What is the Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago

After 100 blog posts, I thought it was time to try other things.  I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a podcast for months. And now, finally, the Spanish for the Camino podcast is here.

Unlike the blog, podcast episodes will be in Spanish.

The idea with the blog was to help those with no Spanish at all to learn at least some basics.

But I know that some of you have those basics covered and are looking for something more advanced. And that’s where the podcast comes in. Short episodes, on not too difficult Spanish and all about the Camino.

I recorded a very short episode in English explaining what you can expect from the podcast. And… you can also listen to the first ‘proper’ episode. In Spanish.

Episode 1

To give you some context before you listen: the title of Episode 1 is ‘Qué es el Camino de Santiago’ or, in English, ‘What is the Camino de Santiago’.

In this episode you’ll hear an overview of what the Camino is and how it started. You will also hear what the main routes are within Spain and some of the most common motivations to walk.

Without getting into too many details, because the episode is just over 6 minutes long.


The plan

The plan is not to turn the podcast into some sort of Camino encyclopaedia with lots of data (there already are some fantastic websites out there with plenty of information). The plan is to give you an opportunity to improve your Spanish while listening about one of your favourite topics: the Camino.

If you know me, you’ve probably heard me talk about the importance of consistency when learning a language. If you’re going to do 1 hour of Spanish a week, it’s much better to split it into shorter periods and do around 10 minutes a day, rather than doing the whole hour the same day.

And that’s one of the reasons why I plan to keep the podcast episodes short. They could be your 10 minutes of Spanish a day.

OK. Enough explaining.


The podcast



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Walking & talking on the Camino

Walking & talking on the Camino

I did it again. I walked the Camino with another group of strangers. Sort of.


Let me explain.

In 2019 I walked the Camino Inglés with another Spanish teacher and a group of total strangers who wanted to improve their Spanish. The truth is, I hadn’t even met the other teacher in person until we both arrived in Ferrol the day before we started walking. Despite all my fears (and I had many), the experience was so amazing that we were planning to do it again in 2020. But we all know how 2020 went…

Fast forward to 2022. The idea was to give the plan another try. A different route, though. But, again, things didn’t go according to plan. This time it was the other teacher, who had to pull out of the project, quite unexpectedly, for personal reasons.

That left me wondering, should I go ahead by myself? Or should I just forget about the whole thing? So many changes of fechas (dates), cancellations, and other setbacks… maybe it was not meant to happen again after that first wonderful experience.

After much thinking and some ‘consulting with la almohada’* I decided to do it.

Since our original dates were too close, I moved forward to September. I also made the decision to take a smaller group (4 or 5 max.).

As you can imagine, the group changed a lot since we originally planned this Camino in 2020. And even from the time I decided to go ahead with it and the time we actually started the walk.

The walk

We ended up with a very balanced group: 2 hombres (men) and 2 mujeres (women); 2 with previous Camino experience and 2 who were walking their first Camino; 2 I knew, and 2 I had only met once briefly when they were inquiring about this experience. That would require some adjusting and getting used to each other’s quirks, I thought. But we got on quite well and I soon felt like we had all known each other for a while.

We all met in Tui, our starting point, on Sunday September 25. We started walking the Camino Portugués the next day. The plan was to walk for 6 days, and arrive in Santiago on Saturday, October 1.

It was still quite busy on the Camino at the end of September. We kept seeing other pilgrims along the way. 

Our destination for the first day was Porriño. We didn’t know this, but there was a local festival there, with everything that entails: lots of people, busy bars and restaurants, loud music, etc. It was hard to rest after lunch, due to all the noise. And we were worried we would not be able to sleep at night. But we were lucky and they didn’t finish too late. Phew!

The weather

The weather forecast for the week wasn’t bad. The first 2 days, the weather was perfect for walking: dry and not too hot.  The forecast for the third day was confusing. Depending on where we looked, we could make it to Pontevedra without rain… or not. 

We made it to Arcade in dry weather. But when we left the café where we had stopped for a break, it was raining. The rain was light at first, but it soon became heavier. I had good memories of the section between Arcade and Pontevedra from the previous time I had walked it. But I can’t say I enjoyed it this time. The rain was relentless; I was roasting under the poncho; the group got split and I ended up in the middle, losing track of the ones ahead of me and not seeing the ones behind me either. Kind of stressful. We eventually got reunited, and at some point I decided to take off my hood. It was either getting my head wet or passing out from the heat. Getting wet sounded like the best choice.

