Game of the goose

Game of the goose

Have you heard of the Game of the Goose?

The Game of the Goose is a board game I used to play as a child… and now play again with my kids.

And how is this relevant to the Camino, you may ask?

In this guest post, Vickie Kelty tells us about the benefits of introducing board or card games on our Caminos. Games can also be a way to keep the Camino feeling alive while you can’t travel. And, of course, they’re a fun way to practice and improve your Spanish.

But apart from all of that, which is valid for any game, really, there’s more.

The Game of the Goose or La Oca, as we call it in Spanish, is an ancient game. It’s origins are not totally clear, but one theory links it to the Camino de Santiago. According to it, this game was created by the Templars in the 12th century; and it was not a game originally, but  an encrypted map of the Camino.

 

Who are the Templars?

But who are these Templars and why would they create an encrypted map of the Camino?

There are many myths and legends around the Templars, so I won’t go into detail but the Knights Templar (or simply Templars, or Templarios in Spanish) were a Catholic military order founded in the early 12th century. They were active for around 200 years, until they were suppressed by Pope Clement V. The Templars were closely tied to the Crusades and one of their duties was to protect pilgrims going to Jerusalem.

To cut a long story short, the order grew rapidly and extended to several countries, including what we today know as Spain.

In Spain, they took part in the Reconquista (reconquest). Many of the territories being reconquered were located along the Camino, so the Templars contributed to the safety of pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela too.

Different sources differ about the extent of the Templars’ presence and influence on the Camino (there were other orders too and things sometimes get blurry). But we do know  for sure there’s a Templar castle in Ponferrada.

Castillo templario de Ponferrada

Templars’ castle in Ponferrada

Why a goose? 

Geese were considered sacred animals from ancient times and they would alert you in case of intruders. Also, only the nobility was allowed to raise geese so, if pilgrims saw a flock of geese they knew they were near a noble household, possibly a safe place.

A lot has been written about the goose references along the Camino. That seems to support the links between the Camino and the game of the goose. We can find examples of these references in the names of many places, such as Montes de Oca, Puerto de Oca, Castrojeriz (which means city of geese) or Manjarín (meaning man of geese). Other references would be builders marks in the shape of a goose leg, found on churches; and even the cross in Puente La Reina’s church of the Crucifix (also in the shape of a goose leg).  

The Game of the Goose

But going back to the game, La Oca would be an encrypted map of the Camino. In those times, most people couldn’t  read, so each casilla* (square) had pictures. The symbols on each casilla would make reference to signs that had been placed along the Camino. Pilgrims would be told what each picture represented. On casilla 6, for instance, you’ll find un puente (a bridge), which allegedly represents Puente La Reina.

The casillas with ocas (geese) on them would represent safe places. Not everybody uses the exact same rules; there are some variations. But this one doesn’t change: if you fall on a goose, you advance to the next one and roll your dice again, saying “de oca a oca y tiro porque me toca”, which roughly translates as “from goose to goose and I roll the dice because it’s my turn”… Sorry, it doesn’t rhyme in English!

There’s a second bridge on casilla 12. If you fall on either of the bridges, you move to the other one and roll your dice again saying “de puente a puente y tiro porque me lleva la corriente” (from bridge to bridge and I roll the dice because the flow carries me).

 

    How many places on the Camino Francés can you recognise?

    There are also other special casillas like:   

    • El pozo (well). The well symbolises depression. If you fall here, you miss a turn and you can only get out with the help of another player.  
    • El laberinto (labyrinth). This symbolises getting lost, which was quite easy during the Middle Ages, since paths were not clearly marked as they are today (and of course, GPS was not a thing either). If you fall here, you go back to casilla 30.  
    • La cárcel (jail) y la posada (inn). Both places represent the necessary rest you need in order to complete your pilgrimage. If you get into jail, you miss 3 turns but you only miss one of you stay at the inn.  
    • La muerte (death). It doesn’t have to represent literal, physical death, although death does happen sometimes on the Camino (and I’m sure it was much more common in medieval times). The Camino is a life-changing experience for many, so death could also be a metaphor for new beginnings.    
    • Los dados (dice). They represent luck, which can be good or bad. There are 2 casillas with dados on them: numbers 26 and 53. There are rule variations for these; the one I’ve always used is this: if you fall on one of them, you have to move to the other one, which means sometimes you’ll be moving forward and sometimes you’ll be going backwards. 

     

    Game of the goose pozo

    El pozo

    Game of the goose laberinto

    El laberinto

    Game of the goose muerte

    La muerte

    So, will you give La Oca a go? 

