Saturday, April 6, 2013

El Camino de Santiago

Every year AFS does a Spring Break trip for all the students in Spain of the Camino de Santiago. The whole Camino starts in France, but a lot of Pilgrims (what the people who do the Camino are called) start in Sarria because from the pueblo marks 111 km left, and to get the certificate of completion at the end, you have to have walked at least 100 km. The Camino is divided into recommended “legs,” so that meant there were a certain number of kilometers we had to walk each day. From Sarria, it is 5 days of walking.

If you have never heard of the Camino, here is the link to the Wikipedia page to give you more general information. 

I have to say one of the coolest things about the Camino de Santiago is all the different people you meet from around the world, it´s not abnormal to start up a conversation and walk with them for a little bit. We met a group of Irish boys along the trail. In the laundry room of one of the albergues, I heard these two Irish women speaking in English, so I struck up a conversation with them while waiting for the laundry to finish (random, I know). A group of Spanairds struck up a conversation with two of my friends (Marianne and Lani) and me when they heard us speaking the best Spanglish you´ve ever heard. Then my friend Isa and I met two 20 year old German girls, but the thing is, Isa is Spanish and she doesn´t know a lot of English and the German girls didn´t know a ton of Spanish either. Basically, I had to play translator for a little bit. On top of meeting all these random people from around the world, I also made the most amazing friends with the other students on the trip with me. It´s funny though, because the people I became the most friends with are the ones I had never even seen before. We just don´t remember meeting eachother at the Madrid orientation. 

I wouldn´t be a true exchange student if I didn´t also rave about the food (eating is like the number 1 thing to do in Spain). Considering we weren´t in nice hotels and we lived out of a backpack for the week, the food was abosolutely delicious. Even our packed lunches were good, a nice sandwich on delicious spanish bread, fruit, water, and chocolate...always chocolate. Dinner in Spain is eaten around 9 and it is supposed to be a small meal, but not in Galicia (the region of Spain where the Camino is). They gave us full three course meals, and it was delectable. I don´t think I went a moment even slightly hungry.

I live in Ponferrada. We started in Sarria. We ended in Santiago. (Look to the left of León to find the cities)

So let´s start from the beginning of one of the most overall rewarding experiences of my life.

We start on Friday 22 March; I had a bus leaving at 2:30 with the only other student from Ponferrada going on the trip, Emils. We went 2 hours to Lugo then had a 1.5 hour stop before catching our next bus to Sarria. We walked around in the center of city and we both agreed it is a very ugly city. We were also in search for a grocery store for almost hour (we even asked around) and we didn´t have any luck, so the city lost major points there, too. After the 30 min bus ride, we were in Sarria.

before leaving

We get to the Albergue and for the rest of the afternoon/night we all hang around, catching up with each other, meeting the students we hadn’t met before, and waiting for the rest to come.

*I know Albergue is a Spanish word but I don’t like the translation of hostel because I think they´re different. Albergues are big rooms with bunk beds, small longue room, small room to eat, and bathroom. You go there to sleep, recuperate, eat, and shower.

We start our first day walking with ­­23 km to do and the weather isn’t too bad, a tiny bit of rain, sun, and breeze. Everyone was so pumped, running off adrenaline, so it was definitely a good leg of the trip.
We always stopped halfway through to eat lunch and I had left with the first group, which is where I had met one of my new really good friends from Norway, Marianne. We didn´t get lost, but we realized that somehow we got separated from everyone else. We just got so caught up in talking to each other and walking at our own pace we realized we hadn’t seen anyone from our group of 46 in a few hours, but that was okay we made it to the albergue perfectly fine.  We instantly became really great friends and we walked the majority of the other legs throughout the week together, too. The first night at the Albergue we were the most active. We did yoga (and other people staying there joined in with us), we played cards, sang songs, hung out and talked.

Ready for our first day of walking! (Martina from Italy)
I didn´t take this, I stole it from the internet but I really like it

Marianne and I; we had almost finished the first leg!

Literally a stairway to heaven because our albergue was  a little past the stairs
I was serious when I said we did yoga...

Before dinner, this isn´t all of us, though.

Next morning we woke up exhausted, it took us 2 hours to get going. Ridiculous, but oh well. We had 24 km that day and I’m not sure we were entirely prepared for it. It rained the whole day, I mean the whole entire day, and I say rain, but I think pouring would be the better word to describe it. That wasn’t even supposed to be the worst day of weather, so if we thought that was bad, we were in for a treat the next day.

Now it may sound like I´m complaining or that it was terrible or other negative things, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. And with all the rain, it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine because within 20 min of walking you are soaked, to the skin, through all the layers. Everything in your bag is soaked so after that 20 min, you start not caring and worrying; so everything was okay and became a lot better.

We gotta prepare, including various languages

Honestly though, it just rained and rained and rained and it just got to a point where it doesn’t affect you anymore. Sore muscles start to numb, the blisters stop bothering you and you just keep walking at a good pace, with your friends, talking to one another to keep the time passing.

Before all the rain had started...

