a perfect ending and a new beginning

After spending two days exploring Santiago, I started to realize that my trip was ending. I felt that Santiago had been a perfect place to end my trip; I had such a wonderful time in the city, the cathedral, and at the festivities for the feast day of St. James. I could not have asked for a better ending to my trip. Yet, God had different plans. God ended my trip in the most perfect way, better than I could have imagined.

At the beginning of my trip I had hoped to change my flight so that I could stay a few extra days and walk the extra three days to the sea, to Finisterre. However, changing my flight would have been $250.00 and with other fees that would also arise, I knew that it then would not be possible to walk to Finisterre.
This did not, however, change my mind about making it to Finisterre. So, I decided to take a bus there. Three others from my group wanted to take a bus to Finisterre along with me. The bus would leave at 9am on Sunday and I insisted that we leave around 7:15am to ensure that we would get tickets. When we got to the station we luckily got tickets, I could not control my excitement. I had heard such amazing things about Finisterre, also known as The Ends of the Earth. I had heard about the large rock-bound cliffs, the lighthouse, and beautiful beaches there as well. I was not, however, prepared for the rich, overwhelming beauty of Finisterre.

My amazing friend Ashley and I sat together on the bus trip and admired the gorgeous views throughout our ride to the seaside village. It was quite strange being on a bus after walking for 5 weeks without the use of a car!
When we arrived in Finisterre, we saw our friend Niels at the bus station. Niels is from Germany and he traveled with us up until Leon. We had not seen Niels in weeks and we greeted him with much excitement. He was originally planning to leave on the next bus out of town, but he decided to stay with us, and he then became our tour guide.
First, we headed to the beach. As we walked up to the beach I became lost in the glimmering aquamarine sea, white sand, and glorious sunshine.
Ashley and I were surprised to find an abundance of seemingly untouched, perfect seashells on the beach; this was quite different from the California beaches that we are both used to!

After we spent some time gathering shells and taking a few photos, we both ran and jumped into the crystal clear sea. The extremely refreshing, cold water was tinted a perfectly blue color. I knew at that moment, when swimming around in the ocean, my trip was not meant to end at the cathedral, but instead at the ocean.
It’s amazing to see beautiful buildings like the cathedral that were constructed to honor and glorify God, and seems to try to bring the beauty of God to earth. However, there is something even more special to me; to see God’s own artful touch, God’s creation, this connects me with God in such a deep way. To me, I feel God’s presence in nature but mostly when in the ocean. The wholeness and peace that I feel when with the ocean, is indescribable. As I swam in the salty sea I felt connected to the sea, to the earth, to creation, to God.

Ashley and I embraced every moment at the beach with thankfulness. I could not have asked for a better friend to share that special moment with. I could not have asked for a better person to finish my Camino de Santiago journey with.
Ashley and I met at the beginning of my freshman year and were instant friends, kindred spirits. God definitely brought us together. I know that I will never forget the joy I felt when swimming in the sea. The moment when both Ashley and I felt clothed in God’s love and peace. After spending time at the beach we all went out to lunch at a seaside café. While at the café, we saw another friend of ours, Mario, whom we had not seen since Burgos. We had lunch with both Mario and Niels, which was so special. After our meal, we headed to the lighthouse, to the cliffs that overlook the sea, the area that was once thought to be the end of the western world, The End of The Earth.

As I sat on the gigantic cliff and looked out at the sea, I felt so small, so insignificant; yet, another part of me felt more significant than ever before. I felt as though I was apart of something greater than I could ever comprehend, something exquisite. While there, I imagined that my friends Thalia and Brenda were enjoying the extraordinary view along with me. I made it to the end for them. I left two small shells on the top of a high cliff in honor of their arrival. I know that they too completed their journey, they both made it to the end, to the vast ocean, to God.
I wrote in my journal and I was overcome with thought for quite some time.
I reflected about the end of my Camino. And, at that precise moment, when I was sitting on the cliff and admiring the majestic sea, I felt more ready than ever to begin a new chapter in my life. The time seemed to slip away while Ashley and I were sitting on the breezy cliff. After about an hour, I had to say goodbye to the sea, to the ocean, to Brenda and Thalia, to the person I used to be. I was not sad about these goodbyes; instead, I felt an inner sense of peace and joy.

So, here I am, now finished with my journey on the Camino de Santiago.
I am now walking on my never-ending path towards deeper growth, healing, knowledge, and faith. I know that I am not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow; I am simply the person I am in this present moment.
I bring no past baggage into the new chapter in my life; it is a fresh start for me on every possible level. Too many people take life far too seriously; I used to be one of them. Life is so beautiful and exciting. I want my new chapter to be one filled with joy, hope, and simplicity. I will take the time to smell the flowers, to smile at a stranger, to embrace relationships, to love others, to love myself, to stand up for justice, to kiss a cow, to comfort a hurting child, to embrace life.
In one short month I leave to study my sophomore year in Florence, Italy. Living in Europe for an entire year will be a whole new set of adventures, which is exciting.
So, here’s to a new chapter in my life, a new page, one of mystery and experience.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.

