© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

One Man's Journey Through An Ancient Trail From Europe To Spain


The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage trail that begins at various points in Europe and goes to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Betto Arcos is a frequent contributor to NPR's Arts Desk. Betto and his wife, Josephine Ramirez, just returned from walking the Camino for a week. Betto sent us this reporter's notebook.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Our journey begins in O Cebreiro, a Celtic mountain village from the 9th century 1,300 meters above sea level in the eastern region of Galicia. Tonight at the chapel of Santa Maria Real do Cebreiro, four people from different parts of the world read a farewell in French, Italian, English and Spanish to a group of 20 hikers walking the Camino de Santiago.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And when the moment comes for you to reach your goal, may love embrace you eternally.

ARCOS: This church hosted pilgrims as far back as the 12th century. From here, it's a seven-day walk to Santiago de Compostela. Father Paco Castro (ph) says, if you ask a typical 21st-century pilgrim why they do the Camino, they'll tell you a series of evasive answers. Father Castro says there's always something deeper.

PACO CASTRO: (Through interpreter) Human suffering, fears, the need to give sense to one's life, finding one's self, the encounter with others - which is to me one of the treasures of the community. It is a historic landmark because there are no borders. There's only one family called humanity. And you see it all on the Camino de Santiago.

ARCOS: It's day two of our walk on the Camino. As we descend into the valley of Samos, we're on a stretch of the trail surrounded by walls made of shale rock. Birds are chirping all around. And suddenly...


ARCOS: ...As a sort of welcoming, we hear the sound of church bells at the medieval monastery of Samos. Later that afternoon, I meet Rosario Garcia (ph), a 48-year-old woman from Rota in southwestern Spain who's hiking with her husband. She loves the atmosphere, the camaraderie and meeting new people. But she tells me today is a rough day.

ROSARIO GARCIA: (Through interpreter) There are days I just want to cry. I don't know. Maybe it's the quiet of the Camino. It makes you think more, and I'm thinking too much. I'm also thinking about all the things I'd like to do, but you can't fix everything.

ARCOS: It's day four. I meet Hillary Haye (ph) and Daneel Ong (ph) a young couple from Malaysia walking the Camino as their honeymoon. Daneel Ong says the Camino gives you an opportunity to discover a resilience that you never knew you had.

DANEEL ONG: What we wanted to achieve was we wanted to make sure that we walked every step of the way and we carry our backpacks. And we've done that so far. But, you know, there were lots of challenging moments. There were lots of people encouraging us to drop our packs and send them ahead and all that. And it was really about listening to our own bodies and understanding ourselves better and knowing, you know, if that was something we wanted to do or if we wanted to push ourselves.

ARCOS: It's day five. I catch up with Kathleen Riley (ph). I've seen her a few times on the Camino and noticed her American accent. She's from New York, recently retired and has been on the Camino for a month.

KATHLEEN RILEY: I think you can't finish this without finding a little bit more about yourself, whether it's things you want to improve on, understanding your own strengths and weaknesses better.

ARCOS: My wife and I had been wanting to walk the Camino for a while. Last year, when our son left for college, we decided we could finally do it. The Camino has been the perfect place to reconnect.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).


ARCOS: We're here, our final destination - Santiago de Compostela. As we descend into the large Praza do Obradoiro in front of the cathedral where all the pilgrims gather to celebrate their journey, I hear a gaitero, a bagpipe player. He seems to be welcoming everyone who came here.


ARCOS: Our muscles are sore, our knees are aching. But beyond the pain is a deeper feeling of accomplishment. We did it. I know we will return and meet new friends on the Camino de Santiago.

For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.