Sept. 17, 2012 -- Paulina Robles ’12 was mid-way through her 500-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, with swollen shins and using a walking stick to keep steady, and all she could think about was the natural beauty around her. Europe’s well-worn path, known in English as The Way of St. James, was Robles’ haven for 37 days this summer.
She started her long walk in May in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. But it was a year earlier when Robles was inspired to take the trip in the first place. Her parents had heard about the movie “The Way” by filmmakers Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, which takes place along the rocky, picturesque route. The Robles family went to a local theater to experience the spiritual movie, and soon after Paulina mapped out an itinerary for her own journey. [Sheen and Estevez presented a private screening of the film on the Chalon Campus last year.]
Robles joined a constant stream of devout pilgrims who travel along the route to Spain to pray at the tomb of St. James, whose remains are believed to be enshrined under the altar at Santiago Cathedral. The 24-year-old stayed in hostels and people’s homes along the way, and stopped at Internet cafés to update her mother back home in Newport Beach on her progress. She carried a 17-pound backpack with essentials, including a journal and her Camino de Santiago “passport” to be stamped at stopovers to prove at her final destination that she had made the pilgrimage.
She was never alone. Other “pilgrims” shared intimate details of their lives but she never learned their names. “You have to be able to physically and mentally push yourself through it,” says Robles. “Everyone I saw at the end of the route had some kind of bandages on their legs.
"Photos from my trip are very hard to look at, because I miss it so much. It’s really difficult to get back into a normal life again," she says. "It was 37 days of getting up, wrapping your sore feet, putting your backpack on and getting out there.”
The sociology major, whose MSMC courses focused on human rights and global studies, says her time on Camino de Santiago brought her peace about the future. “I really don’t know fully what I want to do with my life. The Camino showed me that I don’t fully need to know at this moment,” she says. “It made me want to travel more. It made me want to see the world more, to go to a country and walk around it. But I need money to travel, so I am hoping to find a job soon.”