Camino connections…

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.


It is truly about the journey…

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.


The Camino impacts more than the pilgrims…

By Shoma Ghosh


I’m not going to lie- hiking the Camino de Santiago is exhausting. There are times when it feels impossible to move on without food or water. And of course, many Spanish entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this and opened various restaurants and cafes along the Camino. As a student in the Pamplin College of Business, I realized that these ventures are essentially guaranteed profits for at least five months of the year because after all, there is only so long a perregrino can go without sustenance.

As an economics major, I have learned that certain products have what is called inelastic demand. This basically means that consumers will always pay for this product, regardless of a price change. So if the price goes up, consumers will still pay because the product itself is a necessity.

Such is the case on the Camino. Food and water are a necessity. At times I have found myself incapable of progress without the prospect of my huevos fritos y tocino (eggs and bacon). And obviously, the rest areas along the Camino recognize this, and must realize that their product and service are fortunate enough to face inelastic demand. These businesses have the opportunity to raise their prices to whatever cost, and still entertain the idea of profit. There are times on the Camino there when I would pay up to 20 Euro for even a tiny meal. But still, these organizations keep incredibly low prices. This morning for example, I had two eggs sunny side up, four long strips of bacon and three slices of bread.. for two Euro. Like I said, I would have been willing to pay much much more, but the restaurant still kept all meals within an affordable price range. These cafes understand that the majority of their consumers are pilgrims and realize that we are desperate for food. They realize that their business may be the only business we see for many kilometers, and yet they still have low prices.

This is one aspect of the Camino that amazes me. These organizations have multiple opportunities to maximize profits because of the demand of their products, and yet they continue to practice ethical (if not generous) business behavior. If anything, I think that these businesses practice in the spirit of the Camino. They understand that the Camino is not a business venture. They do not exploit the opportunities given to them. The Camino is not meant for profit, but instead is an experience for the pilgrim themselves, and the businesses along the way still respect that. I think that this shows that the Camino impacts all, not just those who travel it.

Photo – Shoma hikes into a village with Tom.

Professional Courtesy

By Caleb Smith


It is during the siesta periods of Spain that you can really find the time to sit and talk to some of the locals. What surprised me the most is just how many locals are willing to talk to foreigners.


During our stay in Astorga, while most everyone else was taking a nap, I decided to walk around and explore a bit. I strolled from plaza to plaza, stopping here and there, just seeing the town. After about an hour or so, I entered a small corner cafe and sat down for a cafe con leche, the local go-to blend of coffee and milk. While the barista took my order, two local police officers walked in, both younger guys, perhaps in their late 20’s. I noticed them looking around the small barroom and then, to my surprise, sit down next to me.


The older-looking of the two was the closest to me, and in a purposefully-slow accent asked me where I was from. I answered that and the usual barrage of questions that come from the locals; why am I here, who am I with, what school do I go to, all of that. However, one answer I gave seemed to interest them the most. The younger-looking one asked what I am planning on doing now that I am out of school, and without hesitation I answered, “Policia.” Both of them seemed shocked, and asked again as if they had heard incorrectly. I responded again with “Si, policia.” Now the conversation took a completely different turn. We talked about why I want to do law enforcement at a local level, what it’s like being an officer in the U.S., about our fathers who are all police officers. After around 15 minutes or so of this, I realized that we were really all the same. A thousand miles away from home, I was just like these two young officers. The thin blue line wraps around this entire planet, and every law enforcer has to fight the same fight.


After a few more minutes, I excused myself to use the bathroom. When I came back, they had already left. Figuring that they had to go out to a call somewhere, I paid no mind to it and went to close my coffee tab. I asked the barista for la cuenta (the bill) and she simply said, “No tienes una cuenta. Gracias los policias.” The two officers had paid my tab while I had been in the bathroom.


They say that law enforcement is a brotherhood that connects every officer in the world. That moment I realized how true that was.

Caleb flashes the VT sign at a early rest stop on the Camino.

“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.