It stopped raining a couple of miles before Pontevedra. It rained heavily that night and we feared we would have another very wet and miserable day, but it didn’t rain that much while we were walking between Pontevedra and Caldas de Reis. No more rain after that. We got loads of fog between Caldas and Padrón and the last day was just perfect!

Into data?

As I mentioned above, we all had different backgrounds and interests. So, while I’m not too interested in data, we had someone in the group who gave us a daily report. That’s how I know we walked for 29h 44min in total. We covered a distancia (distance) of 121km, at an average speed of 4.07km/h. The day we walked in heavy rain was our slowest. The day we walked in the fog was our fastest.

The day we arrived in Santiago, 2897 Compostelas were issued.

The talk

Almost 30 hours spent walking, plus breaks, mealtimes, etc. That’s a lot of speaking time.

The good news is that we never lacked topics for conversation.

Some conversations were serious; some, funny (or even ridiculous! 😂). Some were happy; some, sad. Some were very informative; some, full of useless facts (thank you, Andy, for the ‘useless fact of the day’).

We talked about life, death and everything in between. We told jokes and scary stories. We discussed books and films, history, family, food, sports… even politics and religion! All in Spanish. All flowing naturally. It wasn’t perfect. In fact, we may have coined one or two new Spanish words… But that was not the point. Or the goal.

The point was to communicate, to learn new things, to make connections. And we certainly did that. We even had a couple of Camino moments!

And the connecting part did not just happen among ourselves.

Finding a place that was open for desayuno (breakfast) in Porriño was complicated. According to Google, there were many to choose from. The reality was that only one of them was actually open.

And that’s where we had our first encounter with a very lively group of Spanish ladies. They were sitting at this café, all wearing the same jackets and being quite loud, we thought, at that early time. The camarero (waiter) was reciting a poem to one of them, the others were recording with their phones and making jokes. In short, they were having a blast.

We met them again, later that day. Some of our group got to talk to them a lot (all in Spanish), learn about their story and bond -something they couldn’t have done if they didn’t speak Spanish.

We learned that these ladies were from Valencia and belonged to the Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (Spanish Association Against Cancer). They took part in many activities together, like singing in a choir… and they did sing a lot while walking. It was their way of keeping the spirits up of those who were struggling with serious health issues. They were a lovely group, always happy and positive, and it was a joy to meet them day after day, including the day we walked into Santiago. 

There are so many anecdotes and we shared so many moments (good and not so good) that I could keep writing and writing. But I don’t want to bore you. I may write another post about the experience. Or not. Can’t promise anything.

Anyway, the video below will give you an idea of some of the special moments we shared.

Today’s Spanish words

*Consultar con la almohada is the Spanish version of the English expression ‘to sleep on something’.


For more details about each of the stages and the towns we visited, check my previous posts. I had walked this route before, at different times, with different people, and I wrote a post about each of the stages. You can start here.

Interested in the next Walk & Talk experience. To get an idea of what to expect and join the waiting list, read more the details here


¡Buen Camino!

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Finding food on the Camino

Finding food on the Camino

How often did you have trouble finding food on the Camino?

This is a complaint that comes up on a regular basis in Camino groups. It usually has to do with one of these 2 scenarios:

  • Pilgrims are trying to get cena (dinner), but restaurants are closed and no one is serving hot food.
  • Pilgrims want to buy supplies on a domingo (Sunday) or festivo (public holiday).

To avoid either of these situations, you must understand how things work in Spain.


So, what do you need to know to avoid not finding food on the Camino?

Let’s start with the second situation: domingos y festivos.

Most businesses are closed on those days.

Bars and restaurants are usually open. So, eating out on a Sunday or holiday should not be a problem. At least, not at lunch time. Dinner could be tricky.

Panaderías (bakeries)  will open in the morning. But supermarkets and other shops in general will be closed. So, you could get fresh bread and pastries in the morning. But, if you’re hoping to buy something else… well, ¡buena suerte! (good luck).

In smaller towns you may find that shops close on sábado (Saturday) evening too.

Something else to keep in mind: buses and trains are less frequent on Sundays and holidays, but that’s not our topic for today, so let’s focus on food.


Finding food when it’s not a Sunday or holiday

Now we know what happens on Sundays and holidays. But what happens the rest of the week? Why do some people struggle to find food? And no, the answer is not siesta, in case that’s what you’re thinking.