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galicia

Galicia was the last region I walked through in Spain and was a beautiful place. Here is a brief history of the area.
Galicia is an autonomous community known for its many rivers, delicious seafood, beautiful coastal spots, and its gorgeous, lush, green mountainous area. Galicia is located in the northwestern region of Spain, is bordered by Portugal in the south and by Asturias, a celtic region, in the east. This region is very diverse geographically, having mountains inland, gorgeous cliffside beaches, islands, lagoons, and is known for the beautiful fishing villages that surround the area. Galicia’s beautiful geography has attracted the attention of many and Galicia is often referred to as the “land of one thousand rivers.”

Some people believe that the ancient Galicians traveled by boat to Ireland, where they spread their Celtic roots, various legends go along with this belief as well. By 5th century B.C., individuals of the Celtic decent made up a large portion of Galicia’s population. There are various remnants of the Celtic villages that were once spread across this area, the Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, are a good example of these Celtic remnants. Galicia was colonized in the 6th century by the Visigoths, 500 years after this colonization, Muslims took over the land for a short period of time. The economy of Galicia began to fall after the Spanish Civil War causing many citizens to emigrate. Because of Galicia’s past economic problems, Galicia has been viewed in the past as one of Spain’s poorest regions. Nowadays the economy survives off of its abundant, agricultural land and seafood. Many of the residents of this region speak the Galician language, Gallego, which was not recognized as an official literary language until the mid-1800s. This Romance language has Latin roots, from which it is said to have evolved from. This language that has been described as being similar to the Portuguese language, separates the Galicians from the other Spaniards.

There are a few major cities in this region, but many villages that are spread throughout Galicia are extremely rural which definitely has an impact on the culture of the region. Galicians are known for their delicious white wine and seafood rich diet. There are various festivals that are celebrated by the Galician people, most of them being religious or Celtic festivals. One well known celebration is the festival in honor of Saint James, which I actually attended this year, on July 25 in Santiago de Compostela. Galicia’s celebrations are typically in honor of various patron saints, are filled with excitement, fresh seafood, and often have firework shows. So, one may clearly see that the Galician people, who have deep Celtic and religious roots, display their heritage throughout their culture.

Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, is the end to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and one of the most famous cities in the region. The name Santiago de Compostela is believed by many to come from the Latin words campus stellae, which means “field of stars.” When Pelayo, a hermit, claimed to have seen a vision of bright lights in a forest in 815, the area where the vision occurred was dug into. In the ground where the vision occurred, a Roman-era tomb was unearthed, this was said to contain the body of Saint James the apostle. A church was soon built where the tomb was found, as was commanded by Theodomir, the bishop of a village near to the excavation site. A city soon began to form and grow around this monumental site and church, that city being Santiago de Compostela.

Many people would travel to see the site and by the 11th and 12th centuries over 500,000 pilgrims would journey to see the said relics of Saint James every year. Pope Calixtus II gave Santiago various city privileges in 1122 and offered indulgences to any individuals who would walk the Camino de Santiago, this began to attract even more pilgrims to the site. The city’s population grew as a result of various new constructed buildings including the grand cathedral. Various surrounding leaders throughout Galicia helped build many roads, bridges, hospitals, and places of lodging for the Camino’s travelers. These structures increased not only the population in Santiago, but also the number of pilgrims who journeyed to the cathedral. The Camino de Santiago was and still is viewed as a spiritual journey by many, one that helps an individual grow closer to God. Some pilgrims today travel solely for cultural and historical purposes. Nonetheless, this monumental path, The Way of Saint James, remains as one of the most well traveled religious pilgrimages in the world and will continue to attract thousands of pilgrims in the future, whatever their motives may be.

The locals throughout this region are quite different than in the others I traveled through. The smaller mountain villages I traveled through seemed to be completely empty with hardly anyone outside, other than at the bars. Sometimes I would pass old men throughout Galicia, ones that were sitting on benches staring off into the sky. I often wondered what the lives of those older locals would be like in such a small village. When in the more mid size cities like Sarria and Palas De Rei, the locals seem less interested and encouraging towards pilgrims. Understandably so, as there are notably more pilgrims in this region. This is because if a pilgrim walks the last 100 kilometers they will get credentials, since the last 100 kilometers of the Camino begins in Sarria, a city in Galicia, there were far more people on the trail during the end of my journey.

