A conversation with Oihana

A conversation with Oihana

A conversation with Oihana |

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

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.

 

Oihana and her friend Leire
On the Camino del Norte

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.

 

Camino del Norte

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). 

 

Conversation with Oihana pilgrims office

Los voluntarios son fáciles de identificar: siempre o casi siempre llevan la camiseta azul del uniforme de ACC que tiene media concha blanca. 

 

Puedes…

  • 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. 

 

You can follow Oihana’s Caminos on Instagram and she has a blog too.

 

Today’s words and phrases

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.

A conversation with Gary

A conversation with Gary

He was a carer for Diane, his wife, for many years, as well as having his own health issues. He heard about the Camino and thought it would be something special to do in Diane’s memory. But he caught the Camino bug and has walked some more, and volunteered as hospitalero last summer. Read my conversation with Gary to find out more.

Conversation with Gary

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 63 years old, retired and I live close to Sheffield in Yorkshire in the North of England. I was a carer for my wife for many years, until she sadly passed away. Being pretty much housebound during those years left me very unfit and losing my wife caused me a lot of mental and emotional stress. I was diabetic, on over 200 units of insulin daily and I also had a pacemaker fitted. Following the death of my wife I took up walking, which gave me a real boost both mentally and physically.

When did you first hear about the Camino and when or why did you decide to do it?

I had never heard of the Caminos until I saw a TV programme that aired in the UK, following a number of celebrities as they walked sections of the Camino Francés. I joined a number of Forums and online groups and began to learn more about the various Caminos.

 

My wife Diane was outgoing with a real zest for life. She loved the outdoors and in addition to being a Scout Leader for 15 years she was also a talented artist. A few weeks after her 50th birthday, Diane suffered a massive stroke which left her paralysed down her left side and blind in her left eye. This was a doubly cruel blow because Diane was left handed and she never mastered painting right handed. 

 

Through all the pain and struggles, Diane never lost hope or her sense of humour, she fought to recover every minute of every day; unfortunately she never recovered and eventually passed away. I wanted to do something special in her memory and I think the Camino fitted the bill perfectly. Diane would have been really enthusiastic about this challenge and would have loved to do it herself. I discussed it with David Critchlow, a close friend, and we agreed to give it a go.

 

Tell us about your Camino. 

We looked at the various options and eventually chose to walk the Camino Portugués in September of 2018. We only had limited time available to us and initially looked at starting in Tui but decided it would be more fitting to start the Camino Portugués actually in Portugal. We therefore began our walk across the river in Valença.

We were blessed with good weather every day and the scenery was stunning. Whilst we walked separately during the day we bumped into many of the same people most evenings so we formed a sort of loose knit community. I had never been to Spain before but the friendliness of the locals was fantastic. On one occasion we had taken a wrong turning and asked for directions from an old lady, who, instead of just giving directions, insisted on walking with us for 2 miles, on a very hot day, to ensure we were on the right path.

 

To say that we enjoyed our Camino would be an understatement. We had the bug and on returning to the UK we began to research our next Camino the very same day. Another bonus was that between the training and walking the Camino I lost 7st in weight and no longer need the insulin.

 

You then decided to become an hospitalero. Why? 

During our research we discovered information about the Confraternity of St James, a UK based organisation dedicated to supporting Pilgrims. They manage 2 Donativo Albergues, one in Rabanal on the Francés, the other in Miraz on the Norte. Having met so many helpful hospitaleros on our Camino, we both agreed that this looked like an excellent way of giving something back.

 

conversation with Gary

How did you go about finding a volunteering opportunity? 

We contacted the CSJ by email to enquire about volunteering opportunities. We were delighted to hear that they had an opening for this year, 2019. My eldest grandson Kane asked if he could join us, so we completed the application forms and the 3 of us attended a training session with the CSJ early in 2019; were accepted as volunteers to run the Albergue San Martín, for 2 weeks in Miraz, in July 2019.

 

We decided that instead of flying in to A Coruña and catching the bus to Miraz, that the 3 of us would fly to Avilés and walk the Camino del Norte from there to Miraz, which is exactly what we did. Again stunning scenery, great people and apart from one wet day we were again blessed by the weather.

 

How was your experience?

We were very grateful for the training we had received from the CSJ as on arrival in Miraz we were very much thrown in at the deep end. The previous team of hospitaleros departed for home just a couple of hours after our arrival.

