Rachel in Spain

Rachel is a President’s Scholar and senior majoring in political science and foreign languages in Dedman College. This fall, she will be living with a Spanish family in Madrid and taking classes at the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset.

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Pilgrimage to Santiago

I commented in my last post that I could not believe how little time remains. And still, I am overwhelmed to think that we only have six weeks left. I learned a Spanish expression “pasar volando,” which translates to “to fly by.”

So … !Este semestre pasa volando!

r-me-with-my-sole-posessions-sm.jpgFall Break

I had the most incredible fall break. In southern France and northern Spain there is a Catholic pilgrimage, started in the 8th century, that ends in Santiago de Compostela (a city in the northwest corner of Spain). There are various routes, but the most famous is called El Camino Frances.

r-distance-marker-sm.jpg Starting in Roncesvalles, France, in the Pyrenees mountains, the French Route travels across the north of Spain for 755 km before ending in the city. In order to be an “official” pilgrim you must walk 100 km, but many pilgrims do the whole trip from Roncesvalles, and we even met a girl who started in Switzerland!

We had only 5 days, so we decided to start the camino in a small city called Sarria, 113 km outside of Santiago de Compostela. We walked an average of 25 km each day; however, poor planning forced us to walk almost 40 one day.

I was researching the architecture a little along the way because I am doing a project on the cultural impact of the medieval pilgrimage. A major contribution was that it transported the Romanesque style of architecture from France across the north of Spain. It was especially interesting to be there because I could see the influence in the churches and buildings along the way.

I kept a journal – in Spanish – but I’ll translate parts of it here:

10/24/2008
Day 1! We just arrived in Portomarin, the first town we will stay in on the Camino. We arrived in Sarria early this morning after a night train from Madrid, then we walked 23 km before arriving here.

In Sarria there were churches and monasteries demonstrating a clear influence of Romanesque architecture. We met two madrilenos (people from Madrid) almost immediately. They work very close to the foundation where we study in Madrid. Later we met a Swiss girl, a few more Spaniards and two Germans. Everyone was so friendly. I’ve noticed that the kind of people who decide to walk the Camino are all very friendly and talkative. I feel as though the Camino has its own culture.

r-Galicia-sm.jpgWe ate a typical Galician dish for lunch today called Caldo Gallego. It is a vegetable soup with potatoes, spinach, and white beans. It was delicious!

We are going to stay tonight in the public albuergue – one of the lodges organized for pilgrims and supplemented by the government. For us, it costs only 3 euros each night.

10/25/2008
Day 2 of the camino. Today we will walk to Palas de Rey- 25 km away. My legs are sore from walking yesterday and my feet hurt a little too, but I’m ready to go!

The albuergue consisted of one big room where everyone slept. Inside, there was such an interesting mix of ages and nationalities. A woman next to me was snoring, but thankfully, I was so tired that I barely heard her.

Another interesting thing about the camino is the symbolism. There are shells everywhere and yellow arrows that mark the path. I think there is a legend about the shell, but I do not know it. I’ll try to ask someone.

… later the same day

r-one-of-many-churches-sm.jpgWe are resting now and having coffee in a bar in a little village close to Palas de Rey. From where I am sitting I can see a church that was constructed in the 12th century. I have seen almost as many churches as pilgrims!

r-cross-Palas-de-Rey-sm.jpgEarlier, we saw a cross under which pilgrims had left notes with stones on top to keep the paper from blowing away.

Also, we met another Spanish man from Avila (a town close to Madrid). He told us that he had pre-retired, because he considered himself too young to retire. He spoke quickly and excitedly about Spanish culture and history, but in general, I did not have too much trouble understanding him. I think my Spanish has improved already, just being on this trip.

10/26/2008
7:20 AM. We had a time change yesterday so my watch still says 8:20, but we really have an extra hour! An interesting thing about the albuergues is that it isn’t necessary to set an alarm. They turn the lights off in the sleeping room at 10 pm and turn them on again in the morning. Everyone has to be out of the albuergue by 8 am.

After two days on the camino, we already have friends. It is interesting because you will see people in the albuergue, then pass them on the trail a few times as you or they stop to eat or take a break. For the most part, people stay in the same towns so you will see them again the next night.

Last night for dessert I had tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that is named for the camino – or the saint. This furthers my theory about the camino having its own culture – a culture complete with its own gastronomy.

10/27/2008
Day 4. Last night we stayed in Ribadiso with a group of Spanish-speakers we had met the day before. After walking so much and being so tired, I had trouble speaking Spanish. Also, it was hard to understand them because they were all from different regions of Spain and Latin America. There were people from Madrid, Barcelona, Andalusia, Valencia, Argentina, and Colombia. In addition to having difficulties with their accents, they also speak very colloquially using a vocabulary I would never learn in class.

10/28/2008

Today we will arrive in Santiago!

r-sunlight-on-the-trail-sm.jpgWe only have 5 more km because we walked so much yesterday. It was the longest day of the Camino – about 38 or 39 kilometers. We decided not to stop in Arca with the rest of the people with whom we had been traveling because we wanted to get a little closer to the city. However, there was not another albuergue until Monte de Gozo – 18 km further than Arca. We almost died, and arrived at the albuergue just before sunset. It is lucky that we arrived when we did because we did not bring flashlights or lanterns, and the yellow arrows would have been hard to follow in the dark.

The albuergue in Monte de Gozo was impressive! There were more than 2000 beds in dozens of rooms. During the pilgrimage season (during the summer), the beds are sometimes completely full.

r-Cathedral-in-Santiago-sm.jpg When we arrive in Santiago we are going to attend a mass for the pilgrims. I am very excited to see the cathedral and the city. I have heard that Santiago de Compostela is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.

10/29/2008
The 6th and final day of the trip.

Yesterday and this morning we said goodbye to all of the friends we had met along the way. I have almost everyone’s emails and plans to meet some of the people in Madrid for copas – drinks. It was very sad to say goodbye, but I’m sure it was even harder for them because many of them had been on the camino for a month or more.

I really enjoyed the mass that we attended yesterday. It was completely full and we saw lots of pilgrims that we had met on the way. All were so excited to arrive and to spend one last day with all of the people with whom they had grown so close. Even though I only started the camino 113 km outside of Santiago de Compostela, I feel a very strong connection with the other pilgrims. Already I have been absorbed into the culture of the camino.

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