     

    Today’s Spanish words and phrases

    De puente a puente y tiro porque me lleva la corriente

    *Casilla means square in the context of board games. Other meanings of the English word square are expressed by different Spanish words.

     

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    ¡Buen Camino!

    Games and the Camino

    Games and the Camino

    Have you ever played any games on the Camino? Have you even considered it?

    I had a lovely evening on the Camino Inglés last year, playing cards. It was fun, but it was also an opportunity to bond and, of course, to learn about Spanish culture and language.

    So, if you hadn’t thought about it, please think again and keep reading.

    In this guest post, Vickie Kelty tells us about the benefits of games and how you can incorporate them in your Camino… and in your life after the Camino.

    Over to Vickie!Flecha azul

     

    I know you have a lot of things to pack for the Camino and you want to keep it as light as possible, but I have one request: please don’t forget to pack a game (juego).

    Now, obviously you aren’t going to put a big board game like Clue or Monopoly in your backpack! I’ll bet a deck of cards (baraja), some dice (dados), or a tiny travel size game would fit though, wouldn’t it?

     

    First, why you’ll wish you brought a game on the Camino

    1. Relaxation! After a long day walking the Camino playing a game is just one way to chill out and start getting to know other pilgrims. Read about what it’s like walking with strangers in this post
    2. You can play them anywhere! It isn’t necessary to wait for a table to play a round of cards, just sit right down on the ground and play.
    3. No time limit. You decide how long to play, so don’t worry about time. It’s not necessary to keep score or finish the entire game. Sometimes just one hand of cards is a nice way to unwind after a long day of walking or travel.
    4. Forget language barriers. Playing a game is a great way to take the Spanish you know and the English or other language the other person knows and use it to play a game together. Be prepared for laughter and fun to ensue! 

     

    What Spanish games can I learn before I do the Camino?

    Keep in mind, the games I’m about to mention are suggested based only on my own personal experiences living in Spain and in the U.S. So, please take that into account if there’s a game mentioned that you’ve never heard of or isn’t popular where you’re from.

    I also invite you to research any games you don’t know, perhaps they’ll become your next favorite game!

    Let’s start with board games. 

    Games and the Camino Parchís
    If you know the game Sorry!, which I grew up playing in Nebraska, then Parchís will look familiar to you. I found a cool magnetic travel size version called Ludo (this game goes by many names!) at a dollar store and I often bring it with me on vacation. In fact, it proved entertaining while on a road trip with my parents one summer, even though my mom always beat me.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of this next game too, The Game of the Goose or La Oca. This one I hadn’t played before coming to Spain and I can’t wait to play it with my family the next time they visit. Even though I don’t have the travel size version I did see one available online. It’s like a game I grew up playing called Chutes and Ladders in that you never know if you’re going to land on a good or bad square next!

    Games and the Camino La Oca
    By the way, both of these board games have special Camino versions available – though perhaps not in the travel size – and they could make for nice souvenirs! So even if you don’t play them on the Camino you can play them when you get home and share your experience with others.

     

    Although board games are nice, nothing beats a good old-fashioned card game.

    While there are many popular Spanish card games, I suggest checking out Brisca, which can be played in pairs, and another game called Chinchón, which is similar to Rummy.

    It might also be fun to buy a Spanish deck of cards to play with! Another nice souvenir – and this one will easily fit in your backpack.

    Obviously, there are many more Spanish card and board games, but these are the ones I’ve played the most and found easiest to learn.

     

    If you’re like me, you want to share your culture too!

    Think about some easy games you can share with other pilgrims. I’ll share two of my examples. A couple easy to teach card games that I played growing up are now my favorite games to teach others when I travel. They’re Old Maid and Go Fish.

    Although I have special cards (cartas) for them, I don’t travel with those. I just carry a standard 52-card deck that I can play both games with. A little secret for Old Maid, I simply leave one joker in the deck and call that the Old Maid. (I know some people will remove three Queens so there’s only one Queen. Do what works for you).

    Another card game I’m obsessed with is UNO! I’ve been delighted to find out that it was recognized by most of my Spanish friends when I’ve brought it out to play. Although I was surprised to find out that their rules are slightly different than the ones we played with in my family. Sometimes we play with my rules, sometimes with theirs. It’s fun to change it up!

    Honestly, for me, UNO is one of the best games to travel with because the rules are easy to follow (even if they differ slightly from country to country) and the vocabulary you need to play is quite basic. Besides, when you don’t know the words gestures go a long way! Read about how UNO saved the day when I was in Costa Rica.