The three of us eventually settled in to a routine that worked for us and for the pilgrims who stayed with us.

 

We met some truly inspiring pilgrims, ranging from the very young travelling with their families, to the very old; I believe the oldest pilgrim we met was an 82 yrs old lady walking with her granddaughter. One person who sticks in my mind is a young man from Texas, USA. He was carrying the biggest backpack I’ve ever seen, his pack literally weighed more than our 3 packs put together. He was carrying all of his personal possessions in his pack and upon completing the Camino he would be heading to Hungary, where he would be staying in a monastery for several months and assisting the monks to improve their brewing processes.

 

On completion of our time as volunteers we had to return to the UK but next September we plan to return to Miraz, where we will again volunteer for 2 weeks. After which we will finish walking the Camino del Norte in to Santiago, from there, catch the bus to Ferrol and then walk the Camino Inglés; we really have got the bug.

conversation with Gary

Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino/volunteering? Do you think knowing (or not) Spanish had any impact on your experience?

Prior to walking the Camino Portugués we had very little knowledge of Spanish. We had a couple of phrase books, watched a few videos on YouTube and listened to a couple of CDs. Although our use of the language was very rudimentary, it was very useful and the local people that we met appreciated that we made an effort and were very happy to assist in our learning and point out our mistakes, which was great. I think things would have been much more difficult had we not made some attempt to learn the language, however basic. We both also have a working grasp of German, which proved to be very useful because we met many German speaking Pilgrims. 

Having decided to volunteer as hospitaleros I thought that a better command of the Spanish language would be needed. I therefore began to learn basic Spanish at a local night school. This improved my use of the language a great deal and although it is still basic, it did prove to be very useful.

As hospitaleros in addition to dealing with the needs of the pilgrims, we had to converse with and negotiate with the local utility providers, local tradesmen and shopkeepers. Our use of Spanish is far from perfect but life would have been much more difficult without it. My grandson found that not speaking any Spanish did tend to isolate him somewhat whilst we were running the Albergue.

 

 

Gary’s words and phrases 

¿Cuánto es?  – how much is it?

La hora de salida check out time. this literally means “time of departure”, so you can also use it for trains, buses or planes. 

¿Dónde empezó? where did you start? 

La lavandería laundry 

El tendedero clothes line

Por favor escríbalo please write it down

¿Está lejos? is it far?

Gracias por todo thanks for everything

¿Hay camas libres? are there free beds?

Quisiera I would like

 

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¡Buen Camino!

 

A conversation with Randall

A conversation with Randall

He was diagnosed with Stage IV Prostate Cancer in 2015. He fought it. Five years on, he walked the Camino with a mission: raise awareness about the disease and encourage men to get screened. Read my conversation with Randall to find out more.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hola amigos, mi nombre es Randy. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and went to Damien HS, an Irish Christian Brothers school –  namesake Saint Damien, the savior of the Lepers on Molokai. Moved to California in 1979 and attended Loyola Marymount University, run by the Jesuits. Stayed in California and attended USC School of Dentistry – not the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela  🙂

In 2014, at a too young age of 57, I had done the Long Beach, CA marathon. I had a PSA test at 555.2 (under 4 is normal) and my journey began.

 

When did you first hear about the Camino? You had been running marathons for years. So, why did you decide to walk the Camino?

I had seen the movie “The Way” in the early 2000s and was, as many have been, inspired by that poignant story of a Dad walking the Camino in memory of his son.

A dental patient told me that she was going to Madrid to teach English this year and that sparked an idea about doing The Camino. I did some online research, contacted my son, who lives in London, and suggested that we do it together.

I found out that September tends to be cooler and less traveled. I knew that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and my almost five year survival with Stage IV Prostate Cancer was upcoming. 

 

This would be a perfect time for me to walk/bond with my son, spread PCa awareness, and maybe get a man screened. Since the diagnosis in 01/2015, I’ve had signs on my back at marathons (31 so far) telling my saga, urging men to get screened, and more recently – honoring those taken.

 

Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

I ordered hiking shoes online and walked four days per week either with my wife or up at my other dental office for over two months. My wife and I even did a walk, eat, walk to prep for 9 miles to simulate life on The Camino. I knew that marathon fitness (151 so far) would confer a base but I didn’t know how a backpack would affect me. Doing a marathon entails mental and physical discipline and I knew that would really help in the hike. 

