Walking the Camino de Santiago

By Jorge Hidrobo, Upper School Spanish Teacher 

I completed seven days of walking through the “Camino de Santiago” (Santiago’s Path) in Galicia, Spain, on Saturday, June 23. I started it in Alto do Poio, a little village with a nice “albergue” (hostel), located at 1,337 meters above sea level. From there, I walked down to Triacastela (665 meters), where I had a light lunch and rested a moment before continuing my walk toward Samos to complete my first 21 km.

I grew up in rural northwestern Ecuadorian Andes. Our first home sat in a small village of farm workers. I walked along different paths during my summers, and my life dreams started there. Now in Galicia, it was spontaneous for my mind to go back to my first years of existence. I reflected on my childhood while walking down the mountain through a path full of stones and uneven ground, but surrounded by a beautiful stage of vast landscapes, green fields, ranches, cows, and barns, and of absolute silence interrupted by the cracking sound of my steps, the infrequent human voices, the sporadic moos of cows and the gentle sound of soft winds.

My first day of walk set the tone for the next days when my mind started to think about my future. It was as George Orwell said in a different context, that controlling the past one can control the future.

However, as a teacher, my goal was not only to reflect on my life, but also to learn how this could be done with my students and how it could help them in their formation. The Camino de Santiago is a purposeful path, that goes from one place to another following a yellow arrow. If the “caminante” (walker) misses the sign, he/she will be lost, but still can go back and enter the right path. The path becomes a metaphor for our journey through life that takes us to specific points guided by our internal light. Each of us has only one path that leads us sometimes to places never imagined, and once we make the choice to enter it, we have to follow our own internal light (the yellow arrow) that calls from within. I want to share the “camino” with my students and encourage them to enjoy this magnificent experience as a spiritual journey of growth and maturation, of searching for our own talents and learning about our weaknesses and strengths.

Samos is a beautiful town with a Benedictine monastery founded in the VI century, the same century that Saint Benito founded the Benedictine order. It is an impressive site due to its physical dimension, its many centuries of existence, and for being well maintained by a group of fourteen monks. Samos would be a good starting point for a group of Westtown students. The visit to this monastery would provide them with a very good introduction to the historical cultural context to the experience of walking the “camino”.    

The next few days, at the same time that my feet and body started to resent me, I had moments of joy and moments when my mind asked why was I doing this. I met many people during the journey, people from countries, such as Australia, Finland, Holland, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, France, Spain, England, South Korea, and USA (Virginia, Idaho, Oregon, and Wisconsin). They walked for different reasons, but underlying their explanations, one can perceive a spiritual yearning to give our lives meaning, purpose, and a vision for the future. Many began their journey in south of France and crossed the Pyrenees. They were walking for five weeks.  Others began in Pamplona, or in Burgos, or in Leon. The most popular is the pilgrimage of five days starting in Sarria. Those who walk five days or less have a different approach to pilgrimage, and their mood is more festive than of those who have been walking for several weeks. It seemed as if the wish of an English biologist of changing tourism for pilgrimage is becoming a reality. When this scientist was asked where he would begin to effect change in the world and how people could face the global crisis, he replied “I would change tourism into pilgrimage, help tourists to become pilgrims.” 

I met a group of catholic students from Essex University in England walking with their chaplain. Their walk was explicitly a spiritual pilgrimage. In a similar way, a Capuchin friar was walking to replicate the life of Saint Francis and to find confidence and peace before his new missionary work in Nicaragua. They celebrated mass every day and prayed at different times during the day. I had terrific conversations with them about different topics, politics, economics, philosophy, theology, and, of course, education. Very often I was invited to mass and dinner with them. It was evident that one of them had personal problems that were disturbing to him. He was nervous and was not participating in all the group activities. He didn’t want to share with me his problems, but at the end of our journey, in Santiago, he approached me and with a happy smile, told me that he was feeling better because he saw the light for his problems.

In the afternoon of my sixth day, my youngest daughter, Melissa, joined me to walk the last day from a town called O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (20 km). It was wonderful! My encounter with Melissa was my first Santiago. We had terrific conversations and together we arrived to the Plaza of Santiago de Compostela and joined the pilgrims that were sitting in front of the Cathedral contemplating it. We went into the Cathedral first and then we went to an office to receive my diploma of “peregrino”. I completed 141.5 km of walking. I felt joyful although with less energy in my body. On Sunday, June 24, was the pilgrims mass at noon. It was a very solemn celebration with many priests and an excellent choir accompanied by a classical orchestra. For me it was a celebration of my pilgrimage completion, as well as a magnificent farewell to Santiago de Compostela!

Jorge’s walk was sponsored by a grant from The Farnley Tyas Foundation.

About Westtown School

Westtown School is a Pre-K through 12th grade Quaker, coed, college preparatory day and boarding school in West Chester, PA.
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