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. 

Want more?

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.

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.

Want more?

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.

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. 


    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.



    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.


    Want more?

    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


        Want more?

        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.

        ¡Felices Fiestas y Buen Camino!

        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



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


        ¡Buen Camino!

        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!

        Want more?

        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.