The first thing you need to understand is that there are specific times for each meal in Spain. Finding a place that serves hot food outside of those times is a rare occurrence. You can find snacks, but not a proper cooked meal. 

For more info on what you can find and where, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?

Breakfast is the least important of all our meals and, as such, it’s more flexible. Most Spaniards will have a cup of coffee and a tostada (toast) or a couple of galletas (biscuits or cookies, depending on where you’re from) before heading off to work. A second breakfast, pretty much like the one pilgrims have, is common.

Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. And lunch happens typically between 1.30-4.00pm. After 3.30 (or 3.45 at the latest), the kitchens in the restaurants close and they don’t reopen until dinner time.


When is dinner time?

Late, for other countries’ standards. Having dinner at 9.00, 10.00pm or even later is perfectly normal. But not such a good plan if you’re starving because you’ve only had a few snacks throughout the day. Or if you need to be back at the albergue before 10.00pm. 

Finding food

Restaurant kitchens usually reopen at 8.30pm for the dinner service. 

In this restaurant they have their kitchen times posted outside. You can see that their kitchen opens 30 minutes earlier, for both lunch and dinner, than what I said above. 

Not every single restaurant opens and closes at the same time, obviously. But finding a place that starts serving dinner before 8.00pm and lunch before 1.00pm is the exception rather than the norm.


What can you do?

Your best bet is to try the Spanish way: have lunch as soon as you get to your destination for the day, as long as you finish walking before 3.00pm. You can shower and rest after you’ve eaten. And then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

Doing it like this will also give you more options, since the menú del día is usually available for lunch but not for dinner.


If having your main meal earlier in the day does not appeal to you, you have 2 options: starve until dinner time or find a shop selling food and buy something to help you make it until dinner time. 


Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of siesta (and for an explanation of why siesta is usually not the answer), check 5 things you need to know about Spain.

For the pronunciation and more info on what menú del día is and how it works, check Menú del día.

For the pronunciation of tapa, check ¿Dónde vas a comer?


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¡Buen Camino!

The cathedral rooftop

The cathedral rooftop

We’re going on a tour today. In Santiago. A tour of the cathedral rooftop.

I’d been wanting to take this tour for a while. I was finally able to do it a couple of months ago and I was not disappointed. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.


About the rooftop tour

Let’s start with the practical stuff.

You can book your entradas (tickets) online in advance (up to 60 days), from the cathedral’s website. There are several visits available here. The rooftop tour is the one called ‘Cathedral museum, decks and Carraca’s tower’ in the English version of the website.


The visit includes access to the museo (museum), Pazo de Xelmírez, Torre da Carraca and a guided tour of the cathedral rooftops. You need to choose a date and a time slot. This is for the guided tour. You can visit the museum in your time, either before or after the guided tour.


When I took this tour, it was available in Spanish only. I heard there used to be English tours in the past, but I don’t know if they’re coming back.


Pazo de Xelmírez

The visit starts in the Pazo de Xelmírez (or Palacio de Gelmírez, in Spanish). You enter through the door that is located between the cathedral’s main staircase (in Obradoiro) and the arch to the left. 


This building is named after the archbishop who ordered its construction and it’s one of the main civil constructions of the Romanesque period in Spain.


One of the highlights of this visit is the big  ceremonial hall, on the first floor, built in the 13th century.

The stone carvings on the arches depict a banquet. 

part of the cathedral rooftop tour

From this room you keep going up to the rooftop. There’s a total of 105 steps. La escalera (the staircase) is not super narrow, but the steps are higher than usual.

You finally come out on the tejado from one of the towers, the one on the left as you face the cathedral from the square. 

I was lucky to do this on a clear, sunny day. The views of Santiago are amazing! And you can also see all the plazas that surround the cathedral.


A couple of interesting stories

Did you know that the cathedral’s bell ringer used to live on the cathedral rooftop?

Yes! Up until 1962, bell ringers and their families had a house in the area next to one of the towers, the one with the bells.


The last bell ringer lived there with his wife and 3 children. They had a vegetable garden, 3 goats and some chickens too. That’s right, a family of cinco (5) with their goats and chickens living on top of the cathedral and growing their own vegetables up there too. Can you imagine?

The house is no longer there but I would have loved to see it…


The rooftop is made of stone slabs. There used to be ocho (8) torres (towers) and battlements. Out of those 8 original towers, only 2 are left, although you can still see where they used to be. A balustrade replaced the battlements. 


What else is up there, apart from the amazing views?


A big stone basin with a ram a a metal cross where apparently pilgrims used to burn their clothes.

