O Cebreiro

By Jesse
The hike into O’Cebreiro is not the highest one but definitely one of the steepest. The hike started out pretty uneventful and as we continued toward the mountains. After about 4km the trail started rising and would not stop until we reached O’Cebreiro. The path turns to dirt and is covered in shade by the overhanging trees and is filled with continuous switchbacks as we continued to climb higher and higher. Although other days had taken a physical toll on my body today was the first that tested my cardio. All the hard work was worth it when we broke the treeline and were treated with stunning views of the valley below. After a final push we cross into the province of Galcia and then to O’Cebreiro. Galicia is famous for its Celtic influence, large amount of rain, and regional language called Gallegos which is a mix of Portuguese and Spanish. Reaching the town felt great and I remember talking to a Spanish man the night before ands he told me when you get to the top you will have the knowledge that you struggled and achieved the great distance and altitude by own personal grit and perseverance.

O’Cebreiro is a tiny town from the 9th century. We explored and saw original buildings that had been restored and the local church which they said holds the Holy Grail. My favorite part of the town by far was the cross located on a nearby peak. I went up there with Alex for the views. The cross was super cool because in the crack people had put coins in, Alec and I left our mark by putting the 3rd and 2nd tallest coins respectively. I love all the traditions and such that have been carried on on the Camino which I can participate in.

The people you meet

By Erin

One of the best parts of my personal Camino was meeting other peregrinos that were not in our group. It was amazing to hear the stories of how each person ended up on this incredible journey and where they came from.

One such person was a guy from New York named Patrick. Dom, Jesse, Jack, and I met him in Ambas Mestas outside of the restaurant because he was looking for a Bob Dylan zippo lighter he had left there earlier that day. He ended up finding it, which he was very excited about because he had had the lighter for over 10 years.
We all got to talking, and we learned that he was an actor in New York City who was working as a car salesman before he came on the Camino. Because of issues at work and a desire to explore the world, he quit his job and booked a one-way ticket to France to begin the Camino. He arrived there on his birthday, April 26, and started walking. I love the idea of that: leaving your entire life behind to go to a foreign country in which you don’t know the language in order to find out more about yourself. And to do that alone takes a certain kind of strength that I really admire. Because he had no itinerary or plans of any sort, he was able to take his time, stopping for a few days in certain towns or cities and walking until he felt like he wanted to rest.
After that night, we saw him in various places and towns as we got closer to Santiago, and his face was always one that we were happy to see.

Another day on the trail, Coryn and I decided to stop for a coffee, and sat with an Australian woman and her son, who we soon learned to be named Amanda and Sage, respectively. As it turns out, Sage was an eighth grader, and was taking a 3 month vacation from school in order to do this trip. Apparently, in Australia it isn’t a big deal to take a few months off of school to travel the world. I wish they did that in the United States! Because you learn about so many different cultures and people while traveling, they think that it it worth missing school. He is only 14 and has already been to every continent except the Americas and Antarctica. We also saw these people as we continued through the Camino.

I have met and conversed with countless other people on the trail, and that is definitely one of my favorite parts of the Camino. Every pilgrim has an intrinsic connection with every other pilgrim because we are all struggling to make the same trek, with the same destination. That commonality between us all caused me to feel an intense camaraderie with each and every peregrino. I think this feeling is best summed up by the standard peregrino greeting, “¡buen Camino!”

Handicap accesability

By Ethan

One of my greatest interests, in regards to careers, is helping those with physical disabilities. Coming to Spain, I was very interested to see how the country has approached these issues and what solutions they have provided. Also, I wanted to pose the same questions to the camino. In America, handicap accessibility is something that goes unquestioned, as it should. Almost every building and city haw some aspect that allows the mobility of persons with physical disabilities. This is not the case from what I have seen so far in Spain. Many of the cities and towns here are very old, and in the olden days handicapped people were not looked upon as valuable members of society. Therefore, providing then with the means of practical mobility was not necessary. This has reflected into the towns and cities of modern Spain. The cobble stone streets, and very tall stair cases all pose nearly impossible obstacles to handicapped people. I could not imagine using a wheel chair in many of these crowded, bumpy streets. On the Camino, the trails have basically all been impossible for handicapped people to travel on. The albergues also didn’t have any elevators or ramps for them either. I have only seen one albergue thy said it was handicap friendly. This disregard to people with handicaps is unjustified. We have the technology to provide the same abilities for these people who can’t do it themselves.
With Industrial Design, we can face these problems and find Suriname to help these people. Wheel chairs can be designed to handle the cobble stones and rough terrain. Ramps could be installed in stores and buildings. Elevators and lifts could be placed in albergues, or handicap albergues should be built with in certain distances along the camino. The history of the country is beautiful and should be protected, but not to the extent that members of our society have to e excluded.