This region is quite different geographically than the other regions I have traveled through. Galicia reminds me of Navarra in that the area is mountainous, filled with rolling hills and scarcely has any completely flat regions. When walking from Triacastela to Barbadelo, I was happily surprised to find that Galicia has various beautiful streams and waterfalls, which I have not yet seen on the Camino. This region was colder and more rainy than the other regions, especially Navarra and La Roja, who both had warmer weather and less rain. I have come upon far more small farming towns throughout the region than in any other. Also, unlike the other regions that all seemed to be filled with grazing sheep, most farms in Galicia seem to have cows and chickens. Most of the large cities that I stayed at in Galicia seem to be more commercialized and less personal than the previous areas we traveled through. The food in this region was different as well, gazpacho was more difficult to find in restaurants, and I found that the pilgrim menus were filled with more seafood, as this region is so close to the sea. I enjoyed traveling through Galicia and I cannot wait to return to this gorgeous region again someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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making it to santiago

When my parents picked me up from the airport yesterday at around 4:30am, I was greeted with more love and excitement than I could have ever hoped for. My dad did, however, not fail to remind me that according to my blog, I had not yet arrived in Santiago as I have not yet posted about the end of my journey.
I did arrive in Santiago. I actually arrived on the feast day of Saint James, July 25, around 2pm.  In between exploring Santiago, going to Finisterre, and traveling back to my parent’s house for a visit, I have not yet had time to blog. My journey has come to a close as I sit here back in the States. I reminisce about my journey as if it were a dream. From now on, I want to refer to my completion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage as the beginning, not the end. So, here is the story of my new beginning, the start of a fresh page, a new chapter in my life.

On Thursday July 24, while at an albergue in Ribadiso, the director of our program asked us all to meet around 6pm to talk. During the meeting he made a proposition, if some people wanted to get to Santiago one day early, they could combine our final two days of walking into one long day. This would allow each of us to make it to Santiago on July 25, the feast day of St. James, the patron saint of Spain and to whom our pilgrimage is devoted to.  I had already been thinking about what he proposed, so I was excited that he would allow us to go one day early. It turns out, most of the group was actually opposed to the idea. However, I along with three others (out of the 22 in our group), wanted to make it into Santiago early.  After we showed proof of a hotel reservation, our director gave us his blessing.

On Friday July 25 at 3am, me and three others headed out towards Santiago, in the dark. Seeing the arrows was quite difficult but we never got off track. From where we started at 3am, our destination, the Cathedral in Santiago, was around 44 kilometers (27 miles) away.  Who were the three other crazy people who were journeying with me?  Two other students, my dear friend Ashley and a senior named Jesus, along with Tom, a spunky trial lawyer who has been traveling with us in Spain as he works for Pepperdine.  We used various headlamps and flash lights for the first 4 hours of our journey, until the sun rose around 7am and we stopped for breakfast around 8am. We then trekked forward, all of us feeling invincible.

The last 15 or so kilometers, I walked alone in deep silence and contemplative prayer.
I reflected on my journey, the one that was so close to ending, the one that was about to begin, the one on the Camino that I loved every second of. I thought about Brenda and Thalia, and how this trip was symbolic of their life journey I wanted to compete for them. I also thought about all the prayer intentions that others had given me, making sure to pray for each.  I thought about my journey, my growth, healing, and the renewal I had already experienced on the trip. I had no idea how I could possibly become more renewed, more content, be filled with more joy, but God had other plans. God filled me up, causing me to overflow with happiness and peace.

We made it to Santiago around 1pm. By this point, I was ready to be there.
I was exhausted, but I was also in wonderment.
I made it. I made it to Santiago.
I was soon to begin my new chapter.
We made it to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at around 2pm. Santiago was crowded with many people who were there for the festivities in honor of St. James. All along I had longed to make it to the cathedral, physically tired and spiritually aflame, my wish became true as I walked in dehydrated and worn out. My friend Ashley and I fell down at the sight of the cathedral, literally. I was lying down for quite some time in utter amazement, but as the people passing by began to take pictures of us, I then knew I had to get up. Honestly, at first, I was not sure it was the correct building, because, to my surprise, the entire front of the building was covered in scaffolding. But, after some time I thought even the scaffolding was beautiful. After taking in my surroundings and analyzing the building’s exterior, I looked to my right and my friend Elida from Croatia came running towards me. She had waited for us in Santiago for three days, I got to spend a great part of the afternoon with her and she left for home that night on the train. Seeing Elida made all the walking and tiredness worth it. We all headed inside to look at the church together. Like many of the other churches I had seen along the way, the cathedral had a gorgeous gold altar. I sat in awe of the glorious building that I and many others had journeyed hundreds of miles to see.