    By the way, if you don’t want to play cards, even carrying five dice and playing a version of Yahtzee can easily be done. The game options are endless!

     

    Just remember, whatever game you choose to bring, it’s worth it for the memories you’ll make.

    What game will you bring on the Camino?

     

    Today’s Spanish words

     

    Vicky Kelty

    Vickie Kelty is an English speaking skills teacher originally from Nebraska, USA. She specializes in using games to help English language learners speak with ease and enjoyment. You can find her at vickiekelty.com or follow her @vickiekelty on IG where she posts regularly.

     

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    ¡Buen Camino!

    La Luz del Camino

    La Luz del Camino

    A month ago I had the opportunity to take part in La Luz del Camino initiative.

     

    But what is La Luz del Camino?

    After the confinamiento (lockdown), some peregrinos (pilgrims) decided to start a Camino from Roncesvalles, on the Camino Francés, carrying a special mochila (backpack) with a light on. The purpose of this pilgrimage was to remember all those people who have died of covid-19. The idea was for the backpack to be carried in relays, by different pilgrims, all the way to Santiago.

     

    Once that backpack was on its way to Santiago, the question was “why not do the same on a different Camino? And that’s how La Luz del Camino Portugués originated. Plans were made to start a pilgrimage from Porto, in Portugal, along the central route of the   Camino Portugués. Also, both pilgrimages were coordinated so that the 2 mochilas would enter Santiago on the same day, July 24, the day before the festivity of st. James.

    Oihana, someone I’ve met online and hope to meet in person soon, was one of the people involved in the organisation of La Luz del Camino Portugués. She invited me to participate and I immediately said yes!

    First, because it was a very thoughtful project in general. But also because it gave me the chance to do something meaningful for my friend and fellow Spanish teacher Inés, who lost both her parents to coronavirus.

    Inés is from Madrid but lives in the US with her American husband. Her parents died in April and, 5 months later, she still hasn’t been able to travel to Spain, which is making her grieving process harder. Her parents, Vicente and Carmen, were deeply religious and also had a strong interest in art and history. They never walked the Camino, but they did visit the cathedral in Santiago, as well as many other places along the Caminos.

    So, going back to the light of the Camino, our special mochila left Porto on July 11, after a blessing at the cathedral. It made its way to Spain on the central route and reached Tui a few days later. You can follow the journey on this Facebook group, which has plenty of photos and an account of each day’s walk.

     

    From Pontevedra to Caldas

    On Tuesday July 21 the backpack travelled from Pontevedra, my home town, to Caldas de Reis. And that’s where I came in. I didn’t know who I was going to walk with or how many people I was going to meet.

    Arrangements were made to leave very early, at 6.00am, because the weather had been particularly hot that week; the maximum expected temperature for that day  was around 40ºC (104ºF). ¡Mucho calor!

    We met outside the Peregrina church, with our mascarillas (facemasks), as the “new normal” requires, and we started walking. It turned out there were 5 of us in total. It was still oscuro (dark) but at least the temperature was nice and fresh.

     

    La Luz del Camino en la Peregrina
    La Luz del Camino
    Leaving Pontevedra

     We left Pontevedra in the dark, making good speed to try and beat the heat, and continued on to Alba, San Amaro and A Portela.  After a while, we started distancing from each other so we could remove our masks. We saw one or 2 pilgrims along the way and a couple of locals too as we passed through villages. But, in general, we were on our own.

     

    The bares and cafeterías we passed were closed. Maybe it was too early, or maybe it was one of the side effects of covid-19. I’d say it was the latter, because we didn’t find anything open until we got to Caldas, which means… we were not able to have café con leche or tortilla! 

    Luz del Camino

    La mochila

    As I mentioned before, the backpack was carrying a light, but that was not the only thing:

    There was also una concha de vieira (scallop shell) hand-painted by Julia, the same girl who later carried the backpack into the cathedral in Santiago, as well as different items added by different people at different stages.

    I added a yellow knitted shell, for all of those who had plans to walk this year and had to cancel (myself included). 

    There was also un bordón (a staff), that was especially made for the occasion and that you can see in the video.

    La mochila de la luz del Camino

    Inside the bag, there was a notebook where anyone could write about their experience accompanying the light of the Camino, a special message for a loved one, etc. So I asked my friend Inés if she would like me to write something on her behalf.

