The Camino with no Spanish

The Camino with no Spanish

I often see questions about whether it’s OK to walk the Camino with no Spanish or whether it’s a good idea to learn some before your Camino.

The answers range from “no need, a smile is enough” to “the more your learn, the richer your experience will be”.

As you can imagine, I don’t agree with the first group. If that’s how they want to do their Camino, that fine. It’s their Camino. And their loss too.

The most common reasons people give to learn at least some basic Spanish:

  • it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the locals more receptive to your needs. True.

 

  • it reduces the chances of feeling frustrated when you need to communicate and you can’t. Also true.

 

  • it also reduces the chances of of feeling lonely and isolated if you happen to have no English speakers around you. Again, true.

 

Let me add another reason. It is not mentioned so frequently, but it’s equally important, in my opinion.

  • you learn so much about Spain and broaden your mind.

 

You’re going to spend some time in the country. A few días (days) at least. A few semanas (weeks) in many cases.

And you don’t learn anything about the country you’re walking through?

A silly example:

I can’t believe how many people think these are mausoleums… or chicken coops! 

They’re called hórreos and they were used to store mainly maíz (corn), but other food too.

They vary a little depending on the region. But they are all elevated from the ground to keep the crops dry and to keep rodents out. 

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

More serious examples

I’ve witnessed this many times:

People post on social media about their Camino. They share pictures, as well as their general comment about a number of things.

The kind of stuff I read sometimes… let’s just say there’s a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking coming from me.

You can tell that these people came to Spain with a mochila full of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Everything they see, they interpret it through those stereotypes and misconceptions.

They speak no Spanish.

They don’t talk to any locals.

So, they go back home with the same incorrect beliefs they had when they started.

They learn nothing about Spain. Their wrong beliefs are reinforced.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

 

 

People with no Spanish at all

Not too long ago, I started following someone’s daily posts on a Facebook group about their Camino Portugués. The reason I started following was the captions of some of the pictures: any resemblance to reality was pure coincidence.

Clearly, these people had this idea of Spain as a deeply Catholic, very traditional country. And that’s how they saw it.

A random building was, in their eyes, a church.

A mural, in a fishing village, depicting fishing scenes, was a religious painting.

A person begging outside an iglesia (church) was someone dressed in traditional clothes.

A couple of other things they said, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

 

According to their own comments, these people did not speak a word of Spanish, they didn’t interact with any locals, other than to try to get food and accommodation. They completed their pilgrimage and went back home having learned nothing about Spain. A missed opportunity.

 

 

People who know better than you

But there’s another type of pilgrim that totally baffles me. The one who arrives with their mochila full of stereotypes and misconception… and refuses to accept that they are wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I had to make a huge effort to not be rude to someone on social media. This person shared their thoughts about their recent Camino experience.

Among other things, they said that supermercados (supermarkets) in Spain have small puertas (doors) to protect the front of the building because ‘these people have lived with civil war in their country up until recent times’.

I replied that the Spanish civil war ended more than 80 years ago (it took place between 1936 and 1939) and that the size of supermarket doors have nothing to do with it.

Well, apparently I know nothing about my own country. This person went on to give me a lecture on Spanish history.

I ‘learned’ that we were having civil wars in Spain up until the mid 70s. Maybe we weren’t as affected in my area, that’s why I don’t know. Really?

I don’t claim to know everything about Spain. I know I don’t. But not knowing if I’m living in a civil war?

Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.

 

And I won’t get into the siesta comments because I get very triggered by those and I could be ranting here forever. If you want to know more about the truth behind siesta, you can check this other article I wrote a while back.

But can anyone truly believe we sleep up to 7 hours in the middle of the say? A recent post I saw reminded people that ‘most towns have siesta from around 12.30pm to 5 or 7pm’. I love my sleep but seriously?

So, please, don’t be like these people and don’t waste the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. You don’t need to be super fluent. But make at least an effort. You will be rewarded for it.

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

 

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Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro

Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro

A new domingo (Sunday), a new stage of the Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro.

 

Again, I walked with a large group organised by the Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués. We could have walked to Santiago. In fact, most people do that.

 

But the Asociación had some things organised for the arrival in Santiago and a shorter walk suited those plans much better. That’s for the next post. Today we focus on Padrón-Milladoiro.

 

After several stages, I’m familiar with the routine now: we get on the bus early in the morning; we’re dropped at our starting point; we gather in front of an iglesia or capilla, where one of the organisers says a prayer; we take group photos and start walking. It was a chilly morning but there was not a cloud in sight and 0% chance of rain.

