It seemed crazy that someone could walk on a path for a whole month. I had always heard the cliché stories of people getting in touch with their inner self and becoming one with nature, but these explanations seemed too good to be true. I was going to walk for just four days, hopefully without falling victim to extreme boredom.
|Photo credit: Allie Clarke
Getting to the trail outside of Santiago de Compostela, I was met with unexpected beauty. Rolling hills capped with fields of corn and pine trees dominated the skyline. The endless tracks of farmland allowed anyone to see for miles. Small country roads linked petite villages with red terracotta roofs. Galicia reminded me of the evergreen landscape of New Hampshire. I was stunned at the change in scenery from the dry, desert landscape of Segovia. Walking along I was struggling, and I thought what a waste of time this was. It seemed silly to stop everything for such a big trip. How could someone put down so much to walk so far? The walking quickly wore on me and before long was tedious. After nearly a whole day, we were exhausted. Feeling the soles of our feet crumbling beneath us, we walked the remaining kilometers in agony, craving the relief of a comfortable bed. The hostel’s dinner was simple, but for us it felt like a four course meal. Tortilla de patata
and a side of meat was all we needed.
When I awoke the following morning, the soreness of my back was unbearable. Stuck in the hunchback position, it felt like I was glued in place. Crawling out of the top bunk to lie on the floor, I felt the shooting pain of straightening my back. Hearing my back crackle like a campfire was the greatest relief. Before I knew it, we were back on the trail.
Walking with my amigos, I began to feel much more optimistic about the trip. The camaraderie between us was growing. Keeping each other entertained, we would talk about school, politics, and what we thought of Spain. Most of all, we considered how unique Spain is and what an opportunity this trip is. Walking along, staring at the small streams and countless rock walls, the rolling tempo of my feet was becoming rather satisfying. Walking became a new source of peace. Approaching the top of a hill, we first caught a glimpse of the coast. It was so unexpected that I originally mistook it for a lake. The deep blue water was a welcome addition on the last leg of the journey.
The western coast of Spain was like no other, t
he constant thundering of the waves crashing relentlessly against the boulders coupled with small country roads that ran alongside the water’s edge. The meditative silence of walking alone along with the constant physical activity became a great pleasure for me. I fell in love with the never-ending road. Watching the sun go down after our stop at the beach, I was disappointed that this journey was over.
~ Stuart Hull
Although my family and I are fairly passionate Catholics, I had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. To be honest, I never payed attention in school at church. It seemed pointless at the time, however, I have learned that having faith in something, whether it be a religion or person, can shed light on a method of balancing life. The Camino de Santiago is an answer to many Christians all over the world. This walk allows them to step away from reality, to take a deep breath and realize what was their purpose for living the life they chose. I believe in destiny, hope and fate. I believe that things happen for a reason because God foretold each individual’s future. The shrine of Saint James, the patron of laborers, was the destination, the goal of all who walk the Camino de Santiago.
Enlightenment is part of the experience of walking the Camino de Santiago. The feeling of peace and the unbreakable connection between God and yourself is experienced by many walkers; some continue to walk in order to retain this sensation. The first instance of relaxation and happiness was the day I caught sight of the ocean. I was with a group which consisted of seven students including myself: Colby, Sawaya, Taco, Cole, Allie and Stu. It was the group's second and longest day of walking, and we were exhausted. Colby had stopped walking earlier that day due to the immense pain from the blisters on her feet, so she was waiting patiently at the hotel for us to finish.
Although a part of me wanted nothing more than to go lay down on a bed and sleep, I had to go down to the beach. My feet were screaming out for a break from the hard ground, and the sand looked like the best option. The group walked across an old wooden bridge that creaked with each step, and by the time we reach the sand, I knew I had to go for a swim. I threw my backpack, shoes, hat and shirt onto the sand and sprinted towards the ocean. It seemed as if everyone else had the same idea because it soon became a race. That hour at the beach was filled with good laughs, face shots and sword fights with sticks. Live in the moment, that was the realization I made that day. Life becomes less enjoyable if you worry about what the future holds. I could not have asked for a better group of friends to learn how to live in the moment with.
