife.
A pellogrino leans into the next step just pass the mountain top town of O’Cebreiro.
A pre-backpack pilgrim in Astorga.
By Olivia Caron
From a trip to the pharmacy to meeting a pharmacist from Bordeaux, France, the camino found ways to infuse my trip with chemical engineering. I arrived in Leon with an eye infection in my left eye that kept me from being able to use contacts and see more than three feet in front of me. Annie and I took a trip to the pharmacy where we were told to check in next door at the optomologist for a quick check in. It was indeed the quickest eye appointment I have ever had. The doctor told me after a few scoldings that I needed a cream in my eye for about a week and that under no circumstances could I put back in my contact lenses. The efficiency and simplicity of the pharmacist and the eye doctor astonished me. Not to mention extremely cost efficient. As I endeavor to join the pharmacy career, I can’t help but think that the system in Europe has a few quality features the United States could benefit from.
Just a day later, I was walking along to Astorga when I happened to meet a pharmacist from Bordeaux, France. I could not by any means consider this a coincidence. As I was able to practice my French skills as well as Spanish, I was also learning about my possible future career. Her simplicity and our ease to chat still amazes me. Time flew by and when we were forced to say goodbye I felt as if I was leaving a long time friend. Sharing a few hours, enduring the same hardships, finding common interests, and feeling the same Spanish sun made us closer. A day and a half on the camino had introduced me to new people and new methods that in some way or another linked back to my studies as an engineer and Spanish major at Virginia Tech.
By Rachel Fitzgerald
Scallop shells engraved in cobblestone streets led us out of the city of Leon to the meandering gravel roads of the countryside graffitied with vibrant yellow arrows. Pilgrims on the trail wear scallop shells on their packs as a medieval reminder of pilgrims trekking to the ends of the earth following the arrow that points the way, a marker of the revived camino. These symbols have become emblematic of the camino and directed us to our first milestone on the journey, Mazarife. The stone streets rumbled as tractors passed through completing a days work. We scoped out the rural grocery store (what most would equate to a rundown convenience store) and picked out items for the next day’s breakfast.
Then we ventured to the Panaderia or bread store. Upon entry, a smoky fog choked the room clouding the smell of the freshly baked bread. What struck me was the wall clock, paralyzed at 12:01 PM most likely years ago. For me, these are the images of Spain. A simple metaphor that symbolizes a Spain and a Spanish people stuck in the past like the broken clock that lays beside the shattered mold of baby Jesus in the realism of Galdós’ “La sombra.” The reappearing image as a compulsion to remember the past resurfaces stagnant on the wall even in the contemporary, fantastical fiction of Cristina Fernandez Cubas’, “El mascardon.” Spanish literature again came to life as a woman (whom I imagined was in her late-80s) served us fresh bread in a small rural community that would be a ghost town if not for the tourist traffic of the camino. The next town brought a local busybody lingering in the bar of the alburgue and happily conversing with any pilgrim who could muster a simple Spanish sentence. With every cafe con leche he poetically waxed “read ‘ Don Quixote de la Mancha'” that’s how you ‘ll learn Spanish.
It surprised me how often the Classics pervade the ordinary life of Spain. Even when the 73-year old volunteer in the alburgue in Molinaseca calls his adopted dog, Lazarillo, literature is alive again. The mangy pet, seemingly deranged like most stray street dogs with a gnarly growl and protruding teeth, exemplifies his name. Donning the title of the protagonist of Lazarillo del Tormes, a picaro, or vagabond who scavenges, begs and steals from his master in a series of tricks in order to survive, this little mutt signifies a whole class of Spanish literature. Everyday instances with locals along the camino de santiago are reminders of a country that always keeps the past present through its literature. The rigors and vigor of walking 300K across Spain provide a very organic experience and place of cultural encounter with the local color of life in Spain.
Photo: Rachel hikes with Ashley.