 

We covered a distance of around 19 km, mostly flat with some ascent in the final part.

 

Padrón-Milladoiro

Group photo outside iglesia de Santiago borrowed from the Asociación’s blog.

 

A strange stage

This was kind of a strange stage for me. My dad is from this area and I grew up going to some of the places we passed through. In fact, we walked in front of 2 of my tío (uncle) and tía‘s (aunt) houses; we also passed the cementerio (cemetery) were my paternal grandmother is buried and the church were I attended several family occasions like bautizos (christenings), bodas (weddings) and funerales (funerals).

But that was a long time ago.

My uncle and aunt have long been muertos (dead); there’s a big age gap between my primos (cousins) and I, so we were never very close; I lived abroad for 15 years… in other words: I’ve lost contact and haven’t been in the area in years.

And then, there’s also the fact that I always went to those places by car. Walking there gave me a totally different perspective.

But let’s talk about the stage.

 

Padrón

Our starting point was Padrón. When we got there, people were setting up the Sunday market. Lots of activity there, but obviously not crowded like the previous Sunday, when the market was in full swing.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, about the Caldas de Reis-Padrón stage, Padrón is a very relevant place in the history of the Camino. According to legend, the remains of St. James first arrived by boat here, when they were brought back to Spain by his disciples. The stone they used to moor their boat, called Pedrón, can be found today inside the iglesia de Santiago.

 

At the tourist office or municipal albergue you can obtain the Pedronía, a certificate issued by Padrón’s town council stating that you have visited the place where St. James’ remains were brought ashore. More info on how to get the Pedronía here.

 

If you have time, cross the Santiago bridge to the Convento del Carmen and, from there, the 132 steps up to Santiaguiño do Monte, another significant location in the history of the Camino. According to tradition, St. James was preaching there in the year 40 a.C. There is a cross and statue of St. James there now.

 

There are also other things worth checking, not related to St. James or the Camino.

 

You will see many references to Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885), one of the most important writers in the Galician language. She was from Padrón and one of the first to write in Galician after centuries of the language being banned from public life. Her house has been turned into a museum. You will see signs for it as you walk out of Padrón.

 

Padrón also has a beautiful botanic park with more than 300 species and a nice walk along the river.

 

And last, but not least, I must mention the famous pimientos de Padrón (Padrón peppers). As the name suggests, they come from here. And, as the saying goes, uns pican e outros non (some are hot and some are not).

 

 

Padrón-Milladoiro

Right after we left Padrón we passed the church of Iria Flavia. Iria Flavia is the birthplace of Nobel Literature Prize Camilo José Cela (1916-2002).

 

Lots of walking through villages in this stage, some of them familiar to me, as I mentioned earlier.I walked mostly with the same people I met on my first day walking with the group (Porriño-Redondela).

 

But many other faces were becoming familiar and I also got to chat for a while to a couple of ladies who volunteer at the albergue in Pontevedra. They were sharing stories about different pilgrims who stayed there and caught their attention for one reason or another. This led to a very interesting conversation about cultural differences between different countries.

Miracles

Five or 6km into the stage we came to a very familiar place for me: Santuario da Escravitude. Despite the unusual name, this church has nothing to do with slavery. In 1732, a man was on his way to the hospital in Santiago, looking for a cure for his health problems. He stopped at the spot where the church now stands, drank from the fountain here and asked the Virgin Mary for help.

 

According to legend, he was cured 3 days later and expressed his gratitude for being freed from ‘the slavery’ of his disease. This started to attract other people looking for miraculous cures and, eventually, the church was built.

 

Getting to Milladoiro

After this, we kept walking mostly through villages, some forest areas too, chatting about all sorts of things. We were so engrossed in our conversation that at some point we missed one of the yellow arrows and went the wrong way! Luckily, there were people behind us who saw us and alerted us.

The hardest part of the stage came in the final part, before Milladoiro. Nothing difficult, really. But not what you’re looking for at the end of your walk, when you’re tired! But we made it, with time to spare before the bus brought us back home.

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of domingo, check Está cerrado.

For the pronunciation of iglesia, check Finisterre.

For the pronunciation of capilla, check Redondela-Pontevedra.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Camino Portugués: Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis

Camino Portugués: Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis

Camino Portugués: Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis |

Back in October I walked from Porriño to Redondela, on the Camino Portugués with a large group organised by the Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués (details about that stage here). I skipped the next 2 domingos (Sundays) because I had already walked those stages.