     

    After walking through forests and villages for a while, the Camino joins the busy N-550 road. At this point, if you look across the road, you’ll see a sign saying “Parque Natural Río Barosa”. It’s a beautiful place with waterfalls and old watermills. It’s about 500m off the Camino, but it’s well worth the detour. Whenever you find yourself walking the Camino Portugués, if you have the time, please stop by. You won’t regret it.

    We chose this place for a break (sadly, café con leche was not an option, as I mentioned, because everything was closed); we were all carrying snacks, but a colleague of one of the people walking met us there with donuts, cereal bars, nuts and drinks! The Camino provides, right?

    I also chose this place to write Inés’ message on the notebook. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful… I couldn’t think of a better spot to complete my mission.

    El cuaderno

    The notebook

    Mensaje de la luz del Camino

    Writing on behalf of my friend

    So we had a break, I wrote on the special notebook and we continued our way to Caldas de Reis, which was not too far away.

    That meant back to busy N-550. I’ve travelled that stretch of the road on numerous occasions (by car) and I often see pilgrims walking on the side of the road. I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the walk. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there’s actually no need to do this. The Camino runs more or less parallel to the road, but you don’t actually have to walk on the hard shoulder.

     

    After Barosa

    Not walking on a busy road

    Getting close to Caldas

    Getting close to Caldas de Reis

    There’s around 5-6km between Barosa and Caldas, so most of our walking was done by the time we took our break. We entered Caldas before 11.30am… and before the worst of the heat!

    Caldas de Reis is nice little town well known for its hot springs and spa. We had no time to enjoy any of it on this occasion, because we were going back home. But if you’re ever staying in Caldas, make sure you don’t miss it. Your feet will thank you for it.

    En Caldas de Reis

    Work commitments meant we couldn’t keep on walking to Santiago. It would have been great to see that mochila enter Santiago and the cathedral; but I’m happy and grateful I was able to be a part of this initiative (even if it was a small one).

     

    Today’s Spanish words

    Vieiras, the Galician way

    Vieiras, the Galician way

    Vieiras, the Galician way | 

    There are 2 things that immediately make you think of the Camino when you see them: flechas amarillas (yellow arrows) and conchas de vieira (scallop shells). They are the most recognisable symbols of the Camino and the ones you start noticing everywhere once you decide to do a Camino. 

     

    Yellow arrows on the Camino are a recent development (keep reading to learn more about them). But scallop shells have always been a symbol of the Camino. They say that pilgrims who reached Santiago were given one as proof that they had completed their pilgrimage and also to differentiate those on their way to Santiago from those on their way back home (remember, back in the day pilgrims had to walk from home and back).

     

    The use of the scallop shell as a symbol of the Camino is documented since the beginnings of the pilgrimage to Santiago and there are several theories as to why it is a scallop shell and not something else. But that’s not what we’re discussing here today.

     

    Scallops are also one of Galicia’s signature dishes. But, unlike the humble caldo gallego and pimientos de Padrón, vieiras are eaten on special occasions. And they are usually always prepared the same way, the Galician way. Let’s learn how to do it. 

     

    How to prepare vieiras, the Galician way

    Disclaimer: I’ll tell you the way we always prepare vieiras in my family. Many of the recipes I’ve found online include ham and a small amount of tomato sauce. We don’t use those 2 ingredients but feel free to add them if you wish.

     

    So, what do you need? 

    Of course, you’ll need vieiras (scallops), plus the shells to present them. We normally calculate 2 vieiras per person. 

     

    Let’s say you’re preparing 8 scallops. You’ll also need 2 medium cebollas (onions), 200 ml vino blanco (white wine), a teaspoon of pimentón (paprika),  pan rallado (breadcrumbs), aceite (oil, preferably olive oil) and sal (salt).

     

    And how do you prepare them?

    Depending on what kind of scallops you get, you may have to do different things, like opening them or not. In any case, you need to make sure both your scallops and shells are clean.

     

    Chop the onions finely and cook them over a medium heat in a frying pan with some olive oil.

     

    Add the paprika and the wine and mix well. Season to taste. I like to add the scallops too and let them cook in this sauce for a couple of minutes (see picture on the left).

     

    Organise the shells on an oven tray. Put one scallop on each shell and distribute the sauce evenly among them (see picture on the right).

    Vieiras
    Vieiras Galician way

    Then, cover the scallops with some breadcrumbs and put them in a hot oven until they look golden.

    And you have your vieiras, the Galician way, ready to eat! Easy, right? Yet still delicious.

    Are you going to give them a try?

