Our professor at Universidad Católica de Valencia told us it would be a short hike. To those of us attending Yale’s Summer Language program in Valencia, the journey to Culla, a small mountain village in the Spanish countryside, was not a hike. The journey was twenty-six miles, fourteen hours, two cracked iPhone screens, and one girl literally bucked from a horse.
We started out energetic. Marching in Nike shorts and Yale baseball caps, the Americans had isolated themselves from the Spanish natives, most of whom wore long pants and, even, a few monastic robes. We spoke, in a mixture of Spanish and English, over the course of our single-file journey, jokingly encouraging each other.
After hour seven we were, for the most part, all out of things to talk about – and starting to wonder why the hike, which we had been told would take us less than six hours – was dragging on so long.
At hour nine, we stopped hiking up a mountain and started hiking down the very same one. It was difficult to keep our footing on the dusty, uneven trails, what with pebbles skidding out from under us constantly. I began to feel bad for our horses. By nightfall it began raining. I almost started crying. The monks were still chanting in Latin or Spanish. I had lost the ability to distinguish.
An hour before midnight, there it was: Culla. We had arrived at our mountain village – a medieval castle of a town with a population of only 633. I had never been happier to lie down in my life.
We could’ve driven from Valencia to Culla in less than two hours. Instead we took fourteen – longer than the flight between my home of San Francisco and Valencia. Physically engaging in our travel made the magnitude of the distance seem so much more real. I had traveled almost halfway around the world to get from California to Spain, but it took a twenty-six mile walk to make me feel that I'd finally arrived.