If you like long hikes that retrace medieval pilgrim paths, then consider heading to Bilbao, Spain for the summer and participating in the Santiago Tour/Field Study. Only offered during the summer session, on the Santiago Tour/Field Study, you will hike the last 70 miles of the medieval pilgrim path of Santiago over five days. The Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey that pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds have traversed for over a thousand years. You will experience this truly unique, introspective journey while learning more about Spain’s history and culture.
We know, 70 miles? But don’t worry, the USAC staff and fellow students are with you the whole time. Here’s what some past students have said about the trip.
Allyson Gomez – Texas University
The Camino was a great experience that I highly recommend. Many people do the Camino for various reasons but something in common among everyone, at least from my experience, was that as you walk you meet new people from all over the world. Everyone on the Camino is so different but everyone is connected by the Camino. It was so interesting. I think it was such a unique experience in that it’s not just hiking/walking but something larger than that. I would say to be prepared for some blisters and minor aches and pains, but that it’s definitely a doable distance. I would also say that good shoes and socks are really important, not just regular sneakers like Nikes. I would totally do it again!
Cameron Douglas – Texas University
The Camino was absolutely amazing! It was a great way to meet new people and be able to destress before classes start. Some advice I would give is to be prepared! Wear good hiking shoes, long socks, and be prepared for blisters and sore feet. Be open to being uncomfortable! The camino is a chance to reflect on your life and experiences. Overall, I loved it! It was pretty difficult, but nothing too extreme. It is completely doable! I think it was an amazing time, and being able to make it to Santiago was SO worth it!! 114 km is not at all as much as you expect! This is the chance of a lifetime, and I would do the camino again if I got the opportunity!
Claire Werlin – Boise State University
My experience on the El Camino truly changed my life! On this five day journey I was able to see the most authentic glimpses into Spanish culture; something that I could have never seen otherwise. The trail took us through small villages, up beautiful rolling hills, down into green forests and across hundred-year-old bridges. Along the way, I met other pilgrims from all over the world and also made lifelong friendships with our USAC group. After long days on the trail we would walk right to our hostels where we would relax, spend time as a group, and eventually go to nearby restaurants for absolutely incredible meals. Excitement and anticipation built as the trail came to an end in Santiago de Compostela, where the first view the the cathedral took my breath away. We enjoyed celebrations with other pilgrims and I felt the true fulfillment of a completed journey. From this experience I was not only able to see Spain in a unique way, but I learned about myself. The Camino is often referred to as a metaphor for life, and I could not agree more! I highly recommend the El Camino trip to everyone, because we all have something we can find on the Camino!
Still not convinced? USAC alumna, Christie Chaump recaps the full hiking experience in her blog post below:
The Hunger Games
A Bug’s Life
All movies that I can easily relate to the Camino de Santiago. Over the course of 5 days, I walked about 73 miles through the Spanish countryside, forests, and small dilapidated villages. For this blog post, I would like to split up my experiences for each day.
Day 1 – Saturday, June 23rd. Sarria – Portomarín.
The first day of hiking was great! We were all feeling good and ready to start this long journey. We walked around 14 miles which translates to about 22.3 kilometers.
Some things I noticed about the path we were walking on was the overwhelming smell of cow poop. Not my favorite scent, but something to get used to on the trail. One of our directors picked up a stone and told us that when people walk the Camino they carry a stone with them the entire time, and once they reach the end they will leave their stone at the bottom of a statue and write their names on it. I decided to do the same.
The first day was filled with lots of uphill paths, and was also one of the hotter days we had. I ended up getting a massive sunburn on my chest, because after being in Bilbao with all the clouds and rain, I forgot the sun can actually burn you. My walking buddy, Daisy, and I were one of the first ones to reach our hostel in Portomarín and we were shocked. We really thought we were at the back of the pack, so I was proud of us for making it. Our hostel was quite interesting. Just imagine one of those hospitals for soldiers in movies where all the beds are lined up in a huge room. That was it. Also, only four showers for the 60 or so people that were staying there.