 

A conversation with Randall

Tell us about your Camino. How was your experience? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

My son’s new wife and a friend decided to walk with us. The Camino was a wonderful contemplative, spiritual, bonding, and life affirming experience. We disconnected from the real world and connected with nature and each other.

 

I had a sign en español on my back and that sparked a conversation with numerous Peregrinos. I also placed Blue Ribbons on The Camino and a group of Spaniards in Portomarín asked why. I told them in my so-so Spanish “Tengo cáncer de próstata estadio 4 desde 2015” (I have Stage 4 prostate cancer since 2015).  They asked how I was doing and I communicated that estoy bien (I’m OK) and the reason for being out there.

 

At one point, my son and I had eaten possibly mejillones malos (bad mussels). One of that quartet below had not seen me one day on The Camino and left me an Instagram message Oye, ¿dónde estás? (Hey, where are you?). We caught up with them at another rest/sello/cerveza/tortilla stop and I told them I was fine, toasted them with a beer and took a group pic.

This was such a great experience; strangers on The Camino became friends/supporters all because of The Camino. She messaged me Me alegro que hayas disfrutado tanto aquí. Ha sido un placer conocerte . Mucha suerte y buen viaje” (I’m glad you have enjoyed it so much here. It has been a pleasure to meet you. Good luck and safe trip). 

conversation with Randall

 Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Do you think this had any impact on your Camino?

I had four years of Spanish in High School and one year in College, but still had to review quite a bit. Spanish for the Camino was so very helpful in refreshing my long unused Spanish skills. Knowing some Spanish is very beneficial on The Camino; you can engage/communicate, and bond better knowing key words or phrases.

Randall’s words

  • First, some general vocabulary such as greetings and other words you can use in many conversations.

Hola: hello

¿Dónde esta?: where is it?

Buenos días: good morning

Buenas tardes: good afternoon/evening

Muchas gracias: thank you very much

Por favor: please

De nada: you’re welcome (after someone says thank you).

Vale: OK.

Está bien: it is OK/fine.

Claro: of course

  • Some food and drink related words too:

Cerveza: beer 

Caña: a glass of beer

Vino blanco: white wine

Vino tinto: red wine

Tinto de verano: it literally means summer red and it’s a drink made with red wine and soda; very common in the summer (verano), hence the name.

Pulpo: octopus (and if you want to learn how to prepare it, check this post). 

Mejillones: mussels 

Pimientos de Padrón: Padrón peppers

Jamón: ham

Bocadillo: sandwich made with baguette-type of bread, not with sliced bread.

Tortilla: Spanish omelette, with eggs and potatoes (you can find the recipe here).

La cuenta: the bill (at a restaurant, mainly). 

More of Randall’s adventure on : #chinononcamino  / @Dockam57 on Instagram

 

I hope that my Camino adventure “makes a ripple” and maybe a man’s life saved. 

 

The Camino is a metaphor for your own life. The Fleetwood Mac song says “Go your own way”. We all have our own “Camino” that we are on; how do we do it, who do we meet and what impact can you make?

 

Buen Camino, Buen Viaje, y vive una gran vida


PS. I’m signed up for the Long Beach, CA marathon again next month. I’ll celebrate my unofficial five year survival then! (old data said only 28%). Also, doing the New York City Marathon in November (my 4th in a row, raising over $14,000 for ZERO).

To learn more about Randall’s story, you can check these:

 

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with Richard (II)

A conversation with Richard (II)

This is the second part of my conversation with Richard.

Conversation with Richard

 

In the first part of our conversation, Richard told us about his motivations to do the Camino and described his experience on the Vía de la Plata.

In this second part, we discuss the Camino Inglés we recently walked together with a group of people.

The Camino Inglés is very different from the Vía de la Plata. And you also decided to do it differently, with a group of strangers. Why?

Richard in Fisterra

 

When I first visited, I immediately fell in love with Spain, its people and culture. One of my ambitions is to be able to speak Spanish with a reasonable standard of fluency.

 

I am also addicted to the Camino. When the opportunity came to walk the Camino Inglés AND learn some Spanish at the same time, I couldn’t resist. I have to confess that I wondered whether walking with a group would affect my enjoyment but I was mistaken and am so glad that I decided to spend the week with the group.