Making connections

By Olivia Caron


From a trip to the pharmacy to meeting a pharmacist from Bordeaux, France, the camino found ways to infuse my trip with chemical engineering. I arrived in Leon with an eye infection in my left eye that kept me from being able to use contacts and see more than three feet in front of me. Annie and I took a trip to the pharmacy where we were told to check in next door at the optomologist for a quick check in. It was indeed the quickest eye appointment I have ever had. The doctor told me after a few scoldings that I needed a cream in my eye for about a week and that under no circumstances could I put back in my contact lenses. The efficiency and simplicity of the pharmacist and the eye doctor astonished me. Not to mention extremely cost efficient. As I endeavor to join the pharmacy career, I can’t help but think that the system in Europe has a few quality features the United States could benefit from.

Just a day later, I was walking along to Astorga when I happened to meet a pharmacist from Bordeaux, France. I could not by any means consider this a coincidence. As I was able to practice my French skills as well as Spanish, I was also learning about my possible future career. Her simplicity and our ease to chat still amazes me. Time flew by and when we were forced to say goodbye I felt as if I was leaving a long time friend. Sharing a few hours, enduring the same hardships, finding common interests, and feeling the same Spanish sun made us closer. A day and a half on the camino had introduced me to new people and new methods that in some way or another linked back to my studies as an engineer and Spanish major at Virginia Tech.


The albergues

By Tommy Slack

As we hike the Camino, I can not help but notice the fine line between traditions of the past and modern-day amenities of the present. The albergues, or hostels for pilgrims, successfully combine the two elements in a way contrary to what one might imagine.

The traditional aspect of the albergues is immediately evident in the overwhelming sense of hospitality and welcoming attitude of the owners towards the pilgrims, most of whom are there for less than twenty-four hours before continuing their journey to the next city or town. Beginning their day well before sunrise and ending their day well after sunset, their dedication to the Camino and the pilgrims who hike it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. For example, in Léon, Carlos works tirelessly as a volunteer to provide warm beds and safe haven for pilgrims, all in the name of the Camino.

Although some albergues are more lavish than others, one would be surprised at the accommodations for the small price of five to fifteen dollars per night. During our stay in the city of Astorga, we were very surprised at the wide range of amenities offered by the Albergue de San Javier. In the back courtyard, there is a small pool of cold water for pilgrims to soak their tired, aching feet after a long day of hiking. If that does not do the job, there is also a machine that gives foot massages for the reasonable price of three dollars. To keep in touch with family and friends, some places offer computers with internet access, and webcams, while others provide Wi-Fi to pilgrims. These luxuries seek to attract modern-day pilgrims to fill up beds.


One final interesting aspect of the albergues is their use of advertising along the Camino and in guidebooks and pamphlets. Especially in big cities, the albergue owners are in competition for an increasing yet limited number of pilgrims. Given the tough economic times in Spain, owners feel they must get the word out and not just rely on reputation.

Photos: Boots are typically relegated to their own space, making for a more pleasant scent in the sleeping quarters. The sink lineup is from Saint Javier, as well as the look at the courtyard through the maze of laundry. The Albergue San Miguel allowed pilgrims to paint about their journey, and used some of the art as wall hangings.


Albergue de Jesus

By Patrick Georgi

It’s day 6 of hiking, and it has been interesting to see the differences in the albergues. I thought we’d be sharing one huge room with a hundred people and sleeping on the floor but they’ve all been very nice so far. The beds are always comfortable and they’ve all had pillows, which really surprised me.

One interesting place, and still one of my favorites, was Albergue de Jesus. It was in this really small town called Mazarife. Annie said that the last time she was there, the place had a dirt floor and didn’t have a big grassy courtyard like it does now. It used to be the only albergue around but now there are two others. The only places that seemed to be doing ok in the town were the albergue and the restaurant we ate at. It is just interesting to think that amidst all the economic problems, hostels seem to be doing fine, even though it is so cheap to stay there. It’s cool too that the movie “The Way” (which I haven’t actually seen yet) has created a lot more interest in the Camino and, consequently, more business for hostels and restaurants. It’s good to see these kind of places doing well, especially since the rest of the country is struggling.


Photos: The Camino Hokies, shown here at the Albergue de Jesus, break for class every day and turn in journals written in Spanish.

Left: On the Camino with Patrick.