I had a new guest in the podcast. Fabi, who is also a Spanish teacher, walked his first Camino in 2017. In our conversation, Fabi shares his experience on the Camino Francés, as well as some lessons he learned the hard way. So, if you’re planning your first Camino, pay attention to Fabi’s advice.
You can listen to our conversation in Spanish:
Or, if you’re not up for it, you can read here an account of what he told me. In English.
In 2027, Fabi walked the five final stages of the Camino Francés, starting in Sarria and ending in Santiago de Compostela, with 2 friends. He soon discovered that he wasn’t wearing the right shoes and after only one hour into his first day, he got his first blister. Luckily, he had a second pair of shoes, and those were a better fit, so he was able to continue.
Although he had traveled to Sarria with 2 friends, Fabi decided to walk by himself on the second day, because he wanted that time to reflect and think about his life and the future. But something else happened that second day. Half way to Palas de Rei, it started raining very heavily. Fabi was prepared for the rain. But, when he got to Palas de Rei, he couldn’t find his accommodation; so he tried to find his way with the help of his phone… but the phone got wet in the rain and it stopped working after he arrived at his albergue. The next day, on his way to Arzúa, he stopped in Melide to buy a new phone. And what do lots of pilgrims do in Melide? That’s right, eat octopus. So, that’s what Fabi did. And he drank some cider too. That was his second breakfast!
The rest of the days were less eventful, but an enjoyable experience all the same. He met pilgrims from other parts of Spain along the way and it was exciting to arrive in Santiago and sit on the square, in front of the cathedral, to celebrate together that they had made it. After that, they continued the celebration with a mariscada, or big seafood meal.
In the future, Fabi would like to walk again, either a different route, or the Francés again but in reverse, towards France.
His advice for those planning their first Camino:
make sure you got the right shoes, comfortable and not new.
the right socks are quite important too.
use some gel or vaseline to prevent blisters and chafing.
pack light. You can wash your clothes every day after you finish walking, so you don’t need to carry loads.
be open to new people, new places and don’t be afraid to go on your own because you will soon meet others.
In this new podcast episode I talk to Gordon Chong, who joins me from Canada.
Gordon first heard about the Camino some 40 years ago while studying European history. He was interested in the struggles of pilgrims, soldiers, and Christians in Spain and other European countries, as well as the Gothic churches in Spain.
But he wasn’t able to experience the pilgrimage, the culture and history until last year, when he walked the last 100 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. In the end, he enjoyed the rural life and natural surroundings more than the churches and history.
Gordon has been learning Spanish for a while and the Camino gave him the perfect opportunity to practice. Speaking Spanish helped him to interact more with locals, and stay away from more touristy places. However, he was surprised to find out how many Galicians speak gallego, and not Spanish, in their daily lives.
It took Gordon a few decades to make to to the Camino but, as it happens to many of us, he’s already planning his next one! No definite plans yet, but he would like to walk with a group of Spanish friends, so he can fully immerse in the language and the culture.
She walked her first Camino in 2005, when she was dealing with many important changes in her life (divorce, quitting her job, turning 40). She came back for a second Camino in 2007. Since then, she has walked twice a year, most years. Mainly the Camino Francés, her love, as she describes it.
The podcast is unique in that its focus is those pilgrims who are preparing for their first Camino and are full of doubts and questions. In each episode, Nancy shares her expertise on all things Camino and she also talks to people who haven’t walked yet and get to ask her about any aspects of the pilgrimage that worries them.
Don’t be in a hurry. Take it easy, especially on your first days; you can only walk your first Camino once.
Spend some time thinking why? Why do you want to walk the Camino? What are your motivations?
Always look back! Enjoy the view, breathe… and check you’re not leaving anything behind after you stop for a break.
Nancy has been able to use the Spanish she learned in school on her many Caminos. Her ability to speak Spanish has allowed her to connect with the local people, to be a part of their daily life.
Regarding this, she has another piece of advice. Something, actually, I keep saying to anyone who wants to listen: start your conversations with a greeting. Whether you’re looking for a bed in an albergue, buying something from a pharmacy or a supermaket, remember to greet people. This is much more important, if you want to be polite and respectful, than saying gracias and por favor many times.
Nancy also shares her secret, which works both for when she’s speaking Spanish and when she’s speaking English to a non-native speaker: keep it simple. Simple grammar, simple vocabulary. Makes communication much easier for both parts.
