Walking to Santiago: Spring Break on the Camino

Authored by:
Alyssa F.

Alyssa F.

Never in a million years would I have guessed I would walk the Camino de Santiago. I had heard about the famous pilgrimage through Spain but always thought it was reserved for religious, outdoorsy types. As per usual, I hadn't planned anything in advance for Spring Break (called Semana Santa because of the week-long Easter celebrations), so when my friend asked me to join her on a five-day walk through the northern countryside of Spain, I thought, why not? Luckily, I had no idea what I was getting into, or I may have talked myself out of it. Also luckily, it turned out to be one of the best journeys of my life. 

While there are now many different routes, or caminos, that lead to Santiago de Compostela, we chose the Camino Inglés because it is walkable within five days, and not as strenuous as other paths like the Camino Primitivo. And, yes, while it is still considered a religious pilgrimage to see the supposed burial site of Saint James, the patron saint of Spain, a majority of people take this walk for many other reasons, including a physical challenge, spiritual growth, peace with oneself, etc. Personally, I was excited for the opportunity to disconnect from the online world and take time for myself exploring a new region.

If you know me, you know I have to mention the food! Wow, I am so impressed with Galician cuisine. The seafood, of course, was so fresh! I tried nécora (velvet crab) in Pontedeume, the best bread in Neda, runny tortilla in Betanzos, and octopus, well, in every town. I will never forget the homemade cakes and the lettuce from my salad that was growing in a garden directly behind my table. 

One of the best parts of the trip was the lack of planning! We booked our bus to Ferrol and the plane home, but everything in between was to be figured out along the way. I am extremely lucky that people helped to prepare me beforehand. Between teachers and students, I was gifted with all of the supplies necessary to pack properly (backpacks, coats, walking sticks, sleeping bag, and more). Having the right equipment made it easier to focus on the journey and stay present. We had luck almost every night staying at an albergue, a sort of hostel for pilgrims, and only twice did we need to find other accomodation. It was so cool to meet up with the same people along the way at different points. I met travelers from Germany, Italy, Mexico, England, and other regions of Spain, all with varying levels of pilgrimage expertise. Everyone was quick to offer advice, or even share their blister remedies (hot tip: use Compeed BEFORE you get blisters...). No matter what we encountered, whether it be rain, a full albergue, or having to squat in the woods, I finally embraced the fun of not knowing! The comfort of seeing a shell and arrow leading the way was all I needed to know I was on the right path (and now I know the literal feeling of passing a "milestone").

The highlight, though, came as we crossed the finish line. Picture this: you've walked 118 kilometers in five days through sun, wind, and rain; a corridor of stairs leads down into the plaza of the cathedral; you hear Amazing Grace on bagpipes as you pass; you enter the plaza, limping slightly, and sudenly the cathedral and hundreds of other pilgrims come into view. Wouldn't you cry too?! All of the doubt and pain melted away in that moment, and spending my spring break without resting felt worth it. The best part was knowing I had accomplished what I started and proving that I could - simply, could. I have absolutely no regrets because I learned so much about myself; if, or when, I do another one, I'll be even more prepared and open to discovering more. Should you feel compelled to go, I highly recommend staying extra nights in Santiago and sharing the excitement when more pilgrims enter the plaza to complete their caminos! 

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