On top of that, you are basically carrying a small child on your back the whole time (aka the backpack), but after a while, you stop feeling it.

Day 3 of walking was 28 km (the longest leg), and I am actually particularly proud of that day because it was my best day of walking, and along with a few of my friends/walking buddies, we arrived first (only motivation for getting there first was getting the showers first). We also kicked butt on the trail. There were some huge hills to climb but we didn´t stop because that just made it more painful and we would lose motivation to keep going. They say a pretty good pace for the Camino is 4 km/h (1 mile= 1.6 km), but that day we averaged 5 km/h and considering how long and how many hills there were, that is really good pace. Don’t think I’m bragging about my *in theory* “physical ability” because I paid the price the next day…

Gotta keep smiling

Day 4 was actually kinda terrible, I felt new blisters forming and in general was in pain. It was a mere 19 km. It didn’t help that the whole last hour we were being told that we were almost there…talk about false hopes.
Lani and I

Taking care of my feet...during lunch the middle of a restaurant

Day 5 of walking was pretty great though. We were woken up at 5:45 so we could leave by 7 so we could get to Santiago de Compostela (the ending point) by 12 for the Pilgrim Mass they do in the Cathedral. I was under the impression we were supposed to be walking at record speed and to rush so we could make it. I wanted to go to the Mass, so I went up to the front. After about an hour, Martina (from Italy, who I was walking with) and I realize we had just done almost 6 km and that we were extremely ahead of schedule.  A few more hours pass then we hit the city of Santiago. At this point I am with 2 of my good friends, Lani and Milena, we walk into a bar for a water and bathroom break and Milena and I start talking to the manager. He tells us we only have 30 min (we thought we had quite a bit more), he gives us all a brownie, and sends us off with the common phrase of “Buen Camino” (Good Way). The three of us are just too excited to arrive, very emotional (not the in the “crying” way, but the “I am feeling every possible emotion at this point” way). We are almost to the big plaza where the cathedral is when we see David (USA) and Emils (Lativa), who were had been walking with earlier, just chilling by this big fountain. We take a quick photo then the 5 of us start running to the last quarter kilometer to the Cathedral, just like yelling full of excitement. When we get to where the volunteer is, we drop our backpacks then start hugging each other. It was such a great feeling. The whole thing was very Amazing Race style, too, running to the finish line with your partner (in my case group). There was even someone playing a bagpipe (kinda like the finale music) and all the other tourists (or those that actually live there) watching us run, smiling at us, not looking at us like crazy kids running and yelling through a relatively quiet city. We arrived at 10:50, so we did 20 km in less than 4 hours, which is really awesome.

Lani, Me, Milena. Almost there...and we know it!

When we met up with the guys, before running into the plaza
The guy playing the bagpipe (I seriously took this while running)

Moment we got there, with about half the Cathedral

Emils, David, Me, Lani, Milena

We took a ton of photos, waited for all the other people to come, then at 12, we went to the mass, did the symbolic hugging of the statue of St. Santiago, showered, ate lunch, etc. we then had the rest of the day to do whatever before dinner at 9. The majority decided to go out into the city and explore and buy souvenirs, but I ended up falling asleep. I didn’t even make it outside until dinner; it was fine though because I had the next day to explore and such until I took the 1:45 bus home with Emils and another friend Erinn (who was off to Madrid).

Next morning we all had to say good bye to each other which was extremely hard and sad to do because we all made great new friends (hard not to when you have 40 hours of pure walking to do). We also all knew we weren’t going to see each other until Madrid in three months, which then made us realize…we only have 3 months left…it is hard to even think about.

So, Erinn, Emils, and I take off to go explore and buy things, and then we hop on the bus home.

That ends the tale of the most physically challenging, mentally strengthening, best friend making, and exhausting yet enjoyable and adventurous week of my life.

Here are just a bunch of photos from when everyone was arriving to the Cathedral, before we said our goodbyes, and other random photos from the trip.

Zuzana (Slovakia) and I 

this was in joke...and posed...but it´s funny

Milena (Switzerland), Me, and BP Lee (USA, his name is Benjamin but no one calls him that and he has the biggest personality I have seen, he´s great)

When we changed Provinces...but the rain just kept coming

Ryan (from Elk Grove!!!), Lani, and Me

Embarrassing picture of the year... (please note socks with sandals, it was the trend for the week)

At dinner

Galicia, very pretty and very green

BP Lee and Ryan are the king and queen of photobombing.

Basically the joke of the pregnant pouch, becuase  I had a pocket on the stomach part of my  poncho and  when I put my phone camera etc inside I looked pregnant.

Lani, Milena, and I with Emiliano, the coolest volunteer ever and he lives in Ponfe, too

Ponfe Crew (although Lani moved, we still love her)

Lani and Marianne

BP Lee and I!!

Lani, Me, Marianne, Miriam, Annalena, Esther, Jorgis (last 4 are Germans)

My two new amazing German friends

I don´t actually remember what this is...I think it was on the ceiling

The alter, side view

Streets of Santiago 

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