Our Camino family

By Morgan

The only thing I had ever been skeptical about this trip was the people I would be hiking with. Considering we’d all be together for 5 weeks straight without a day to spare, I was hoping they’d be at least tolerable. After 4 days of being on this trip, there are no words to describe how close we’ve become in the short time we’ve known each other. There’s something about being a Hokie that is so unique and specific to our VT community. No matter where we are, whether in Blacksburg, or hiking el camino in Northern Spain, we, Hokies, always carry our 8 principles with us. Every single person in our camino group has already made a tremendous impact on our trip thus far. First, there’s Dom–who can simply be described as The Life of the Party. His bubbly personality and never ending energy serves as an endless motivation for the group to get up each morning at 6 a.m. to start our trek. Then there is Coryn and Mark, our dubbed parents of the group. Both recently graduated making them the oldest, and in most cases, the wisest of the clan. Then there’s Jack, who always has a smile on his face and always in the best of spirits. Anna and Christina are probably the quietest of the group and most definitely the sweetest. They’re calm personas balance out our crazy, happy-go-lucky crew. Alec is so awesome because he’s so relaxed and easy going, and then will just crack random jokes out of no where. Erin is definitely our in-group medic. She ALWAYS has supplies for whatever and is one of the most laid-back, easy going people in our group. Jesse serenades us before we go to be in his deep tenor, all-district voice, which is the perfect lullaby to lead us into siesta. Kendal is the baby of the group, the youngest freshman here. She ALWAYS is giggling about something but she’s adorable so she’s totally allowed to. Then there is Cam, who’s been my partner in crime since day 1. We’re always cracking jokes and almost get along TOO well. Her facial expressions are the absolute greatest. Ethan, a rising senior in architecture, is maybe the best thing since sliced bread. Such a easy going, flat out fun person. He’s so mature yet knows how to have fun and when to wind down. Last but not least, our group leader Annie and her loyal helper, Rachel. I couldn’t have imagined a more fun, energetic, and brilliant group. Rachel is by far the most genuinely kind person I’ve met in so long. She’s your right hand whenever you need her and just an overall awesome person to have here. Annie is full of so much knowledge about everything “Camino” and has so much wise advise to offer us whenever need be. Her passion for studying abroad and the camino is shown through her class she instructs and interactions with her on the trail. She’s the absolute perfect balance between chill and a second mom.

Ponferrada to Villafranca

By Mark

Last night, after a very easy day of walking just about 9 kilometers,  we then got a few taxis to take us to a wine vineyard a few miles out of town, which was an awesome way to spend a few hours before lunch. We were given a tour of the Tilenus vineyard and then had the opportunity to taste test the wine along with cheese, bread, and homemade empanadas. The day continued with a tour of the El Castillo Templario de Ponferrada.

Today’s walk was much harder, in that we completed about a 24 kilometers leg of the trail from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo. With a population of just 3,463 it is another small village in northern Spain which has become the normal resting place for our group. Each town where we have stopped and stayed the night is so different and has its own qualities, yet they are also similar in certain ways. All of the operators of the albergues have been extremely nice, and with the exception of a night or two, we have all been able to get a good night’s rest.

Today’s walk was through an enormous area of northern Spain’s wine country, which made the strenuous walk much more enjoyable. The aesthetics of this area are incredible, as depicted in the pictures below. We stopped for our daily 2nd breakfast in a village called Cacabellos, where I had a cafe con leche and some patatas. The rest of the group finished their bocadillos (sandwiches), got their sellos (stamps), and we were on our way.

One of the highlights of the day came within the first 10 kilometers of the trek, when we came across a home that had a horse and a few dogs in the yard. As we walked by, the horse immediately made its way over to the wall and calmly stayed there as we all petted and interacted with the awesome animal. Not to be outdone, one of the dogs came and jumped up to the wall for his photo shoot and to have all of the group to fawn over him.

