3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino

3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino

3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino |

  Should I learn Spanish before my Camino?

This is a frequently-asked question in Camino groups and forums. The answer?

Some people will tell you that a smile is enough. And the truth is you will survive. But this is also true: by not learning any Spanish you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage.

First of all, you’ll be going through rural areas, where finding an English speaker can be challenging, if not impossible.

Secondly, things don’t always go according to plan: accidents happen, we get sick, a number of things can go wrong. And if they go wrong when there’re no English speakers in sight… well, who wants that added stress?

Finally, most pilgrims asked agree that knowing even very basic and limited Spanish gave them a richer, fuller experience on the Camino. And the majority of those who didn’t learn any ended up regretting it.

If you’re still not convinced, keep reading and learn the top 3 reasons why you should learn Spanish before your Camino… and learn some Spanish while you’re at it.

 

1. Peace of mind &  freedom

Picture this: you find yourself in an emergency. Your phone’s battery is dead. There are no English-speaking people around. What do you do? The situation is stressful enough as it is. You don’t want to add the worry of not being able to communicate what you need.

A smile will take you a long way. True. But it’s not always enough. There are situations when you might need at least some basic knowledge of Spanish. You never know when phrases like necesito un médico (I need a doctor), no me encuentro bien (I’m not feeling well) or ¿dónde hay una farmacia? (where is there a pharmacy?) might come in handy.

Spanish is not only for important, urgent needs. How about spending the night in a small village where nobody speaks English? It could be a looong and lonely evening. That’s what happened to Kelli on the Camino Francés.

reasons to learn Spanish

Imagine being able to communicate your needs without having to rely on a translating app on your phone or on finding someone who can speak English or who can translate for you.

You could even become a Camino angel for other pilgrims who didn’t think learning Spanish was important!

 

2. Respect & connection

Making an effort to use the local language shows respect for your host country. And Spanish people are generally pleased if you have a go at Spanish. Give it a try and you’ll experience a warmer welcome.

Even basic greetings such as hola (hello), buenos días (good morning) or buenas tardes (good evening) can open doors that would remain otherwise closed. Polite words like gracias (thank you) and por favor (please) will go a long way too.

In Spain, people acknowledge each other with hola or the greeting of the time of day.  Even relative strangers. And we will say hasta luego (see you later) or a clipped version of this at parting. So remember to greet before launching into asking a question. This applies in shops, doctors’ waiting rooms, elevators, before ordering food or even a café con leche at a bar… everywhere. 

Anyone who tried their Spanish on the Camino, no matter how limited it was, will tell you this: they got a much better reaction from the locals. 

Of course, the better your knowledge of Spanish, the better chances at making deeper connections with the locals and knowing what’s going on around you. OK. So, you find yourself in a small village where nobody speaks English.

If you’re the “a smile is enough” type, chances are you’ll spend the evening by yourself.  You’d love to know what that festival is about or why people are wearing strange clothes, but communicating with these people is too hard. You’re missing an opportunity to learn about local traditions, history, culture.

And this brings me to the next reason to learn Spanish before the Camino.

 

3. Broaden your mind

We all know the Camino can be a life-changing experience, a wonderful opportunity to become a truer version of ourselves, find answers, heal, etc. But why limit the experience to learning about ourselves? There are people on the Camino who have never been to Spain before. Their “knowledge” about Spain is in many cases full of stereotypes and misconceptions bearing little resemblance with reality. They spend days, probably weeks, walking through Spain. Yet, they go back home full of the same stereotypes.

I see this every now and then in Camino-related Facebook groups. There’s one case in particular that caught my attention: This couple was sharing their journey along the Camino Portugués. Neither the husband nor the wife knew any Spanish. Every day, they posted pictures of their stage, with their comments. Every day, at least one of the pic’s descriptions showed a couple of things:

  • they were interpreting things through their own pre-conceived ideas of Spain. Some of these were way off the mark.

 

  • because they were not talking to any locals, they went back home convinced that their wrong assumptions were true. Their distorted vision of Spain was reinforced.

