La Mochila de la Luz

La Mochila de la Luz

In 2020, a group of pilgrims had an idea to bring a bit of light into the darkness that the pandemic brought on. Over a hundred thousand people died of covid in Spain alone. We spent months locked up in our homes, only allowed to go out to buy groceries or go to the doctor. 

It was a tough few months. 

So, when things started to slowly go back to normal, a group of pilgrims had the idea to do a pilgrimage from Porto, in Portugal, along the central route of the Camino Portugués, carrying a backpack with a light on.

Listen to the podcast in Spanish or keep reading in English.

 

This was done in July 2020, timed so that the backpack would enter Santiago  July 24, the day before the festivity of st. James.

The  purpose of this pilgrimage was to remember and honour all those people who had died of covid-19. The idea was for the backpack to be carried in relays, by different pilgrims, all the way to Santiago.

I was asked if I wanted to take part and said yes, for several reasons. I carried the backpack from Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis. You can read about it in this article I wrote at the time. 

 

Fast forward to 2021. The Mochila de la Luz went out again. Same route. I walked with it from Pontevedra to Caldas again.  Very different experience. You can read about it here

 

I couldn’t make it in 2022 & 2023, but the project kept going. From 2021 there was an added element, apart from remembering the deceased: la mochila started collaborating with day-care centres for elderly people along the route.

When la mochila is on the Camino the elderly from these centres go out and meet the pilgrims carrying it, maybe walk for a  bit. They paint scallop shells too.

 

This year, July 13 there will be a blessing ceremony in Porto. From there, la mochila will start making its way to Santiago. It’s expected to arrive in Tui July 17, and start meeting the elderly from 5 different day-care centres.

If you’re going to be walking the Portuguese route around that time, look out for the Mochila de la Luz, and maybe carry it for a while. 

 

All the things you see hanging from it are gifts from pilgrims. If you’re not walking in July, it’s OK. You can see the Mochila in the office of the Association. It’s in Pontevedra (calle Javier Puig Llamas, 1). Make sure to message me or Susi beforehand, to make sure there will be someone there.

And you can also receive a certificate and get your credencial stamped.

You can contact Susi through the Mochila de la Luz Facebook page.

Mochila de la Luz certificate
Mochila de la luz office
Mochila de la luz gifts

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Buen Camino

Asturias and the Camino with Diego

Asturias and the Camino with Diego

Spanish teacher Diego Villanueva, from Fluent Spanish Express walked the Camino and he joined me in the podcast to talk about his experience and Asturias, the region he’s from.

Diego embarked on the Camino Primitivo, the oldest route to Santiago, starting from his hometown of Oviedo, in 2018. This decision came at a crucial point in his life, just after he had resigned from a banking job and before embarking on a new career in teaching Spanish. 

You can listen to our conversation, in Spanish, in the podcast. Or you can continue reading about it in English.

Diego’s Camino

Diego, like many of us who grew up in towns along one of the Caminos, wasn’t really aware of the Camino for a long time. When he first started seeing shells on the streets, showing the way, he had no idea what those shells meant until he eventually started seeing pilgrims in his hometown. 

Then he knew. But he still had no plans to walk the Camino. A few years later, Diego needed a career change. His banking job didn’t make him happy and he decided to resign. He wanted to become a Spanish teacher, but he didn’t want to start his new career straightaway. He needed time. He needed space to reflect and heal. 

Diego had been toying with the idea of walking the Camino for a few days when he met some friends for a drink. Right there and then he made a decision and announced it to his friends:

I’m going to start walking the Camino tomorrow.

And that’s what he did. He started walking the next day.

He didn’t plan or train, although he was (and is) an avid walker.

Diego is from Oviedo, and he was living in Oviedo at the time, so he chose the Camino Primitivo. Apart from being able to start from home, this route also gave him solitude and time for introspection he was looking for. In fact, Diego didn’t enjoy the final stages, after the Primitivo joins the Francés, because it was more crowded and he needed something else.

Diego’s decision to walk the Camino alone was deliberate. However, the journey was far from lonely. He met fellow pilgrims from around the globe, each carrying their own stories and reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage. These shared moments and listening to their stories was one of the highlights of Diego’s Camino.

He walked through parts of Asturias he already knew, but being on the Camino gave him a new perspective. One thing that stands out in Diego’s mind is the warmth of the local villagers in Asturias towards pilgrims. They who would ask if you need something, offer water, a place to rest… 

 

Future Caminos?

