Local pil­grims

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - LYNN ATKINS [email protected]

For hun­dreds of years, pil­grims have trav­eled to the place where one of the 12 apos­tles, Saint James, was buried. Re­cently, two local women trav­eled to Spain to fol­low in the foot­steps of thou­sands of Chris­tians, to the Camino de San­ti­ago.

Carie O’Ban­ion, a re­tired teacher, heard about the route when she was fol­low­ing a friend’s blog. The Camino de San­ti­ago is ac­tu­ally a se­ries of routes that lead to the site where St. James was buried. O’Ban­ion and her friend, Beth Haller, chose a route that be­gan in France, and they walked more than 400 miles in about five weeks.

Since it’s a route that has been in con­tin­u­ous use for over 12 cen­turies, it doesn’t re­ally re­sem­ble a North Amer­i­can hik­ing trail, O’Ban­ion ex­plained. She has no in­ter­est in walk­ing the Ap­palachian or Pa­cific Crest Trails, she said. For one thing, she doesn’t want to carry camp­ing gear. Along the Camino, at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals are al­berques — or hos­tels. Although they splurged on a nice ho­tel a cou­ple of nights, dur­ing most of their trip they stayed in al­berques.

Some of the al­berques were nice, but some were not quite as nice. Of­ten there was a room filled with bunk beds where pil­grims of ei­ther sex could spend the night. They re­al­ized, they liked the ac­com­mo­da­tions bet­ter if the men and women were sep­a­rated be­cause the women don’t snore as much.

Near each al­berque was a place to get a “pil­grim’s meal.” The meals were sim­ple but fill­ing and rea­son­ably priced. Haller said she es­pe­cially liked the sal­ads which were al­ways fresh and al­ways de­li­cious.

Of­ten the meal was served with wine, but the hosts couldn’t un­der­stand why any­one would want both wa­ter and wine. If wa­ter was or­dered, it came in­stead of wine but at the same price. O’Ban­ion quickly learned to fill her plas­tic wa­ter bot­tle be­fore she sat down so she could or­der wine.

Wa­ter was never a prob­lem, she said. There were foun­tains in all the small towns that could be used to fill the plas­tic blad­ders they car­ried in their back­packs, as well as plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles. Some­times they stopped in a local gro­cery store for cook­ies to eat along the way. Oc­ca­sion­ally, they came across vend­ing ma­chines filled with first-aid items for feet. Some doc­tors would treat a pil­grim with foot prob­lems for free, O’Ban­ion said.

They each car­ried a pack ev­ery day with wa­ter and a few pieces of ex­tra cloth­ing. Ev­ery night, they rinsed out what they were wear­ing and let it air dry. They also car­ried hik­ing sticks, which helped.

Meet­ing peo­ple from all over the world was the best thing about the trip for Haller. She’s only sorry she didn’t take a photo of each one of them. Some­times the two friends didn’t walk to­gether, but they al­ways met for meals.

“I never felt like I wasn’t safe,” O’Ban­ion said.

Some sec­tions of trail were crowded but other places were not. Some­times they passed farm­ers plow­ing fields with oxen and an­tique tools. But they also passed a few aban­doned vil­lages where the na­tives had gone look­ing for op­por­tu­nity.

Early on they crossed the Pyre­nees and, while it was a dif­fi­cult climb, it was worth it to see the views.

“You felt like you were in the Sound of Mu­sic,” Haller said.

In the moun­tains, an­i­mals in­clud­ing sheep and horses roamed freely, but each wore a bell.

The trails were marked with con­crete mark­ers which were dec­o­rated with a scal­lop shell and a yel­low arrow. In the coun­try, the mark­ers were easy to spot, but in the cities, they might be em­bed­ded in the pave­ment or high up on a build­ing.

Dur­ing the mid­dle ages, peo­ple took pil­grim­ages as penance. To­day, many pil­grims are look­ing for a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.

For Haller and O’Ban­ion, the trip was an ad­ven­ture. It was also sur­pris­ingly af­ford­able. When you have to carry any­thing you buy, you’re not likely to stop for sou­venirs, O’Ban­ion ex­plained.

Just know­ing you can do a trip like that is em­pow­er­ing, Haller said.

They are not plan­ning an­other five-week walk, O’Ban­ion said. She is plan­ning to walk in and out of the Grand Canyon later this year, but that’s only a cou­ple of days. Haller is plan­ning a long bike ride with a group of friends this sum­mer.

The Camino de San­ti­ago was a once in a life­time ad­ven­ture for the two friends.

Photo sub­mit­ted

Ev­ery pil­grim on the Camino de San­ti­ago must stop for a pass­port be­fore be­gin­ning. Beth Haller and Carie O’Ban­ion pose out­side the Pil­grim of­fice in St. Jean Pied de Port France.

Photo sub­mit­ted

The La Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross, is at one of high­est points along the Camino de San­ti­ago. Trav­el­ers leave a to­ken rep­re­sent­ing a bur­den or prob­lem be­hind.

Photo sub­mit­ted

Some sec­tions of the trail are steep, but some sec­tions are flat and easy to walk, the hik­ers re­ported.

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Af­ter hun­dreds of years and thou­sands of pil­grims, the Camino de San­ti­ago is a well-es­tab­lished path.

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Hik­ing sticks helped on “Heart At­tack Hill” out­side of Vil­lafranca.

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A com­mu­nal meal with friends made along the way.

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