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Father-Son Duo Journey to Santiago

By Staff | Feb 3, 2016

Brandon and Dan Pastilong stop at the end of the earth.

It is not very often that someone can say, with honesty, that he or she has walked to the end of the Earth. Even saying one has walked “The Way” is bound to bring some strange looks, as well as confusion. However, for Wetzel County resident Dan Pastilong, both statements are 100 percent truthful.

Last spring, Pastilong, along with his son Brandon, journeyed overseas where they walked “El Camino de Santiago,” also known as “The Way of St. James.” As if this does not sound serious enough, the duo did not stop when reaching their destination. They walked a further distance to Cape Finisterre, what was once known as the end of the earth.

The idea for the trek was Brandon’s, and really, Dan was not at all surprised to hear of his son’s idea.

“Brandon has a bucket list,” Dan stated, explaining that his son has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, skydived, rode a bull, and … as if riding a bull wasn’t enough, participated in Spain’s popular “Running of the Bulls.”

Dan, although perhaps not as daring as his son, has also engaged in some adventure. “I’ve done a lot things,” he explained, adding that he has once went spelunking.

The Pastilongs encountered some snow at the very beginning of their journey but otherwise “you couldn’t ask for better weather,” Dan noted.

Dan said his son asked him to walk “The Way” with him, and he kept asking. Dan was worried about leaving work but was told he could take a leave of absence; therefore, he made the decision to walk the path.

For many, the concept of The Camindo de Santiago is perhaps as unfamiliar as the language of its name.

There are several different routes to one, final destination – the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James, disciple of Jesus, are supposedly interred. The Pastilongs began their journey in France.

Throughout history, many have pilgrimaged to Santiago, whether it be for the religious experience, for self-discovery, for nature, or for adventure. Dan seemed to mainly partake of the journey for adventure and so he could spend time with his son, but he added that his ancestors are actually from Spain.

The Way is for not the faint-hearted, or the out-of-shape. The walk itself is 500 miles, and besides one’s necessities, participants are given a seashell to carry, along with a passport. The passport will be filled with stamps by the end of one’s journey. Each stamp is representative of a town or city that the pilgrim stayed in each night of the journey.

Pilgrims are identified not only by their backpacks they carry but also by the seashells that hang from their packs. There are different versions as to how the seashell relates to the Camino de Santiago but all stories point back to the time of St. James. For instance, one version relates that when James’ body was shipped to be buried in Santiago, his body was lost in the ocean. Later it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

Dan said some individuals do choose to walk the Camino de Santiago for two weeks, go home, and continue their journey at a later date. Other individuals choose to have their belongings and backpacks that they carry brought to them by taxi. Although Dan and Brandon carried their belongings in backpacks on their back, Dan admitted that he didn’t do his “research.”

“I had the wrong clothing. You should have nylon clothes since they dry overnight,” he explained, adding that his backpack was too big as well.

“And don’t wear blue jeans,” he added. “Wear nylon pants, along with hiking boots,” he further explained, adding that he wore tennis shoes.

Another lesson Dan took from his journey seems to be to stop and enjoy the moment.

Dan explained that he felt like Brandon and himself made the journey “like it was a challenge.” He explained that if they ever took the trip in the future, they would take time to “lollygag” along, instead of waking up early to hurry along to their destination.

Unique to the journey are albergues, which are the accomodations for pilgrims hiking the way. Dan noted that payment for a stay in an albergue could be either a set fee or a donation. Most albergues had a “barracks” type of sleeping arrangement. Though sleeping in the same room with a dozen or so strangers may seem not-at-all appealing, Dan later noted that we all might be able to learn something from the people who take the pilgrimage.

“Those people thought living in a barracks and using shower facility … that was like a vacation,” noted.

Dan further described another instance of, after climbing the first mountain on the Camino de Santiago, passing individuals out for a leisurely stroll. “They were going up the mountain for exercise!” he exclaimed, adding that the people were “dressed like they had just been to church.”

“A lot of people in those cities walked or use bicycles,” he explained.

Dan further added that he “felt as safe as possible,” and only met one unfriendly individual on the journey. Dan later explained that Brandon actually told him he could have made more of an effort communicating with the unfriendly individual, who seemed to be frustrated with the language barrier.

Dan also was in for a surprise when a visit to the hospital, for three lost toenails, was free.

“I told my son I had my insurance and Medicare cards, and he laughed at me and said ‘They aren’t going to accept that!'” Quite the opposite, Dan was given a cream for his ailment and continued on his journey the very next day.

Despite the hundreds of miles and the loss of three toenails, the Pastilongs made it to Santiago and then, like many others who journey the Camino de Santiago, walked another 100 miles to Cape Finisterre, which in ancient times was thought to be the end of the earth.

After completing the adventure, Dan explained that Brandon and he also toured Portugal, as well as London. The entire trip took about six weeks.

Though it added several ounces to his backpack, Dan mentioned a special gift given to him by his four children – three boys and one girl. “They got a pretty good sized notebook, a hardback book. They took pictures and pasted them (in the notebook). When I got to the airport, my son gave it to me. The book had notes that said ‘Good luck’ and whatnot.”

And perhaps inspired by the Camino de Santiago journey, Dan noted that he would like to someday walk the Appalachian trail. However, he added there is nowhere to stay, such as the albergues in Spain.

It might not take much convincing for Dan and Brandon to hike the mountains of Appalachia though. Dan had noted that he does not like airplanes, buses, or trains, which almost deterred him the trip to Europe. However, “I don’t get to see my son very often,” he stated, adding the adventure was “an experience.”