You can listen to the whole conversation, in Spanish, here:
Brian John Skillen, is a professional filmmaker, author, and international dance instructor. His many adventures around the world have strongly influenced his life, but nothing has affected him more than his pilgrimages along the Camino de Santiago. He was first inspired to write the Through a Field of Starstrilogy on his pilgrimage in 2017, where he was told about the clues the Knights Templar left behind on the Camino de Santiago.
Since 2017 he has walked over 1,000 miles across Spain doing research for the trilogy. He has walked the miles his characters have walked and learned the lessons they have learned. All of the characters in the novel that aren’t based on historical people are based on pilgrims Brian met on his Camino. Brian’s goal with the trilogy is to inspire one million people to take a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.
He tells us more about in this guest post. Over to Brian!
Have you ever seen something so amazing it changed your life in an instant?
In 2017, I took an epic pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. I saw many amazing things, but when I first saw the Arc of San Anton, I knew my life would never be the same. To me, it looked like something that could only exist in a movie or a novel. Stepping through the Arc was like stepping into another world. Something about me and my life changed as I emerged on the other side.
I didn’t know it then, but that was a defining moment for me as a person. I didn’t know that after stepping through the Arc of San Anton, I would hang up my dance shoes and trade them in for a story. I didn’t know that I would face one of my biggest fears and achieve something that I thought was impossible…
Just past the Arc of San Anton is the city of Castrojeriz—a hilled city with the ruins of a castle on top. Once again my breath was taken away. When I first saw the city, I thought, My God, someone has to write a book about this place! Little did I know I was going to be that someone.
Every Camino is like a lifetime—you begin as one person and end up leaving as someone completely different.
The Knights Templar
At the albergue (pilgrims Shelter), I looked at my credencial (pilgrims passport) and noticed that the stamp for the city was the cross of Jerusalem. After seeing some Knights Templar symbology at the Arc of San Anton and in the city, I made a comment about the Templars. The hospitalero (person who runs the hostel) raised an eyebrow and asked, “What do you know about the Knights Templar?”
This question led to a long discussion about the importance of the Templars on the Camino de Santiago and in Castrojeriz. The hospitalero told me that there used to be several Templar commanderies in the city, and that the entire hill was hollowed out with tunnels that the Templars had used for rituals and to store their treasure. As we were finishing, he lowered his voice and told me to look for the clues that the Templars had left behind on the Camino.
The next morning I woke up with the hospitalero’s stories still in my head. As I was leaving the town, I did something significant that has changed my life. I took my most valuable possession—my dance shoes—from my backpack and left them at a second-hand store. I said to the world, “I will trade these in for a story.” This may not seem like such a big deal, but for someone who has been a professional dancer for the past twenty years, it was huge. This was my symbolic gesture of stepping into a new time in my life.
Every day after I made that declaration, the people I met and the experiences I had, all came together to form The Way: Through a Field of Stars.
There was only one problem though, I grew up with dyslexia and a third-grade reading and spelling level in highschool—who was I to write a book?
Writing the story
However, once it has been unleashed, nothing can stop inspiration. On the Camino, I woke up every morning before the sun and walked under the stars. As I hiked, The Way: Through Field of Stars played like a movie in my head, and I dictated exactly what I was seeing into my phone.
By the end of my Camino, I had the entire story outlined in an audio format. Now, I had to face my biggest fear, actually writing the book down on paper.
I mix up letters in words, and I didn’t learn the rules of grammar—so writing a book was something I never thought I would do. As I returned home, I committed to writing 2,000 words a day no matter what. At first it was incredibly hard and took a very long time—as I had to teach myself the rules of grammar. But, I stayed committed—and within three months, I had finished the first draft of my novel. I thought it was perfect, however as most of you know, the Camino doesn’t always provide what you want, but exactly what you need to fulfill your life’s purpose.
When I showed the book to my girlfriend (who is now my wife), she answered honestly and said it needed some work. After learning more about editing and publishing, we reached out to fifty agents and all we got in return were two rejection letters and forty-eight other agents that didn’t even bother to write back.
In 2020, we realized the book was as far as we could take it ourselves so we ran a Kickstarter to hire professional editors, formatters, designers, etc. We raised $10,000 in presells on Kickstarter and since publishing The Way: Through a Field of Stars, it has won an Eric Hoffer Award in the Spiritual Fiction category and has also reached the #1 Amazon Bestseller spot in several categories.
