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Arts & Culture

Famous San Antonian Takes A 500-Mile Walk Almost On A Whim

Chavira.jpg
Tino Wagner
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Ricardo Chavira in front of Santiago de Compostela

Taking a hike can be good for what ails you. But one San Antonio man took an extraordinarily long hike. One that didn’t end until more than a month later, and on the west coast of Spain.  

“I kind of went into it blind, just, you know, with what my buddy had told me. And I was thinking this will be good. This will be a great challenge,” he said.

Ricardo Chavira had a specific reason to accept a major challenge: turning 50.

“I wanted to do something unequivocal,” he said.

You might remember Chavira from his eight years opposite Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewives or perhaps more recently on Selena: The Series.

In his real life, Chavira heard about an unusual adventure from that buddy, and was intrigued.

“I have a very good friend of mine that he and I worked together for many years on a project in Los Angeles. And he's the guy that kind of gets me to do weird things,” Chavira said.

View of Cathedral from Air BnB, Burgos.JPG
Didier Kostas
Didier Kostas and Ricardo Chavira admiring the cathedral at Burgos

Weird things like running marathons. The friend’s name is Didier, and last year during the COVID-19 lockdown he did something called the Camino De Santiago. Didier kept Chavira informed on social media.

“He starts posting some photos, sent me a couple of videos, called me from it (the Camino). And I was like, this is amazing,” he said.

The Camino De Santiago is a pilgrimage, and in a fashion, one that can be traced back to Jesus Christ.

“That's where the resting place is for the remains of St. James,” he said.

Christians believe St. James was one of Christ’s disciples, and his remains are said to be interred in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. That’s where the pilgrimage leads.

The journey can start from almost anywhere. Chavira walked what is called the Camino Frances.

“The original Frances starts in a town called Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which is right on the French-Spanish border,” Chavira said. “And you go from there following the pilgrimage trails all the way to Santiago de Compostela, which totals about 800 kilometers, or right about 500 miles.”

It was trial-by-fire the first day for Chavira because pilgrims — those who walk the Camino are called pilgrims — ascend the Pyrnees Mountains, and then descend from them.

“June 13, happened to be probably the hottest day this year thus far in the Pyrenees. 33, 34 degrees Celsius. So, low 90s,” he said.

Lavender Fields between Burgos and Leon .MP4

The hot asphalt road he was walking on and the push-pull braking motion of his big toes going downhill took a toll.

“As a result, I lost both my big toenails from that first day,” he said.

The nails didn’t just fall off that day. They took their time, exacting a price in pain. A couple of days later though, he got some relief.

And then I found a Pelegrino store, a Pilgrim store in the town of Estella,” he said. “And this woman was really good. She had a lot of medical stuff there. If I hadn't run into her, I probably would have ditched out after another couple of days. But she gave me the stuff I needed and I was able to finish. ”

Ricardo and Diider at one of many km markers.JPG
Ricardo Chavira
Ricardo and Didier at one of many km markers. Only 550 KM to go.

With his nails stabilized he continued west. Tiny, picturesque towns with 1,000-year-old architecture dot the landscape, oftentimes about the 15 or 20 miles apart that pelegrinos would walk. At the end of the day there weren’t Hilton Hotels, but far more humble hostels.

“The cheapest hostel is like the auberge municipal. That's the one that's run by the city or run by the church,” Chavira said. “It's like a large dormitory room with bunk beds. There could be anywhere from 10 to 20 people sleeping in one room in these bunk beds with common bathrooms.”

He and Didier did that for the first couple of weeks, then began paying about 5 Euros more a night. For that they got a semi-private room.

“You also get linens and towels and that for us, that was the way to go,” he said.

Their few nighttime amenities don’t seem too indulgent, given the miles they walked each day.

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Ricardo Chavira
Streets of León

“I think we were averaging about 20 to 22 (miles) a day, and that's over varying terrain, varying weather with a backpack carrying all of your belongings that hopefully weighed about 30 pounds before you add water,” he said.

The 500 miles of his Camino de Santiago were filled with social interaction, but also a lot of time to be left with your own thoughts. Problem is, that’s not always a nice place to be. Chavira said one stretch of his walk had him beating up himself, questioning decisions, feeling regret.

“But then you find a point of clarity where you're no longer doing that and you're just taking in the sound of the wind, the sound of the birds, the sound of your feet,” he said.

Walking 500 miles alongside revolving sets of people also begins new friendships.

“90% of the people that I met were all European, you know. And the great thing for me was, I was able to maintain my anonymity. Which was nice.”

For an internationally famous actor, that was a nice break. Finally, that anonymity was pierced, but even that wasn’t so bad.

“One person figured it out and then they all found out and they were like ‘no way!’ And it was, it was cool. And then we moved on and talked about other things,” he said.

Finally, a month into his journey, they arrived in Santiago de Compostela, at the grand cathedral.

“You don't really see it until you go through the portal and you kind of turn to the left and then, bam, there it is,” he said.

They were greeted by a street musician playing bagpipes. The cathedral itself was awe inspiring.

“Seeing it was breathtaking. It was also like…I'm done,” he said.

Funny thing was, he wasn’t done. Because of problems with his flight back to France, and trains being full until the next week, he had a few days to kill. So he and his newfound German friend Tino walked to Finisterre, which actually translates as “end of the world.”

“It's an extra 100 kilometers over the course of three days,” Chavira said.

His extended Camino ended at 900 Kilometers, about 560 miles, at the Atlantic Ocean. Is this “little hike” something he recommends? Most definitely.

“You learn more about yourself, you learn more about the world around you when you get yourself out of your comfort zone,” he said. “It was an experience of a lifetime, and I recommend it to anybody.”

He’s thinking already about doing it again, but this time taking his wife and two children.

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Didier Kostas
Ricardo catching his breath in a forest in Estella


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