I walked Redondela-Pontevedra in 2020, right before the confinamiento (lockdown). And I have walked Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis twice now. Both times in julio (July), a year apart. It is my little contribution to the Luz del Camino project.

 

The first time I walked the Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis stage of the Camino Portugués was in 2020. I was part of a small group of 5 pilgrims, so I wasn’t alone. But it was a very lonely experience: there were no other pilgrims around and everything was closed.

The second time was in julio 2021. Again, I was part of a small group. But it was a very different experience. This time around, there were lots of other pilgrims walking too (mostly españoles but other nationalities too). Bars and cafés were open for business. The Camino felt alive again.

 

Peregrina Pontevedra

We had a very hot day in 2020, so we left at 6.00am, in the dark.

This time around, the weather forecast was not as hot. There was no need to start so early.

We left from the Peregrina Church in Pontevedra at 7.30am.

We crossed the bridge, and once out of Pontevedra and Lérez we met the first pilgrims of the day. It was a group of cinco polacos (5 Polish people) who wrote a message on the notebook that travels inside the mochila de la luz.

After Alba, I noticed an improvement on the route. There was a stretch where pilgrims had to walk on the side of the carretera (road). They’ve now added a new pedestrian path away from the road. Much safer than before.

 

Meeting other pilgrims

And then we crossed the road and quickly got to one of my favourite parts of this stage, a beautiful forest area. We met several other pilgrims here.

One of them was a Spanish woman who was walking from Tui by herself. She had wanted to walk the Camino for a while but could never find the right time. A few weeks before we met she found out she was embarazada (false friend alert! This means pregnant, not embarrassed). And she thought that she probably wouldn’t be able to walk for a long time if she waited until the baby was born. So, she packed a few things, got her partner to drop her in Tui and started walking.

 

We ended up walking together most of the rest of the stage and talking about all sorts of things. We got along quite well and the conversation kept flowing naturally.

Roughly halfway to Caldas we took a café con leche break. The place where we stopped was so busy! Full of pilgrims. So different from 2020.

 

After the break, we kept walking through bosques (forests) and aldeas (villages)… and meeting more pilgrims. Not what I’m used to. I know the July 2020 experience was kind of extreme, with everything closed and no pilgrims at all. But I must say I wasn’t used to meeting so many other pilgrims on the Camino. It actually felt crowded at times, especially coming out of a strict lockdown and over a year of so many restrictions and not socialising that much.

 

When the Camino joins the busy N-550 road (5 or 6km before Caldas de Reis), I recommend you cross it and take the short detour to “Parque Natural Río Barosa”. It’s a beautiful place with waterfalls and old watermills. There’s a picnic area there. It’s a popular spot for the locals to go for the day. It’s about 500m off the Camino, but it’s well worth it. That’s what we did again, although our stop was shorter than the previous year.

And before we knew it, we were in Caldas and we all went our separate ways. Somehow I lost sight of my new friend and couldn’t find her again. I would have liked to say goodbye and wish her luck with the rest of her Camino and with her pregnancy too. No pudo ser (it couldn’t be).

Read about the Caldas-Padrón stage here.

* Caldas de Reis and Caldas are the same place. Caldas de Reis is the official name of the town, but we usually refer to it as just Caldas.

 

Camino Portugués: Porriño-Redondela

Camino Portugués: Porriño-Redondela

A few Sundays ago I walked a stage of the Camino Portugués: Porriño-Redondela. It’s one of the perks of living on the Camino; you can walk anytime you like. No need to take time off work or do much planning. Just go.

 

In fact, I didn’t just walk Porriño-Redondela. I’ve walked several stages of this route in the past few weeks. A different one every Sunday. This is a common way for Spanish people to do the Camino. Whenever you have some time off, you walk as far as you can. You then go back home. The next time you’re free, you pick up where you finished the last time and you keep going.

 

It’s a different experience from walking to Santiago in one go. No better. No worse. Simply different.

 

I’ve walked with my family before and I’ve also led a small group of strangers. This time around, I was also part of a group. It was quite a large group, actually. Also strangers. But a totally different experience.

 

There is an Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués (Association of Friends of the Camino Portugués) in Pontevedra. Among other things, they organise a yearly pilgrimage from Porto to Santiago. They walk on Sundays only. By the time I heard about it this year I had already missed the stages in Portugal. But I was still able to join in for most of the Spanish section.

