Walking through Spain

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By Kirsten Laskey

The road to Santiago, Spain, has been beaten flat by pilgrims’ feet for more than 1,000 years. Every year, more than 50,000 people tie on walking shoes and trek through countrysides and small villages. They endure blisters, rain and spartan lodging all to reach the burial place of St. James and a cathedral at the end of the journey.

These adventurers come from all over the world to reach this destination and while Spain is located on the other side of the globe, this country and Los Alamos share a tie. For several years, local residents have walked down this well-known path.

Everyone has their own reason for doing this walk – religious, spiritual, or just the thrill of the challenge.

Judy and Dick Opsahl are practically regulars on the Camino de Santiago. They have participated in the walk in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

This year, they were joined by Joy Green, Yvonne and Chick Keller, Karen Grace and Marilyn Yeamans, all of Los Alamos, plus Marilyn’s daughter, Sarah Maxwell, of London, England. The group of eight started walking from Ponferrada, Spain, Oct. 2 and finished in Santiago Oct. 13. They covered 130 miles and averaged between 10-14 miles a day.

“I really loved walking … it was quiet. It was a quiet thing to do,” Yvonne said.

Participants would get into a routine, which included waking up in the dark, getting dressed, getting packed and beginning the day’s hike in the dark. Mid-day, many walkers would stop for a coffee and a snack at café before arriving at the next destination.

“I think the whole thing was just a walking mediation … it was such an uncomplicated life,” Yvonne said.

The group stayed in hostels along the way, which were pretty basic, she said. A group of people would share a room. “Sometimes there were world-class snorers,” she joked.

The road might have been rugged but there were lots of treasures, too. Judy remembers walking past the Roman bridges and roads, “it was a walk through history,” she said.

Green added, “The landscapes are so beautiful.”

The Opsahls were introduced to the Camino de Santiago through a friend, while Green said the couple encouraged her to join the group and Keller said she discovered the pilgrimage in a book.

Originally, Judy said, it was exclusively a trek for Catholics, and while the Catholic Church still governs it, presently the road is open to anyone.

And anyone from any country can be found on the road. Europeans, Koreans, Mexicans, South Africans, Canadians and many other nationalities can be spied on the journey.

But boundary lines and different languages do not isolate walkers from one another. In fact, Judy said she really enjoyed “the camaraderie that you had to have in the camino.”

Everyone is doing the same thing each day, she explained, so the walkers share the same thing, a common experience.

“You’re never alone on the Camino,” Judy said. “There are always people around.”

Green added that it’s not just the quantity of walkers but also the quality of participants. Everyone is warm, caring and in high spirits, she recalled.

Judy recalled one day when she made quite an impression on her fellow travelers. It was raining and as she walked into a café saying, “aye, yeye, yeye,” and even though the other diners didn’t speak English, they still understood what she said and laughed.

Another time, the group was able to interact with the locals when they stopped at a hostel in a monastery and heard the monks sing Vespers.

Green said one of the highlights for her was “just people enjoying the experience and the interactions, and Spain.”

“It is an interesting thing to do in a nice country with interesting people to meet and places to see,” Dick said. ”And it’s cheap.”

“A pilgrimage is a metaphor for life,” Judy said. “You get up and you know where you are going but you don’t know what’s going to happen along the way; you just take what comes.”