However,  I had arranged to walk from Santiago to Finisterre immediately after the Camino Inglés in case I needed solitude. It’s a beautiful solitary walk. The coast is breathtaking.

 

How was your experience on the Inglés? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

The Camino Inglés was not just a physical challenge but a mental one too. Developing and maintaining the discipline to continue talking Spanish to other native English speakers is difficult, especially when you become tongue tied and frustrated. However, everyone’s commitment to the principle of immersion made sure they made every effort to stick with it.

 

There was plenty of laughter too, like the evening we spent learning palabrotas (Spanish swear words). My vocabulary has improved!

Also the discovery by one of our group of a new breakfast alternative to chocolate con churros – chocolate con plátano!

Chocolate con plátano

You already knew Spanish before your Caminos. Would you recommend learning at least some Spanish before doing the Camino? What are the benefits you enjoyed?

A little Spanish is very useful for anyone doing the Camino. You may pass through small villages where no English is spoken. If nothing else you should know how to say ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ – and don’t forget how to smile. This always works!

My Spanish was sufficient for me to survive and on occasion I was able to hold brief conversations with local people to learn about their town and the life there. Generally Spanish people are really pleased if you have a go at Spanish and I found them very approachable and helpful.

The one thing I appreciated is the principle of learning a language by living it. I hope to be able to spend more time living in Spain for at least part of the year to ‘live’ the language, which I think is the best way to learn.

Also, by the way,  I was treated to a lot of free beer by fellow pilgrims who occasionally  needed an interpreter. Another benefit of knowing the language!

 

Richard’s words

After the Camino basics he shared in the first part of our conversation, Richard has more Spanish words and phrases for you. You can listen to Richard explaining and pronouncing them all in the audio below, after the list.

Hay: there is, there are, is there, are there

¿Hay un supermercado cerca de aquí?: Is there a supermarket near here?

¿Dónde está… (el supermercado  … (el camino)?: Where is … (the supermarket)  … (the Camino)?

¿Se puede…? Can one… ?

los pies: feet             los dedos: fingers or toes (for toes, you could also say dedos del pie)

la rodilla: knee          la cadera: hip           la espalda: back

el hombro: shoulder          la cabeza: head           los ojos: eyes

las orejas: ears           la cara: face

Tengo problemas con… (mis ojos): I have problems with… (my eyes)

Me duelen (los ojos): (my eyes) hurt

Tengo un resfriado: I have a cold

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with Richard

A conversation with Richard

This is the first part of my conversation with Richard, one of the 8 “strangers” I walked the Camino Inglés with at the end of April/beginning of May. We met for the first time in Ferrol, last April 28, same as James. And the following day we all started walking together towards Santiago de Compostela.

But Richard was not a Camino newbie. He had walked the Vía de la Plata before. In this first part of our conversation, Richard shares his experience on the Vía de la Plata in 2018.

Conversation with Richard

Please tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Richard Maynard. I’m 69 years old. I live in Warwick, a small town in the centre of the UK not far from Stratford-on Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

I retired from full time working in the IT sector as a consultant in 2012 and worked a further 5 years as a freelance contractor until 2017 when I decided that it was time I stopped and concentrate on other more important things… Like myself!

I am married to Diane. We don’t have any children unfortunately but my only sister has two boys and I get a lot of enjoyment spending time with them. They ask me advice on a lot of things which makes me feel  quite useful.

 

The Camino Inglés was not your first Camino.

When did you first hear about the Camino and why did you decide to do it?

I first heard of the Camino in 1993 when I first visited the ‘real’ Spain with Diane, who had spent time there teaching English in the 80’s. During that time she had made friends in Palencia and León. We still visit these people on a regular basis today and are always made most welcome as is the Spanish tradition.

León is a beautiful city, with a wealth of history and culture. Walking through the streets of the old quarter of the city in 1993, I noticed metal plates in the paving shaped like scallop shells and also noticed yellow arrows painted on some walls and lampposts. They all guided you towards the cathedral.

I asked about these signs and was told about the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing years I researched more information about its beginnings and history. I wondered why it had endured for so many years and what there was about it that still drew people to it to walk to Santiago de Compostela.

I determined to do the Camino because I was curious about its mysterious and powerful nature.

 

I felt it would offer me a meaningful experience.

