A conversation with Gary

A conversation with Gary

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

Conversation with Gary

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Tell us about your Camino. 

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

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

 

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

 

You then decided to become an hospitalero. Why? 

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

 

conversation with Gary

How did you go about finding a volunteering opportunity? 

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

 

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

 

How was your experience?

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

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

 

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

 

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

conversation with Gary

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gary’s words and phrases 

¿Cuánto es?  – how much is it?

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

¿Dónde empezó? where did you start? 

La lavandería laundry 

El tendedero clothes line

Por favor escríbalo please write it down

¿Está lejos? is it far?

Gracias por todo thanks for everything

¿Hay camas libres? are there free beds?

Quisiera I would like

 

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

 

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!

A conversation with Randall

A conversation with Randall

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

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

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

 

A conversation with Randall

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

conversation with Randall

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

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

Randall’s words

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

Hola: hello

¿Dónde esta?: where is it?

Buenos días: good morning

Buenas tardes: good afternoon/evening

Muchas gracias: thank you very much

Por favor: please

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

Vale: OK.

Está bien: it is OK/fine.

Claro: of course

  • Some food and drink related words too:

Cerveza: beer 

Caña: a glass of beer

Vino blanco: white wine

Vino tinto: red wine

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

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

Mejillones: mussels 

Pimientos de Padrón: Padrón peppers

Jamón: ham

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Buen Camino, Buen Viaje, y vive una gran vida


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

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

 

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with 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!

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela |

Maybe you’ve been walking for weeks. Or days.

Maybe you’ve walked 800km to get to Santiago de Compostela. Or 100.

Maybe you’ve done your Camino in one go. Or you’ve done it over a few years, a section at a time.

 

It doesn’t really matter. Arriving in Santiago, entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and finally seeing the catedral is always a very special moment.

There are several rituals and traditions that pilgrims generally follow, such as greeting fellow pilgrims with ¡Buen Camino! or Ultreia; getting your credencial stamped at least once a day; drinking Rioja from the wine fountain outside Estella or leaving a stone at Cruz de Ferro, on the Camino Francés, to name just a few.

So, of course, Santiago and its catedral have their own rituals too. The Cathedral’s webiste lists them: http://catedraldesantiago.es/en/pilgrimage/#rites

 

El Pórtico de la Gloria 

As you access the catedral from Plaza del Obradoiro, the first thing you see is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria, built by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. Well, that’s the way it used to be. The Pórtico de la Gloria was closed for almost 10 years for restoration. It has reopened now and it can be visited, but you can no longer enter the cathedral through here.

So, if you’ve already done a Camino in the past 10 years, you missed it and you need an excuse to come back, this is it! The Pórtico de la Gloria was beautiful before, but it’s just amazing now.

There used to be a couple of rituals attached to the Pórtico de la Gloria, but they were causing damage to this work of art, so it’s not possible to do these anymore. One of them, which you can see in the movie The Way, was to place your hand on the centre pillar, under the statue of St. James.

At the back of this, there’s another little statue known as Santo dos Croques (literally the saint of the bumps). This is not really the image of a saint, but that of Maestro Mateo. According to tradition, you had to bump your head against the head of this “saint” in order to get wisdom and intelligence.

 

La cripta

Once inside the catedral, you should visit the cripta (crypt). There is a one-way system to access it, with stairs going down at one side of the main altar and going up the other way. The cripta is where the sepulchre of St. James is kept. On your way up, you can also embrace the image of the Apostle.

 

El Botafumeiro

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

 El Botafumeiro, I’m sure you already know, is this big censer that gets used during special occasions. It weighs over 50kg (over 100 pounds) and measures around 1.5 metres in height (5ft). It hangs from the main dome of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to swing it.

When can you see it? It has some fixed dates you can check in advance: https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/ufaqs/when-is-the-botafumeiro-used/ You can also request it by contacting the Cathedral (and paying around €400). Groups do this all the time, so you might be lucky and be able to see the Botafumeiro in action outside of those fixed dates.

 

During Holy Years, the Botafumeiro is swung daily during the Pilgrim’s Mass or Misa del Peregrino.

La Puerta Santa

You can only enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) during Año Santo or Holy Year (it can also be referred to as Xacobeo, in Galician), i.e. those years when July 25 falls on a Sunday.

The day before an Año Santo begins,  the Puerta Santa is opened in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop. At the end of the year, this door will be closed again and remain so until the next Año Santo. Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.

Puerta Santa in Santiago, opens during Holy years.