After some time, I decided to head to the pilgrim’s office to get my credentials. When arriving to the pilgrim’s office we turned in our stamp books. Throughout my journey, I got stamps for my stamp book from various albergues, churches, monuments, bars, and restaurants. When the stamp book is turned into the pilgrims office, this is proof that a person completed the Camino. I am proud to say that I filled up two entire stamp books, since I stopped at so many churches and took so many detours along the way! I also got a certificate from the Franciscan monks. The Franciscan monks give out credentials every one hundred years and it just so happened that our trip was during one of those years!
After getting my credentials I headed to our hotel.
The hotel we stayed at while in Santiago, was amazing. The Parador hotel, Hostal Ries Catolicos, was constructed in 1499 as commanded by Isabelle the Catholic, and is the oldest running hotel in the world. The historic hotel is located to the right of the Cathedral in the glorious plaza. The location of the hotel was wonderful, I could walk ten steps outside my door and I would then be standing in front of the cathedral.

All along I had heard from various people that the pilgrimage is not about getting to the cathedral, but instead about the journey, the relationships you build along the way.
I did not realize how true this statement was until I arrived into Santiago.
When I arrived in Santiago, yes I was excited when I saw the cathedral, but when Elida came running up to me or when I saw other pilgrims in the city that I had met along the way as well, I experienced a different kind of joy. Even when I talked with a priest at the cathedral, he affirmed my belief in saying, “This pilgrimage is not about the cathedral, it is instead about the relationships you build. It’s about your heart, about your journey towards Jesus.”

On Friday July 26, I attended pilgrim’s mass at 12pm. The mass that afternoon was powerful, the music, angelic. Even though I could not understand the priest’s message, I was impacted by his passion and love for The Lord. After walking around the cathedral with an audio history tour, I sat in the church and took in every detail of my surroundings. The alter, the grand organ, the side chapels, the columns, the paintings, the statues, the ceiling, I did not want to miss one thing.
Standing in front of the remains of St. James in the cathedral was powerful and a moment that I fully embraced. Whether or not one believes that these remains are truly the apostle’s, is beside the point. The fact that the vary remains before me, the ones that resided in the small, silver coffin, have brought thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, to travel across Spain, is remarkable. After viewing the remains of St. James, I waited in line to hug the large statue of St. James, which is a tradition.
Later that night, I went out to explore the city with friends. The city was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. The cathedral was breathtaking, even at night, as it stood there clothed in darkness.

On Sunday the 27th myself and three others decided to take a bus to and spend the day in Finisterre. Finisterre is a rock-bound peninsula that was once believed to be The End of The Earth. I will talk in depth about my trip to Finisterre in my next post. However, I will say that making it to the ocean was the perfect end to the best six weeks of my life. Seeing Finisterre made me even more excited to do the Camino again someday, when I have more time so I can walk to Finisterre instead of busing there. I know that the end of My Way is only the beginning of my new life, my blank slate, my cleansed self. God brought me across Spain and I trust that God will also lead me in my lifelong path. I will make sure that wherever I go, that whatever path I go on, will be the one that God has chosen for me. I will make sure to follow the yellow arrows in my life. I will strive to savor and keep my identity as a pilgrim, for we are all pilgrims on a journey to a place far greater than the cathedral in Santiago.

Just as I made and have a Camino family, I too have a connection with each of you, with every person on this earth. Though there are many things that separate us from each other, I hope and pray that each of us will begin to broaden our perspectives on others, on the world. We are all one large family filled with doubts, many different stories, paths, and beliefs. We all come from different places but have the same origin, the same humanity. Though we all have different backgrounds, languages, cultures, religions, and ways of life, we are all united on this path together, having more in common with each other than we realize.

I firmly believe that every person is constantly trying to find hope, to seek truth. Whether that truth is believed by a person to be found in theism, atheism, or agnosticism, I know we are all seeking for something. Something deeper. We are all seeking for something to put our faith in, for God, for knowledge or for relationships and support from others. I hope to walk through my life humbly without judging the actions of others, the actions that are simply the product of the experiences, different cultures and religions of others. I hope we can all agree that we are called to love and support every pilgrim we encounter on our paths. Whether it’s through a simple smile, the universal sign of peace and love. Or, even through our prayers for others.
One thing we should never forget is that we all have a place, somewhere we belong.
I know that during my camino, I did, sometimes need time to walk alone. But, I did like having someone by my side as I walked, even if we walked in silence.
I loved feeling supported when walking the Camino, in life, I hope to be that support for others. The joy of being included and loved is something I will learn to carry over into my life, into my world. Let’s all be supportive of the other pilgrims we meet in life, we should walk together on our journeys. My identity as a pilgrim will remain as I set out with each of you, on my journey towards truth, healing, hope, presence, and my destination of peace. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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the samos monastery

Two paths, two routes. Yesterday I had to make a choice.
Which path did I want to take?
After a week of somewhat long hikes, did I want to take the short path that was 13 miles or the long one, the road less traveled, that was 18 miles long?
The longer route to Sarria was the more beautiful path and would pass through the city of Samos. Samos holds one of the oldest monasteries in all of Europe.
As my group of 22 individuals departed, they all chose the shorter path, I was torn.
Did I want to visit the monastery alone or did I want an easier milage day walking in good company? As I was making my decision, one of my friends, Morgan, offered to join me on the longer route. So, the two of us set out, two other students also decided to take the route but they lingered behind us.

