Walking the Camino as a solo woman

Walking the Camino as a solo woman

Paloma García is a Spanish teacher and pilgrim who has walked the Camino de Santiago twice.

She has three passions: languages, cooking, and meaningful travel. She fulfilled her dream of learning French by moving to France and she’s a dedicated cook.

Her love for travel with purpose led her to walk the Camino de Santiago twice.

So, Paloma’s Caminos were not motivated by religion but rather by a desire for a different kind of vacation, a physical challenge. She was also someone who travelled with a lot of luggage, so the idea of travelling light was appealing.

You can listen to our conversation, in Spanish, in the podcast.



Or you can read a summary here in English.

Paloma’s first Camino experience was in 2017. She walked for a week with her partner, into Santiago de Compostela. For her first experience, she decided to combine different Camino routes to avoid the crowded final stages of the Camino Francés. 

Five years later, in 2022, Paloma decided to walk the Camino alone. For most Spaniards, Roncesvalles is the starting point of the Camino Francés. However, since Paloma lives in France, starting in Saint Jean Pied Port, was important for her. France. She wasn’t sure she would be able to make it all the way to Santiago (and she didn’t have the time either), but she wanted her second experience to be longer than the first, so she walked for 10 days. She hoped she could walk all the way to Burgos, but once on the Camino, she realised her goals were too ambitious and decided it wasn’t wise to push herself to reach Burgos.

For this 2nd Camino, several people offered to walk with her, but she really wanted the experience of doing it by herself. 

Although she is a social person, Paloma also enjoys quiet time by herself, to reflect and get lost in her thoughts. And the Camino provided the perfect opportunity. 

 

We  discussed the balance between solitude and social interaction on the Camino and how it encourages self-reflection and the development of emotional independence. 

In this context, we also commented on the cultural differences in people’s approaches to travelling alone and the respect for each other’s desire for solitude.

One of the differences she noticed is that Spaniards are more gregarious, and find silence uncomfortable, while people from certain other nationalities don’t seem particularly interested in socialising. 

Her second Camino was a wonderful opportunity for personal growth, to learn how to overcome her initial fears and embrace solitude. It was a very empowering experience, and a declaration of her right to travel alone without fear.

Does Paloma recommend a solo Camino?

Not necessarily. While she had a desire to walk by herself and she learned a lot from it, Paloma doesn’t think this might be the right choice for everybody. Every person is different and, depending on your characteristics and personal circumstances, may or may not be a good idea for you. 

 

Overall, our conversation explores the unique experiences and personal growth that come from walking the Camino de Santiago, particularly as a woman travelling alone, and how it offers a balance of solitude and social interaction.




About Paloma

As I mentioned at the beginning, Paloma is a Spanish teacher. You can find her at www.sicomprendo.net

She hosts Sí, comprendo, a podcast for intemediate-advanced students. In one of the episodes, she talks about the Camino. I was a guest in another episode where we talk about my experience walking ‘alternative caminos’ (or avoiding the Francés…). 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Fabi’s advice for the Camino

Fabi’s advice for the Camino

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.

Here’s where you can find Fabi:

– His website

– His podcast

– His Youtube channel

– His Instagram account

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¡Buen Camino!

Gordon’s Camino

Gordon’s Camino

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.

You can listen to the whole conversation here:

Would you like the transcript of this episode (and the previous 4 too)? You can now get them all for free here.

If you’d also like to participate in the podcast, I’ll be announcing how you can do it soon…

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with Nancy Reynolds

A conversation with Nancy Reynolds

Nancy Reynolds is a very experienced pilgrim.

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.

Nancy hosts the You on the Camino de Santiago podcast and guides groups on the Camino Francés.

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.

In our conversation for the Spanish for the Camino podcast, Nancy shared 3 tips with us:

  • 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: 

 

 

Don’t forget to check Nancy’s podcast, You on the Camino de Santiago.

And you can also find out more about her guiding services at The Camino Experience.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Through a field of stars

Through a field of stars

Through a Field of Stars

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 Stars trilogy 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!

Flecha azul

 

 

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?

Through a field of stars

For more on Brian and his novels, follow this link.

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of credencial, check ¿Cómo vas a hacer el Camino?

For the pronunciation of albergue, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir?

For the pronunciation of hospitalero, check El albergue.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

A Conversation with Leigh

A Conversation with Leigh

A Conversation with Leigh |

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

Leigh Brennan

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. 

Conversation with Leigh

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. 

Conversation with Leigh

 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 want… – Quería…

I need… – Necesito…  (for items at the albergue like towels, etc check El albergue & La mochila).

Where can I buy/get… – ¿Dónde puedo comprar / conseguir…? 

What time do you open/close? – ¿A qué hora abren / cierran?

Would you help me get a taxi? – ¿Me puede ayudar a llamar un taxi?

Where is the train/bus station? – ¿Dónde está la estación de tren / de autobuses?

Do you have any yoga mats we can borrow? – ¿Tiene alguna esterilla de yoga que me pueda prestar?

Is there a space here where we can practice yoga? – ¿Hay algún sitio donde podamos hacer yoga?

May I get the bill/check? – ¿Me trae la cuenta, por favor?

May I get a diet coke with lemon and ice? – ¿Me pone una Coca cola light con limón y hielo?

What is your local wine/beer/cheese? – ¿Cuál es el vino / la cerveza / el queso local?

The Camino Café is on Youtube as well as on Facebook and on Instagram.

 

Today’s Spanish words & phrases

¿Dónde está la estación de tren / de autobuses?

 

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¡Buen Camino!