Camino de Santiago

by David

One of the first trips that we planned when we knew we were going to work in Europe, was to do the pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago.  We have a friend that had done the pilgrimage before and his experience touched us so much we wanted to be part of that.   When we realized how much our kids had grown, changed, and matured, we wanted to set off on an adventure that would bring us closer together, and that could remind us who we are and what is truly important.  We figured that El Camino de Santiago would provide us time away from distractions, the stresses of life, and a respite from our obligations.  We wanted to look away from our cellphone screens and into ourselves. Although El Camino presented many challenges and a lot of physical exertion, the experience brought us closer as a family and made us see that difficulties are temporary if you have faith, purpose, and love around you.  

We began our journey in Sarria and chose el camino frances as our path to Santiago.  In all, this journey will be 116 km in the region of Galicia.  The first day began a little late when we started our way to Portomarin, our first stop.  We had planned to walk 20 km on average for five days, stopping for the day in Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Pedrouzo, and finally Santiago de Compostela.    

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The first installment was, without a doubt, the hardest one.  It was so because we started to walk late and we really didn't know what to expect.  We thought the walk would be easy and, although we prepared and had some supplies like water, snacks, sun hats, technical shirts for sweat wicking, etc, we didn't expect the afternoon sun to be so devastating.  We did El Camino in mid June, and the weather was cold and humid in the morning and turned hot and humid in the afternoon.  

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Portomarin is a paradise! A small town with great food, friendly people, and beautiful architecture; Portomarin received us tired, dehydrated, and apprehension of the next day, and sent us out full of energy, rested, and with our stomachs full.  The people of Portomarin, made us feel welcome and part of the tradition of El Camino. 

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We learned our lesson and started early the second day.  The journey started uphill and foggy, but the beauty of our surroundings made the experience unforgettable.  During this second day we encountered younger pilgrims on el camino, high school and college students, families, couples, and group of friends. This day we were amongst people the entire way, getting energy from those around us and taking in the amazing sites.  

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It was so refreshing to arrive at Palas de Rei.  We arrived early, before the sun was too strong to wear us down.  Galicia is a beautiful place, full of wooded areas, pastures, and farms.  The people of Galica are wonderful and support those walking to Santiago.  They will welcome you and greet you with true joy; they empower you and energize you to continue your trek.  

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Arzua is probably the largest town in our travels, but getting there was also the longest way we walked to get there.  Starting the day early and having snacks was probably the best thing we did to maintain our morale high during the day.  However, taking breaks in the small towns in between our goal sites would give us the rest, food, and a quick recharge to continue on.

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The Camino is full of traditions.  Food is one of them.  In this case you stop to eat octopus in one of the many restaurants that support travelers throughout their travel.

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We were excited to arrive in Pedrouzo knowing that we would arrive in Santiago the next day.  The views along the way were amazing.  watching the sunrise and walking at the crack of dawn became inspirational during this week.  Our journey was almost complete, but we still had learned a lot that we had not contemplated upon.  

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We started our last day with more enthusiasm than the others.  Mostly because we were all ready to end our walk and get to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.  I don't know if it was the anticipation of finishing, but this day seemed more beautiful, in both the views and the weather.  The groups of people we encountered in the way sure seemed pick up the pace too.  

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The best advice I received when planning our trek was for the arrival to Santiago. I was told to walk straight to the middle of the square and not turn around to see the cathedral until we had reached the middle of the square.  It was amazing to walk into the open space of the square and reach its middle, then discover the beautiful cathedral as we turned around as a family.  

At the end of what felt like a long journey, and finally having reached our destination, we made our way to request the Compostelana. A document that certifies the completion of the pilgrimage of at least 100 km. It was bittersweet to finish and receive the certificate. Part of us wanted the physical challenge to end and another part wanted to continue to finisterre. We will did not this time, but we will one day.

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There are several things that we learned from this experience.  We learned that we must be thankful for all that we have.  That we have become accustomed to comfort and that we have not known true suffering.  That our lives are really good for there are some that lead lives where suffering and want is all they know.  We learned to lean on each other and we must share more.  That there are things that you must do without complaint for the sake of growing.  Most importantly, we learned that God is with us and that faith will carry us through.

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