Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 1-3: St. Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona

This summer, Rivers teachers are embarking on a variety of activities through the school’s faculty enrichment grants, which aim to promote the intellectual growth of Rivers teachers through research, education, and other independent projects. Today, we hear from Alaina Cotillo, who is participating in the five-week St. James’ Way hike that starts at St. Jean Pied de Port, France and ends at Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Studying abroad in Madrid in college, I became intrigued by the Camino de Santiago, its history, and those who choose to walk it. Never having been to rural Spain or traveling much in the northern part of the country, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to further immerse myself in the Spanish culture, discover new places, and be part of a tradition that has existed for over over 1,000 years. I began my trek 3 days ago in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, a small, picturesque town just north of the Pyrenees Mountains. It was by far the hardest day thus far and perhaps will be during the entirety of my pilgrimage. Covering about 17 miles in 7 hours, I climbed steadily for nearly 5.5 of them through the mountains. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking with lush greenery, small villages nestled in amongst the mountains, and a bright, blue sky with very few clouds. As I climbed, my quads burned and lower back ached from my 25 pound pack; however, it was not until the descent that I realized how much more I actually enjoyed the climb. The continuous pounding on my feet caused the soles to become sore and my toes to hurt. Moreover, I had to look only at the ground so as not to trip or turn my ankle; consequently was not able to enjoy the view. Upon arriving in Roncesvalles, the first town you reach once crossing the French-Spanish border, I stayed in my first pilgrim hostel. An experience unlike any other in my life, I slept in a cavernous, church-like room with 100+ people in bunk beds before waking up for another day on the Camino. Between my hikes yesterday and today I walked more than 26 miles, with some ascents and some descents but the majority of the time the land was flatter. Covering only 9 miles today in order to spend the night in Pamplona, the first city on the Camino, I am looking forward to getting lost in the winding, narrow streets and perhaps seeing a bull or two running through the streets.

Alaina Cotillo

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