After his first experience in 2018, Diego was planning his second Camino for 2020. But, like so many others, he had to change his plans. He hasn’t been back yet, but he’d love to. Diego now lives in a town on the Camino del Norte, still in Asturias, and would love to walk that route next. He would like to do the next one differently too: with company, rather than by himself.

But there’s one change in his life that makes planning his next Camino a little harder: he’s now the owner of a little dog. He would have to carry his dog most of the way, as she’s not a keen walker. And then there are all the other added difficulties, like finding accommodation.  But he would definitely love to walk the Camino again, and not just the Norte route, but all the rest too!

Diego’s recommendations

Whether you’re starting in Oviedo or switching from the Camino del Norte, you should take some time to explore Asturias’ capital. It’s well worth a visit. Diego also suggests going to the nearby Alto del Naranco, a mountain with amazing views.

The 2nd and 3rd biggest cities in Asturias are Gijón and Avilés, both on the Camino del Norte.  If you can, spend some time exploring them too. There is loads to see.

And if you like good food, Asturias won’t disappoint: fabada asturiana, a hearty bean stew; cachopo, 2 breaded veal steaks stuffed with ham and cheese; and frisuelos, a sweet treat are some of Asturias typical dishes.   

Do like Diego and treat yourself to a good meal after your walk every day. 

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Find the podcast transcript, vocabulary guide, exercises and extra audio here.

 

¡Buen Camino!

Camino in Gran Canaria

Camino in Gran Canaria

Spanish teacher Marina Rodríguez, from La Lengua de Babel, is from the Canary Islands and specialises in the Spanish spoken there.

She joined me in the podcast to tell us all about the Camino in Gran Canaria.

This blog post is an English version of the conversation we had in Spanish.

If you prefer to listen, you can do so here:

Why is there a Camino in Gran Canaria?

According to Marina, there are 2 reasons, both going back to the 15th century, when the Kingdom of Castile conquered the Canary Islands first and the Americas later.

The first reason:

After the conquest, the Canary Islands became a part of many Spanish shipping routes. According to legend, a boat with Galician sailors was sailing along the southern coast of Gran Canaria when they were hit by a storm. The sailors were carrying a statue of St. James, so they prayed to him and made a promise: if they survived, they would build a small church on the highest land they saw right after the storm.

They survived and the first place they saw was Tirajana, one of the highest points on the Gran Canaria island. So they carried the statue of St. James from Arguineguín, on the southern coast, to the top of the mountain, where they built a small church as promised. This church became a pilgrimage site, but in 1850 the statue of St. James was moved to another town called Tunte.

The second reason takes us to Gáldar, in the north of the island. 

Right from the beginning, the Castilian conquerors started celebrating mass in the islands, and the first church they built was devoted to St. James. This happened around the same time as the story of the Galician sailors.

Centuries later, in 1965, a papal bull awarded Gáldar the priviledge of celebrating St. James Holy Year under the same conditions enjoyed at Santiago de Compostela. It was meant to be an exceptional occurence, but it became permanent in 1993.

Stages of the Camino de Gran Canaria

The Camino in Gran Canaria joins the stories of the Galician sailors and the Santiago church in Gáldar. It goes from the south, close to where the Galician sailors landed, to the templo jacobeo de Santiago de los Caballeros de Gáldar, the church of Santiago in Gáldar in the north.

Officially this Camino has 3 stages and covers a distance of 66 km. The difficulty of this route is medium-high.

It’s not a good idea to walk it in the summer, because it’s too hot. It can also be dangerous when it’s raining, because of all the cliffs and steep slopes.

Stage 1: Maspalomas – Tunte

28 km from the Maspalomas (close to Arguineguín) to Tunte. This stage follows, more or less, the route that the Galician sailors took after the storm. You start by the sea, at the Maspalomas lighthouse, and you climb up to 1000 m, so you will see the landscape change as you climb. You’ll walk through a national park, and there are not many towns on this section, apart from the villages of Artenara and Fataga. In Artenara there is an indigenous cemetery with around 800 graves. In Fataga, on the other hand, you can see the typical architecture of the Canary Islands.

 

Stage 2: Tunte – Cruz de Tejeda

17 km of ascent from Tune to Cruz de Tejeda. Another beautiful but difficult stage with cliffs, ravines, caves… and something else: calderas. Calderas are volcanic craters that have collapsed, so there’s only part of the volcano. You will see several on this stage.