The monastery was about 10 kilometers from Triacastela, the town we stayed at the night before. The walk flew by as I conversed with Morgan and enjoyed the gorgeous hike. As I climbed the last hill that overlooked the grand monastery, I knew I had taken the path that was right for me.
The three other students that took the longer path with me didn’t want to stop and tour the building, so I decided to tour alone.
I got my ticket right in time for the 10am tour, which was filled with various adults, all older than I, but I didn’t mind. The monk who gave us the tour spoke in three languages, Spanish, Italian, and French. I loved hearing the Italian he spoke, as I have been studying the language this past year. I was shocked at how beautiful the monastery was and even though I could not fully understand the languages the monk spoke during the tour, touring the enormous neo-classical building was intriguing.

The tour began in the cloister, we then headed to the hallways to look at various frescoes and paintings afterwards we viewed the lab where the monks once made various medications.
We then toured the original library where many religious texts were copied down, we looked at various relics, then entered the gorgeous church, where our tour was finished. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had to see yet another historic building.

The hike towards Sarria was a very peaceful one, filled with intention and prayer. Walking alone and in silence enabled me to connect deeply with nature and with God.
I intently listened to the sounds of the various waterfalls I passed, I looked in amazement at the beautiful mountains that surrounded me. I felt the wind caress my face as the birds sang a sweet song to the earth that spoke to my soul. If I had taken the other path, I would not have had the chance to hear and see such things.

What kind of lives will we lead? Will we decide to take the longer, more difficult path with beautiful stops along the way or will we decide to take the easier route in life?
I definitely believe that everyone’s path is different. However, if taking the challenging route will cause us to grow in character and strength, will we decide take it?
I’ve learned that sometimes the longer path, the one walked in solitude, can have the greatest impact on a person’s life.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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one rock, one thousand thoughts

“On all the peaks lies peace” – Goethe. I learned this to be true a few days ago. It is a Camino tradition for pilgrims to bring and carry a rock from home during their journey. This rock can symbolize a part of the traveler’s life that they want to leave behind on the Camino, what or who they are praying for, or it can represent why someone is walking the Camino.
We all have one rock with one thousand thoughts along with it.

Pilgrims typically place their rocks under the cross that stands on Puerto Irago. This spot is 1,504 meters above sea level and is the highest point on the Camino. This small iron cross that stands atop of a wooden pole has become an iconic symbol of the Camino. The rocks below the cross unifies all those who have traveled along the Way of Saint James.
To me, the rocks below the cross represent the thousands of trials that we have all faced, the difficulties that we have each endured not necessarily together, but instead collectively as human beings. The rocks represent the tribulations that each of us have decided to let go of, to leave at the foot of the cross.
A few days ago, we came upon the point in our journey where we were to leave our rocks at the foot of the cross.

I found my stone on the beach, washed up by the ocean. The ocean is extremely meaningful to me, as it is the only place where I feel whole, at home, in harmony with the earth and in the presence of God. So, it was only natural that my Camino stone came from the ocean.
The Camino has been more than simply a cultural and historical walk, it has been a walk of growth, a walk of healing, a walk of renewal.
The rock represents the pain that I once went through, the heartache of loss, the many things I once believed I was fully healed from. But one thing I have learned on the Camino is that it is impossible for one to stop healing and stop growing, there is always room for more healing and more growth. Leaving my tock at the foot of the cross enabled me to experience a deeper sense of healing and growth. I realized, when I reached the peak and saw the cross, that all along I have been doing this walk in honor of my two dear friends, Brenda and Thalia, whose lives were taken from them at the young age of 16. The Camino is said by many to be equivalent to a lifetime compressed into five weeks. This walk, this journey is for my two beautiful friends, it’s the journey, the life, they had hardly started and the one they never got a chance to finish.

To say that the letting go of my rock was easy would be far from the truth. The day I laid my rock below the cross was my worst day on the Camino yet, mentally and spiritually. The five mile walk up the mountain to the cross seemed never ending. I lingered in the back and walked alone, thinking. I stopped to write about half way up the mountain. As I looked out on the world below me, on the surrounding mountains and rolling hills, I felt numb. Not feeling pain necessarily, but hurting and feeling sick in remembering the pain I once felt and all the suffering that exists throughout the world.

