This week’s post comes from University of California student Hank Sze, who took part in UCEAP’s Contemporary Spain Program last fall. Hank participated in the Camino de Santiago, a six-day walking pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela.
My name is Hank. I did the Camino de Santiago during the 2017 Fall Break of my UCEAP study abroad program. This trip is undoubtedly one of my highlights, if not the highlight, during my time in Spain. Below are some questions people often ask me about the Camino, along with my answers. I hope you will decide to do the Camino after reading about my experience!
- What’s El Camino De Santiago?
El Camino De Santiago is a pilgrimage road to see the remains of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela. St. James was known to be a national hero in Spain due to his involvement in defeating the Moorish rulers in Spain during the Middle Ages. The legend goes that people saw the stars converge to one specific point, and when they followed the stars, they found the remains of St. James. From that point on, people from all over Europe would do the pilgrimage to see the remains. People who do the Camino walk for miles across the Spanish countryside, all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
- There are many different routes to choose. Which did you take?
I took the most popular (and easiest) route – The French Route.
- Why did you want to do the Camino?
I think it is cooler to tell people that I did a 170 kilometer pilgrimage when I studied abroad than saying that I traveled to 3 European cities in 9 days.
Also I simply think I had never done something like this before, and most likely I will not do it in the future as well. So the UCEAP Fall Break was probably the only opportunity I had to do the Camino. Whereas, in the future, I might have plenty of opportunities to come visit London, Italy, Paris and other European cities.
The Camino is also one of the most “Spanish” things I have heard about as well. Many of the ACCENT staff and professors recommended that we do the Camino.
- How long does it take?
It took us about 6 days of constant walking.
We started from a city called O Cebreiro, which is about 170 km from Santiago de Compostela, the destination. Many people who don’t have 30 days of free time to finish the full Camino would start from a city called “Sarria”, which is about 100 km from Santiago.
The reason why people choose Sarria is because you have to walk more than 100 km to get the Pilgrimage completion certificate, but my partner and I wanted to have a longer walk so we decided to start a bit further from Santiago. On average, we walked about 20-25 kilometers per day (about 15 miles per day). On the most intense day, we did 33 km and walked for about 6.5 hours. Usually, all the pilgrims will start walking very early in the morning, around 6-8AM. The whole trip lasted for about 8-9 days since we stayed in Santiago de Compostela for 2 additional days.
- Physically, how challenging is the Camino?
I think if you have an exercise habit or go to the gym maybe once or twice a week, it should be fairly doable. I personally did a bit of cardio training in the gym before going, and it really helped me prepare for the walk. So I would recommend you do a bit of preparation to build up your stamina.
- What was your favorite part of the trip?
The people I met on the road and the experience of walking through Spain are my favorite parts. If you are in the UCEAP Contemporary Spain program like myself, many of us seek and enjoy contact with local Spaniards. And the Camino is one of the best ways to do it! I got to know people from Andalucia, Catalonia, and Madrid during the trip, and I am still in touch with them. As you can imagine, walking for 6 hours can be very monotonous, so many people are very willing to chat and small groups often formed as well. And after spending a week walking together, the bond can be very strong between you and your Camino group.
- What was the most challenging part of the trip?
I think I am very lucky. I didn’t encounter lots of hurdles since I got lots of advice from people who have finished the Camino.
8. Any advice for those who are considering the Camino?
There is a risk of bed bugs in the pilgrim hostels and the possibility of getting blisters on your feet. Luckily I didn’t get either of those, but make sure you have a sleeping bag to prevent bed bugs and anti-blister cream or band-aids for blisters.
Thanks for reading, hope I have convinced you to try the Camino yourself!
~ Hank Sze, UCEAP Fall 2017, ACCENT Madrid
For more information about UCEAP’s Contemporary Spain Program, please visit: http://eap.ucop.edu/OurPrograms/spain/Pages/contemporary_spain_madrid.aspx