 

In essence, maybe the Camino was a very spiritual experience for them, but they missed the opportunity to broaden their minds, to learn about Spain and its culture.

3 reasons to learn Spanish before the Camino and countless benefits.

 

 

 

 

What type of pilgrim are you going to be: the “a smile is enough” type? or the one with the richer, fuller experience?

reasons to learn Spanish
Games and the Camino

Games and the Camino

Have you ever played any games on the Camino? Have you even considered it?

I had a lovely evening on the Camino Inglés last year, playing cards. It was fun, but it was also an opportunity to bond and, of course, to learn about Spanish culture and language.

So, if you hadn’t thought about it, please think again and keep reading.

In this guest post, Vickie Kelty tells us about the benefits of games and how you can incorporate them in your Camino… and in your life after the Camino.

Over to Vickie!Flecha azul

 

I know you have a lot of things to pack for the Camino and you want to keep it as light as possible, but I have one request: please don’t forget to pack a game (juego).

Now, obviously you aren’t going to put a big board game like Clue or Monopoly in your backpack! I’ll bet a deck of cards (baraja), some dice (dados), or a tiny travel size game would fit though, wouldn’t it?

 

First, why you’ll wish you brought a game on the Camino

  1. Relaxation! After a long day walking the Camino playing a game is just one way to chill out and start getting to know other pilgrims. Read about what it’s like walking with strangers in this post
  2. You can play them anywhere! It isn’t necessary to wait for a table to play a round of cards, just sit right down on the ground and play.
  3. No time limit. You decide how long to play, so don’t worry about time. It’s not necessary to keep score or finish the entire game. Sometimes just one hand of cards is a nice way to unwind after a long day of walking or travel.
  4. Forget language barriers. Playing a game is a great way to take the Spanish you know and the English or other language the other person knows and use it to play a game together. Be prepared for laughter and fun to ensue! 

 

What Spanish games can I learn before I do the Camino?

Keep in mind, the games I’m about to mention are suggested based only on my own personal experiences living in Spain and in the U.S. So, please take that into account if there’s a game mentioned that you’ve never heard of or isn’t popular where you’re from.

I also invite you to research any games you don’t know, perhaps they’ll become your next favorite game!

Let’s start with board games. 

Games and the Camino Parchís
If you know the game Sorry!, which I grew up playing in Nebraska, then Parchís will look familiar to you. I found a cool magnetic travel size version called Ludo (this game goes by many names!) at a dollar store and I often bring it with me on vacation. In fact, it proved entertaining while on a road trip with my parents one summer, even though my mom always beat me.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this next game too, The Game of the Goose or La Oca. This one I hadn’t played before coming to Spain and I can’t wait to play it with my family the next time they visit. Even though I don’t have the travel size version I did see one available online. It’s like a game I grew up playing called Chutes and Ladders in that you never know if you’re going to land on a good or bad square next!

Games and the Camino La Oca
By the way, both of these board games have special Camino versions available – though perhaps not in the travel size – and they could make for nice souvenirs! So even if you don’t play them on the Camino you can play them when you get home and share your experience with others.

 

Although board games are nice, nothing beats a good old-fashioned card game.

While there are many popular Spanish card games, I suggest checking out Brisca, which can be played in pairs, and another game called Chinchón, which is similar to Rummy.

It might also be fun to buy a Spanish deck of cards to play with! Another nice souvenir – and this one will easily fit in your backpack.

Obviously, there are many more Spanish card and board games, but these are the ones I’ve played the most and found easiest to learn.

 

If you’re like me, you want to share your culture too!

Think about some easy games you can share with other pilgrims. I’ll share two of my examples. A couple easy to teach card games that I played growing up are now my favorite games to teach others when I travel. They’re Old Maid and Go Fish.

Although I have special cards (cartas) for them, I don’t travel with those. I just carry a standard 52-card deck that I can play both games with. A little secret for Old Maid, I simply leave one joker in the deck and call that the Old Maid. (I know some people will remove three Queens so there’s only one Queen. Do what works for you).