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Surprise in Ponferrada

By Dom

Toady we had a short recovery walk to Ponferrada. Our plan for today was a tour of a winery called Tilenus. It was very interesting to see all the different parts of the winery and the intricate details I did not know about the intricacies and difficulties of making a quality wine. The part I found most interesting was talking with our tour guide, in english, about her job and the growth of the business. Examining the economic factors she explained fit perfectly into my major of International Studies. Tilenus is a smaller winery but is beginning to expand thanks to things such as globalization, reducing of trade barriers, and demand for wine from the al Bierzo rose. El Bierzo grows two types of distinctive grapes which can only b found in this valley region of Spain. Our tour guide has worked for this company for 5 years and she is mainly an international spokesperson for the winery. She told of the difficulties of competing and catching up with other companies that have been globalized for many years already and seen rapid growth. I found this whole subject very interesting and showed that things I am studying in school are happening real time all around the world.


The struggle

By Erin

The fourth and fifth days were the most challenging days of the Camino for me. After a night of fitful sleep in Astorga, we started off our 24 kilometer hike to Rabanal. Soon after leaving Astorga, the wind picked up until we were walking into a storm. The rain avoided us for an hour or two, however, and we were able to witness a couple beautiful rainbows to our right, pictured below.

By the time we stopped for second breakfast, it was obvious that we were about to be dealing with our first rain storm of the Camino. We donned our rain coats and shells for our backpacks, and continued onward. It rained on and off for the rest of the day, but I had some great conversations with Ethan, Rachel, and Coryn during the brief respites. As we neared Rabanal, the weather got increasingly rainy and cold, and my left ankle started to really hurt to the point that I was struggling to continue. However, I made up a poem in my head that would help me to keep going for the next few days:
The rain falls down my face like tears,
but still I will not cry,
and though the pain controls my gait,
Today I will not die.
I recited this in my head until I finally reached the albergue. I had the most delicious veggie soup for lunch, which really warmed me up after such a freezing walk. I thought that day was hard, but I had no clue what awaited me: mountain day.

Annie, based on her experience with the Camino, urged me to send my pack ahead on the fifth day, but I stubbornly decided that I would overcome the physical and mental strain and walk with my pack that day, lest the Camino would conquer me. My pack was a burden that I should have left behind; I am surprised I made it to Molinaseca that day.
When we left Rabanal, it was 2 degrees Celsius outside and drizzling. I ran out of moleskin the day before so was walking on 4 blisters with no protection. As we ascended the mountain, it was raining, snowing, or sleeting constantly; yes, I said snowing. This May was the coldest in 200 years, and we could feel it. As we struggled through the onerous task of climbing the mountain, we passed trees and power lines that were coated in ice, such as the one below.

At the top of the mountain, we stopped at Cruz de Ferro, an iconic Camino landmark at which you leave a rock that you have carried along the way. On my rock, I wrote one of my favorite J.R.R. Tolkien quotes: “not all who wander are lost”, along with a list of things I hope to find in my life. My desire is to come back to the Camino at a later point in life and see if I have found the things that I was looking for.
After leaving the Cruz de Ferro, my real struggle began. The steady downhill made my blisters hurt so bad that I may as well have been crawling at the speed I was going. At this point, it was Christina, Annie, and I walking together for the rest of the way. We slowly made our way through the mountain until the town in which we stopped for 3rd breakfast became visible. At that point, we could see the whole sun-dappled valley pan our below us, and it was a magnificent and uplifting sight.


I was so excited that I started running down the mountain, which hurt my feet less than the slow decent. We stopped in a small town for third breakfast, then continued on our way to Molinaseca. We arrived at lunch around 4 PM, to a round of applause from our fellow peregrinos. The walk into Molinaseca was so difficult that I found myself once again reciting my motivational poem to myself in my head.
Mountain day made me realize just how hard the Camino can be, and just how much experience and knowledge Annie has regarding the safety and resilience of her students on the Camino. I realized that bringing my pack that day was a manifestation of my pride and contumacy. The pain and struggle that I endured over these two days caused me to realize that no amount of training can possibly prepare you for the things you may encounter on the pilgrimage, and that it is better to admit that you need to take it easy for a day in order to be able to enjoy yourself and your surroundings for the rest of the trip.