Stage 3: Cruz de Tejeda – Gáldar

21 km of descent into Gáldar, where the other church of Santiago is located. There are some indigenous remains on this stage too. And the “firefighter-sheep”. In recent years, shepherding has been reintroduced in the Canary Islands, mainly as a way to prevent fires. So, as you walk down into Gáldar, you’ll see the so-called ovejas-bombero (“firefighter-sheep”).

 

The Camino as a social project

In 2027, a judge in the Canary Islands had the idea to send young people who had committed a crime to walk the Camino instead of a detention centre. She thought that the Camino could teach them values like sportsmanship, respect, perseverance, etc.

It started as a pilot project, but the results were fantastic, so it’s been happening since then. There is now an association that organizes a Camino every year for young people with different problems, not just with justice. They also use the opportunity to raise funds for different causes. In most cases, it has been a very successful experience.

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Looking for the podcast transcripts + extras? You’ll find them here.

Buen Camino

Pamplona with Jose Mari Ardanaz

Pamplona with Jose Mari Ardanaz

This week I was joined on the podcast by Jose Mari Ardanaz, from El Camino People.

Jose Mari walked his first Camino in 2017. One of the things that most caught his attention about the Camino was the people who walked it and their stories. That’s why he first created an Instagram profile to share some of those stories. that project grew and grew until the Camino took up most of his life. That’s when he founded El Camino People, which is a travel agency but it also an NGO, which collaborates with organisations that help people with disabilities. 

Jose Mari lives in Pamplona and he shares his knowledge about the city. Scroll down to listen to our conversation in Spanish, or get the highlights here in English.

There are 3 things every visitor to Pamplona should be aware of, according to Jose Mari:

  1. The Camino, of course. The Francés from Saint Jean, is just one of them, but there are others, like the Francés from Somport, Camino Francés-Aragonés,  Camino del Baztán, and Camino de Sakana, which is part of the Camino Olvidado.
  2. San Fermín festival, with the running of the bulls. One of Jose Mari’s recommendations is to follow their route, from near the town hall to the bullring.
  3. Food.

    Things to visit in Pamplona

    The cathedral. Unlike other cathedrals along the Camino, the one in Pamplona is not in a big square. The exterior and interior belong to 2 different periods. The exterior is ‘ugly’ compared to other cathedrals; it looks more like a palace or official building, but the interior is spectacular. You shouldn’t miss the Occidens exhibition there.

    Pamplona used to be a fortress and the old city walls are still standing. You enter Pamplona through the Portal de Francia, one of the old city gates. Visit the city walls, the old town, and Jose Mari particularly recommends not to miss El caballo blanco, a meeting point for the people of Pamplona. 

    On your way out of Pamplona there’s a park called La Taconera on your left. The Camino is on your right. Instead of following the official Camino, Jose Mari recommends to take Avenida del Ejército on your left instead. That way you’ll go through the old citadel and be transported to past times. After that, you’ll join the official Camino again on your way to Alto del Perdón.

    Centro Ultreia, a pilgrim welcome and interpretation centre that is 100% accessible. You can learn about the history of the Camino in Navarra. 



    Food

    Pamplona’s food offer is very varied, ranging from simple traditional dishes to more elaborate and innovative ones. 

    If you’re only staying one night, the fun thing to do is to have a tapas, only they’re called pintxos in Pamplona.

    On the traditional side, Jose Mari recommends Café Río and their bechamel ball with an egg inside. They have a counter keeping track of how many eggs they ever have sold… and it’s over half a million!

    If you prefer the trendier side, Jose Mari suggests Baserriberri.

    If you’re planning to stay longer, and you’re a meat lover, you need to treat yourself to a good chuletón (big T-bone steak). 

    And a word you may need, and that’s specific to Navarra and the Basque Country: zurito. You probably know caña already, for a glass of beer. A zurito is a smaller serving, it’s half a glass. It’s what the locals normally take when planning to go to 4 or 5 bars.

     

    Hemingway

    You can’t talk about Pamplona without mentioning Ernest Hemingway. References to the author can be found throughout the city:

    – There’s a monument to Hemingway outside the bullring.

    – On one side of Café Iruña, you’ll find El Rincón de Hemingway (Hemingway’s corner), a speakeasy serving great cocktails.