Though the day was difficult and placing my rock below the cross was not easy for me emotionally, that day was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. A new chapter, a new beginning, a blank slate. My rock now sits amongst the thousands of others, insignificant though it may seem. To God, I hope that my seemingly simple stone has a deep significance.
I felt an enormous amount of peace after letting go of my rock. As I sat, my eyes were set on the cross above me, the stresses of the world behind me, and only the hope of the future ahead.
Moving forward felt amazing.
The day, although rough mentally, was rewarding.
After a long day that was filled with many thoughts and tears, my friend Liz and I made it to our destination, Moliaseca. On arriving we noticed a crystal clear river that was crowded with people. As we entered the city we began to run, we quickly took off our shoes and packs and jumped into the water. After hiking for over five hours in 104 degree weather, a swim in the cold river was just what we both needed.

My journey to the refreshing, cleansing river was difficult, but the destination, amazing. I felt as if my soul was being cleansed as I swam, it was like a new baptism, a fresh start. Afterwards we walked into town discovering that many of the albergues were already filled. We found a darling, eclectic, low priced bed and breakfast and decided to stay there. I was surprised at how quickly a challenging and difficult day was made better. It was nice sleeping on a comfortable bed in peace and quiet. The day may have been mentally and spiritually difficult, but the renewal and peace I felt afterwards, made everything worth it.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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castillo de los templarios

Castillo de los Templarios is a beautiful, grand 12th century Templar castle in Ponferrada. This national monument is filled with beautiful exhibits including a library of original Templar and religious texts. In 1178 King Fernando II declared the Templar Order as the protectorate of Ponferrada. As the king decreed, the Templar knights lived in the castle and they protected the city as well as pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. However, the church, afraid of the power that the Templar Order was gaining within society, outlawed all of the knights of this Order in 1312. This grand building has many fantastic features including a drawbridge and a moat.
With a student ID, I paid only 4€ to tour the castle. Walking through the castle took less than two hours, but I could have stayed longer. The castle reminded me of those I once saw in fairytale stories and movies as a child, I could hardly believe my eyes as I walked through this architectural masterpiece. Looking out on the city from the castle towers gave me a sense of joy as I thought of the Templar knights who once stood in my place, looking out on the city with protective, courageous eyes.
The library exhibit was beautiful, I loved seeing the beautiful calligraphy and the original fairytale books that were displayed. I would love to visit the castle again someday. If any of you are ever traveling to the Castillo de los Temlarios, give yourself enough time to take in the rich historic value of the building. When touring the building, it would help if you are fluent in Spanish as all of the historic information and plaques throughout are in Spanish. I could not read any of the plaques but the experience was still one I will never forget.
The Castillo de los Templarios was one of my favorite stops along the Camino. If any of you are traveling to Ponferrada or walking the Camino de Santiago, I would highly recommend stopping to tour the castle. Yes, even if it means waiting two hours. I promise, it was well worth the wait. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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leon

Leon, a beautiful province in the northwestern region of Castile-Leon, is known for its rich culture and diverse geography. Leon is the largest province in the Castile-Leon region and in the entirety of Spain. This province is also said to be the one of the largest provinces in the European Union. Before the province was established as we know it today, the area was inhabited by the pre-Roman tribes the Asturians, Vettons, and the Vaccei. The Kingdom of Leon, a kingdom once located in the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula, was founded in 910AD. This Kingdom emerged when the Christian princes of Asturias moved the capital from Oviedo to the city of Leon. The Kingdom, however, did not last long. In 1139 Portugal, a region that was once a province of Leon’s Kingdom, separated from the Kingdom of Leon, forming the Kingdom of Portugal. After years of independence, the Kingdom of Leon united with the Kingdom of Castile, forming the Castile-Leon region.

The Leon’s rich culture is showcased by various cities including Astorga, Ponferrada, and the city of León The province’s deeply Catholic heritage is shown through the various cathedrals, churches, and religious monuments throughout the area. In this province there is a float festival during Easter Week and various celebrations for saints as well. The popular foods throughout this region are black pudding, suckling pig, cured meats, and various other carb and protein rich foods (this meat filled diet is not very friendly to vegans like myself). The original language of this region was the Castilian language, now referred to as Spanish. This large province has high mountain ranges, cliffs, rivers, lakes, valleys, farm land, vineyards, and rolling hills. This extremely mountain rich and vegetative filled province has various Regional and National Parks of European Peaks. This region tends to have long, cold winters and smoldering hot summers. Each season change is characterized by a change in the colors of the Riano Mountain range in this province. There are many famous hiking paths in this gorgeous region including ones that pass by waterfalls and the Camino de Santiago passes through this province as well. The region has four main valleys where there are rich, varied ecosystems. The geography of this region is so diverse, it was a joy to travel through.