 

This Sunday Camino works as follows: early in the morning we get on a bus that the Association has hired. This bus takes us to our starting point for the day. Once there, one of the organisers says a little oración (prayer), we take some group pictures and start walking.

 

There is a coche de apoyo (support car) for anyone who is not able to walk the whole stage. The bus will pick us up at our finishing point and take us back to Pontevedra for lunch (I’m talking Spanish lunch, around 2.30pm).

 

Porriño-Redondela

My first stage with the group was Porriño-Redondela.

Tui, right on the Portuguese border, is the most popular starting point for those who walk the last 100km of this Camino. But Porriño is actually on the 100km mark. So it is possible to start here and obtain a Compostela. On the other hand, Tui is a much nicer town, it would be a pity to miss it. But you could start in Porriño, and still qualify for a Compostela.

 

When I signed up for my first stage, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know how big the group would be or what the people would be like. Not the type of situation where I feel most comfortable. So, I asked a friend to join me. She was going to, but then something came up and I had to face this unknown group by myself.

 

The group

There were between setenta (70) and ochenta (80) people in total. My impression was that they all knew each other and they all had their little groups. The vast majority were over 70 years of age. I was almost the baby of the group! There were a couple of niñas (young girls) accompanying their abuelo (grandfather), but they soon got on the support car.

Empezando Porriño-Redondela
Empezando Porriño-Redondela

These 2 pictures are taken from the Association’s blog, which you can find here. We’ve just arrived in Porriño and are outside Las Angustias (Our Lady of Anguish) chapel. The president of the Association read the prayer this time. Then, group pictures before we started walking.

 

The Porriño-Redondela stage

This stage is around 16 km.

Following current covid restrictions, we were wearing our mascarillas (facemasks) on the bus and at the beginning of the walk, while the whole group was still together and it was impossible to social distance. We took them off once the group scattered.

 

The first half of the stage is quite flat and easy. I guess it’s not the most beautiful stretch of the Camino, as it’s mostly through villages, on paved roads, but at least there are no busy roads or anything like that.

 

The second half, after Mos, is a bit more challenging, but nothing too hard. There is an ascent first up to the Santiaguiño de Antas chapel. And, when you get to the top, a harder descent into Redondela. I was glad I had my poles for that. Otherwise, I would have probably been tempted to just roll down the hill 😅  This half of the stage also has some nicer stretches through forest.

 

The weather forecast for the day wasn’t great, so we were all prepared for the rain that was supposed to fall. But it turned out to be quite a lovely morning, with no lluvia (rain) and some sol (sun).

 

Mos

So, as I mentioned, nothing much to report up to Mos. The Camino is very well marked and it’s impossible to get lost unless you’re very, very distracted and not paying attention at all.

 

In Mos, there is a church and a pazo (manor house), as well as several places where you can stop for a café con leche and a bite. You can also see here a big sign with the town’s name made out of bobbin lace (check the video below).

 

Up to here I walked partly alone, partly with someone. As we were taking the group pictures, I recognised someone familiar: it was a friend and former colleague of my mum’s. I walked with her for a while, but she’s not well and after a while I needed to walk a bit faster than her. So I went on by myself.

 

I took a short break in Mos and, as I was getting ready to continue, I saw another familiar face. The mum of one of my daughters’ classmates. She was walking with another woman I didn’t know. I thought they were friends, but I later found out they had met while walking the previous stage, from Valença to Porriño (which I missed). From then on, I walked with them.

 

Porriño-Redondela

This is us in Redondela, waiting for our bus to go back home.

 

This picture is also borrowed from the Association’s blog.

Up and down the hill

The next part of the walk was more interesting. On the way to Porriño (on the bus), they had warned us about the uphill section after Mos. I’m not a huge fan of walking uphill, to put it mildly. So I was a bit concerned. But the ascent is quite gradual, so it’s not too bad.

 

The descent was actually worse, not as gradual. I was so grateful I had my 2 poles! And I was also grateful it didn’t rain. I can imagine how slippery that road would be if it was wet…

 

There are some beautiful views of Redondela in the distance and a lovely walk through a forest with huge (and kind of odd) stone picnic tables.

 

After that, you’re just outside Redondela. We had also been warned about crossing the busy national road N-550 here, but they must have made some changes to the route, because there is now a very safe place to cross, with a traffic light.

 

Our meeting point was outside the albergue in Redondela, which is in a very beautiful old building, a 16th century pazo.

