By Patrick Georgi
I recently read an article from a Galician newspaper about how Santiago is the biggest tourist destination in all of Galicia, and one of the biggest in all of Spain. 2010 was designated as a holy year, and that year almost 10 million people, including peregrinos, visited Santiago. While Santiago is a relatively small city, compared to say Madrid, it brings in more revenue from tourism than many cities that one would often think of going on vacation. Walking around the city, one notices that there are three main groups of people. Tourists (including peregrinos, very easily noticed by their backpacks, looks of relief at reaching Santiago, and big beards), university students, and locals going to work. The camino brings many people and with those people comes prosperity for this city. The tourism industry alone provides for over 100,000 jobs in Santiago, according to the article in the newspaper. This includes hotel workers, waiters, tour guides, bus drivers, and so much more. The towns economy seems to rely heavily on people visiting Santiago. So not only is Santiago blessed to have such a historic and important monument with one of the three biggest Christian pilgrimages (and the most travelled one) but it also has a great source of relief and security from economic problems.
By Ellie Moody
15 incredible days on the Camino, we have arrived in Santiago. I cannot describe the feeling that consumed me when I stood in the plaza and looked up at the gorgeous piece of architecture that is the facade of the Cathedral de Santiago. At first, I was a little bit relieved, because after 15 days of walking, my joints were killing me. However, that feeling quickly changed to sadness, because this journey has been one of the most fun and exciting things of my entire life. I have met so many interesting people and learned so much about many different cultures of the world, and I do not think I am ready to finish this amazing experience.
I think the majority of pilgrims feel this way when they finish. It is a sense of relief, but also a sense of loss, because although the Camino is about reaching a destination, it is also about the path itself. This is evident in the relationships built while on the trail, because meeting people and talking to people really opens your eyes to a whole new world, one you could not see anywhere else but on the Camino. When pilgrims reunited in the cathedral, you could feel the love and the emotion in the air, and it was incredible to be a part of such an intense and deep community, because nowhere else have I seen complete strangers embrace each other like they were family. I think that is the most amazing part about the Camino and reaching Santiago. Although the journey is over, the relationships are not, and the feelings built on the Camino I know will last a lifetime.
By Ashley Cordero
While on the Camino the days were a blur. Each day we woke up at six, scarfed down breakfast and were backpacking across Spain by seven. Every day was a different terrain, a different town, different people and new experiences. It was hard to keep the days straight. However, one day that stood out for me was our journey from Rabanal to Molinaseca. It was our second longest day (27 kilometers) and we had been informed that the terrain was going to be rough. The albergue we stayed at the night before was one of my favorites and I was reluctant to leave. The day started out easily enough but about a quarter of the way it started to feel as though we were climbing mountains. The hills were steep and covered in rocks. It was not the most fun trek but it was well worth it. While walking we were surrounded by mini-mountains that were covered in flowers and shrubs. The grass was the perfect shade of green and the weather was perfect. It was sunny and the temperature was perfect. The entire walk was picture perfect and everywhere we looked could have been a picture for a postcard. The mountains were a bittersweet experience since we had to climb them but they were also one of the most beautiful things that I have seen. So although by the end I had gotten five new blisters and my knees were less than happy with me, the scenery and feeling of accomplishment were more than worth the pain and struggle.
By Julie Lynberg
So after hiking a pretty exhaustive 28 kilometer day, I remember how surprised I was to feel really good the next day when we walked from Arzúa to Pedruzo. We started the 20 kilometer day by leaving at 7 as usual, picking up the trail and setting off into the outskirts of Arzúa between interlacing fields and forests. I felt like we were racing the sun as it peeked out above the valley and the morning fog slowly disipated. The trail slowly twisted past farmhouses and sleeping cattle dogs and I whipped out my camera to capture the unbelievably picturesque surroundings.
Within the first hour or so of walking I knew I was going to have a good day. My knee pain was subdued for the time being, I had worked out all my morning sores, and I felt a surge of energy. I remember absolutely loving this hike and feeling inspired. As much as I love meeting so many new people on the Camino, I really benefitted from walking alone for some of the hike and getting time alone since we’re surrounded by other students and pilgrims for the entirety of the Camino. I then remember seeing more kids from our group that served as really good motivation to keep up my pace and work my way up to them. We hiked the remaining 10km or so until we reached Pedruzo in really good time and I was very pleased with myself especially right after a really hard day. And after this day I remember realizing that we were almost done with the Camino. Coming off of having such a good day, I knew I would be able to finish the last 20 km walk into Santiago strong.
Photo: Tom, Julie and Heather enjoy some trail time together.
The Camino Hokies pose in front of the Cathedral in Santigo.
The students begin their immersion experience with local families now.
By Olivia Caron
As a Freshman at Virginia Tech, I often remember the constant question of “What is a Hokie?”. At orientation, the leaders told the incoming Freshmen that we are all Hokies. My definition of a Hokie has greatly expanded and complexed through my hike on the camino. At around seven in the morning every morning, fourteen students set out from an albergue and head to the next town. As the day processes on, we scatter along the camino at different paces. I often tend to be in the front part of the pack by the time I need to stop for a “second breakfast”. During the time I sit there and enjoy a tortilla on a sandwich, another hokie pilgrim will often catch up to me.
There is a unique feeling that happens every time I recognize a familiar face on the trail. The often smiling faces gives me a wave and approaches me saying, “how are your feet?”. As time continues to pass, we start to form a group of “Techies”, as we are often known on the trail, or, at the cafe we are resting at. This force of comfort and support helps me put the boots back on and continue for another five, ten, or twenty kilometers with my Hokie family. As I traveled to Rabanal, the voice of a biker yelled “let’s go” to a group of us on the trail. The unexpected familiar chant caught us all off guard as we turned and smiled and yelled back “Hokies” to a fellow pilgrim.