My wife and I are currently launching the second book in the series Back: Through a Field of Stars on Kickstarter until July 9, 2021. Follow our Kickstarter link to get both books and support the creation of a new novel. Also, if you are interested in how we launch books on Kickstarter, you can join our free group on Facebook—Kickstarter to Amazon Best Seller. We believe in a life of contribution and are happy to share some of the things we have learned along the way.
My wife and I returned to the Camino in 2019 and my favorite phrase to say was Soy escritor. I declared that “I am a writer” in Spanish, long before I did in English. I hope your Caminos bring you as much growth, inspiration, and love as mine did—Buen Camino!
Some of our favorite Spanish words and phrases we use on the Camino
Zumo de naranja – Fresh squeezed orange juice
Tortilla – an egg dish they serve at breakfast
Leche de soja – Soy milk
¿Dónde está el albergue municipal? – Where is the state run hostel (these are usually the most cost efficient)
¿Cuándo es la misa? When is the Mass?
For more on Brian and his novels, follow this link.
The Camino de Santiago helped Leigh find new meaning in her life after a painful and difficult period. In the past year, she has co-founded The Camino Café, which serves the Camino de Santiago community with video interviews, podcasts, virtual happy hours… and Spanish lessons, among other things.
In this conversation, we’ll find out how the Camino has transformed Leigh’s life.
Please tell us a bit about yourself
Hello, my name is Leigh Brennan. I currently live on Bainbridge Island in Washington. I am a Mom to an amazing 21 year old Daughter, Kiley, currently at University for Architecture and to a cute new Labradoodle puppy, Cooper. By vocation, I am a yoga teacher, a co-founder of Sacred Compass Journeys, a Yoga + Camino retreat company, and co-founder of The Camino Cafe Podcast, Zoomcast, and Facebook Community. In my spare time I love to walk, practice yoga, learn about the Camino, and interview Camino Pilgrims.
When did you first hear about the Camino de Santiago? When or why did you decide to do it?
I first heard about the Camino several years ago while watching the Movie, The Way. A few years later, someone I knew went on a Camino Pilgrimage and when she returned, I was inspired by her transformation. I thought it would be something I would do many years from now during retirement with my husband. However, an unexpected divorce led me to take the Pilgrimage in 2019 to begin the process of healing my broken heart.
How was your experience on the Camino? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?
I am so grateful that I went on a Camino Pilgrimage. I walked in the Fall of 2019 with a group of women I just met who were walking to help process various life challenges. Our group was led by a therapist which very positively added to our experience. Although we went as a group, I walked solo most days with an hour or so mixed in walking with folks in my group and/or with Pilgrims I met along the way.
The Camino helped me find new meaning in my life again and helped me to see that I could still experience moments of joy despite the breakup of my long-term relationship. Upon my return, I decided to focus my life and work around the Camino. I plan to move to Spain once the world normalizes.
The first anecdote I want to share is the advice a fellow Pilgrim gave me on day one. He told me to keep in mind that “the Camino doesn’t give you what you want. It gives you what you need.” This advice helped me to let go of my expectations and to open up to what unfolded during my Pilgrimage. In the end, he was correct. The Camino provided me way more than I could have even dreamed.
Another anecdote is one that a veteran Pilgrim and Albergue owner gave me a few days before arriving in Santiago. He told me that the “The Camino doesn’t end in Santiago, it begins.” I didn’t understand this quote until I got home. He was so accurate. My Camino has continued far beyond Santiago in so many ways. I consider myself a lifelong Pilgrim now and I can’t wait to walk again.
You have plans to go back to the Camino…
Yes, I hope to walk the Camino Francés with my best friend and business partner in Fall 2021 and the Portuguese in Spring 2022 with my Dad, as well as, co-lead several Yoga + Camino tours for small groups in 2022.
Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Do you think it had any impact on your experience?
No, I did not learn any Spanish beforehand and once I arrived, I felt very inept by not knowing Spanish. On the first day meeting-up with my group, I was involved in trying to coordinate transportation to get us to our starting point. I greatly frustrated a busy cafe owner trying to get help with arranging a taxi. It was a powerful lesson. I felt bad for not showing more respect by learning some Spanish before my Pilgrimage.
I found that in the smaller villages, very few people spoke English and even in the larger cities, I found it difficult ordering meals and communicating with albergue owners in several instances. I knew when I came back to the US that I needed to improve my Spanish speaking skills before returning. I am so happy that I am now studying with Maria to help me in this endeavor.
Any words or phrases you wish you had known?
