During my time studying in San Sebastián, Spain I have taken advantage of the wonderful and incredibly eye-opening experience of walking part of the Camino de Santiago.
What is El Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a pilgrimage from various parts of Europe to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In 711 C.E., Spain was invaded and overtaken by the Islamic Empire. As a way to reconquer their country and spread Christianity, the Spanish popularized this pilgrimage. Pilgrims traveled from all parts of Spain and Europe to reach Santiago de Compostela, an important Christian city where the relics of Saint James lie. The Camino helped Christians to diffuse their religion and fight their Islamic conquerors. Today, there are many routes throughout Spain, France, Portugal and more. However, the main pilgrimage, known as the Camino Frances, is about 500 miles and passes through many regions of Spain: Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León, and Galicia. To walk all of it would take the average person about 35 days, but you can walk it little by little, just like me!
I have walked 72 miles of the Camino de Santiago during my time in Spain. It is a wonderful weekend adventure, and much can be completed over the course of just two or three days!
In September I began part of my Camino adventure in the city of Logroño, meeting up with my aunt and uncle who were walking the entire 500 miles at the time. We stayed in an albergue, the traditional hostel of the Camino. These hostels are very cheap, wonderfully welcoming and only serve pilgrims. The first morning of our adventure we woke up bright and early, departing by 6:00 as the sun was rising. We traveled to the small town called Nájera that day, 18 miles on foot! After a long day of walking we took full advantage of being in the region of La Rioja, an area well known for its wine industry. We traveled through the extensive vineyards, eating grapes by day and drinking wine by night. The next day we continued with another 13 miles, reaching the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It was here I had to turn back to San Sebastián, catching a bus so I could be in class by Monday morning. Although I was only able to travel two days on the Camino, I was so grateful for the experiences I had and the friends I made, knowing I would need to continue my journey soon.
The first 31 miles I hiked with my relatives only made me want to keep going, so I decided to continue my pilgrimage during a second weekend with three good friends I made through USAC. We decided this time to begin our journey in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, France, the official start to the Camino Frances. We took a train there from San Sebastián after our classes one Thursday afternoon. We arrived in this magnificently rustic French city just as the sun was setting. In the French style (and as college students on a budget), we shared a Nutella crepe for dinner.
The next morning we awoke very early as this was our day to conquer the Pyrenees Mountains. It was a long and tiring day, but we encountered some breath-taking views and many animals: sheep, cows, horses, and more! That night we arrived in the town of Roncesvalles where we slept in an old monastery. Saturday morning we woke up to the sound of Gregorian chants and started our trek to the town of Zubiri: 13 more miles. This stretch was so wonderful as we made friends left and right: a couple from London, a solo hiker from France, and a teenager from Connecticut. On our third day after we finally arrived in Pamplona, we had made so many friends that we almost didn’t leave!
Both of my experiences on the Camino de Santiago were phenomenal and incredibly unique. It is a wonderful way to see the different regions of Spain and pass through small towns full of history. And as a college student, these trips don’t even come close to breaking the bank! I plan to hike the entirety of the Camino one day, but for now I will have to continue with my weekend excursions. 72 miles down, 428 miles left to go!
Alia Raderstorf attends Arizona State University. She studied abroad in San Sebastián, Spain during the Fall 2019 semester.