After two weeks of hiking in a foreign country, a Hokie has become more than a fellow classmate in Blacksburg, Virginia, who enjoys watching a football game in Lane Stadium. A Hokie to me means a smiling face who offers kind words of motivation as we aspire together in our common goal of reaching Santiago.
Photos – above, Olivia with Ellie, Stefanie, Tom, Shoma, and Patrick after a long day climbing up to O’Cebreiro. Below – Caleb with Stefanie, Ellie, and Rachel.
By Ellie Moody
When visiting a foreign country, its important to immerse yourself in the entire culture to gain a really thorough and incredible experience. As an aspiring Spanish teacher, this is especially crucial, because I want to be as knowledgeable about the culture as I can for the sake of my future students. With this in mind, when I sat to down to dinner in Triacostela and I saw cow tongue on the menu (a spanish delicacy), I knew that I had to try it.
I am so glad that I did. When I took the first bite, I almost fainted it was so good. Lengua de Vaca tastes just like pot roast, which is one of my favorite meals from back home, so experiencing that flavor in a piece of tongue was a truly pleasant surprise. Although trying a piece of random food may seem like a benign thing to talk about when there are so many bigger things to see and explore, the smaller experiences are really the ones that allow you to fully delve into the surrounding culture. When I become I a teacher, I am going to drill that idea into my students’ heads. The Camino is all about trying new experiences and meeting new people and eating things you normally wouldn’t eat, and if you don’t try new things, you can’t really grow as a person, because you are not taking the opportunity to grow. Had I not walked on this Camino, I would not have had the chance to try cow tongue, and I would never know the delicious taste that it provides. Although to some people it may just only be cow tongue, to me its a reminder that you have to try everything in life, even if it seems a little strange.
Editor’s note – All the hikers enjoyed some octopus for lunch yesterday in the city of Melide, which has a reputation for its pulpo.
By Kelsey Brandt
Along the Camino I’ve met other pilgrims from all over the world. I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was the sense of camaraderie among them. It’s very easy to forget your toothpaste somewhere, or to get a blister when you have no bandaids. However it’s never hard to find someone who can help, and most of the time without you even asking. Several times I have been rubbing my feet during a break because of normal aches and pains and have had pilgrims walking by offer me bandaids or tape to wrap my feet, or even just advice and words of encouragement. I wear a knee brace occasionally, and every time I do passing pilgrims ask how I’m feeling and how my knee is holding up on the many downhill portions. Never before have I been in an environment with such a diverse group of people that share the same goal and care so much about each other’s success. It reminds me of the environment at Virginia Tech, but on a wider global scale.
The kindness of other pilgrims has inspired me and the rest of the group to contribute to the spirit of the camino in our own ways. One student was able to help an elderly pilgrim carry his backpack up a difficult portion. Several of us lent supplies to a Canadian pilgrim whose backpack had been lost by her airline, so for a few days she only had the clothes on her back. She then graciously shared a bottle of wine with us while we all talked about our reasons for making the hike to Santiago. Traveling in such a large group, we are not the typical pilgrims, but we have all felt accepted into the pilgrim community nonetheless. We have only two more days left on the trail, but I hope once we have arrived we can all take the pilgrim spirit back home with us.
Photo – Kelsey, on the far right, with Olivia, Ashley, and Tom.
By Eric Funk
Now that we are approaching our very last day walking the Camino de Santiago, I feel that the time has come to truly reflect on the experiences that have come before me on this life changing journey. One aspect of the Camino that really defines what I will take home with me is the other pilgrims that I have met along the way. From the U.K to Switzerland to South Korea to Germany, I have met and walked with people from all walks of life, and around the world. On a typical day, I walk with a few people from our original group, with two hilarious guys from Germany, and a very outspoken Boston native, and each and every day I have an amazing time, despite the distance we walk. The countryside is always absolutely gorgeous, and the conversation, to put it lightly, is entertaining. However, I can safely say that I have learned so much just from talking with them along the trail about just about everything. Every person on the Camino has a story, and listening to them has completely changed my life for the better. To top it all off, I have made some amazing new friends that I will continue to cherish for quite some time.
Eric, front and center, with Camino Hokies and newfound buddies from Boston and Germany.
By Heather Wieberdink
As cliche as it sounds, the camino is really about the journey, not the destination. The walk today from Triacastela to Sarria was one of the most beautiful yet. Being in the region of Galicia, we get to experience green forests due to the rainfall that occurs here more so than throughout the rest of Spain. We walked under canopies of trees and saw low-lying fog that resembled a lake or ocean. The high altitude we are in allows us to see for miles. But, I have to say that one of my favorite experiences along the camino is stopping for “segundo desayuno” or second breakfast at a cafe in one of the many small towns we pass through. Most, if not all of the restaurants have outdoor seating and usually have a beautiful view as well. Sitting and watching other pilgrims pass by or just chatting with the local people makes segundo desayuno a great time, and not to mention the awesome food.It is truly an aesthetic experience.
Along the way, I have chosen to take in as much of this beautiful country as possible instead of rushing to the next albergue. Not only are my legs thanking me, but I now have a huge appreciation for this journey. The camino has helped me, as Annie would say, “be zen” about everything else in my life. When I’m walking, taking it all in, all of my worries and stresses from my daily life at home melt away. That is what the camino has done for me thus far. It is truly the journey, not the destination.