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

The home stay…

By Shoma Ghosh


I know I have been in Spain for about three and a half weeks, but I don’t think I ever really found myself feeling fully immersed in the culture until we got to Santiago. Madrid was very much like a city in the United States; at times I even felt like I was in Times Square. And on the Camino there were very few Spanish pilgrims. But by staying with Spanish families, I think we have the unique opportunity to learn about the culture through a full on first hand experience.

My Spanish family is adorable. We are being hosted by an old couple who insists on feeding us too much and talking to us about everything. I feel my Spanish getting better through these conversations. At one point last night I found myself even thinking in Spanish.

Aside from the language itself, I have learned so much more about politics, business, sports and the overall Spanish lifestyle just by staying in an apartment for four days.

I do feel like this experience will impact me later in the future as well. In class we have studied the concept of a global village, and we have learned that with proliferation of technology, international communication is becoming much easier. But this poses a challenge to many people in the work force, as some have a lot of trouble understanding and adjusting to other cultures. I think this opportunity has helped me gain a better understanding of not only the Spanish culture, but about cultural differences in general. I think I have begun to really understand the phrase “When in Rome..”

I am grateful to have had this chance to learn more and am excited to put what I have learned into practice.

Tourism rocks in Santiago…


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.




Pilgrim camaraderie

By Eric Funk

Although it is somewhat difficult to remember each individual stage on the Camino in terms of the origin and destination of each one, there is one day that I will never forget, that being the very first. Walking from Leon to Villar de Mazarife would ultimately set the precedent for our trip, and, as I would find out later, would play a larger role in the future. The day started out like I expected it. I woke up early, or what I perceived as early, and began to pack up my things and have a small lunch. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about being quiet due to the fact that many of the other pilgrims had already woken up and were chatting in the kitchen in the next room. After grabbing my things and scalding myself with insanely hot coffee, in a glass, I met everyone else

in the common area to prepare to leave. Carlos, an incredibly nice volunteer at the Albergue in León, was there to say goodbye to us all and gave a few of us a hug that seemed to last forever, but sent the message that he hoped that, with all his heart, that we found what I was looking for on the Camino and that it be a life changing experience. Meeting people with such an abundance of kindness would come to be a common occurrence on the Camino, and I am honored to call many of them, my friends. Walking through the city would prove to be challenge, due to the concrete and asphalt,but the real Camino came out when we left León behind. All that you could hear was the sound of boots walking along a dusty dirt road, the wind blowing across the open landscape, and pilgrims occasionally talking and wishing each other “Buen Camino.” It was so serene yet exciting. We had all the time in the world to think, to listen to the sounds of the Camino, or meet people from all corners of the globe and hear their story. Close to the end of the walk for the day, me and few others stopped for a small lunch, obviously a bocadillo jamon y queso con cola. While eating we met a woman from Canada, who we had run into earlier, and few others from various countries. Funny enough, we would run into many of them time after time, and become friends with the Canadian down the road. Upon arriving at Mazarife, we quickly found our Albergue, Casa de Jesus, and found it to be incredible. Great service, wonderful people, and a nice courtyard to relax after a long day. Of course, the viking ship in the corner of the yard didn’t hurt either. I would come to absolutely love these afternoons and the entire Camino, all pain aside.


“a global, unified family”

by Heather Wieberdink

One of the most interesting aspects of this trip for me was the opportunity to meet people from around the world, an obvious correlation with my International Studies major. Through my experiences thus far, I can honestly say that on the Camino, everyone has more similarities than differences. Apart from the obvious language barriers, everyone has been friendly and passionate about the Camino de Santiago. We walk for many different reasons, but whether someone is French, German, Spanish or American, we are all peregrinos with the same goal in mind; get to Santiago.

With these last couple days being more strenuous, it can be hard to find the motivation to keep going. For me, part of it comes from my interview with Carlos, a worker at the albergue in Leon. After learning where he came from and how long he has worked at the albergue, I asked Carlos (pictured above) why he liked working there. He replied with a statement about how much he enjoys watching the generations of people coming together and how important it is that the Camino experience is passed down to future generations. Next, I asked him to tell us about the spiritual experience of the Camino, something he is very passionate about. He said that along the Camino, we form a universal community, one that comes together to get to Santiago. He said that in this moment, we are a part of a global, unified family walking the Camino. I had never thought of the Camino in this way, and it is a concept that is hard to understand without walking the Camino yourself, but after hearing that from Carlos, I have been able to keep going. Because the Camino is something far deeper than a hike across Spain, and with my newfound perspective, I am able to find the motivation and determination within myself.


Peregrino bonding

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.


International studies on the Camino

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.


Thoughts on irrigation

by Kelsey Brandt


We walked on a very straight, flat road almost the whole day, with farms on both sides. Crops of different varieties were just beginning to sprout. On either side of the road ran irrigation channels providing water for these plants to grow. As I’m studying to be a civil engineer with a focus on water resources, these particularly piqued my nerdy interest. I was surprised to see such a system still in use, since the channels have obviously been in place for quite a while. Although the channels are beautiful and provided a nice backdrop to our walking, completely open irrigation channels are one of the least efficient ways to provide irrigation since the water is very susceptible to evaporation, especially here where the sun is strong. Southern Spain is experiencing a water shortage similar to what’s happening in the southwest US, and as I walked I found myself dreaming big about how I could help ease their water crisis if I could implement an irrigation system that covered the water and reduced evaporation losses. However, it is a difficult balance between historical tradition and new technologies. Those channels have been there for years and are a part of the farming culture of Spain. Someday I hope to be able to study Spain’s water system in depth, including why their water towers are cone shaped and how their water is treated to be even better than water in the US, and to ultimately be a part of finding the balance between tradition and technology so that Spain can continue to have clean water without sacrificing its history. For now though, I just hope tomorrow brings less blisters and more engineering!