A Chance Meeting — by Jill Sower

Reflections by Jill Sower (from 2 June 2017)

Today we walked~24k from Portomarín to Palas de Rei.  The terrain was a mixture of rolling hills and flat land, of mud rocky paths and of asphalt.  In the morning there was a light fog that blanketed our way, but after a few hours of walking, the fog lifted into a bright sunlight.

Most of us took it easier today than in previous days, because we knew that the next day would be our longest walk.  We didn’t arrive at our albergue “Albergue Castro” until nearly 3 o’clock. It was a relief to arrive there and to be able to relax.

In the morning, at our first second-breakfast stop, we met another Hokie walking the Camino.  His name was David, and not only had he attended Virginia Tech (class of 1974), he is a lifelong Blacksburg resident.  He is currently a practicing attorney in the NRV.  David both stayed in the same albergue as we did and ate lunch with us.  Although I didn’t have much of an opportunity to talk to him (he is a very fast walker, me not so much) he seemed to enjoy meeting and talking with our group.

Although my feet hurt and I grew more and more physically exhausted throughout the day, I still continued to enjoy the natural beauty of Spain and everything it has to offer.

Walking the Camino — by Emma Pence

Reflections by Emma Pence (from 26 May 2017)

Walking the camino provides a unique opportunity to experience Spain. Not only does the path allow you to literally walk from town to town journeying through northern Spain, but the path also provides a platform for intimate interactions. Because you are walking twenty plus kilometers a day, every day on the camino allows for countless interactions with fellow peregrinos and locals of the towns.

The culture of the camino is compelling and after a couple days, or even one day, you grow to appreciate it on a new level. Conversations with locals along the path, or store owners when stopping for second, third, or even fourth breakfast on the trail reveal meaningful aspects of the culture in Spain. You come to understand their way of life in Spain more through these small, everyday interactions than you would traveling through a country simply visiting the busy main attractions filled with tourists.

The camino showed us how many of the people in Spain value time spent in conversation with one another, especially when that time is spent indulging in cafe or tapas. The Spanish way of life is definitely one I think we can all get behind.

The Camino of the Mind — by Eliana Marrs

Reflections by Eliana Marrs (from 3 June 2017)

Walking the Camino was something that I knew was going to be physically challenging, likely one of the most challenging things that I have ever done in my life. I knew going into the trip it was not going to be physically easy at all. However, one thing that I certainly underestimated was how mentally challenging walking the camino —would be.

On our 30 km day, or about 18 miles, the longest day that we had walking, my physical strength was tested, but more so my mental strength. Walking so long was really hard for my body, but using different methods to pass the time such as story telling together or setting minor goals along the way can mean all the difference to getting to a destination. Celebrating the little victories along the Camino can make you feel like a winner each step of the way, whether the small victory is making it to second breakfast or something larger like making it to the albergue at the end of the day.

The Camino has taught me to celebrate the small victories on the way to the destination, as well as how powerful mental stamina can be when persevering through something physically tough. Above all, the camino helped to remind me that often times, laughter is indeed the best medicine, and can be one of the most powerful things help get through the day. All these lessons will not to be left on the Camino, but remembered in my life each and every day!

Reaching Santiago

Today we walked into Santiago.

We’ve reached the end of this particular Camino, but not the end of our journey.  (In particular we have two more weeks in Santiago and then Barcelona…)


Up at 5:30 to walk out of town.  Today was a relatively short day, but we wanted to be on time for the Pilgrim’s Mass in Santiago at noon.


At this point, walking is second nature to us.


Stopping for sellos (stamps in the Pilgrim’s Passport) and maybe a bracelet or a banana along the way.


Our last second breakfast and a final hill (or two):


Camino horses!


We stopped for a quick picture at the monument at Monte de Gozo. This is a sort of penultimate stop–a pilgrim’s plaza and albergue complex on the mountaintop. This is the point where we catch first sight of the city of Santiago.


After all the eucalyptus forests, wheat fields, mountains, cherry trees, and fog, we descended into the city of Santiago–a bit of highway and train track to get over…


But soon we were bustling through the old city, pulled onward by our goal.


