This mini-term is a three-week sojourn in northern Spain following the last third of the ancient pilgrimage trail from Leon to Santiago de Compostela. Approximately 14 students may join Union professors, a Union athletic trainer and possibly Union alumni along the trail.
Pilgrims from all over the world have walked the "The Way of St. James" to the great shrine at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain for more than 1000 years. This is one of the three principal pilgrimages of Western Christianity (the others being Rome and Jerusalem). Throughout the centuries, hospices, monasteries and churches were constructed to give aid to pilgrims along the way. The route is significant for its history, religion, literature, music, art and architecture.
The age-old pilgrim's badge is a scallop shell. Hand-made pilgrims' staffs are for sale along the trail and are helpful for walking over rough terrain. Each pilgrim is issued an official booklet at the start, which is stamped every night by the hostels. After walking a certain number of kilometers and presenting this booklet in Santiago, pilgrims receive an official certificate. Pilgrims are also identified by the peculiar tan which only appears on the backs of their legs (from walking inexorably east to west in the mornings)!
Course of Study
The journey will begin in the city of Bilbao, home to the acclaimed Guggenheim Museum. A private bus will take students to tour historic sites, such as the great medieval cities of Burgos and Leon and the beautiful Romanesque monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos.
Then the group will embark on a 17-day hike. Each day involves walking between 12 and 23 kilometers. The degree of difficulty is generally moderate (although there are at least three very steep passages, each several kilometers in length). People of all ages are on the trail, but few children are below the age of 12. It will certainly be one of the most interesting, unique and rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Previous mini-term participants have marveled at the opportunity to relive history, revel in the beauties of nature, and enjoy the wonderful food and the pleasures of the unusual.
One of the greatest appeals of the hike is that there is no typical day. Each day on the trail provides different landscape, terrain, plant life and weather, as well as different degrees of difficulty and a different distance to our destination. Each day's itinerary and meeting place is set the night before. Students are able to set their own pace–walk by yourself, with others in your group, or with other pilgrims met along the way. The required guidebook, pilgrims and well-marked trails help everyone arrive at the destination between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Vans arrive ahead with the packs and tents and scout out campsites and restaurants. After a group lunch (the big meal of the day), the afternoon is free for showers (often cold water), laundry (always cold water!), naps, exploring, and shopping for trail food. Gather again for a light supper and an early bedtime (around 9 or 10 p.m.). An excerpt from a student journal reads:
“Dinner was fabulous and I had a great time because everyone ate together. It will be hard to go back to the U.S. and adjust to the food. I like it much better here: having a larger midday meal, also the portions are smaller and the food is fresh, especially the fruit. I think the best part of the day was when we were walking back to the hostel after dinner and everyone was in a good mood and we all started singing.”
Students must bring the following equipment on the mini-term:
- Broken-in hiking boots with ankle support (not low-cut). It is advisable to bring a second pair of boots or shoes suitable for hiking in case you develop blisters or other foot discomforts.
- Extra hiking socks.
- A sleeping bag and a Therma-rest pad to put underneath it (the latter is essential as we will be sleeping on uneven and damp ground).
- Raincoat suitable for hiking (Gore-tex is most comfortable).
- Day Pack for the trail, large enough for water bottles, maps, snacks and raincoat.
- Flashlight. Head-lamps are recommended to move around in dark tents.
- Flip-flops for tired feet and for showers.
- Vaseline (the best blister preventer) and sunscreen.
- Fleece clothing (e.g., pants and jacket). It gets cold at night in higher elevations, and fleece is warm, light-weight and dries quickly.
- Guide book (as directed by Union faculty). It has detachable maps that fit easily into your day pack, and the book is filled with interesting information.
It is also recommended that students bring:
- One set of dress-up clothes for cities, though it can be informal. Very few clothes are needed (e.g., two pairs of hiking shorts is plenty).
- Clothes spins; there are never enough at the campsites.
- Money belt for documents and currency.
- Sunglasses that work.
- Suitcases are not allowed on this mini-term; bring a large pack or duffel bag (that can function as a back pack) instead.
Students will generally stay in hostels or tents along the trail. Sometimes a night may be spent in pensiones (very inexpensive inns) or local housing. Two vans accompany the group for emergency transportation and carrying tents and large backpacks.
This mini-term is not currently offered. Please contact the International Programs Office, Old Chapel, Third Floor for more information.