Another card game I’m obsessed with is UNO! I’ve been delighted to find out that it was recognized by most of my Spanish friends when I’ve brought it out to play. Although I was surprised to find out that their rules are slightly different than the ones we played with in my family. Sometimes we play with my rules, sometimes with theirs. It’s fun to change it up!

Honestly, for me, UNO is one of the best games to travel with because the rules are easy to follow (even if they differ slightly from country to country) and the vocabulary you need to play is quite basic. Besides, when you don’t know the words gestures go a long way! Read about how UNO saved the day when I was in Costa Rica.

By the way, if you don’t want to play cards, even carrying five dice and playing a version of Yahtzee can easily be done. The game options are endless!

 

Just remember, whatever game you choose to bring, it’s worth it for the memories you’ll make.

What game will you bring on the Camino?

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

Vicky Kelty

Vickie Kelty is an English speaking skills teacher originally from Nebraska, USA. She specializes in using games to help English language learners speak with ease and enjoyment. You can find her at vickiekelty.com or follow her @vickiekelty on IG where she posts regularly.

 

Make sure you don’t miss any posts 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 the subscribers area. I promise I won’t send you any spam.

 

¡Buen Camino!

La Luz del Camino

La Luz del Camino

A month ago I had the opportunity to take part in La Luz del Camino initiative.

 

But what is La Luz del Camino?

After the confinamiento (lockdown), some peregrinos (pilgrims) decided to start a Camino from Roncesvalles, on the Camino Francés, carrying a special mochila (backpack) with a light on. The purpose of this pilgrimage was to remember all those people who have died of covid-19. The idea was for the backpack to be carried in relays, by different pilgrims, all the way to Santiago.

 

Once that backpack was on its way to Santiago, the question was “why not do the same on a different Camino? And that’s how La Luz del Camino Portugués originated. Plans were made to start a pilgrimage from Porto, in Portugal, along the central route of the   Camino Portugués. Also, both pilgrimages were coordinated so that the 2 mochilas would enter Santiago on the same day, July 24, the day before the festivity of st. James.

Oihana, someone I’ve met online and hope to meet in person soon, was one of the people involved in the organisation of La Luz del Camino Portugués. She invited me to participate and I immediately said yes!

First, because it was a very thoughtful project in general. But also because it gave me the chance to do something meaningful for my friend and fellow Spanish teacher Inés, who lost both her parents to coronavirus.

Inés is from Madrid but lives in the US with her American husband. Her parents died in April and, 5 months later, she still hasn’t been able to travel to Spain, which is making her grieving process harder. Her parents, Vicente and Carmen, were deeply religious and also had a strong interest in art and history. They never walked the Camino, but they did visit the cathedral in Santiago, as well as many other places along the Caminos.

So, going back to the light of the Camino, our special mochila left Porto on July 11, after a blessing at the cathedral. It made its way to Spain on the central route and reached Tui a few days later. You can follow the journey on this Facebook group, which has plenty of photos and an account of each day’s walk.

 

From Pontevedra to Caldas

On Tuesday July 21 the backpack travelled from Pontevedra, my home town, to Caldas de Reis. And that’s where I came in. I didn’t know who I was going to walk with or how many people I was going to meet.

Arrangements were made to leave very early, at 6.00am, because the weather had been particularly hot that week; the maximum expected temperature for that day  was around 40ºC (104ºF). ¡Mucho calor!

We met outside the Peregrina church, with our mascarillas (facemasks), as the “new normal” requires, and we started walking. It turned out there were 5 of us in total. It was still oscuro (dark) but at least the temperature was nice and fresh.

 

La Luz del Camino en la Peregrina
La Luz del Camino
Leaving Pontevedra

 We left Pontevedra in the dark, making good speed to try and beat the heat, and continued on to Alba, San Amaro and A Portela.  After a while, we started distancing from each other so we could remove our masks. We saw one or 2 pilgrims along the way and a couple of locals too as we passed through villages. But, in general, we were on our own.