Just around the corner…


Here at last!


And then it was time to meet our homestay families.  As Annie promised, we entered the Pilgrim’s Mass as peregrinos and left as estudiantes.

Stay tuned–the adventure continues!

Our Next-to-Last Day Walking: O Pedrouzo/Arca

Today was a relatively short day’s hike to a town with two names: O Pedrouzo and/or Arca.

After the last few days, today seemed pretty short.

A little bit wet, a little bit dry:


A cafe bar along the way:


And here are some pictures taken at lunch (Photo credit: Shelby Canonico)

On to Arzúa

Today was a super-long day: up at 5:30, breakfast at 6:00, left at 6:30 for almost 30km of hiking to Arzúa.  Passed through the largish town of Melide about half-way and frankly it seemed like we should be done there for the day.

All day was rolling hills, including some pretty steep ones towards the end.


It wasn’t all uphill:


Taking time to smell the flowers and appreciate the local foliage along the way:

A questionable claim:


Dinner and a show.  (We’re watching soccer–the UEFA champions league finale.  Real Madrid beat Juventus rather convincingly.  There were fireworks in the streets.  It was kind of a big deal.)

25K: Portomarin to Palas de Rei

We got a fairly early stop today and after a brief steep plunge downhill to the river began about 2 kilometers of steady uphill on an otherwise lovely dirt path.  It was one of those uphills that seemed to never end.  Some of us hardly noticed it did–it gradually leveled out until all of a sudden we crossed a highway at about the halfway point and started some downhills.

A bit of a trudge, but we still made time to stop and pet the dogs.

Kayla found a friend!  Every time she would back away he’d come right back for more.



Some good advice:


Sharing the road (even if we don’t want to):


Almost there (we can practically taste lunch)!

Decisions, decisions:

The rolling hills from Sarria to Portomarin

Today was a day of early morning fog and rolling hills to Portomarin, the town that Franco rebuilt on a hill to accommodate a dam.


Getting ready to go.


Over the bridge and through the woods (and up a pretty steep hill shortly thereafter).


A foggy morning.


The fog clears for second breakfast.


All of a sudden there’s a lot more Camino stuff to buy. Sarria is just before the 100 kilometer mark from Santiago–and 100 kilometers is the minimum distance you need to walk to get your Compostela (the official completion accreditation). From here on out we are walking with a lot more pilgrims than usual.


Follow the yellow arrows!


Meeting new friends along the way.


Finishing strong!


After lunch we had a class on the church in Portomarin. This is a late Romanesque castle-church built in the 13th century to provide both a place of worship and protection–a reminder of the time in which walking the Camino was fraught with a lot more danger than it is now.


Here Annie shows us the marks on the stones that were made when the church was dismantled and moved to higher ground in the 1960s in preparation for the building of a dam and the subsequent flooding of the valley.  The church was moved and rebuilt brick by brick.


And here she shows us where the original stonemasons’ marks of the 13th century are still visible.


Bringing back groceries for an albergue feast!


Today was a short day to Sarria, about 18.5 kilometers.  Not as long as it could have been if we took a wrong turn. The Camino bifurcates at this point: the left hand path leads through the monastery town of Samos and about 8 extra kilometers. The right hand path leads more directly to Sarria.


Ready to set out.


Walking to the end of town.


Carefully turning right instead of left.


Jill and Annie discover some cows and some Galician philosophy. Asked which is his favorite, the farmer tells us: “some are brown, some are black and some are spotted. But they’re all Galician and they’re all beautiful.”


Some sights along the way:


Second breakfast is the best breakfast!  (Especially at Casa do Franco–this man loves his coffee).


Lunch along the river in Sarria.


A card game in the albergue before bed.

Down to Triacastela

Today was a bit of up followed by a long downhill into the charming little town of Triacastela.  Most charming were the view along the way, however, and the various animals we met.


Setting off:


Enjoying the view:


And the animals.





Lunch at last: