Imagine yourself fast asleep, enjoying quiet dreams and a rested body. Now imagine the sound of three roosters competing with each other on who can “cock-a-doodle-doo” loudest at the crack of dawn. Now, being from Boston I am pretty used to the sound of jackhammers and sirens in the morning, but this was something else.
One of the reasons I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago is the change in scenery. The usual city staples of skyscrapers, cars and asphalt are swapped with dirt roads, fields of grass and cows—lots and lots of cows. I’ve learned that while some people walk in order to find something their normal lives are missing, I’m doing it for another reason; I wanted to get away from the normal and experience the incredible countryside and wildlife northern Spain has to offer. The roosters turned from utter frustration to comedic relief, as I thought “well, this is the way.”
At a normal waking hour, we sat down for breakfast to prepare for the 19 kilometer road ahead. Morale ran high because after today, there would be only day left before our final destination, the long awaited Santiago de Compostela. Arzua is known for a particular type of cheese called simply Arzua cheese and we were lucky enough to dine on it during our pre-departure meal. With all of the cows and goats in the area, it really should come as no surprise that the cheeses here are delicious. For some of us, “Queso de Cabra,” or goat cheese, is a minor obsession.
Much of the walk took us through the usual rolling hill landscape, but also by glades of various trees. I learned from Manuel that Eucalyptus, common in the area, can be used in cough drops and teas to relieve sore throats and help with congestion. I happened to spot a few geckos and cool birds. As a biology major, wildlife fascinates me. I know the rest of the group agrees with me; at the first rest stop, everyone went crazy for the café’s resident puppy. The camino is obviously rife with faunae.
Animals aren’t the only interesting life along the camino. We met a ninety-four year old local out for a walk. He stopped us to ask where we were from, and to tell us that he is actually older than the town he lives in! We learned that he has been in two wars in his life, but you would not be able to tell by his genuine toothless smile. It was heartwarming to hear the “Buen camino!” from an elderly person who probably only left his house to encourage pilgrims on their finals days.
Our last rest stop in A Rua was just what we needed. The owner of the hotel had gone out of his way to bring our luggage to our rooms before we arrived, and always smiled at our struggling attempts to communicate in Spanish. In class, we talked about the same translation struggle that anthropologists must go through. Fieldwork requires a long time in a culture not your own, complete with learning the language and assimilating into the unknown. The discussion was about comparing anthropology itself to pilgrimage as both “rites of passage.” One of the ideas really resonated with me—in order to study another culture, one must really understand and live in that culture. For us to understand pilgrimage, we had to become pilgrims. With our blisters and collections of “sellos,” I’d say we are very ready to get to Santiago.
Ori Feldman – Biology