Rural Interest Group



Volume 50 Number 1
Winter 2017


Rural Interest Group

Edited by Susana Helm, PhD, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa,

Co-Editors Cheryl Ramos, PhD & Suzanne Phillips, PhD

The Rural IG column highlights rural resources as well as the work of community psychologist, students, and colleagues in their rural environments. Please email Susana if you would like to submit a brief rural report or if you have resources we may list here.

Rural Resources:  The Rural Health Information Hub (RHIhub)

Formerly referred to as the Rural Assistance Center (RAC), RHIhub supports healthcare and population health in rural communities across the United States. Their website is organized with an online library, topical and state guides, tools for success, publications and updates, and a rural community gateway (toolkits, health models). From the publications and updates menu, you can subscribe to receive weekly email updates which include funding announcements and Rural Monitor articles. A cool feature that can be accessed from the RHIhub homepage is the “Am I Rural” link, a service to help determine whether a specific location is considered rural based on various definitions, including those used as eligibility criteria for federal programs.

Brief Report:  A Rural Way

Susana Helm, University of Hawai`i, Honolulu (Auntie to Tai)

Taira Masuda, Punahou High School, Honolulu (Niece to Susana)

We walked 400 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in June and July 2016. The impetus for the trek was Tai, who had watched a movie about the Camino in her ninth grade Spanish class. The Way starred Martin Sheen playing the role of a father who walked the pilgrimage to honor his son. As we started to co-author this piece, Tai remarked that she hadn’t imagined that our family dinner conversation about the film back in 2014 would materialize into a month-long journey across two oceans and a continent in order to walk through rural and remote Spain. As a water polo athlete and surfer, Tai was fit, but unaccustomed to walking with a full pack. As a middle-aged college professor with minimal through-hiking experience, Susana also needed to prepare. So, we spent the next two years of weekends day-hiking the ridges above our home in Honolulu.

Upon arriving in Spain, our route was partly planned to line up with a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Susana’s only prior experience in the country was work related, for the 2012 International Community Psychology Conference in the beautiful and high-energy tourist-friendly city of Barcelona. ICP Barcelona was fantastic, though Susana hadn’t afforded time to wander beyond the city limits. As a high schooler living in the middle of the Pacific, traveling is a rare luxury. So this was Tai’s first international experience, and became a way to better understand herself and the bigger world in which we live before heading off to college in 2017.

We started in Pais Vasco, in Bilbao where we visited in the Guggenheim and the Viscaya Bridge (UNESCO site #1). We also availed ourselves of the city’s many gastro restaurants specializing in slow food, referred to in Spain as OKm, and known in the U.S. as the farm to table movement and ( Tai did the locovore research online ahead of the trip and Susana did the UNESCO planning. Our research ensured our experiences with Spanish culture would fulfill our respective interests, Tai’s being food and Susana’s being museums.

We departed Bilbao by bus to avoid urban walking and began our trek along the Northern Camino in a small town called Santillana Del Mar. We first visited the Paleolithic museum at Altamira Cave (UNESCO site #2) just outside the historic village, then initiated our 17 days of slow and steady walking. We encountered only one other peregrino on the Camino our first day – a gentleman from Austria who had started walking from France.

The whole of our trek was similarly spent in near solitude, with the exception of the many cows and sheep we knew were near – their constantly tinkling bells a telltale. The Camino is a pilgrimage route dating to the 9th Century, actually several routes, leading westward across Europe into Spain and terminating at Santiago de Compostella. We selected the Northern route, then connected to the Primitivo route because these were the least travelled (as compared to the Francés route depicted in The Way). We were seeking the peacefulness and contemplation afforded by rural and remote backpacking.

We arrived in Ribadesella after six days. Ribadesella was our first planned resting spot, so that we could enter the caves to view the 10,000-year-old paleolithic drawings there (UNESCO site #3). We experienced some of the most pristine, stunning, and uncrowded coastline and beaches along the way, which may be quite an admission coming from Hawai`i residents (Photo 1). And we met some amazingly generous Spanish, Brazilian, Italian, Australian, French, Canadian, and American peregrinos en route. As an example, by the time we arrived in Cóbreces to check in for our first night at an Abbey-administered albergue, the stores and restaurants had all closed for the evening. Being that we were located in a remote area, we were faced with savoring our remaining granola bars and left-over dribbles in our camelpacks for dinner and breakfast. Instead, a priest also staying at the albergue gave Tai the sandwich he had prepared for himself. Aside from a lesson in gratitude and generosity, we learned that, unlike Barcelona and Bilbao, rural Spain does not dine at midnight! 