 

The bares and cafeterías we passed were closed. Maybe it was too early, or maybe it was one of the side effects of covid-19. I’d say it was the latter, because we didn’t find anything open until we got to Caldas, which means… we were not able to have café con leche or tortilla! 

Luz del Camino

La mochila

As I mentioned before, the backpack was carrying a light, but that was not the only thing:

There was also una concha de vieira (scallop shell) hand-painted by Julia, the same girl who later carried the backpack into the cathedral in Santiago, as well as different items added by different people at different stages.

I added a yellow knitted shell, for all of those who had plans to walk this year and had to cancel (myself included). 

There was also un bordón (a staff), that was especially made for the occasion and that you can see in the video.

La mochila de la luz del Camino

Inside the bag, there was a notebook where anyone could write about their experience accompanying the light of the Camino, a special message for a loved one, etc. So I asked my friend Inés if she would like me to write something on her behalf.

 

After walking through forests and villages for a while, the Camino joins the busy N-550 road. At this point, if you look across the road, you’ll see a sign saying “Parque Natural Ría Barosa”. It’s a beautiful and place with waterfalls and old watermills. It’s about 500m off the Camino, but it’s well worth the detour. Whenever you find yourself walking the Camino Portugués, if you have the time, please stop by. You won’t regret it.

We chose this place for a break (sadly, café con leche was not an option, as I mentioned, because everything was closed); we were all carrying snacks, but a colleague of one of the people walking met us there with donuts, cereal bars, nuts and drinks! The Camino provides, right?

I also chose this place to write Inés’ message on the notebook. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful… I couldn’t think of a better spot to complete my mission.

El cuaderno

The notebook

Mensaje de la luz del Camino

Writing on behalf of my friend

So we had a break, I wrote on the special notebook and we continued our way to Caldas de Reis, which was not too far away.

That meant back to busy N-550. I’ve travelled that stretch of the road on numerous occasions (by car) and I often see pilgrims walking on the side of the road. I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the walk. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there’s actually no need to do this. The Camino runs more or less parallel to the road, but you don’t actually have to walk on the hard shoulder.

 

After Barosa

Not walking on a busy road

Getting close to Caldas

Getting close to Caldas de Reis

There’s around 5-6km between Barosa and Caldas, so most of our walking was done by the time we took our break. We entered Caldas before 11.30am… and before the worst of the heat!

Caldas de Reis is nice little town well known for its hot springs and spa. We had no time to enjoy any of it on this occasion, because we were going back home. But if you’re ever staying in Caldas, make sure you don’t miss it. Your feet will thank you for it.

En Caldas de Reis

Work commitments meant we couldn’t keep on walking to Santiago. It would have been great to see that mochila enter Santiago and the cathedral; but I’m happy and grateful I was able to be a part of this initiative (even if it was a small one).

 

Today’s Spanish words

The weather on the Camino

The weather on the Camino

The weather on the Camino |

This is a question I see quite frequently in Camino-related groups: “I’m doing (add a Camino of your choice here) in (add any month or season). What will the weather be like?” The only true answer to this is: Who knows?!

There are too many factors at play here.

First of all, different parts of Spain have different types of weather. In el norte (north), for instance, la lluvia (rain) is never too far away. El sur (south), however, is drier and it can be much hotter, especially en verano (in summer). Depending on which Camino you choose, and where you start, you could be walking for just a week … or crossing Spain from este (east) to oeste (west) or from sur to norte!

And then, el tiempo (the weather) can be quite unpredictable. The same month, in different years, can be very wet or dry; cool or hot. It’s a bit of a lottery.

 

Weather on Camino Francés
Weather on the Camino

I didn’t make these up… and there are many more variations of the same question:

What will the weather be like on the Camino?

I know we want to know what to pack. And, of course, we want to pack as little as possible. But you need to be prepared to carry a few layers and also have some rain gear ready, especially on certain routes.