~ Paris Healey
On the day before leaving for the Camino de Santiago each member of the group was given a shell, the symbol of a pilgrim. Much of the time on the trail I contemplated what it meant to be a pilgrim. Was it anyone with a shell on their backpack? Was it the old man shuffling down the mellow rock path? Were you only a true pilgrim if you lived off the land and slept under the stars? With these question racing through my head, I came to realize that “pilgrim” is an undefinable term. Although walking 65 kilometers may seem like a lot, by the time we reached Muxía, I felt as if was watching the final moments in my favorite movie.
|Photo credit: Cole Bickford
Walking such a short distance on the Camino felt like the final moments in a movie. The Camino stretches over 700 kilometers and I only had the chance to walk a short 65 kilometers. The Camino offers people simplicity, the blissfulness of nature and, most importantly, silence. In my life I often times find myself looking but not seeing, eating but not tasting, taking in but not processing. I originally was walking the Camino because it was, for lack of a better term, 'required' for the trip. It wasn't until about two hours of walking that each ear of corn, each ear on the cows and each sound in my ear became irrelevant. My mind cleared and I understood why I was walking and why I wanted to continue to walk. The silence. The lack of tritone ring from smart phones. No computer screen in front of my face. Just the roaring silence of nature. The dry fall leaves scraping against each other, the crackling of the dry, and rocky path beneath my feet were all apparent but somehow silent. With each step a new thought arose in my mind, another self-created issue vanished, and walking became therapeutic. It allowed me to reflect and process my congested mind.
Along the Camino I often found myself stopping to take a picture to share with friends and family. Although a picture may speak one-thousand words, a photo can only capture sight. Nature and all of its glory holds 5 senses: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing. Through a picture I can not express the feeling of the loose gravel beneath my feet. I am not able to express the salty smell of the sky blue ocean. A picture will not express the tantalizing scent of tortilla de patata
sitting in front of a hungry young man. Although a picture may be spectacular, the only way to truly share the Camino is in the moment. The Camino was never a thing of the past or a thing of the future for me, it was always current. It was something that was step by step, shell marked stone pillar by shell marked stone pillar. I wasn’t worried about how many more miles or minutes I had left. I knew that if I remained on the path I would arrive at my destination. Being able to think of the big picture is something I have always struggled with, and I was always caught up in the past or concerned about the future.
Nature is something that in its own way is so perfectly imperfect. As humans we attempt to improve and advance through exploitation of our planet and its resources. Along the path I spent a vast amount of time trying to perfect my walking stick by shaving it down with my knife. Perfection in many ways can only be defined on an individual basis. I realized after hours of shaving down a tree branch, that no matter how many stubs I cut off, no matter how circular I attempted to make it, a stick is a stick. The stick may be warped and imperfect in shape, it may be two inches too tall or short for walking, but in the end nature provides us with means for a way of living. It is important in nature and in life to live beside, respect, admire and congratulate the perfect imperfects the world offers us.
~ Cole Bickford
Young Messiah's Noble Quest
Throughout the actual walk, I kept thinking that I could do without it, but the fun was worth the pain from walking. It was like a mini-adventure inside the bigger adventure of Proctor en Segovia. Now that I am back in classes I yearn for the mini-adventure. For me the Camino wasn't like it was in film we watched called The Way
or the story we read, The Singular Pilgrim
, mainly because those people in the book and in the movie were walking for a reason. I was forced into walking and didn't have a real reason for doing what I was doing. It still turned out better than I expected and the Camino reminds me of trying a new food: at first when you try it it's alright, but slowly it grows on you. I felt the Camino slowly growing on me and I wouldn't mind returning to it someday.
~ Nick Sawaya
|Photo credit: Cole Bickford
I have to start at the end to make sense of my time on the Camino. Aside from various forced thoughts and the fact that it was “school,” I didn’t know why I was so invested in it. But as I laid on that rock in Muxía listening to the ocean and music, day dreaming of flying, a wisp of an idea drifted through my thoughts. So, being an occasional academic, I scribbled “Perfect moments” in purple ink with a squiggly “cloud” around it.
I sat there staring at the piece of paper thinking about the moment I was in and the many memorable ones I'd had in the past three days. I thought of the first few miles back in Negreira and singing with Paris and Colby, imagining what the next 62 kilometers had in store for us. I thought about the first time I saw the ocean somewhere between Santa Mariña and Finisterre and then running in to the ocean after our longest day of 18 miles. And I thought of feeling a mixture of relief and sadness as I was running into the ocean again in Muxía, the end of our expedition. All of these snippets in our journey seemed to me the reason why we had done this. It made sense that was why I had been so invested in walking. But at the same time it didn’t seem to be enough to put me where I was right then.
I kept thinking and figured that without any one of these moments, the sore feet and legs, the blood and the sweat would seem excessive. But it still all boiled down to the fact that I hadn’t really had a choice to walk, so what was my main reason for being in that perfect moment on the rock by the ocean? This question stumped me for a little while, as I watched the small waves roll into the rocks and make the seaweed sway back and forth. So I looked back at the purple ink and I realized that it all went back to why I had applied to this program and why we go out on a limb and push ourselves. Because it’s all about the journey and the moments that make up the journey that make it worth it.
~ Allie Clarke