To try and pin down what my most rewarding experience has been here in Spain would be difficult especially after only having passed the halfway point. Living in Sevilla and exploring Andalusia is an amazing experience but, for me, one of my most rewarding experiences would be leaving Andalusia. Now I know what you might be thinking, wait, how can he have a rewarding experience during the “Semester in Sevilla [Spain]” if he’s not even in Andalusia? Well, allow me to explain. I’ve always loved nature and pretty much any activity involving spending time in God’s creation. While I love Sevilla, after a month and a half I was feeling drained and I needed a recharge. For me that meant going to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (ironically writing this while in Santiago). Here the climate is completely different than that of Sevilla with highs of 73F and crisp cool breezes that caress the beautiful countryside strewn with forests of pine and oak. Despite only having four days on our break, I wanted to hike part of el Camino de Santiago. For those who don’t know, here in Santiago is where St. James, one of Jesus’ apostles, was buried; every year thousands of pilgrims walk varying routes to get to La Catedral de Santiago. Someday I wish to do the whole pilgrimage but for now a small portion was enough.
We started Saturday morning by walking out of Santiago and backtracking the French route (one of the many Camino paths). Scallop shells demarcate the pilgrim’s path and can also be worn to distinguish oneself as a pilgrim. We tied the shells to ourselves and began our journey. We planned to go all the way to Arca, a town about four hours west of Santiago, backtracking parts of El Camino and other roads we happened upon. Once we arrived, we followed El Camino all the way back. You can imagine the number of times we had to explain that plan to other pilgrims who were confused why we were heading away from Santiago. We hiked about eight and a half hours. Although my legs and feet became sore, the Holy Spirit propelled me forward. Traveling through the villages seemed like a scene out of a movie with lush, ancient forests surrounding me. I could feel my spiritual bank filling up as I admired God’s creation. I realized how blessed I was to experience just a portion of el Camino. Our hike also helped with my homesickness; I’m from Iowa, so seeing cornfields and pine trees again was comforting. For me Santiago feels a lot like home. If I have the chance, I would love to move here. In the end, this has been my most rewarding experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone else who participates in the program. It was an amazing way to change my environment to somewhere a bit more familiar- giving me the recharge I needed to continue the semester.