I have to say that, at the time,  I felt somehow dissatisfied with life even though I had been quite successful and appeared happy to external observers.

People ask me why I waited until 2018 to do my first Camino. Well, for me the Camino exists with one starting point and continues until it finishes in Santiago de Compostela outside the cathedral. I knew therefore that I could never be truly fulfilled if I walked the Camino in stages, returning every year until I had completed it. I had to do all of it in one go. But, I was working and knew I could never get sufficient time off work to do this, so I waited until I no longer had work commitments to concern me.

 

Why did you choose the Vía de la Plata?

The Vía de la Plata is possibly the longest of the numerous routes across Spain. It  runs from Seville in Andalucia and heads north through Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca, Zamora and then heads North West to Ourense and finally, after 1007 Kilometres arrives in  Santiago de Compostela.

Via de la plata map

 

 I decided on this route firstly because I was not keen on the large number of pilgrims on the Camino Francés(the best known route) from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. The second reason was because I am the type of person who likes to set myself challenges.

 

I spent a long time in the past listening to people who told me I couldn’t succeed at the things I was interested in. I don’t do this anymore!

 

I also wanted to discover something about myself. I guess I’m a little crazy and take risks in life.

 

 I wanted answers to the questions:

  • Could I do it?
  • Did I have the strength and energy to keep going to the end?
  • Could I survive walking and average of 20 -25 kilometres per day ……….. Every day!
  • How could I manage daily life with only the 6-7Kgs contents of my rucksack on my back?

I have to confess that I was very nervous about failure, although my wife said she believed I could do it and that I should try my best.  I knew that some acquaintances would try to dissuade me from going or try to convince me that I, a retired old guy, was physically incapable of such an undertaking.

So I didn’t tell anyone about my Camino until the evening before I set out from Seville, when I went onto Facebook and announced that I would head north the following morning and keep walking until I arrived in Santiago de Compostela!

As I expected, I received a lot of concerned messages about my age, and my sanity but also a lot of support which made me feel more nervous about failing, as I didn’t want to disappoint people, let alone having to listen to others saying “I told you so!” I was committed!

 

Tell us about your experience on the Vía de la Plata

Firstly I must say that the Camino is not just a walk, it is a life experience. We embark upon it for our own reasons. We look for resolution in our lives. We look for answers, but usually we find more questions. What I am saying is that the Camino is what it is for each individual. It is intensely personal because it is a process during which the pilgrim is confronted by themselves; they discover their strengths and overcome weaknesses.

No two Caminos can be the same. The effects of the Camino can be fundamental but different in each case.

I can say without a doubt that, for me, walking the Via de la Plata was the most powerful experience I have had in the whole of my life. I am now changed forever.

I learned so much about myself and how to change; how to open my heart and mind to the world and the people around me. How to help others and how to accept help from others. How to be tolerant and understanding of others and of myself. To be able to see yourself in context with the world, with nature, with all living things.

Life proceeds at the most simple level. You move forward using your legs, there is no other way forward. You live with what you have on your back, that is your world. You are liberated. You can then look around you and realise what you are in relation to the Camino and the world you are passing by. You realise how small a part of creation you are and yet how fortunate you are to be part of it.

I discovered something that proved very useful to me on the Camino. The first week or so was difficult. A few blisters, rain, cold, crowded albergues and a bad cold left me feeling very depressed. The worst of it was the realisation that I still had nearly 900 Kms to go until the end.

It was then I learnt a great lesson from other seasoned pilgrims.

 

The secret is to live your life on a daily basis. Don’t think about the distance still to go to Santiago de Compostela but focus on the day ahead. How far do you need to travel? Where are you going to sleep? Where will you eat? Do you need to wash clothes etc.?

I took this on board and immediately it seemed as if a weight had been lifted from my back. My pack seemed lighter because I knew I only had to carry it 20 kms or so. I focussed on getting a bed for the night, food and any supplies that I needed. That was all. At the end of each day, I could look at the challenges that tomorrow would bring with greater strength and determination.

 

You feel liberated. You only need to plan one day ahead!

The Via de la Plata has less pilgrims than the Camino Francés. As I passed through parts of Extremadura I found myself walking alone through a wilderness. I had never experienced this before. I walked for four days like this but never felt lonely or frightened. I have never felt closer to the world and to creation than at this time and would stop and allow my senses to explore my environment, sounds, sights, smells; the wind on your face the warmth of the sun upon your skin.