    – When in Pamplona, Hemingway used to stay at Hotel La Perla. If you want to splurge, you could also stay in this 5-star hotel. Hemingway’s room has been kept just as it was when he stayed there. Over the years, people who have stayed there have sent copies of The Sun also Rises (Fiesta in the Spanish translation), in their own languages. So, the room now displays this collection. 

     

    San Fermín festival

    It takes place every year, July 6-14.

    Jose Mari’s warning: if you’re planning to stay in Pamplona around those dates, you should book a year in advance. The city will be packed during the festival and it will be impossible to find accommodation otherwise. 

    You should also know that the public albergue closes during the festival. And the private hostels will be full of tourists and party-goers.

     With so much to see and do, maybe plan some extra time in Pamplona and follow Jose Mari’s recommendations.

     

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    Make sure you don’t miss any posts or announcements by subscribing for free here. That way, when a new post is out, you will get it in your inbox. And… you get access to exclusive content too.

    Jose Mari also told me a little bit about the Camino del Baztán. If you’re interested in this bonus audio + transcript, you’ll find it with the podcast transcripts.

     

    Buen Camino

    Other Christmas traditions

    Other Christmas traditions

    Spain is a very diverse country. There are cultural differences in every region, and Christmas is not an exception.

    Of course, we have shared customs and traditions, but there are other Christmas traditions too that are specific  to each region. 

    I got 3 people to share some of these in the podcast.

    You can listen in Spanish.

    Or you can continue reading a summarised version of it in English.

     

    Christmas in the Canary Islands

    We start in the Canary Islands with Marina Rodríguez, from Lengua de Babel. I must confess I didn’t know about any of the things she mentions, which are:

      • A Christmas carol called ‘Lo Divino’, performed by parrandas. Parrandas are an informal kind of band. To announce the start of Christmas, they go from house to house performing ‘Lo Divino’. People give them food and drink and neighbours improvise small street parties.

       

      • The nativity scene at Las Canteras beach in Gran Canaria. It’s made of sand and it’s huge! Around 1500m². Once Christmas is over, it gets destroyed.

      • They have different Christmas foods & treats. Marina’s favourite treat is called truchas de batata. They’re sweet potato pasties and, apart from sweet potato, they also have sugar, lemon, cinnamon and anisette.

      • The weather is not cold in the Canaries, so it’s common for people to go to the beach at Christmas time. But tradition dictates that you should go for a swim in the ocean on January 1.

        By the way, did you know there’s a Camino in the Canaries? Maybe I’ll invite Marina some other time to talk about it. What do you think?

        Christmas in Extremadura

        Liliana Duarte, from Lilidiomas, is from Portugal, but she lives in Extremadura and she tells us all about Christmas foods in this region.

        Extremadura is in the west of Spain, next to Portugal and the Vía de la Plata goes through it.

        Extremadura is well known for producing some of the best Iberian hams so, it’s only normal that ham would be one of the main starters, together with local cheeses like Torta del casar, Ibores or La Serena. Some families may also have the Extremaduran version of gazpacho.

        For the main course, roasted lamb or piglet are popular options. Although Extremadura is landlocked, some families choose to have cod or octopus, probably influenced by Portugal. All of this accompanied by local wines.

        And let’s not forget dessert. Apart from the Christmas treats that are common to all Spanish regions, Extremadurans also take roscos de vino (little cakes shaped like a ring doughnut and cooked in wine), and pestiños (honey fritters).

        Christmas in Murcia

        Lourdes Soriano, from El aula de Lourdes, is from the region of Murcia, in the south east of Spain. That’s where Caravaca de la Cruz is, and 2024 will be a jubilee year there. But Lourdes is not talking about the Camino de Caravaca de la Cruz or the jubilee year today. She’s sharing a couple of typical Christmas treats in the region.

        • Cordiales originated in the east of Spain. They’re made of almond, eggs, sugar, wafer and a filling made of pumpkin and syrup.

        • Alfajores, of arabic origin, contain honey, nuts and spices.

         

        Find out more about Marina, Lili and Lourdes.

        If you want to know more about the Canary Islands and the Spanish spoken there, Marina is the person you need. Check her website La Lengua de Babel.

        Lili is from Portugal and teaches European Portuguese. You’ll find her on her website or her Youtube channel.)

        Lourdes Soriano is a Spanish teacher from Murcia. You can find out more about her (and her podcast) in El Aula de Lourdes

         

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        ¡Felices Fiestas y Buen Camino!