Some scholars think this may have originated during a plague, as a measure to prevent transmission of the disease. There are no records of how common cloth burning was or when it stopped.



The clock tower is known as Berenguela after Archbishop Berenguel de Landoira, who ordered its construction in the 14th century to defend the cathedral. That’s the reason why the lower part of the tower is quite sturdy. The upper part, where the clock is, is finer. It was added 3 centuries later.


This top part has 3 main elements:

  • the main campana (bell).
  • the reloj (clock).
  • the lantern.

The bell in this tower is also known as Berenguela and it’s the biggest in the cathedral. It weighs 7 tonnes. The bell we see nowadays is not the original. That one had to be taken down in 1990 because it was cracked. It’s kept in the cloister. 

The clock was added in the 19th century and has one peculiarity: it has one hand only.

The top part had a light that was kept on at all times to guide pilgrims to the cathedral. Nowadays, the light is on during Holy Years only.

You can see the light at the top of the Berenguela tower on this picture. 

Berenguela guiding pilgrims

Torre da Carraca

After the guided tour of the cathedral rooftop, you go up to the Carraca tower. If you stand on Obradoiro square, facing the cathedral, this is tower on the left.

The one on the right has bells. This one has a carraca (rattle) instead. This huge rattle is used on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, instead of bells.

From up here, you truly have a 360 degree view of Santiago. 


You know what they say… an image is worth 1000 words. So, I’ll let the pictures speak. Enjoy the views!


Today’s Spanish words


*entrada means entrance too, as well as ticket.

For the pronunciation of plaza, check this post on Santiago de Compostela.

For the pronunciation of cinco, check this post on the Holy Year.


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The Camino with no Spanish

The Camino with no Spanish

I often see questions about whether it’s OK to walk the Camino with no Spanish or whether it’s a good idea to learn some before your Camino.

The answers range from “no need, a smile is enough” to “the more your learn, the richer your experience will be”.

As you can imagine, I don’t agree with the first group. If that’s how they want to do their Camino, that fine. It’s their Camino. And their loss too.

The most common reasons people give to learn at least some basic Spanish:

  • it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the locals more receptive to your needs. True.


  • it reduces the chances of feeling frustrated when you need to communicate and you can’t. Also true.


  • it also reduces the chances of of feeling lonely and isolated if you happen to have no English speakers around you. Again, true.


Let me add another reason. It is not mentioned so frequently, but it’s equally important, in my opinion.

  • you learn so much about Spain and broaden your mind.


You’re going to spend some time in the country. A few días (days) at least. A few semanas (weeks) in many cases.

And you don’t learn anything about the country you’re walking through?

A silly example:

I can’t believe how many people think these are mausoleums… or chicken coops! 

They’re called hórreos and they were used to store mainly maíz (corn), but other food too.

They vary a little depending on the region. But they are all elevated from the ground to keep the crops dry and to keep rodents out. 

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

More serious examples

I’ve witnessed this many times:

People post on social media about their Camino. They share pictures, as well as their general comment about a number of things.

The kind of stuff I read sometimes… let’s just say there’s a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking coming from me.

You can tell that these people came to Spain with a mochila full of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Everything they see, they interpret it through those stereotypes and misconceptions.

They speak no Spanish.

They don’t talk to any locals.

So, they go back home with the same incorrect beliefs they had when they started.

They learn nothing about Spain. Their wrong beliefs are reinforced.

Let me give you a couple of examples.



People with no Spanish at all

Not too long ago, I started following someone’s daily posts on a Facebook group about their Camino Portugués. The reason I started following was the captions of some of the pictures: any resemblance to reality was pure coincidence.

Clearly, these people had this idea of Spain as a deeply Catholic, very traditional country. And that’s how they saw it.

A random building was, in their eyes, a church.

A mural, in a fishing village, depicting fishing scenes, was a religious painting.

A person begging outside an iglesia (church) was someone dressed in traditional clothes.

A couple of other things they said, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.


According to their own comments, these people did not speak a word of Spanish, they didn’t interact with any locals, other than to try to get food and accommodation. They completed their pilgrimage and went back home having learned nothing about Spain. A missed opportunity.



People who know better than you

But there’s another type of pilgrim that totally baffles me. The one who arrives with their mochila full of stereotypes and misconception… and refuses to accept that they are wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I had to make a huge effort to not be rude to someone on social media. This person shared their thoughts about their recent Camino experience.

