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.




An amazing journey…

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.


Sense of accomplishment…

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.




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 Hokie Pilgrim

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.



Expanding the palate…

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.


The spirit of acceptance…a treasured souvenir to bring home

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.