Camino de Santiago global program


Photo credit Matthew Young

Camino Cats arrive at their final destination after hiking through the country and pose in front of the Spanish architecture.

“Your parents always told you not to talk to strangers? That rule does not apply on this trip,” said Spanish teacher Daniel Searl. “Your orders are: talk to strangers.”

“Bueno Camino,” said one of the 200,000 travelers of the Camino de Santiago trail to Westminster’s first ever Camino de Santiago group that hiked the trail over the past summer. 

It translates to “Good Walk,” which references the 117-kilometer path the CaminoCats would be hiking over the course of five days. The trail spans Spain, France, and Portug

al and is the same one used a thousand years ago for pilgrimages to Jerusalem, allowing many who walk it to connect with their Christian faith.

The preparation for the hike varied, from buying new pairs of shoes to walking around Chastain. Participants needed to think carefully about packing for the trip, as the materials and clothing they chose could impact their enjoyment of the Camino; the wrong gear would lead to blisters that even balm could not fix. 

“[There was] a lot of blister balm and bandaids,” said senior Ava Wong.

Although the goal of the trip was to complete the walk, its purpose was to transform into something much deeper over its duration. 

“[The mindset] changed from ‘Just get from start to finish’ to ‘Let’s get these students out of their comfort zones, and let’s have that opportunity to connect with people and cultures from all over the world,’” said Searl. 

Seniors Giulia Pacifici, Sophia Batchelor, Preston Stewart, Ava Wong, and Virginia Hernandez (left to right) play basketball when they aren’t hiking the Camino. (Photo credit Matthew Young)

Once the CaminoCats arrived at the trail, its authenticity granted clarity surrounding their reasoning and allowed many to find their inner drive.  

 “When I was asked on the trail why I was walking, I didn’t have an answer at first,” said junior Luke Parikh. “Once we got into the hike I realized that I wanted to use it to get closer to God.”

This was a sentiment echoed by the others, who fondly remember the conversations other hikers initiated with them during the walk. Comradery and community developed between the CaminoCats and the other hikers.

 “Knowing you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, or even your group, was really, really powerful to me,” said Wong. “Knowing that people had walked in the same footsteps as me became really important.” 

Age, culture, and even language had no bearing on the relationships that the CaminoCats were able to form with those they met.

“Comradery, community… the connection becomes real pretty quickly,” said Searl. 

The local culture of the countries that the trail included was also able to shine through, with opportunities like interacting with the locals as well as receiving a taste of the region.

“The culture was a huge part of the trip. There were little towns along the trail where you could stop and relax and get coffee,” said Wong. “It was there where I really strove to practice my Spanish.” 

Despite its hardships, the commitment that the Cats put into the hike consistently showed, especially during the 18-mile walk, which was the longest distance covered in one day and which was completed on only the second day in. Despite the immense physical and mental toll, the Cats were able to rely on each other to persevere. 

“Each other’s presence was enough to keep everyone going,” said Parikh. 

It was the immense support that the Cats offered each other that allowed them to complete the challenging stretches. 

“As tough as it was, Sophia [Batchelor], Virginia [Hernandez], and Ava [Wong] were walking along but still happy and determined,” said Searl.

Even after long hours of hiking daily, students were still able to enjoy leisure activities. The group’s favorite memory was the football game between two teams of Westminster students– an example of how even after the long days, everyone was still able to build their peers up and create a truly special moment. 

“After a long day of hiking we were all so tired, but we grabbed a football. It was Giulia Pacifici’s birthday, and the game was tied,” said Wong. “Someone threw Giulia the ball, and she caught it in the endzone and got a touchdown. It was just such an amazing moment.” 

The testimonies of the trip’s impact are well-voiced and overwhelmingly positive.  

“This trip changed my life,” said Wong. “It showed me that going out of my comfort zone really shapes you into a better person.” 

The connections formed among those on the trail, especially among the CaminoCats, allowed participants to discover a new portion of the world and their role in it. 

“The Camino trip is a good opportunity for any Westminster student to connect with your classmates and the world while walking through beautiful landscapes and eating good food,” said Searl.

Edited by Kelley Lu