Hiking the Camino del Norte — The Northern Way — A Study Abroad Success Story

November 20, 2014

Computer science major Glen Pringle and management major Edward Yount,both juniors at Saint Leo University, spent three weeks hiking the El Camino pilgrimage trail in northern Spain, June 6-26. This area is rich in Christian church history and architecture.

Part of the cost for their summer educational trip was financed by the YvainStudy Abroad project, a university program named for Yvain, “the Knight of the Lion,” who sat at the round table with King Arthur and was known for his sense of adventure. As members of the first cohort of Yvain scholarship recipients, they each received $1,600, which was applied directly to their airfare.

The Division of Academic Affairs created Yvain scholarships this year to cultivate broader international knowledge among motivated students. The students’ proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and administrators appointed by Saint Leo’s Internationalization Committee, and six students were selected for scholarships.

The Camino del Norte (The Northern Way) runs from France at Irún and follows the northern coastline of Spain to Galicia where it heads inland toward Santiago, joining the Camino Francés (The French Way) atArzúa. This route follows the old Roman road, the Via Agrippa, for a section of the way and is part of the Ruta de la Costa (Coastal Route), passing through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Oviedo.

El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is a series of pilgrimage routes that goes through France and Spain, with all routes leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. This particular route is less developed and less crowded, but is considered generally morephysically challenging.Instead of hostels on the route, there are shelters (albergues) stationed 20 to 35 kilometers apart.

“My pre-trip philosophy was to go with an open heart,” said Pringle, of Mims, FL.“I came back re-energized with a new zeal to give my all. This was a privilege to experience.”

“I viewed it as a great adventure,” said Yount, of Bradenton. I was humbled by the whole experience. It gave me a much greaterappreciation for what I have.”

The pair logged a total of 205 miles on their 21-day trip, averaging 15 miles a day. They met some friendly people along the way, including hikers from Australia, Croatia, Ireland, Spain, and New Zealand.They also metsome 70- to 80-year-olds who were happy to share their life stories. Pringle and Yountspent their last night reflecting on their amazing trip with several Irish guys over American burgers and Irish adult beverages.

On day six, about a third of the way on their journey, the pair encountered the Guemesalbergue. According to both adventurers, the accommodation at Guemes was one of the most amazing places they had ever experienced. Owned by Father Ernesto Bustio, this was not an average shelter but more like a Spanish villa. It serves as the center of an organization dedicated to promotion of human rights and equality.

The refuge, which was also Father Ernesto’s home, housed an eclectic collection of artifacts and treasures from his world travels during the 1960s and ’70s when he spanned the globe (more than 600,000 miles) in his Land Rover, seeking to make the world a better place. During his travels, he worked in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Laboring in coal mines, slave ships, and in impoverished areas, he searched for ways to improve the lives of the world’s leastprivileged. Although Father Ernesto was not home when they visited, Pringle and Yountfelt his presence. “You can learn a lot about someone looking at their home. Visiting the Guemes albergue was truly an amazing experience. This is what El Camino de Santiago is all about,” said Yount.

Being exposed to varied views and different perspectives left a lasting impression on Yount. “I felt ‘vulnerable’ on this trip – almost like I was homeless – with only the clothing on my back and a few essentials in my backpack,” he said. “It made me so appreciative ofanyone whohelped us along the way.”

Both students expressed a strong desire to seek a similar educational experience in the future, which is truly the best compliment they could give the Yvain program. In Pringle’s case, he had to decide between being captain of the men’s group at a Catholic summer camp and taking the Yvain trip. “I know I made the right decision. Going to Spain was so fruitful, and it would be hard to replicate. I’m so thankful and blessed that I went and was able to share the experience of a lifetime with my friend,” he said.