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.

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.