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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Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos |

Day 3 was the last day on our Camino Inglés… for now. When we decided to take our daughters along on this adventure, we thought that maybe walking 20km from Pontedeume to Betanzos would be too much for them. We still wanted to see Betanzos and so that’s where we booked our accommodation for Monday night. We thought we could walk around 10km up to Miño and then take an autobús (bus) to Betanzos (arriva.gal). But we didn’t make any definite decisions.

Day 2, we stayed at Pensión Luis, in Pontedeume. They open their café at 9.00, but we wanted to leave earlier. One of the guys there told us of a cafetería around the corner that apparently opens at 5.00am: a place called Martiño. We certainly didn’t go there at 5.00 to check if they were open. But they were open at 8.00am when we left the pensión to start our day. So we had breakfast, bought a couple of extra things to take with us and left.

Before I started walking this Camino, I had never paid much attention to stage profiles. Whenever I was hiking, maybe I would read a general description of the route and that was it. I just showed up and walked. Profiles were not usually present in what I read and, even if they were, they felt somehow abstract.

Walking from Neda to Pontedeume they suddenly started making sense. So I wasn’t looking forward to walking out of Pontedeume when I saw the profile. And the uphill didn’t disappoint!


Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos

The climb is over… for now

After we finished climbing, we walked through a lovely forest. The weather gave us a break. It was not as warm as Day 1, but the wind had died down and, again, rain was not expected until later in the day. El sol (sun) was shining and los pájaros (birds) were singing. Quite idyllic!


After this, we crossed a road and found ourselves going through a golf course. I wasn’t expecting that and it felt somehow weird and out-of-place. Or maybe it was just me. What I wasn’t expecting either was the hard climb we had to tackle next, through a forest on this occasion. There was a woman on a tractor waiting at the bottom of the hill… I was very tempted to ask her for a lift up to the top!

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos


We then continued on paved roads through rural areas for a while until we decided to had a short break at one of the many picnic areas we saw today, by the medieval puente (bridge) over the río (river) Baxoi. We refilled our bottles at the fuente here and ate the churros we had bought earlier in Pontedeume.

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos

After this bridge we walked for a few minutes through a forest area under the motorway bridges before we entered Miño, a lovely coastal town with plenty of tiendas (shops) and cafeterías.

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Graffiti under the motorway

We stopped for a toilet break and to drink something that was not water. After eating the churros, we were not hungry and so we didn’t order any food. But we got a pincho de callos with our drinks.

Callos is a typical Spanish stew. As is usually the case with all traditional recipes, there are almost as many versions of callos as cooks. But they all have the same 2 main ingredients in common: beef tripe and garbanzos (chickpeas), as well as a bunch of spices.

I must say the callos tasted heavenly, like pretty much everything else we ate during those 3 days. I guess that’s one of the side effects of walking for hours.


So, now we were in Miño and we had to decide whether to keep walking or skip the rest of the stage and take a bus. And we took a vote: it was still early, the weather was holding up and our energy levels were OK, which means we decided to continue walking up to Betanzos (guess who was the only one who voted against it? Hint: teenager).

The rest of the stage, from Miño to Betanzos, goes through tiny villages and it’s mostly (or all) on paved roads. Just like days 1 and 2, it was lonely out there, our company just the odd caballo (horse) or perro (dog).

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Ingles: de Pontedeume a Betanzos


When we finally made it to Betanzos, our first priority was to find a place to eat, because it was getting late. Restaurant kitchens usually close at around 3.30 or 4.00pm and we didn’t want to wait until la cena (dinner) for a proper meal. There are many places to eat on two narrow streets off Praza Irmáns García Naveira. We tried one of them (I think it was Mesón Sabín) and they agreed to serve us, although I’m sure they were getting ready to close. ¡Gracias!

Among other things, Betanzos is famous for its tortillas de patatas. We got to taste one of them and a few other things as well. Again, everything tasted delicious!  (http://www.expansion.com/fueradeserie/gastro/2018/08/06/5b617442ca4741f5728b45e0.html)

After food, we headed to our accommodation. Shortly after we had arrived, it started raining, although it was not as bad as the previous day in Pontedeume.

As I explained before, we had to go back home on Tuesday in order to allow the kids some time to do homework and study for exams they had right after this short break. So, we got up early and explored Betanzos a bit before taking a bus back to A Coruña. There is a lot to see in Betanzos! (click here for more info).

Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos
Camino Inglés: de Pontedeume a Betanzos

My plan is to go back at the end of this month to complete it. So you’ll have to wait a bit for the rest of the story…


Today’s words of Spanish for the Camino


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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with Julia

A conversation with Julia

This week I’ve been chatting to Julia, a German pilgrim who walked the Camino Francés after she finished college. Read the whole conversation to find out how the Camino changed her life.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Julia, I am 35 years old and I am from Northern Germany. I’ve been living in Spain now for four years in a small town called Oliva, which is on the eastern coast, with my husband and our two children. I am a German teacher and I run an online language agency: www.milengua.com

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

I’ve always been up to traveling and especially to hiking and trekking. After finishing my university degree in German Philology I decided to go on a trip on my own and among all the different long distance trekking roads I chose the Camino de Santiago as it seemed to me physically not too difficult but very interesting. Besides, I wanted to get to know Spain, where I hadn’t been before. Also, I had a friend who did a part of the Camino and he highly recommended it.


Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

Basically, I got prepared by hiking on every possible occasion. Moreover, I was into running and biking at this time so I found myself in physically good condition. Mentally?  I don’t know. I had a book with the single legs of the way. But to be honest, I just started the journey without thinking too much about it. I was just excited about being outside everyday and walking as far as I could.


Tell us about your Camino. How was your experience?

It was certainly one of my best experiences ever. I met a lot of wonderful people and even though you only shared a couple of days together until each one went on at her or his speed, it felt always like a lifetime. You get to know people that deeply in an incredible short time and I remember almost all of them now 5 years later.

Another deep impression that I will bear forever is the feeling of freedom and peace of mind. You only have to walk. That’s your only mission for several weeks. Enjoying the simplicity of life and the beauty of nature made me feel really “light”.


How did it change your life? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

My anecdote is a romantic one: I met my future husband here, to be precise, in Molinaseca near Ponferrada. From there we went the remaining way together to Santiago and later to Fisterra, where we separated. More than 2 weeks together on the Camino, that’s like 2 years in real time. We stayed in contact ever since but it took us 18 month until we met again. Soon after that I decided to move to Spain  – and I stayed.


Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Did that have any impact on your Camino?

Actually I didn’t know any Spanish before. I learned quickly how to order breakfast, to ask for free beds and to wish a “buen camino”. But it was actually a pity not to be able to talk to the locals. One time I met an older man walking with his dog and as we went the same way for quite a while, we started a conversation. He didn’t speak English so we communicated with gestures, by pointing at things; he showed me photos he had in his wallet and we drew in the sand with sticks we found.  I wished we really could talk as he seemed to be a very interesting person.

Without any Spanish you stay mainly with other pilgrims but you will miss the option to talk with the locals which is basically an important aspect if you want to get to know a country for real.  Another point is the medical assistance, if needed. Whether it’s at a doctors or just in the pharmacy: Some basic vocabulary to explain what’s your problem is more than helpful.



Julia’s words

I usually ask my guests to pick 5-10 Spanish words or phrases: the ones they think every pilgrim should know before their Camino, the ones they knew, the ones they learnt… Julia chose what she learnt on the Camino,  mainly food orders and one phrase that the Spanish pilgrims liked to say when they had wine for dinner: El vino te pone fino, peregrino.
I must confess I’d never heard this phrase before and it can be interpreted in several ways, as it plays on the meanings of the word fino, as well as a couple of expressions that contain it. It could simply mean that wine makes you drunk. But it could also mean that wines makes you wittier!
If you would like to know more about either the menú del día or menú peregrino, check this post.
The word cigüeña means stork and Julia learnt it because she was surprised at how many of these birds she saw while on the Camino. According to her, there are not many storks left in Germany.

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¡Buen Camino!

Pulpo á feira

Pulpo á feira

Galicia has a coastline of close to 1,500 km. So it’s only natural that pescado (fish) and marisco (shellfish) are the stars of Galician cuisine.

From mejillones (mussels) and merluza (hake) to chipirones (baby squid) or the expensive percebes (goose barnacles), there is a wide variety of sea produce to choose from.

But if I had to pick one only, it would have to be pulpo (octopus). Pulpo can be prepared in different ways. But the most popular and best known octopus recipe in Galicia is pulpo á feira, a very simple yet delicious dish. Á feira literally means fair-style.

Nowadays, you can find pulpo in many bares and restaurantes. But in the past, it was something you ate on fair days. There still are people who specialize in cooking pulpo. They go from one fair to another, set up their stall and serve pulpo.


Here’s how to prepare pulpo á feira

  • If you buy a fresh pulpo, the first thing you need to do is to clean it very well and freeze it for at least a couple of days, in order to tenderize it. Otherwise, it will be too hard.
  • When you are ready to prepare it, take it out of the freezer and let it thaw.
  • Bring a big pot of water to the boil.
  • Hold the pulpo by the head and dip it in and out of the boiling water three times. This will prevent the skin peeling off.
  • After you’ve dipped it three times, put it back in the pan and bring it back to the boil. Cooking time depends a bit on the size of the pulpo, but it will take around 30 minutes. You can check with a fork if it’s tender enough (it should be kind of “al dente”, not too hard, not too tender).
  • Once it’s cooked, take the pan away from the heat but leave the pulpo in the water for another 20 minutes.
  • Then, cut it into pieces and arrange them on a serving plate (traditionally, it is served on a wooden plate).
  • Sprinkle with sal (salt) and pimentón (paprika), picante (hot, spicy) if you like. And drizzle with aceite de oliva (olive oil).
  • Finally, serve with plenty of pan and enjoy!

Pulpo can also be served with patatas. If you prefer it this way, here’s the secret to the perfect patatas. Take some of the water you used to cook the pulpo and use it to boil them. So much nicer than just boiling them in plain water!

Have you had pulpo á feira already? Did you like it? Share your experience!


Today’s Spanish words

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For more recipes and food info, download my free Camino Food Guide.


¡Buen Camino!