Submitted by Amanda Reed on the 2022 spring semester program in Granada, Spain…
Last week, for Semana Santa (Holy Week), I walked the Camino de Santiago Portuguese Way from Tui to Santiago de Compostela. It was a total of 118 km (73.3 miles) spread out over 6 days of walking. I went solo, but met so many people from all around the world along the way. I came back with a lot of blisters and sore muscles, but it was a really unforgettable week and one of the coolest trips I have ever taken.
My first day of walking, I started in Tui, a small Galician town on the border of Portugal. Almost immediately when I started walking, a fellow pilgrim approached me to say hello and get to know me. He asked me where I was from, why I was walking El Camino, what towns I planned to lodge in, etc. Quite honestly, I was somewhat uncomfortable at first. In normal circumstances (in the U.S., for example), when a person (especially a man) approaches me while I’m alone, walks with me, and asks me a series of questions, I feel on guard. He was so friendly that my instincts told me that he might be dangerous (which is funny to me now that I know how completely harmless he is). I soon learned that day that people on El Camino are really just that friendly; it’s not just a group of people that walk alongside each other for a week—it really feels like a community. Over the course of the day, I had many people walk up to me, greet me, and share with me what they do for a living, about their spiritual reasons for walking El Camino, about their kids, their future goals, you name it. Almost everyone you passed would say, “hola” (hi) or “ buen camino” (have a good walk) as you walked past them, and many would invite you to walk with their group if you were traveling solo. On my first day, I met a group of middle-aged English-speaking women, some from the United States and some from Canada. I walked with them for some time before meeting a Portuguese woman, who I went on to walk with for the rest of the trail. Eventually, after about 18 km (11 miles) of walking, I arrived in O Porriño. I was absolutely exhausted and laid in the bed at my hotel for at least an hour before I showered and went out to explore the town. In my hostel that night, I met a group of amazing Spanish girls that invited me to walk with them the next day.
Days 2 and 3 were my most social days of the trip. On day 2, I walked about 21 km (13 miles) to Redondela with the 5 Spanish girls I had met in my hostel the night before. They are all a little older than me (either in graduate school or just starting their careers). They were so much fun and really pushed me to improve my Spanish (only one of them spoke English). They would occasionally play music on the trail, inviting other pilgrims to dance and sing along with them. Their energy was contagious and I felt much more animated this day on the trail. By day 3, when we all walked together to Pontevedra, I felt like I was able to sustain my energy all day even while walking 11-13 miles. I had so much fun walking on the trail on this day, and felt like I was getting to know the girls really well. In Pontevedra, the girls took me out to eat right next to a Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession, and I was able to watch as people carried the elaborately decorated thrones through the streets and played beautiful music. We finished off the night by going to Spanish karaoke, where I belted out Spanish songs on stage with the other girls (even though I had only heard most of the songs once or twice before), which has always been a dream of mine to do.
On day 4, I took a rest day and the Spanish girls continued on to their next pitstop, so we said good-bye and I promised that I would come visit them in their hometown in Andalucía. The next several days on the trail were quieter, which allowed me a lot of time for listening to amazing podcasts and self reflection. I journaled a lot on these days, and although I’m not quite sure if I “found myself” or made any life-shattering revelations, I did find a lot of peace being with myself and found myself looking at my life through a different perspective. These days also had the most beautiful views, with waterfalls, rich forests, and amazing vantage points of Galician cities.
Overall, my time on the Camino de Santiago was more memorable than I could have hoped for. It was very difficult at times, but I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to do it while here in Spain and am already thinking about my next trip back to do another section of the trail.