Just to give you an example: as I’m writing this, the past week has been quite hot in most of Galicia, with maximum temperatures of up to 35ºC (95ºF), even higher in Ourense. While we are roasting here, it has been cloudy and rainy in Asturias. So, you could be walking the Camino del Norte, experiencing rain and not-so-hot temperatures today and, a few days later, you’d be looking for shade and trying not to melt in the sun.

Once you’re closer to your departure time, you can check the weather forecast for the following two weeks in El Tiempo. The home page will give you a general overview, but you can check specific towns by typing the name in the search box on the top left corner.

 

Talking about the weather

OK. So, we can’t predict next year’s weather on the Camino. But we can still learn a few useful Spanish expressions to talk about it.

In the image below you have the most common phrases. Have a look at them.

Weather on the Camino

You have all the main vocabulary there, but let me give you an extra tip before I go.

If you are hot, please say tengo calor and not what many English-speakers say: estoy caliente. While it is a perfectly correct sentence in Spanish, it doesn’t mean what you think. What you are actually saying is that you are sexually aroused. So, if you’re trying to talk about the temperature… tengo calor is the right phrase!

You could use caliente to talk about the temperature of other things, like a hot shower or a hot drink. But, if you’re talking about yourself (or any other person, for that matter), be aware that caliente has that added extra meaning…

*one final note: tiempo means weather, but it also means time.

 

Today’s Spanish words & phrases

 

Make sure you don’t miss any posts 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 the subscribers area. I promise I won’t send you any spam.

 

¡Buen Camino!

The Camino and the new normal

The Camino and the new normal

The Camino and the new normal |

In the last few months, many have had to postpone or cancel their Camino plans due to the coronavirus pandemic. Spain shut down and we were in strict lockdown for 2 months.

When is the Camino reopening?

That has been one of the most frequently asked questions during this period. For those of us lucky to live in Galicia, walking the last 100km of any Camino has been possible for a couple of weeks already. For the rest… you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

The state of emergency that we’ve been in since March ended on June 15 in Galicia and it will end on June 21 in the rest of Spain. On that day, most restrictions will be lifted and we’ll enter in what the Government has called la nueva normalidad (the new normal).

 

How will the new normal affect the Camino? 

A set of new rules and recommendations has been approved and they will remain in place until there is an effective treatment or vacuna (vaccine).

 

  • Airlines and other transport companies are required to hold all passengers’ details for a month, so they can be easily traced in case of a positive case being confirmed.
new normal
  •  The use of mascarillas (face masks) is compulsory in closed public spaces where a 1.5m safety distance cannot be observed. You can be fined with up to €100 for not complying. So, be ready to wear a mask when you enter tiendas (shops), accommodations and public transport.

 

  • Don’t be surprised either if you are required to use gel desinfectante (disinfectant gel) on your hands every time you enter a closed space.

 

But albergues is where we’ll see the biggest change

There are no specific regulations for albergues, but there is a series of recommendations that any type of accommodation should follow.

  • The biggest change for albergues will be in the number of pilgrims they can accommodate, as there has to be a 2m distance between bunkbeds.

Safety measures should be clearly displayed at all times, but these are some of the things you can expect:

 

You will notice changes from the minute you step inside.

  • Maybe it’s alfombras desinfectantes (disinfecting mats) or gel hidroalcohólico (disinfectant gel) at the entrance.

 

  • Physical contact is to be avoided, and that includes handshakes.
new normal social distance
new normal mascarillas
  • The use of tarjeta (card) for payment is encouraged. Many albergues didn’t have this option before, so I don’t know whether they’ll make it available. But the recommendation is there.

 

  • Another change you may encounter could be bolsas de plástico (plastic bags) at the entrance for your backpack, shoes or any other object that could be potentially infected.

 

  • You can also expect sábanas desechables (disposable bedsheets)… and having to make your own bed. The guidelines say they should give you your bedsheets in a sealed bag, to make sure they are clean and no one else but you can touch them. Also, only bottom bunk beds can be used.

 

  • Shared toilets should be cleaned and disinfected at least 6 times a day.

 

  • Communal dinners could become a thing of the past, since shared kitchens can only be used by groups (that travel together) and they have to be disinfected after every use.