I’ve put together some pictures of the Porriño-Redondela stage in the following video. Enjoy!

You can read about the Redondela-Pontevedra stage here.

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of Tui, Porriño and Redondela, check Camino Portugués.

For the pronunciation of lluvia & sol, check The weather on the Camino.

For the pronunciation of mascarilla, check The Camino and the new normal.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Finisterre

Finisterre

Last weekend I was in Fisterra. Or is it Finisterre? And why do so many people end their Camino de Santiago there? Or in Muxía.

Let’s start with the name. Is it Finisterre or Fisterra? You may already be aware that Galicia has its own language, apart from Spanish. You can learn more about it in O Camiño de Santiago.

Both languages, Galician and Spanish, are used on a regular basis. Some people prefer one, some people prefer the other. And some switch from one to the other without even thinking. It’s common to see signs and documents in both languages. Same applies to town names, although the official name is the Galician one. So, in this case, the official name is Fisterra, but you’ll see Finisterre too.

 

Where is Fisterra?

Fisterra, or Finisterre, is on the Atlantic coast of Galicia, around 90km from Santiago de Compostela. When the Romans arrived there, they named it Finis Terrae (the end of the earth); it was the end of the known world and, for a very long time, it was considered the westernmost point in Europe.

The stretch of coast where it’s located is known as Costa da Morte (coast of death) because of all the ships that have been wrecked in the area.

Faro Finisterre

 

Fisterra is a fishing village but it’s best known for the faro (lighthouse) at the tip of the cabo (cape).

The perfect location to watch the puesta de sol (sunset) over the ocean.

 

Why do people walk to Finisterre?

Pilgrimage to Fisterra is believed to have existed for centuries before Christian times. According to legend and tradition, Cabo de Finisterre (Cape Finisterre) was the location of the Ara Solis (altar to the sun). Pagan worship took place there even before the arrival of the Romans, who simply continued with the existing rituals.  

According to one legend, St. James destroyed this pagan shrine and built a chapel in its place. But Christianity didn’t totally replace these ancient traditions. In many cases, both traditions have merged.

The Church promoted devotions to Mary in that region. As a result, we have the santuario (shrine) da Virxe da Barca in Muxía as well as the iglesia (church) Santa María das Areas in Fisterra. Pilgrimages to these 2 places were encouraged during the 15th-16th centuries.

In the Middle Ages, it was common for criminals to be sentenced to complete a pilgrimage to remote places. Finisterre was one of these destinations.

On the other hand, the symbol of a pilgrim to Santiago was and still is a scallop shell. In the past, scallop shells were sold in Santiago. But, why not walk to the coast and find your own? Arriving in Fisterra and el mar (sea) also symbolises the end of your pilgrimage, the beginning of your journey back home, a new beginning.

This brings me to a certain practice that has been banned for years but some people continue to do: burning your clothes or shoes at the end of the Camino. There is a notice there, quite visible as you walk towards the rocks behind the lighthouse asking you NOT to make fuego (fire) or leave anything that wasn’t there before (see the first picture on the left).

Cartel en Finisterre
Burnt T-shirt in Finisterre
Shoes in Finisterre

However, as you can see in the other 2 pictures, people are ignoring it and littering the place. The number of pilgrims on the Camino at the moment is far from what we would normally see around this time of the year. So I was shocked and disappointed to see several half-burnt pieces of clothing, as well as discarded shoes, bottles and other items.

You may think burning your clothes by the ocean at the end of your Camino is a very meaningful ritual. But please, don’t do it. It’s harmful to the environment and a fire hazard. It’s happened too many times before that the simple burning of shoes or clothing resulted in a forest fire.

So let me say it again: don’t burn your stuff!

It’s not cool. The locals are fed up with it. And you could be fined.

 

The town

I know the highlight of Fisterra is going to the lighthouse and watching the sunset over the ocean, but don’t forget to have a look around town too. Fisterra has always been a fishing village, so a visit to the port is in order.

And I would recommend a visit to the fishing museum that can be found in the castillo de San Carlos. The castle dates back to the 18th century and was built as part of a defensive plan for the coast in the area. The fishing museum is small but Manolo, the person in charge, is very knowledgeable and is full of amazing stories. Well worth the visit.

And if you like fish and seafood… you’re in the perfect place!

 

Fishing Museum

Castillo de San Carlos

Castillo de San Carlos.
Fishing Museum. Finisterre

Fishing museum

Calle Finisterre