No need for sunscreen

By Anna

Today was by far the most difficult, exhilarating, and craziest thing that I have ever done. Walking 24 kilometers is hard in itself, but walking 24 kilometers up a mountain with ice, rain, and wind pelting you in the face while wearing capris, a tshirt, light jacket, and rain jacket is a whole new feat. I came prepared for nice, warm weather and we got the exact opposite…it was 3 degrees Celsius when we left the albergue and I’m pretty sure that it got colder as we went up. 

Even though it was miserable at times and I was literally numb to the bone, I loved (almost) every minute of it. I couldn’t help but think about what we were doing, and why. I climbed a physical mountain today, but I also went up an emotional/spiritual/mental mountain as well. After the Cruz de Ferro, I walked most of the way myself and did some major soul searching. I realized that if I can walk up a mountain in those conditions, I can do anything that I need to do. I woke up this morning thinking the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, and I truly believe that.


Mountain Day–Molinaseca – May 29, 2013

By Christina

The trek to Molinaseca was probably one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever faced in my entire life. It sleeted, snowed, and rained as we slowly made our way over the mountain. The wind was unforgiving and hit us at speeds of over 30 mph. The roads were steep and treacherous. Small streams of rain water and decades of traveling wore crevices into the path. You had to constantly readjust footing as to not fall down the hills. This was apparently the worst spring Spain had seen in over 200 years. Most pilgrims find themselves sweating, hoping to stride into Molinaseca for a nice swim. The entire day I was thinking this would happen to me wouldn’t it?

Today was our arrival to the Cruz de Ferro. It is a large cross at the foothills of the mountain where people leave heavy burden stones. These stones represent pain pilgrims had been carrying metaphorically and physically. Some have writing on them, others have small mementos or pictures of loved ones. For me the day was about remembering all those I’ve lost, my grandmother, good friends, and more. It is a beautiful place; eerie as well. It is a place in time that stands still as it’s visitors transgress into new stages of life. I will have to go again someday.

After four or five hours of hiking, my small group made it to a tiny town on a mountain side. We had thought we were almost there, but man were we wrong. After we ordered our third breakfast treat, we learned we had 13 km left. Thirteen?! I was truly intimidated. Those hills wear you out fast. We were even teased by the weather as the clouds cleared up as if only for our tiny visit. We packed up and started to make our way. These new paths would be more fierce than the others. Imagine hiking down wet slippery stone and large, almost unavoidable puddles of muck and rain. Although the terrain was rough there was something truly unique and beautiful about the trail. Purple and yellow flowered bushed lit the way, and the way the towns were silhouetted by the clouds was unforgettable.

We finally made it into Molinaseca as exhausted and sore blobs of skin and bone. I had made most of trip without a single blister. This would set the tone for the rest of the trek…


Isabel from the albergue del Pilar

By Mark

When we were presented with the task of interviewing a local person at one of the towns along the trail, I could think of no one better than a woman that we met in Rabanal in the early stage of our Camino journey. Isabelle Pilar’s family owns and operates an albergue out of an enormous house with a great courtyard that used to serve as the family’s household and barn. As we sat at the main bar and relaxed after one of our toughest days of hiking, we talked to Isabelle and asked her some questions. The backdrop of the bar was covered with all sorts of money from all over the world, keepsakes that pilgrims had donated to the albergue, and pictures of the albergue staff with peregrinos who had come through over the years. Since Isabelle was in just about every picture, we knew she was important! We asked her if she was the owner and indeed she was. She was full of energy and was dancing around and humming along to the music that was playing in the background of the courtyard. We noticed that it was all in English, and I asked her if she knew how to speak it. She replied no, but that her daughter knew a little bit. Isabelle said that she loved serving all the pilgrims and providing them with food and place to stay, but that it was tiresome work and she was getting old. We then found out that she and her family were selling the entire albergue and barn so that they could begin to retire and live a more relaxing life. Judging from all the running around we saw her do in the short time we were there, it wasn’t surprising that she needed some more help that probably wasn’t available. After about another hour or so of relaxing in the courtyard and eating the chips she kept giving us, it was time for us to turn in. If we weren’t so tired, I think we could have withstood a bit more pampering and her referring us as guapos (handsome)!

Rabanal, España