What do you think?

Do these measures make you feel safe doing the Camino soon, or would you rather wait?

What do you think will be the biggest change to the Camino experience as we knew it?

 

Today’s words

Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid

Topics you should avoid |

You’ve been dreaming for ages about walking the Camino. You’ve planned,  packed, trained… and you’re finally in Spain. Of course, you want to make the most of this amazing experience and hope that the time spent in Spain will go as smoothly as possible.

 

That can include a wide range of things, such as your flights not being delayed, not suffering any injuries or ampollas (blisters) and making meaningful connections with both fellow peregrinos and locals.

 

Some of these things are beyond your control, so we’ll not discuss them now. Others, however, you have power over.

 

It’s surprising how different things can be in another country, even one that is in theory close to ours: you say or do something that is perfectly OK in your homeland, and all of a sudden you can sense the mood changing. For the worse.

 

So, what should you do?

In order to minimise potential problems or awkward situations with Spaniards, there are certain behaviours and topics you’d better avoid.

 

Don’t criticise

As mentioned in this previous post, avoid criticising our customs; whether it’s mealtimes, siesta, bullfighting or something else. We may privately agree with you. But the fact that you, a foreigner, just came into our country and “have the nerve” to tell us how we should be doing things will not be welcome.

 

I mean, you wouldn’t like it if we went to your country and told you how to run it, would you?

 

Topics you should avoid

You should tread carefully if discussing política (politics) and religión (religion). In fact, my advice would be to stay away from those 2 as much as possible.

 

Politics is maybe an obvious subject to avoid. People can be very passionate about their political ideas and things can easily get heated when we don’t agree.

 

And I’m not just talking about current affair issues like the latest election results or the independence of Cataluña (Catalonia). Other “older” topics like the Spanish Civil War can also be very touchy and nobody will appreciate you, a foreigner, sharing your thoughts about it and “coming to teach us lessons”. That’s how most Spaniards would see it and that’s also one of the most polite replies you will get. So, stay away from it.

 

Oh! And please don’t even suggest that the Catalan, Basque and Galician languages are dialects, especially if you are talking to someone from one of those regions! They ARE languages and, in fact, they are co-official with Spanish in their respective territories. It really upsets many of us when you call them dialects.

 

Religion, on the other hand, is considered a private matter in Spain. You don’t ask someone you just met about their religious beliefs or practices. Of course, some walk the Camino for religious reasons, but some others don’t. So, unless they bring it up, I would also stay away from it. You’re just going to make people uncomfortable if you ask.

 

Bursting stereotypes

While I’m on this topic, I’d like to clarify some common misconceptions people tend to have about Spain and religion.

  • First of all, Spain has no official religion. After Franco’s dictatorship, Catholicism was abolished as the country’s official religion. Our current Constitution, adopted in 1978, establishes the right to religious freedom.

 

  • Secondly, Spain is not a deeply Catholic country, at least not in the way many foreigners think it is. According to the latest surveys, 2 thirds of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, but only 22% of them attend church on a regular basis. Almost 30% of Spaniards identify as atheist, agnostic or non-believers.

 

You should avoid this, too

Before we finish for today, let me give you one final tip:

 

Please, don’t tell us we have a lisp because of some king or another a few centuries ago!

 

It’s not true; actually, it’s quite a ludicrous theory and all it shows is that you don’t know what a lisp is.

 

A lisp is a speech disorder characterised by  the inability to correctly pronounce the S sounds. People with a lisp typically pronounce S sounds as TH.

 

In Spain, there is a difference in pronunciation (and meaning) between the words seta (mushroom) and zeta (the letter z), or cocer (to boil) and coser (to sew), just to mention a couple of examples. Just the same way that an English speaker pronounces sink & think differently. So, if we have a lisp, I guess you do, too!

You’ve been warned. Now you know what topics you should avoid, so it’s up to you to stay out of trouble.

 

Today’s words

Make sure you don’t miss any posts 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 the subscribers area. I promise I won’t send you any spam.

 

¡Buen Camino!