Among other things, they said that supermercados (supermarkets) in Spain have small puertas (doors) to protect the front of the building because ‘these people have lived with civil war in their country up until recent times’.

I replied that the Spanish civil war ended more than 80 years ago (it took place between 1936 and 1939) and that the size of supermarket doors have nothing to do with it.

Well, apparently I know nothing about my own country. This person went on to give me a lecture on Spanish history.

I ‘learned’ that we were having civil wars in Spain up until the mid 70s. Maybe we weren’t as affected in my area, that’s why I don’t know. Really?

I don’t claim to know everything about Spain. I know I don’t. But not knowing if I’m living in a civil war?

Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.


And I won’t get into the siesta comments because I get very triggered by those and I could be ranting here forever. If you want to know more about the truth behind siesta, you can check this other article I wrote a while back.

But can anyone truly believe we sleep up to 7 hours in the middle of the say? A recent post I saw reminded people that ‘most towns have siesta from around 12.30pm to 5 or 7pm’. I love my sleep but seriously?

So, please, don’t be like these people and don’t waste the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. You don’t need to be super fluent. But make at least an effort. You will be rewarded for it.



Today’s Spanish words



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¡Buen Camino!



After making it to Santiago de Compostela, many pilgrims decide to continue on to the sea, to the ‘end of the world’ in Fisterra. Others prefer to go to Muxía, also on the same stretch known as Costa da Morte (coast of death) but further north. And some, of course, go to both places. They’re both close to 90km from Santiago, and they both have a connection to the Camino. 


We’ve already visited Fisterra in a previous post, so today we are taking a walk through the history of Muxía with Sarah Blanquet, who lives there



Muxía and the Camino

This little fishing town, located on the coast of Galicia, is considered one of the last stops of the Camino de Santiago. But in order to understand how this small remote village became an essential part of the Camino, we must dive into history.


Since the beginning of time, different populations have lived in this beautiful region in the northwest tip of the Iberian peninsula. Megaliths such as the Dolmen de Dombate (Dombate dolmen) bear testimony to ancient settlements and remind us of the strong connection between nature and  spirituality in this area. Indeed, these monuments reveal that stones in this region have always been sacred. Stones marked spiritual places. Stones held healing powers. Stones connected humanity to the great beyond.

These stones and beliefs transcended time and faiths.

Centuries later, they were to help the apóstol Santiago (saint James) himself. Legend has it that he fell to his knees in despair on the very coast of Muxía, where he was preaching the gospel without much success. Suddenly, the Virgin Mary appeared to him on a boat. It was, of course, a boat made of stone. She comforted and encouraged him and, while her words dissipated in time, she left behind a stone boat that can still be seen to this day.


Stones on the coastline of Muxía.


Church of the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Barca.

The stone boat ran aground in the Santuario de la Virgen de la Barca, where it was divided into multiple parts: a sail, a rudder and the ship itself. But what’s even more fascinating about this legend is that, to this day, many of the piedras (stones) are still surrounded by mysticism. 



Pedra dos Cadrís, Muxía

Pedra dos Cadrís, the sail of the stone boat that carried Mary.

The sail, also known as pedra dos Cadrís*, is said to heal back pains if you go under it nine times.

As for the ship, the Pedra de Abalar, it has a perimeter of almost 31 square meters and belongs to the set of so-called oscillating stones. This means the stone can move slightly when people walk over it. Over the centuries, this characteristic was believed to have all kinds of purposes: fortune-telling, magical-healing and, above all, fertility-inducing.


As you can see, myths, traditions and catholicism merge in this powerful location. That’s probably why it is no wonder that, overtime, pilgrims started to walk from Santiago to this holy site in order to finish their Camino de Santiago

Nowadays, Muxía is part of the extension to Fisterra and many pilgrims decide to “walk the extra mile” and enjoy the wonderful views of the sunset in the Océano Atlántico (Atlantic Ocean). 

What about you? Where do you want to end your Camino? 

Today’s words

*pedra dos Cadrís: ‘pedra’ is the Galician word for stone (piedra in Spanish). Cadrís is also a Galician word and it means hips.

Abalar is another Galician word. It means to rock or swing.

For the pronunciation of Fisterra and costa da Morte, check this post.


Sarah Muxía


Sarah Blanquet is a passionate Spanish teacher who lives in Muxía. She studied a Translation Degree then a Master’s in Teaching Spanish. She helps learners speak confidently and enjoy their learning process.


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¡Buen Camino!