The Camino can be a solitary experience if you so desire and you will meet pilgrims on the road who will ask you to respect their wish for solitude. However this is not that common. For the most part, pilgrims develop an open nature and celebrate their common experience of the Camino. They share themselves with others talking about their backgrounds, their motivations, their hope for the future.

The common purpose of the pilgrim, the meaningful journey, generates a resonance that breaks down all barriers and creates  the fellowship of the Camino. To this day I maintain contact with friends I made on the Camino. People from all backgrounds and cultures who share with me knowledge of the quiet determination you develop on the road and the peace that this brings to your spirit.

 

Richard’s words

You’ll have to wait till next week for the rest of my conversation with Richard. In the meantime, here are some of the Spanish words he thinks you should know. You can listen to Richard explaining his choice of words and, of course, saying them in Spanish, in the audio below.

por favor (please) & (muchas) gracias (thank you)

el albergue (hostel), una pensión (guesthouse), la habitación (room)

la comida (food), el menú del día (menu of the day)

el supermercado (supermarket), la farmacia (pharmacy), la lavandería (launderette)

una mochila (backpack), una credencial (pilgrim’s passport), un sello (stamp), una compostela (certificate of completion)

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with James

A conversation with James

Remember I was walking with strangers? Well,  James was one of them. We met for the first time in Ferrol, last April 28. And the following day we started walking together with 7 other people. So, of course, he’s not a stranger anymore, after a week sharing conversations, laughs and struggles on the Camino Inglés.

You can read about James’ motivations to walk with us, as well as his impressions of the whole experience, in our conversation.

James

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m James, from England. I grew up in Shropshire but now live in London. I enjoy travelling, learning languages, seeing new countries and meeting people. I work as a project manager in the rail industry.

When did you first hear about the Camino?

I first heard about the Camino from my Dad. He talked a bit about the route from Le Puy in France, but apart from that I knew very little.

 

Why did you decide to do it?

I was looking for an opportunity to learn Spanish that didn’t involve a classroom. One where I could meet people and experience Spain naturally. Walking the Camino seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’m very grateful for being able to share it with the group. To visit Galicia was also a big motivation for me.

 

Did you prepare somehow?

I didn’t do any preparation. I don’t recommend this approach.

Even though I try to stay physically fit, my legs and feet were not prepared for the amount of walking. By the third day, my left leg became quite swollen and it was a struggle to complete the long days, especially with a heavy weight on your back.

Thinking about what you will carry and doing some walking beforehand is a good idea.

 

Most people do the Camino on their own or with someone they know. You decided to do it differently, with a group of strangers. Why?

Without the organisation of the two Maria’s, I wouldn’t have done it.

I just didn’t know enough about the route, where to stay and eat, and how it works. All I had to do is turn up, walk, and enjoy Galicia. To do all of this independently would have been a lot of work. Also, walking it alone didn’t really appeal to me, I learned so much from talking to the other group members. You also have to try a bit harder, especially when it comes to speaking Spanish.

 

Conversation with James

 The group… or most of them, anyway

How was your experience on the Camino Inglés? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

It was great to share the experience with such a friendly group of people. I really enjoyed it. Even after a hard day’s walking I was amazed by the amount of food we ate. In particular Matt’s demolition of 3 bowls of lentils for a starter. Gang and Ewa also had impressive appetites and Greg’s fondness for pulpo (Galician octopus) have all left a lasting impression on me.

 

 

You already knew Spanish before our walk. Would you recommend learning at least some Spanish before doing the Camino?

Knowing some Spanish beforehand is an advantage, but I wouldn’t let it stop you from doing the Camino. Regardless of your level, if your objective is to improve your Spanish, you will definitely do that on the Camino.

 

James’ Spanish words

As I usually do, I asked James to pick a few words that were important to him during the Camino. And this is his choice:

Whilst walking the Camino, the most important words and phrases for me were those of encouragement from a very kind Galician lady:

Ánimo y fuerza: courage and strength
Mente positiva: positive mind
Estás llegando a la meta: 
you are reaching the goal
Campeón: champion
Que descanses: 
you rest
Cuida tus pies: 
take care of your feet
conversation with James

 

 

 

 

…and we made it to Santiago!