Day 6 Molinaseca to Ponferrada, 8km

Day 6 Molinaseca to Ponferrada, 8km

Communication on the Camino

Six days into our Camino journey, one of the recurring themes I have noticed is communication. Pilgrims from all around the world who speak a myriad of languages walk the same path and stay in the same albergues. It has been interesting to see how the different places along the Camino handle the communication barrier.

Many of the restaurants and albergues that we have been to post menus and signs in multiple languages, the most common of which include Spanish, English, French, German, and Italian. Most of the pilgrims I have met so far speak one or more of these languages, so the system seems to work pretty well. I have also noticed that the Camino heavily employs the use of pictures, especially on bathroom signs. The men’s room and women’s room door pictures are often very creative and vary greatly among the places we have been to. The other place where we have seen a lot of pictures is on the road signs. I know we have a lot of pictures on road signs back home, and they don’t seem out of place to me because I’m used to them. Here it’s different. Some of the pictures make no sense whatsoever, so we’ve starting making our own interpretations which are more fun anyway.

Back on the subject of languages, it amazes me how many Europeans speak multiple languages. Pilgrims from all over Europe seem to speak at least some English, as do many of the Spanish locals. In the United States, most of the people that I know only speak English. I’m starting to realize how self-centered that mentality can be. We shouldn’t expect the rest of the world to speak our language. Speaking Spanish has made my Camino experience exponentially better so far. Many of the best conversations I have had have been with the locals in Spanish. Even though many of the townspeople can speak English, it isn’t necessarily easy for them. When people find out that we speak Spanish, they open up to us and are excited to share their lives and their towns with us. When Mary, Katie, Louan and I got to Astorga, we met an old man in a feathered cap who gave us a tour of the city before bringing us right to our albergue, all because we could speak Spanish. Although walking the Camino is a meaningful experience under any circumstances, I’m really glad that I am doing it with a group of people who know and are learning Spanish. This is the perfect opportunity to improve communication skills in Spanish and in general. I’m excited to see what the rest of the Camino will bring!
Hokie Pilgrim Christie Freund

Climbing up and wearying out

The freshness of the trail has worn off.  After 4 days of hiking, we´re starting to see fatigue setting in. However, we all made it to Rabanal.  After a warm lunch and long siesta, we´re feeling ready for the day ahead of us which will take us up to our highest peak tomorrow.

Day 3 Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga, 15k

hospital de Orbigo to astorga

Walking Toward Astorga
Walking Toward Astorga

Astorga and the Guitar Man

Today our destination was the Albergue de San Javier in Astorga. Some of the best authors and leaders in this world tell us that it’s not about the destination, but rather the journey that takes us there. Today’s walk, for me, felt like the actual start of this journey, and it was the first time I truly understood what those quotable authors/leaders were talking about.

I was with Mary, Louan, and Christie for a good majority of the walk and we could not stop talking about the gorgeous snow capped mountains ahead of us. I think today felt like the real first day because of these mountains, flowers, and all of nature’s beauty that surrounded us. In the midst of our conversation, we reached a hill and when we got to the top there was a stop-worthy view: a wooden cross with rocks all around the base, beautiful Astorga and mountains in the distance, and an elderly man with a guitar, singing of the pergrinas and Santiago. The rest of the walk was a breeze and we even met a man with a feathered hat who showed us around his beautiful village and then walked us to our Albergue.

 It’s the little things like the conversation, the tiny snow-capped mountains that grow with every step, the cross, the village, and the people that allowed me to see that the journey really is everything. Today marks my favorite day thus far.

Katie MacDonald

Selfie on the way to Astorga

Day 1 León to Villar de Mazarife


Photo by Katie MacDonald

First day on the Camino and our group has proven to be Hokie fuerte! At 7:15 a.m. today we met in the foyer of the Hospedaria, the beautiful monastery on León where we stayed last night, to eat a meager breakfast before heading out on our very first day as Peregrinos. We walked four miles before stopping for second breakfast, one of many excellent Camino traditions. After drinking yet another cafe con leche, we trudged through 13 miles of cold, blustery winds with smiles on everyone’s faces. By 1:30 p.m. we reached the Albergue de Jesus. We threw down our packs and sunbathed in the grass until comida was served, a hot paella made just for us. The journey to Santiago is off to an auspicious start!

Hokie Pilgrim: Jessica Mueller

Los Ancianos

Today we began our Camino. For those of us who didn’t enjoy the café con leche, the blustery wind tunnels created by the sand colored buildings of León did the job. After a quick photo-op by the cathedral we were on our way. We walked as a group through most of the city, clogging up the pathways for the locals. I’m sure there used to seeing 3 or 4 peregrinos on there walk to work but I’m guessing an excitedly babbling group of 16 college students is not the norm. That being said, I decided to hang around the back of the pack where it was quieter and had a bit more space to move around.

What I found so far is that our group draws people’s curiosity but its size does keep them at bay. What I mean by that is within the first five minutes of hanging back from the pack, I was approached by a man asking, “What are you?” I figured out he was referring to our entire group and informed him of our affiliation with Virginia Tech and how we planned to walk the Camino and then study language in Santiago.

His name was Ehr (or at least that’s what it sounded like). He is a retired doctor with a wife, 4 children and 10 grandchildren from Northern France. It was his second time walking from San Jean. We talked for a kilometer or so until we stopped for second breakfast. It was at the Cafe where I met Jorge, an 82 year old Norwegian headmaster who has walked the Camino 6 times.
I had many questions for him and he had many things to share with me. We walked together for a while until I returned to our group. The trend continued. On the trail I kept stumbling upon these older folks and chatting with them. We would talk for a bit and once the conversation had run its course, I would move on. I met a food inspector from Belgium and her two friends from Holland. The three woman were very kind and very concerned about the condition of our feet. They wished us well on our trip.

The thing that I am beginning to realize on the Camino is that when you say “Buen Camino” to somebody, the equivalent to goodbye on the trail, it’s not really a goodbye. Nearly all these people I met on the trail I saw again when we arrived in Villar de Mazarife and the conversations picked up where we left off.

The older people I have met on the Camino have really embodied the role of mentors. They love to share what they know and love to hear all about our aspirations and plans. I look forward to seeing my new found friends along the trail and picking up new ones along the way.

At the end of the first day I am looking forward to the next.

Hokie Pilgrim: Bryan Boeing

Kassidy Arriving at Villar de Mazarife
Kassidy Arriving at Villar de Mazarife

The Path

As we set out of Leon this morning and became true Peregrinos, we all had one thing on our mind…The path of The Camino. We knew that 21.5 km lay ahead of us but we did not know what they were to include. It was all a mystery. We first found the path in front of a breathtaking Cathedral in Leon. This was a very fitting beginning of our pilgrimage. The path continued to take us through the middle of town. It took us by underground houses, through the industrial side, and across bridges. It eventually spit us out, 6 km later, on the other side of Leon. Here our journey continued. We trekked across fields, through farmlands, through mud, and down roads. We met other Peregrinos from all over the world, all of which continued on their personal journeys. We walked and bonded, while continuing our journey on The Camino. Finally, after around 1 pm, we arrived in Villar de Mazarife. Our walk on the path of The Camino had ended for the day, and we all welcomed a beautiful afternoon to rest.

Hokie Pilgrim: Lindley Sytz