I wish I had known how to read menus and place orders more proficiently. Other things that would have been useful:
I met Oihana online. When or how exactly I can’t remember. We both belong to some of the same Camino-related FB groups and we have a couple of things in common: we were both born in towns along one of the Caminos and we have both lived in Ireland (in fact, she still does). So this conversation has been due for a while now.
I wasn’t sure whether to do it in English or Spanish. Finally, I thought that Spanish made more sense, since we’re both from Spain. And… it’s an excellent opportunity for you to practice. But don’t worry if your level of Spanish is not enough to follow our conversation yet! You can find a translation here.
A conversation with Oihana
Nací en Bilbao, Euskadi, en el Camino Norte a finales del año 75.
Viví y crecí en Venezuela por 27 años, donde realicé mi licenciatura en Administración de Empresas Turísticas y donde trabajé principalmente en el área de eventos, así como en campamentos vacacionales para niños y jóvenes entre 5 y 17 años principalmente en la zona de los Andes venezolanos.
Actualmente vivo en Irlanda desde hace casi catorce años y trabajo en un colegio de primaria como asistente de educación especial.
Es tradición de vascos caminar por el monte y recuerdo bien los domingos familiares con el bocadillo de lomo o la tortilla de patatas, así como las excursiones que hacía mi aitite (abuelo en vasco) paterno con los nietos en verano. Asistí a muchos campamentos vacacionales en Euskadi, mi primero con ocho años, una mochila al hombro con ropa y utensilios para dos semanas que recuerdo me pesaba muchísimo mientras caminamos hasta llegar al área final de acampada. Son experiencias que marcan.
En Caracas (Venezuela) existe el maravilloso Parque Nacional “El Ávila” y subir de excursión era algo habitual los fines de semana, unos días rutas cortas y otras durmiendo literalmente sobre las nubes a 2765m de altura en el pico Naiguatá.
En Irlanda las montañas son diferentes, más rocosas de lo que era habitual para mí y de menor altura pero algunas más difíciles de recorrer; son estas junto a las de la zona vasca del Camino Norte, las que me han hecho las piernas más fuertes para el Camino.
¿Cuándo oíste hablar del Camino por primera vez? ¿Cuándo decidiste hacerlo?
Santiago es el Patrón de Bilbao y tenemos también Catedral de Santiago, así que el Camino del Norte lo he conocido desde pequeña y caminaba por él sin saberlo porque en ese entonces no había flechas amarillas y no recuerdo ver peregrinos.
En el año Jacobeo de 1993, una de mis guías del movimiento juvenil concepcionista, Magdalena Hung, contaba su experiencia del Camino. No recuerdo detalles pero fue la chispa que encendió la llama del Camino y busqué más información, aunque no fue hasta que dejé Venezuela en 2003 que me decidí a investigar. Fue en el 2005 que tomé la decisión de hacerlo con otra amiga vasco-venezolana de la infancia que vivía en Pamplona en aquel entonces.
¿Cómo fue tu primer Camino?
Mi amiga Leire y yo queríamos celebrar nuestro 30 cumpleaños de una manera especial y no encontramos mejor manera que pasar tiempo juntas peregrinando a Santiago por el Camino del Norte. Por temas laborales y de logística empezamos en junio de 2006 con unas mochilas de 60 litros y durmiendo en la tienda de campaña que llevábamos por si no encontrábamos albergues disponibles ya que en un principio hacíamos Camino los sábados y domingos. De Vilalba hasta Santiago no llevamos la tienda y dormimos entre albergues y algún hotel.
El Camino del Norte fue duro pero muy bonito, el ver el mar desde la montaña es algo que nos encantaba disfrutar. En agosto de 2006 me trasladé a Irlanda, así que el continuar Camino se complicó un poco más ya que debíamos coordinar nuestras vacaciones y llegamos a Santiago tres años después el 7 de Agosto de 2009. Allí dentro de la Catedral, en el Pórtico de la Gloria, mirando a Santiago y con nuestras Compostelas en mano, nos prometimos celebrar los 40 haciendo el Camino Portugués por la Costa desde Baiona.
Después has hecho otros Caminos…
He hecho varios Caminos con familia, amigas del colegio y sola. Recorro etapas del Camino Norte muy a menudo sola o con amistades cuando estoy de vacaciones por Bilbao, principalmente la zona vasca, cantabria y asturias porque puedo acceder fácilmente.