Photo 1. Coastal trail leaving Llanes, June 27

From Ribadesella we took public transport to the city of Oviedo, thereby skipping about 100 Km or 4 days of walking, so that we could visit the pre-Romanesque churches of the 9th Century perched above the city (UNESCO site #4). Again to bypass urban walking, we used public transport to reach Bodenaya, our first stop on the Primitivo route. Although the most challenging terrain due to rapid ascents and descents, and longer distances between public water, the Primitivo was the original pilgrim route, and considered to have the most beautiful farming vistas (Photo 2). It did not disappoint, rather it was breathtaking to walk through the morning fog and encounter wild horses and cattle roaming side-by-side with us along the trail (Photo 3). From Bodenaya we walked up and over the Cordillera Cantábrica, and possibly the eastern edge of Picos de Europa. This was particularly challenging for Susana to keep up with her very fit 17-year-old niece. For Tai, the Camino posed many physical challenges in the beginning of the trek, but soon after became easier and easier as she became accustomed to the conditions. In spite of the challenge or maybe because of it, we were availed some of the most breathtaking views of the trip (Photo 4). And we met more fantastic Spaniards, Poles, Croatians, Dutch, and German peregrinos equally enthralled with the countryside.

Photo 2. Farmland outside Campiello, June 30


Photo 3. Susana walking through cows at Hospital Fonfaraón, July 1


Photo 4. Tai at Embalse de Salime, July 2


Susana even managed to squeeze in a 4th of July mini-pub crawl from village to village after encountering other Americans that day between Fonsagrada and Cádavo Baleira. Aside from wine being less expensive than bottled water, the sidra is also quite fortifying. The next day, our 13th day of walking, we arrived in Lugo where the albergue de peregrinos is located inside the largest surviving Roman walls (UNESCO site #5). We later visited Ávila, another ancient walled city surrounded by farmland on the outskirts of Madrid the day before returning to the U.S. (UNESCO site #7).

On Saturday July 9 we descended into our ultimate destination of Santiago de Compostela in time to register our journey at the archbishop’s office (UNESCO site #6). The next morning we arrived an hour early for Sunday mass to ensure ourselves a seat near the main altar, and were pleasantly surprised to see our generous friend from Cóbreces among the priests in the entrance processional. In addition to being acknowledged (registered peregrinos are announced by homeland) we witnessed the swinging of the botafumeiro due to a wedding ceremony during the mass (

Post Script by Susana:  Now that we are nearly a half year from returning, I am trying to understand our trip vis-á-vis rurality. We had heard that may of the small villages and farming communities along the route flourished as a result of centuries of peregrinos walking the Camino, who in-turn relied on villagers, farmers, and shepherds for food, shelter, and water. Globally today, our dependence on rural communities for our livelihoods persists, whether we are passing perigrinos, gathering in grocery stores rather than growing food for ourselves, benefitting from the natural resources extracted from the land and water, or enjoying respite from busy lives in the city. I really cannot imagine my world without the countryside. While I acknowledge that is a privileged view and I am not prepared to uproot myself permanently for greener rural pastures just yet, I remain committed to improving rural wellbeing in my work through the university. In truth, that is why I work at a public university – to leverage the resources of our State and nation in terms of cutting edge thinking and technology to improve rural wellbeing without compromising its inherent, inimitable goodness. Part of my goal for this Rural Interest Group column is to shed light on those inherent and inimitable goodnesses, as well as the compromises, and the paths we walk to get there.

Post Script by Tai:  Throughout the trail, the thought "What did I get myself into?" ran through my mind constantly. I thought I could never continue and persevere through the physical and mental pain, until I had to. I chose to have my mind overpower my body’s wants. On the Camino, you don’t stop. I knew I didn’t want to stop, and I knew I didn’t want my self-doubts to take away from my experience. So I continued. From this decision, yielded the best experience of my life so far.

Post-Post Script from Susana:  For those of you interested in getting to know Ottawa by foot and would like to join me in some short hikes in the greenbelt during the 2017 SCRA Biennial, please let me know.