Hostal San Marcos, the hotel we stayed at while visiting Leon, is definitely one of the most extraordinarily historic hotels in the world. The historic building, that after being rebuilt displays Spanish Renaissance, was originally built in the 12th century during the time of Alfonso VI. The original medieval building was demolished when found in poor condition. The structure was rebuilt in the 16th century when the Catholic King Fernando ordered Pedro de Larrea to construct and design a new monastery, The San Marcos Monastery. Juan de Orozco and others completed the grand building in 18th century. This architectural jewel was eventually converted into a pilgrim’s hospital and a place to stay for the Camino de Santiago pilgrims. This magnificent historical monument is now both a Parador hotel and museum, with a beautiful cloister, and a late gothic-styled 16th century Catholic Church. The original art pieces throughout the building and the museum are marvelous. I have never been to such a beautiful, historic place and I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to stay at the amazing Hostal San Marcos.

Leon had many similarities to the other regions that we have traveled through on the Camino. Most of the villages throughout this region are small, quaint, and quiet. In comparison to the others, this region seemed to have the most young people. Many other regions seemed to be occupied primarily by elderly individuals, while when here, however, I saw many children playing in the streets and high school aged children playing in the various rivers along the way. The geography reminded me of Navarra’s landscapes, with plenty of hills, mountains, beautiful villages, and wine vineyards spread throughout. In comparison to the meseta, this region was more aesthetically pleasing, but was also, more mentally and physically challenging due to the intense heat. The area was also similar to La Rioja in having vineyards throughout, Leon, I noticed, also had various wheat fields and valleys where sheep and cows grazed. Overall, Leon was a beautiful and interesting region to travel through, and I cannot wait to return and revisit the province someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.
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a special day

This week has definitely had many ups and downs. At times, my days went by quickly, while other days seemed to drag on and became mentally difficult. I will talk about my challenging days in another post, this post is about a special, wonderful day. Two days ago we set out for the city of Astorga from Villar de Mazarife, this travel day may have been my favorite day on the Camino so far!

I walked most of the day with my wonderful friend Hannah, who is sarcastic, quiet, and extremely easy to talk to. Our journey of around 18 miles began around 7:15am. As we were walking up the interstate, I noticed a skinny, stray dog was following us. Every time I tried to walk towards him, he would run away, but he always came back. We decided to name our new friend Rigoletto, it seemed fitting to both Hannah and I. He followed us past San Martin del Camino, the first town we passed, then ran away before we entered the town Hospital De Orbigo.

As we entered Hospital De Orbigo, a small cat began to follow us and she allowed me to pick her up, we named her Posie. As we were having our breakfast in the picturesque city of Hospital De Orbigo, Rigoletto came running up to us at the restaurant! As we continued on towards Astorga, Rigoletto began to follow other pilgrims, and he then disappeared again.

As Hannah and I walked onward we passed a beautiful sunflower field. We then came to a small farming area, where we saw baby cows! I actually got in the fenced in area with one of the cows and the sweet little cow kissed me, it was such an adorable moment. After spending time with the baby cows we headed off, with much excitement and energy since we were having such a wonderful day. When we were about 5K outside of the city, we came upon this adorable little food stand and hut, we decided to stop by. The donation based stand happened to have fresh juice, tahini, peanut butter, soy yogurt, and other vegan treats! It was a dream come true! As a vegan on the Camino I have been mainly eating salads and fruit, so this stand full of other food I could eat, was so exciting to me!

I met one of the people who ran the food stand, his name was Andre. Andre told me that over three years ago when he did the Camino he came upon the stand and he fell in love with the place. He ended up quitting his job, selling everything he had, and moved to this remote area outside of Astorga. Andre, 28 at most, explained to me that he chose to move to a place with no electricity or running water. He leads a simple life, meeting pilgrims, spreading love and living in the small hut (which is pictured below). After over an hour of talking with Andre, we decided to head out to the city. I can’t wait to lead a life similar to Andre’s: simple, full of freedom and joy, always helping and reaching out to others.

On arriving to the city, none other than Rigoletto met me there! This friendly stray now found a new home in this city, a safe area where he will definitely be fed. I hope and pray that someone falls in love with him just as I did and decides to adopt him.

After we checked into a large municipal albergue, Hannah and I ventured off into the city. We stopped by a market and got gazpacho and lentils for lunch. As we were sitting outside the market, our friends Eva from Quebec and Andrew from Germany came and visited with us for some time. An elderly man discovered that we were pilgrims and took out his guitar and played us a song he wrote about his time on the Camino. That moment was so precious. After lunch, Hannah and I went to explore the city.

