Three Centre pilgrims walk across Spain
RELEASED: Feb. 1, 2007
DANVILLE, KY—Three Centre friends spent 26 days in January walking the legendary Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail across northern Spain that pilgrims have walked since the Middle Ages.
Mark Mallman '07 of Franklin, Tenn., Nate Crimmins '08 of Greencastle, Ind., and Rob Kinzel '05, who now lives in Florissant, Colo., set off Jan. 1 from St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. Three and a half weeks later they arrived at their destination, the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where the relics of the apostle St. James (Santiago, in Spanish) supposedly lie.
Kinzel took a leave from his job at the Colorado Outdoor Education Center, near Colorado Springs. Mallman and Crimmins incorporated the walk as part of an independent study during Centre’s short January CentreTerm.
The Camino de Santiago is one of Europe's three most historic pilgrimage routes. It was designated the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987. In 1993 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 100,000 registered pilgrims walked at least some part of it in 2006, although the number last January, when the ground was covered by three feet of snow, was a mere 314.
For most of their journey the three Centre peregrinos (Spanish for pilgrim) had exceptionally warm weather, with temperatures in the 50s. They ran into a more seasonal snowstorm only at the end.
"The wind [was] gusting and hitting our faces," says Mallman, a sociology major who does not let inclement weather bother him. "That's the coldest my face has ever been. There were icicles hanging from my beard."
He adds, "And I loved every minute of it."
Like Chaucer's pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales, the Centre pilgrims met many interesting travelers during their journey. They befriended a couple of Austrians and a soldier on short leave from the French army. They heard about an older German man just behind them, who was "walking to Santiago from his home in Germany . . . [pushing] his 50-pound elderly dog in a wheelbarrow," Mallman says. They also met 20 students from Minnesota who were studying the pilgrim way, but traveled via buses and stayed in hotels, with just occasional optional days to actually walk the trail.
By contrast, the Centre three walked about 20 miles a day.
Both Kinzel and Mallman are veteran long-distance walkers. The two spent five months on a 2,172-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2003, a trek prompted by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. The idea for the Camino walk, Kinzel says, came from another book, The Pilgrimage, by Paulo Coelho.
Most long-distance trails avoid towns, but because of its historic need to provide shelter for pilgrims, the Camino de Santiago (or Way of Saint James), deliberately winds through them. On their trip, the three traveled through five or six villages a day.
"The path is much different than the Appalachian Trail," Kinzel says. "Taking advantage of this, we found ourselves stopping at least twice each day for a café con leche (coffee with milk)."
They also availed themselves of the many albergues, simple hostels for pilgrims along the route.
"The building is sort of an adobe type; the exterior walls are made of clay and straw," says Mallman in describing a typical stop. "Many of the villages we pass through have been here for over a thousand years, and not much has changed. Stone and wood, red tile shingles and ornate wooden doors make for some quaint and mystical towns."
The journey did have a few trials. On day two Mallman realized his shoes did not quite fit, leading to an emergency trip to a mall for replacements.
And none of the three spoke much Spanish, although with hand gestures and Kinzel’s confident sis and por favors they were able to get by, says Crimmins.
Was it worth the blisters, the snow, and the exhaustion? Emphatically yes, Mallman says.
"I'm walking across northern Spain with two of my best friends on a pilgrimage route older than I can count," he says. "The café con leche is served in very small portions, but it tastes very good. I'm meeting some great people."
Their pilgrimage complete, the three travelers parted to sort through their photos and memories of the trip. Crimmins returned home to get ready for the spring term in Danville. After a couple of days in Rome, Kinzel headed back to work in Colorado, and Mallman to Strasbourg, France, where he is spending the spring term with Centre's program in France. (Read about his Strasbourg adventures in his Travel Journal.)
Thanks to an Austrian walker they met, Mallman was interviewed (through a translator) on Radio Maria-Austria, a Catholic radio station, about their journey.
"Finally, to wrap it up, I said, 'This has really been an excellent adventure,'" Mallman recalls. "Before I could stop her from translating this, I realized that I used the title of Keanu Reeve’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie to describe my pilgrimage."
He adds, "It has been an excellent adventure."
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