Our second day consisted of 16 miles. We started walking around 7:30am and decided to get breakfast along the way. Little did I know, it wasn’t another two hours until we reached a restaurant. And in those two hours, we walked completely uphill through a forest and onto the main highway. Once we got food, I met an Australian man named Paul who started the Camino on May 11. He took a break for 5 days due to injuries and took a trip to Barcelona instead.
The tough part about the Camino is that your injuries continue to pile up. There is little recovery time, which is why it is so important to take care of yourself and your feet as silly as that sounds. Each day someone in my group would have a new blister (I didn’t get any thankfully!). Paul had the intention of finishing the Camino within the next couple of days. I wished him the best of luck.
Also, along the way I moo’d at a cow, and it moo’d back. I guess you can say we are friends now? I would say the second day was the hardest for me due to all the soreness in my legs from the first day. Our hostel was much better that night and we ended up getting paella and sangria for dinner! I felt so luxurious.
Ahhhh, the day everyone was dreading. 18 miles. Three people in our group took the day off due to injuries and allergies so I was a little jealous. The weather was much better than the last two days! Cloudy and cool.
This is more than just a hike. It brings together a community of people who want to challenge and reflect on themselves.
Out of all the days, I would say the scenery along this route was my favorite. We walked through a small town called Melide which had a church open for pilgrims. There were also at least five forests we walked through. I think that was my favorite part. Just looking up at the trees and hearing the birds chirping. It’s a feeling you can only get in the moment. Everyone does the Camino for a different reason, and it’s amazing we get to witness them achieving that goal. One goal that I had going into the next two days was to meet more people along the way and spend some time alone to self reflect. At the hostel we got to watch the Spain World Cup game together which was very fun. Halfway there!
Tuesday was the shortest overall distance we walked at about 12 miles. I decided to spend most of my time walking alone and listening to music. I realized I walk much faster when I have some jams to motivate me. It was nice being able to go at my own pace instead of feeling like it was a race to get to the hostel. I like staying with the group, but sometimes they walk too fast for me and my short legs.
As I walked, all I kept thinking about was how much I am going to miss Spain. Living in Spain has become normal to me and so has speaking Spanish to others. There are so many things I know I’m going to miss about it and I don’t know if I’m ready to accept that coming home. Spain will always have a piece of my heart.
I also got to see some cute, but slightly scary Chihuahuas with under bites today. It’s normal to see lots of stray dogs and cats throughout the Camino as they live around the farms we pass by. One more day!
Last day of walking! Today was about 13 miles, so not too bad. We were on a mission though. We started walking at 6am before the sun even came up, because we wanted to make sure we got to Santiago in time for the noon mass for the pilgrims at the Cathedral.
We made very little stops today as we were in a little bit of a hurry to get to Santiago. About an hour outside of Santiago, there is a statue called Monte de Gozo which is supposed to signal the end of the trail for most pilgrims. You are able to see the very top of the Cathedral from the mountain indicating that we have finally made it! We met a couple from Manila who hiked the same route as us from Sarria, but did it in 10 days instead of 5. Their son was studying abroad in San Sebastián and they decided to come visit him and do some of the Camino while they were here. They were pretty awesome people!
Once we got to the Cathedral, we all made sighs of relief. Our feet were throbbing from the past five days of walking and this is what we have been working so hard to get to. It was an awesome moment. We got in line for the mass with all our backpacks and when we got to the front of the line they told us we couldn’t take our backpacks inside. We had to get out of line, check our bags in another place, and then hop back in line to get a good seat.
The mass was in a couple different languages – Spanish, English, German, and French. At the very end, they had a large censor filled with incense that they waved across the entire church while the organ played. It was absolutely beautiful. The remains of Saint James are located inside the church, but we didn’t get to see them because it was such a long line. Our director told us that there wasn’t much to see, it was just a way of paying respects. Afterwards, we got our credentials and a certificate for completing the 100 kilometers. What a satisfying moment getting our indulgences.