We came upon two amazing buildings, first the Bishop’s Palace Palacio Episcopal and then the beautiful Cathedral. Though both buildings were closed since it was Monday, we definitely enjoyed seeing the beautiful architecture of each building. I also found a small church near the cathedral that was open, it was stunning, pictures are below. We explored the town and I fell in love with the small, quaint city. My journey to Astorga and the time I spent there will always be special to me. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.20140716-213354-77634568.jpg

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the house of light

When I traveled to León earlier this week I made sure to stop by the León Cathedral, known as The House of Light or Pulchra Leonina. This magnificent cathedral took my breath away and gave me a sense of peace in the best of ways.
As I came upon the building, I was awe struck. I tried to take in every detail of the building, the amazing flying buttresses, the grandness of the French-styled gothic building that stood before me.
I payed 4€ to enter the Cathedral, this price included an audio tour, which was fantastic. I loved hearing the history of the majestic building. On stepping into the cathedral I was taken aback by the beautiful stained glass masterpieces that cover more than 1,800 square meters of the church. Many claim the stained glass windows within León’s Cathedral are the finest in Spain and some even believe these are among best in the world.
As I walked through the grand building I viewed the many paintings, sculptures, the various side chapels, choir area, and the intricate gold altar. I noticed that every detail seemed to work together harmoniously, making the building feel nothing short of heavenly.
The history of this fantastic architectural jewel is very interesting.
The cathedral was built from the 13th to the 16th century. The building contains over 1,500 art pieces. I viewed these historic pieces carefully and walked through the building twice. At one point during my visit, I decided to sit in a pew, where I could take in the beauty that surrounded me. I felt an amazing sense of peace. I sat in the pew for quite some time. I sat thinking, writing, praying.
Whether you’re religious or not, I definitely suggest visiting the León Cathedral. I believe that the architecture and historic artwork throughout the building could touch the hearts of people whether religious or not.
If you are traveling to León’s Cathedral, I would definitely suggest that you visit in the afternoon, during this time the sun streams through the windows in such a beautiful way.
I will always remember my visit to this particular Cathedral, because it touched my heart and soothed my soul. I can only imagine how wonderful and emotional it will be when I step through the grand doors of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. For now, I will hold all of these special moments in my heart and continue to walk on.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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my time in León

So, we made it to León. We got here on Thursday night and today is my second rest day here. We depart tomorrow for Villandangos Del Paramo. We’re just over 300 miles in. Only 190 miles left. It’s shocking to think I’m already this far into the Camino. I feel great, I definitely expected this trip to be more of a physical challenge, but it turns out for me, it has been more of a mental and spiritual challenge as I have talked about in my previous posts.

León is definitely my favorite city we have passed through. This may be the case simply because I have spent two days in León, but I’m convinced I love and enjoy it because it’s such a wonderful place. Walking around yesterday I was intrigued and in awe of all the beautiful statues of religious figures that were dispersed throughout the city. I love how architecturally diverse León seems to be. I came upon old roman walls and various gothic, baroque, and romanesque styled buildings as well.

The history of this city is so interesting and rich. The name León is derived from the word Legion, as León was once a Roman military base for the XIIth Legion. The city was conquered by the Visigoths then the Moors, then the Christians conquered the area.
Yesterday I visited the León Cathedral, which was unbelievable. I will talk about my visit to the León Cathedral in a future post.

Even our hotel, Hostal San Marcos is historic and it is the most amazing hotel I have ever stayed at in my life. This hotel is also in the movie “The Way” if any of you have seen it. When exploring this grand hotel/museum I was in shock at all the magnificent paintings within her walls, all of them being originals. This Parador hotel was once a pilgrim hospital, then a monastery, then a jail, and now is a magnificent, grand hotel. The hotel also has a church attached to it. When I was exploring today I actually walked into the church to find a wedding going on there!
Today I also visited the Basilica of Saint Isidoro, where I saw various frescos, tombs, sculptures, ancient biblical texts, and I even saw what many claim to be the “Holy Grail”. Whether the cup was the one Jesus blessed at the last supper or not, the grail was beautiful. The Basilica museum was so interesting, I spent hours there and I would love to return someday.

I would definitely suggest traveling to León if you love history, architecture, food, religion, and/or the Spanish culture. Every moment that I’ve been here has been such a blessing.
Walking through historic Europe, basking in the sunlight, going to local cafés, and meeting interesting people. Yes, I could get used to this life.
The city is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day. The night life here also seems great as well, near Plaza Mayor there are many little tapas bars and people seem to flock there at night. Last night some of my friends and I walked around the plaza area and there happened to be a concert going on, which was so fun. I have definitely enjoyed my time here in León, but tomorrow is time to move onto the next city.
It’s strange to think that in two weeks I’ll be in Santiago.
I will continue to live in the present moment and embrace the rest of the time I get to spend here.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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