Member Trip Report



Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage within Spain

October 1 to 14, 2008

Author: Yvonne Keller

Trip Leaders: Dick and Judy Opsahl

Participants: Marilyn Yeamans, Sara Maxwell (Marilyn's daughter), Karen Grace, Joy Green, and Chick & Yvonne Keller, and Dick & Judy Opsahl.

We have been back from Spain for almost 3 weeks now and yet we are still under the spell of the Camino.  On October 1, 2008 eight of us began walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostella from the small city of Ponferrada in northwestern Spain.  We carried lightweight backpacks with a change of clothing, a pair of sandals, a sleeping bag, rain gear, water bottle, a little food, our pilgrim passports and our journals.  We walked 10 or 11 kilometers on our shortest day and about 30 on the longest.  Everyone seemed to fall right into the daily routine of the 'peregrino', the pilgrim--up at 6:00 a.m. to dress in the dark, stuff the sleeping bag, pack up, and then to the kitchen of the albergue, the pilgrim hostel, to have a little breakfast.  Then out the door by 7:30 or 7:45 to start walking in the dark.

A wooded section passing through farmland midway in Galicia.

We walked through countryside full of vineyards on our first day.  The grapes were ripe and pickers offered us bunches of delicious purple grapes as well as green grapes.  On other days we snacked on small sweet blackberries growing along the path.  We walked through shady oak woods and chestnut groves, by cornfields and tree farms, through green hills with grazing cows, across creeks, and through tiny villages of stone houses with slate roofs.  It was a pleasure to go through the countryside and villages on foot rather than by car, bus or train.

Trail marker along the route. For the last 100 kilometers
 to Santiago, there is a marker every 1/2 k.

Along the way and in the cafés of the villages and towns and in the albergues we met other pilgrims.  The Camino is a veritable United Nations afoot.  We met pilgrims from Italy, Germany, Ireland, France, South Africa, England, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada.  Everyone knew at least two words of Spanish--"Buen camino" (have a good walk).  And we all seemed to be able to communicate with each other no matter what our native language.  And we all had something in common of course--walking the Camino--and all which that requires--nursing blisters, washing your change of clothes, finding a little 'mercado' (market) to buy some bread and cheese for lunch.  The camaraderie among the pilgrims was a highlight.  Still, although we slept in bunk beds in dormitory-style rooms in most of the albergues and bathrooms and showers were sometimes co-ed, I was impressed by how, even in a crowded and confined space, people could somehow give each other a sense of privacy.

Here we are at Finnisterre, the "end of the earth",
after the completion of our pilgrimage.

The medieval pilgrim's goal in walking the Camino was to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and earn indulgences.  Even today some pilgrims do it for religious or spiritual reasons. Others are after the physical challenge of walking daily for weeks or to enjoy the opportunity of meeting people from many countries.  Some may want to have the different touristic experience of northern Spain and southwestern France.  And some may want to experience a part of medieval European history, or might want to visit the small Romanesque churches and the Gothic cathedrals on foot as medieval pilgrims did.  It was interesting that people did not generally bring up the subject of why they had decided to walk the Camino and did not ask others why they were doing it.  This seemed to fit in with the respect for each other's privacy that pilgrims seem to have.

Whatever the reasons the eight of us who went to Santiago might have had for doing it, we all came home glad that we went.

Pilgrim passports on display.

We got the Pilgrim passports stamped and dated at each hostel or church along the way.  We all had these to show to the office of the catholic church at the end as proof that we had earned our completion document called a "compostella".

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