By Ellie Moody
Before I went on the Camino, I had heard that most people experienced some kind of miracle at some point or another while on the trail. I experienced my camino miracle in the form of peanut butter and bananas. On day 3, Stefanie, Caleb, and I were walking through some pretty rough terrain in the mountains. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast and my blood sugar was dropping fast. I told Stefanie that “all I need and want is a banana with peanut butter,” which would be almost impossible to find because: 1) we were in the middle of the mountains and 2) Spaniards don’t seem to eat peanut butter. However, as we ascended the next hill we saw something unbelievable. On top of the mountain was a shack and next to the shack was a hut, and on that hut was FREE bananas and homemade peanut butter. I don’t think I have ever been so happy/relieved/ecstatic in my life. I used to be one of the those people who didn’t believe in miracles but that all changed at this moment on the Camino. For me, it took peanut butter and bananas on the Camino de Santiago to believe in them.
Photo: Stefanie, Ellie, and Caleb
By Tommy Slack
As we hike the Camino, I can not help but notice the fine line between traditions of the past and modern-day amenities of the present. The albergues, or hostels for pilgrims, successfully combine the two elements in a way contrary to what one might imagine.
The traditional aspect of the albergues is immediately evident in the overwhelming sense of hospitality and welcoming attitude of the owners towards the pilgrims, most of whom are there for less than twenty-four hours before continuing their journey to the next city or town. Beginning their day well before sunrise and ending their day well after sunset, their dedication to the Camino and the pilgrims who hike it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. For example, in Léon, Carlos works tirelessly as a volunteer to provide warm beds and safe haven for pilgrims, all in the name of the Camino.
Although some albergues are more lavish than others, one would be surprised at the accommodations for the small price of five to fifteen dollars per night. During our stay in the city of Astorga, we were very surprised at the wide range of amenities offered by the Albergue de San Javier. In the back courtyard, there is a small pool of cold water for pilgrims to soak their tired, aching feet after a long day of hiking. If that does not do the job, there is also a machine that gives foot massages for the reasonable price of three dollars. To keep in touch with family and friends, some places offer computers with internet access, and webcams, while others provide Wi-Fi to pilgrims. These luxuries seek to attract modern-day pilgrims to fill up beds.
One final interesting aspect of the albergues is their use of advertising along the Camino and in guidebooks and pamphlets. Especially in big cities, the albergue owners are in competition for an increasing yet limited number of pilgrims. Given the tough economic times in Spain, owners feel they must get the word out and not just rely on reputation.
Photos: Boots are typically relegated to their own space, making for a more pleasant scent in the sleeping quarters. The sink lineup is from Saint Javier, as well as the look at the courtyard through the maze of laundry. The Albergue San Miguel allowed pilgrims to paint about their journey, and used some of the art as wall hangings.
By Patrick Georgi
It’s day 6 of hiking, and it has been interesting to see the differences in the albergues. I thought we’d be sharing one huge room with a hundred people and sleeping on the floor but they’ve all been very nice so far. The beds are always comfortable and they’ve all had pillows, which really surprised me.
One interesting place, and still one of my favorites, was Albergue de Jesus. It was in this really small town called Mazarife. Annie said that the last time she was there, the place had a dirt floor and didn’t have a big grassy courtyard like it does now. It used to be the only albergue around but now there are two others. The only places that seemed to be doing ok in the town were the albergue and the restaurant we ate at. It is just interesting to think that amidst all the economic problems, hostels seem to be doing fine, even though it is so cheap to stay there. It’s cool too that the movie “The Way” (which I haven’t actually seen yet) has created a lot more interest in the Camino and, consequently, more business for hostels and restaurants. It’s good to see these kind of places doing well, especially since the rest of the country is struggling.
Photos: The Camino Hokies, shown here at the Albergue de Jesus, break for class every day and turn in journals written in Spanish.
Left: On the Camino with Patrick.
Friends of the Camino Hokies,
We are into some pretty intense hiking and wifi access is sporadic so please forgive the sparse posts. Days begin early as we are on the El Camino by 7 a.m. The temps get hot and sun screen is being applied liberally! Blisters are not uncommon amongst us but our spirits remain positive. We had an uphill day and tomorrow is a long haul with a steep down. Note that our schedule and distances are located in the klicks (kilometers) category at the top of the page. Buen Camino!
Roman ruins from the first century have been unearthed in Astorga.
Eric Moody checks out exhibits at the Museo Romano.