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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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!

Walking with strangers

Walking with strangers

I spent last week walking with strangers. As an introvert, this is something I wouldn’t have done of my own accord, as it is way out of my comfort zone. Meeting strangers along the way is one thing. But committing to spending 6 full days with a group of total strangers is a completely different story. However, when the opportunity arose, I said yes!

 

So, why did I walk with strangers?

A fellow teacher, María Ortega, organises Spanish retreats in Spain every year: a few days in a Spanish city, practicing your Spanish language and learning about the culture in a natural way. We met online, maybe just over a year ago, at an online event for language teachers and we started following each other.

 

One day, she asked me: “Why don’t we organise a retreat together, on the Camino?”. It was a scary idea (I’d never done such a thing), but at the same time I had the feeling it could be an interesting experience, so I said yes. We picked a route (Camino Inglés), set the dates and the rest is history, as they say.

 

As the starting day approached, fear kicked in and a voice in my head kept saying: “What were you thinking when you agreed to take part in this crazy idea?”

 

But it was too late to change my mind then. I was stuck walking with these strangers.

 

Who were these strangers?

The only person I knew (and that was only online), was the other María. We soon became “las Marías”.

 

And then we had 5 men and 2 women, from several places: four from Reino Unido (UK), Inglaterra to be precise; one from Canadá (Canada), one born in China (China) but living in Estados Unidos (USA) and another one born in Polonia (Poland) but living in Suecia (Sweden).

 

The age range went from the 30’s well into the 60’s. So, all in all, we had quite a diverse group. I didn’t know any of these people at all before and I was not just going to teach them a lesson or two. I was going to spend a week with them! All day. Walking together for hours every day, sharing conversations, meals and even rooms.

Walking with strangers

On the last day, somewhere between Sigüeiro and Santiago. I’m the shadow taking the picture.

As I said earlier, I’m an introvert, and I enjoy spending time in my own company. So, as the starting day approached, I was feeling a bit anxious.

 

I know people meet other peregrinos on the Camino and sometimes they remain friends for years or even get married (read Julia’s story). But you normally have the choice to walk with someone or not. I did not have that choice and that thought worried me a bit. But I applied the Galician philosophy of Maloserá* and hoped for the best.

 

The truth is that I soon found out I needn’t worry. Despite being a mixed group of different ages and backgrounds, these people were all lovely in their own different ways. By the end of the week this group of strangers had almost become family and it was hard to part.

 

I’ll detail our journey in future posts, as I’m still trying to process the experience and I’m not back to my normal self (maybe I’ll never be?). So, for today, I’ll leave you with some thoughts.

 

I was wrong

I’ll be honest: I didn’t anticipate the effect this Camino has had on me. I know most people talk about the life-changing nature of the Camino and the emotion they feel when they reach Santiago. But somehow I didn’t think I would be so touched, for several reasons:

 

  • First, I was on the Camino for una semana (a week) “only” and I didn’t think it would be long enough. I thought I would have to walk for weeks to experience all of that, but I was obviously wrong.

 

  • I’m from Galicia. So, even if I hadn’t been to all the places the Camino goes through, I’m home. I’m not walking on exotic lands. I’m familiar with el paisaje (landscape), la comida (food) and the languages (both Galician and Spanish). Well, it was still somehow different, maybe because I was showing it to others.

 

  • I’ve been to Santiago many times. In fact, I lived in Santiago for a couple of years when I was in college. I’ve been on Praza do Obradoiro countless times, I’ve crossed it in all possible directions, I’ve heard la gaita (bagpipe) millions of times too… Why would this time be different? Yes, your guess is right: I was wrong!

 

  • I was walking with a group of strangers and this was supposed to be more of a “work thing” than a spiritual pilgrimage. Of course, I was wrong again! There was no teacher and student division; we were all together in a journey full of lessons to be learned by all of us.

 

Maloserá

 

 

 

*Maloserá. This Galician word does not have a literal translation. Google Translate will tell you it means “it will be bad”, but in fact it means quite the opposite. It’s an expression of our optimism and you can use it in any potentially negative situation. It means that you shouldn’t worry, that things will be OK, that it’s probably not as bad as it looks, that you are going to be alright…

 

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

Would you like to know how the experience went for the others? You can read my conversations with James and Richard.

And… WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN in September 2022, on the Camino Portugués!! Full details here.

 

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¡Buen Camino!

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

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!