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 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.
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.