     

    Las flechas amarillas

    As promised, here’s more on the popular yellow arrows that show us the way. By the 20th century, the Camino the Santiago had almost disappeared into oblivion; the routes were not signposted and some stretches were not even passable.

     

    D. Elías Valiña (1929-1989), párroco (parish priest) of O Cebreiro, was always very interested in the Camino and wanted to revive this ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino Francés in particular. He had a vision to bring the Camino back to its former glory and managed to convince other people (local authorities, other priests, Camino associations) to get involved.

     

    Apparently, D. Elías travelled across Spain, from Roncesvalles, stopping to paint yellow arrows where he thought pilgrims might get lost. One of the stories about why he chose that yellow colour for the arrows is because he was able to purchase some yellow paint that had been left over from road words at a discounted price.

     

    Today’s words of Spanish for the Camino

     

     

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    5 things you need to know about Spain

    5 things you need to know about Spain

    When you travel to a foreign country it’s easy to make mistakes because we don’t know how things work over there. It’s easy to assume that everybody does things the same way we do and this can lead to difficult or embarrassing situations.

    So, what are the things you need to know about Spain? There are more, but let’s start with these 5:

    1. It’s not siesta time!

    I read a lot of comments about siesta in Camino forums: 

    “Everything was closed because it was siesta time” 

    “There were no people on the streets because it was siesta time” 

    It’s almost like anything unfamiliar you experience gets blamed on the siesta. Sorry to burst your stereotypes but… siesta is not really a thing in Spain. At least not the way you think it is. If you go to a shop at 3:00 or 4:00pm and it’s closed it is not because it’s siesta time. It’s because it’s lunch time. 

    Yes. Lunch time. But that’s way more than the usual one hour lunch break, you may say. Well, lunch in Spain is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. So, one hour is not enough. Also, traditionally, people would go home for lunch. Not everybody can do that these days, especially in the bigger cities, but many people still do. For more details about eating times, go to nº2.

    And if you go for a walk around town at 6:00 or 7:00pm in the summertime and the place is deserted, it’s not siesta time. People could be either at the beach or pool or simply at home, staying away from el calor (the heat).

    We don’t put our pyjamas on, get into bed and sleep for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the day, as many foreigners seem to think. Most of us don’t even take siestas at all. Those who do, it’s mostly a 10-15 minute nap on the sofa. So, por favor, if you find shops closed or streets empty, don’t blame it on the siesta. 

    2. Don’t criticise our meal times. Try to adapt to them instead.

    As I already mentioned, lunch is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. It is usually served between 1:30 and 3:30 or 4:00pm.

    You’ll have trouble finding dinner  before 8:30pm. 

    The picture shows average kitchen hours, although they may very from place to place.

    Instead of complaining because dinner is too late, why don’t you try the Spanish way? Have lunch when you get to your destination for the day; shower, rest and and then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

    3. Avoid criticising Spanish customs, even those that we, Spaniards, criticise. 

    This is like family: you may complain about them but when an outsider criticises them, you feel compelled to defend them. Same thing here: I may disagree with that particular custom but if you, an outsider, criticise it, I may feel forced to defend it. How would you feel if we went to your country and started criticising what you do?

    “Why do you not have a proper 3-course meal for lunch?”

    “Oh, so you don’t eat tortilla de patatas? That’s weird!”

    “Shops close at 6:00pm? Ridiculous!”

    Not nice, right? For me, one of the beauties of travelling is to get to see and experience different things, eat different foods… Embrace the difference and enjoy it!

     

    4. Manners, please!

    Don’t go over the top with your gracias and por favor. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use those words, but we don’t use them half as much as in other cultures. Once or twice per conversation is fine. More than that is too much and you’re going to make the other person uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean we’re rude or don’t have manners. We just express it in different ways.

    5. Yes, I’m greeting you.

    We might not say please and thank you as much as you do, but we probably greet each other more, even total strangers: you go into a shop, you greet the shop assistant; go into a doctor’s waiting room, you greet the people who are already there; get into a lift with strangers, you greet them.

    A simple hola is fine or, depending on the time of the day, you can also add buenos días (in the morning, until lunch time -Spanish lunch time), buenas tardes (in the evening) or buenas noches (later in the evening, from 9:00pm roughly).

     

    These are just 5 basic things you need to know before you travel to Spain. There are more, especially around food, but they would make this post too long and we’ll leave them for another occasion. If, on the other hand, you would like to know whether it’s OK or not to tip and how much is appropriate, you can check this post.

     

     

    Today’s words

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    ¡Buen Camino!