El año pasado volví a recorrer sola el Camino del Norte (mi madre, un par de tíos y una prima se unieron en algunas etapas) para celebrar el décimo aniversario de mi primer Camino y en memoria de mi amiga Leire con quien hice mi primer Camino y falleció en Navidad de 2013.
Cuando tengo una semana de vacaciones, si puedo me gusta hacer Camino pero para terminar en Santiago, es por ello que también he recorrido el Camino inglés desde Ferrol, el Camino Portugués por la Costa desde Baiona y el Portugués desde Tui en varias ocasiones.
Al vivir en Irlanda, también he recorrido varias rutas de peregrinación irlandesas vinculadas al Camino Inglés por las cuales los irlandeses medievales recorrían antes de navegar hasta Coruña para continuar hasta Santiago.
Además, eres voluntaria en varias organizaciones relacionadas con el Camino.
En 2017, David Smith (clearskiescamino) me anima a formar parte del equipo de voluntarios de Camino Society Ireland y me introduce a Bernard Lynch quien me acoge, me entrena y me guía como voluntaria de la asociación para ayudar a los peregrinos con mi experiencia.
En 2018, Bernard me indica que en la Oficina del Peregrino en Santiago había una plaza para hacer voluntariado con ACC (Acogida Cristiana en los Caminos de Santiago) y que buscaban preferiblemente a una persona con conocimientos y fluidez del español ya que por lo menos un 50% de los peregrinos en verano dominan esta lengua.
Este año también estaba en mis planes pero con las restricciones actuales de viaje por la pandemia, no creo que sea posible. Ser voluntaria para la Oficina del Peregrino es toda una experiencia que hay que vivirla para entenderla. La empatía peregrina para dar acogida es muy importante, es por ello que es requisito para ser voluntario el haber realizado el Camino. La mayoría de las vivencias son muy gratificantes y emotivas aunque algunas veces, el trato recibido por parte de una minoría de peregrinos deja mucho que desear.
Como voluntario te comprometes a dos semanas, trabajando seis horas diarias (muchas veces más por el tema de ayudar lo más que puedes) por seis días a la semana librando uno. Recibes alojamiento, que compartes con más voluntarios que se convierten en tu familia por catorce días. El resto va por cuenta del voluntario (traslado y manutención).
Los voluntarios son fáciles de identificar: siempre o casi siempre llevan la camiseta azul del uniforme de ACC que tiene media concha blanca.
ayudar en los mostradores dando acogida y escribiendo Compostelas,
dar la bienvenida y acoger en la fila,
ayudar en Monte de Gozo ofreciendo información de la oficina del peregrino o de Santiago y revisando las credenciales al poner el sello para recordar de completar la información personal. Este detalle agiliza el proceso y el tiempo de espera para solicitar la Compostela cuando el peregrino llega cansado y el cuerpo no aguanta más,
… entre muchas otras cosas que según las habilidades de cada voluntario.
¿Crees que tus Caminos habrían sido diferentes si no supieses hablar nada de español?
Por supuesto, el dominar el idioma mayoritario del país es una gran ventaja, sobre todo cuando pasas por poblaciones o caseríos donde no saben otro.
En las grandes ciudades quizás es más fácil conseguir entenderse en inglés, francés o italiano pero por experiencia propia, muchas veces las traducciones no son correctas o hablando se mal interpretan y provocan confusión y enfados. Por ejemplo no es lo mismo decir “estoy cansada” que “casada”; son un par de palabras típicas que escucho a menudo y según el contexto puedo sacar la conclusión pero a veces vuelve loco a quien recibe para dar alojamiento y te ofrece un tipo de habitación o de cama disponible.
Yo he ayudado a muchos peregrinos o gente local haciendo de intérprete si me doy cuenta que no se están entendiendo o me piden ayuda . El domino del idioma facilita a aprender más de la cultura a lo largo del Camino y a crear nuevas amistades.
As you’re probably already aware of, Spanish is not the only language that is spoken in Spain. It is the common language, but several regions have their own language too. In Galicia, where Santiago is located, we have galego. You can read more about it (and learn a few phrases) in this previous post.
Oihana is from Bilbao, in the Basque Country, where they have their own language too, euskera. So, I thought it was the perfect occasion to learn some of the Basque language. She has kindly selected the following words for us and recorded the audio too.
Done Jakue Bidea (Camino de Santiago)
Ondo ibili (Buen Camino)
Egun on (Buenos días)
Gabon (Buenas noches)
Ezkerrik asko (Muchas gracias)
Mesedez (Por favor)
On egin (Buen provecho)
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