Together


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We had decided that on the last day we should enter the Praza de Obradoiro in Santiago and come to face the cathedral together. We designated a street where we would wait for all the peregrinos of our group to gather  as they entered the city. As members of the group rounded the corner to the named location, they were greeted with hugs and hurrahs by those who arrived before them. The street filled with the sounds of congratulatory shouts, laughter and sighs of relief. Once reunited we walked together down the final stretch of the ancient street and into the plaza that faces the cathedral. It was a powerful sight to behold – not just the monstrous gothic cathedral looming over us – but all of us together, some arm in arm, taking the last steps of the Camino as one.  We had arrived. Together.

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We wobbled and hobbled up the steps of the cathedral to cross the threshold of the edifice that legend says contains the remains St. James the Apostle. The statue of St. James was there inside, waiting for us. Dare I say that most of us, in reality, paid the magnificent shrine to St. James little attention at all. Most did not care in that moment to observe the intricate marble sculptures, the elaborate triptychs, or even the crypt of St. James. We were focused on the fact that the end had finally come, that our weary feet would have to walk no more. We went to the offices of the cathedral to present our pilgrims’ passports and receive our Compostela, the document written in Latin and inscribed with a pilgrim’s name,  that certifies one has completed the Camino. The staffers looked upon us with kindly eyes and granted each of us a compostela. The students squealed as they surveyed their precious documents.

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The Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela took 5 days, and we covered a distance of 70 miles. Did I mention the rain? The hail? The wind? The cold? It was a difficult journey.

There weren’t cozy restaurants and taverns to provide respite during the arduous days. Knees, ankles and feet staged revolts against us.  The albergues, public hostels, were primitive but clean, if lacking sufficient heat at night and hot water in the showers. A journey such as this – toward something spiritually significant – should contain elements of sacrifice, though. A pilgrimage is not meant to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t. But it was something better, in spite of – or because of – the hardship. Out of deprivation grow appreciation and thanks.

For me, and I think for all of us – if I dare speak on behalf of others – the Camino de Santiago was an extraordinary experience, one that will never be (can be) forgotten. In between moments of fear, strife and pain a sense of togetherness and connectedness blossomed. We held each other up, urged one another to go on, managed to laugh when laughter seemed impossible. And beneath all that rain, friendships grew. The blisters and swollen ankles will recede in our memories. What we will remember is connection, perseverance and laughter. I am incredibly proud of this resilient, spunky, funny group of students. We did this amazing thing together. 

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The Pain In Spain

The sun did rise as it’s supposed to on the second day of the Camino, but it was never obvious, obscured as it was by ominous clouds. We set out from Portomarrin at  7:30 in the morning, stopping for a few moments for cafe con leche or orange juice and a small pastry in town. And it was uphill from there. The next few hours were always steadily -and sometimes sharply- up. By the topographical map of the Camino, 15.8 km of our 25 km trek that day was ascendent.

The pain came early on this day because of this constant rise of the trail. Hamstrings  (dubbed stringos de jamon by the students- maybe you had to be there…) were stretched to their limits. Shoes soaked by rain and mud exacerbated the already painful blisters from the day before.  And then there was the rain: the steady, pelting, freezing rain. As we trudged through it I kept thinking about Forrest Gump describing the rain, “We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.” Yea, Gump rain it was.  I used little things like this to keep my mind busy and to keep myself from getting too discouraged. I’ve been around students long enough to know that stress can be highly contagious.

Continue reading “The Pain In Spain”

Buen Camino

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The first steps on the Camino are toward obtaining the pilgrim’s passport, a document that is stamped along the way to show that you have actually walked to the cathedral in Santiago and not, say,  taken a taxi. Was it a sign that the first church we came upon in Sarria was closed? We’ll see. We wandered through the streets and came upon a convent that answered our ringing of the bell. We purchased our pasaportes de peregrinos and the caretaker carefully impressed the stamp that signified the beginning of our journey.

Our start was a slow one. The students stopped to admire the beautiful vistas and buildings in Sarria, organizing themselves for group photos. In spite of the late start, our packs felt light and spirits were very high.  We were ready for this. Vamos!

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The trail quickly ascended and the rigors of the Camino began to reveal themselves almost immediately. The air became misty. The crisp morning temperatures became more frigid. The physical abilities of each person of also made themselves known. After about an hour, we were not walking as a group, but in small groups with those whose paced matched our own. The Camino is, in one way, how we imagined it would be: surrounded by verdant fields, hugged by medieval villages, traversing lovely forests. It’s also something completely different than any of us could have imagined. Continue reading “Buen Camino”

Peregrinos

I am Lynette and together with Teacher Jorge we are chaperones on the Senior Project/Spain Exchange program.  Our grand adventure consists of two parts: walking the Camino de Santiago and studying the language, culture, art and architecture of Spain in Barcelona.

CaminoMapOSBWe will begin our trip with the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. This pilgrimage has been made by the faithful for about a thousand years, and follows the path of legend that St. James the Apostle’s remains made. St. James’ final resting place was Santiago (which means ‘St. James’) around which the cathedral and city was built. In the middle ages the Camino was a strictly religious rite, but in the 20th century people began to come from all over the world to walk the Camino for reasons as varied as the individuals who undertook it. An estimated 200,000 pilgrims (peregrinos in Spanish) don their backpacks and make the trek to Santiago de Compostela each year. The Camino was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Continue reading “Peregrinos”