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!

 

A conversation with Julia

A conversation with Julia

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

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

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

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

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

 

Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

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

 

Tell us about your Camino. How was your experience?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Julia’s words

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

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¡Buen Camino!

Pulpo á feira

Pulpo á feira

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

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

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

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

 

Here’s how to prepare pulpo á feira

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

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

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

 

Today’s Spanish words

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

 

¡Buen Camino!

Necesito un médico

Necesito un médico

Necesito un médico (I need a doctor) is probably something you don’t want to say while on the Camino, right? And hopefully you won’t need it but… you never know.

If you’ve been following my weekly lessons then you will know that I’ve been doing a series on health related issues. Apart from body parts, we’ve also learnt other things. Let’s recap before we go on:

  • You are an EU citizen and you got your  Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea (European Health Insurance Card). And if you are from outside the EU, you got seguro.

 

  • Farmacias and parafarmacias can help with many of the most common problems. But you need to let them know of any relevant alergias (allergies) or conditions you may have, so they can give you the right remedy.

 

If you are allergic to something, you can just say Tengo alergia a… and complete the sentence with whatever causes your allergy: Tengo alergia a la penicilina or la aspirina, to name a couple.

*Note that you can use this expression in bars and restaurants too when ordering food, if you have any food allergies. Here’s a little test for you:

How would you say “I’m allergic to eggs” in Spanish?

(leave a comment with your answer!)

 

Sometimes the pharmacist can’t help or you already know you need medical attention. Then you may say… Necesito un médico (I need a doctor). As I explained a couple of weeks ago, you can go to the local centro de salud.

 

The médico will ask ¿Qué le pasa? (What is wrong?) and you can then explain. You can check last week’s lesson to revise how to talk about pains and other common ailments. Let’s add está hinchado (it’s swollen) and diarrea (diarrhea) to the list.

 

As with the pharmacist, you need to inform the médico of any medical history that may be relevant. I’ll give you a couple of examples: soy diabético (I’m a diabetic; replace the final -o in diabético with an -a if you are female) or tengo la tensión alta (I have high blood pressure).

 

Today’s Spanish words & phrases

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For new vocabulary that has become common during the pandemic, check Camino in times of pandemic.

 

¡Buen Camino!

Your health on the Camino

Your health on the Camino

Since I started this blog I’ve discussed different topics such as accommodation or food, but I only briefly touched on a very important one: your health during the Camino. So let me correct that.

 

Do you need any vaccines to walk the Camino de Santiago?

First, I’d like to clarify something: every now and then people ask on forums what vacunas (vaccinations) they need in order to enter Spain. The answer is NONE! You don’t need any vacunas to enter Spain or any other European country.

You can find that information, as well as other practical travel info in the following link: http://www.spain.info/en/informacion-practica/consejos-viaje/consejos-practicos/requisitos/

* May 2021 edit: as a result of the covid pandemic, there are plans to introduce a European ‘vaccination passport’. It’s still not clear how it will work, but it doesn’t look like it will be a travel requirement.

 

In case of emergency…

Secondly, the number to contact emergency services in Spain and the rest of Europe is 112. It’s a free number. And they speak English. Make sure you know this number or keep it handy at all times. It would be a good idea to store it in your phone.

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a short post, El botiquín, about first-aid items to carry in your mochila. Hopefully, that’s all you will need: a couple of tiritas and an ibuprofeno or two.

But some things are beyond our control: You could get sick or even have an accident. That’s why it’s a good idea to be prepared.

 

  • If you are an EU citizen, don’t forget your Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea (European Health Insurance Card). The Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea entitles you to state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people insured in that country.

The following link has contact information for every country where you can apply: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=563&langId=en#nationalinfo

 

Where should you go?

If you need medical attention while in Spain, you can go to the local centro de salud with your Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea. 

On the other hand, when the centro de salud is closed (or your problem can’t wait) you can go to urgencias (A&E or ER, depending where you are from) to be seen by a doctor.

If you can’t get yourself to the centro de salud or urgencias, call 112 for assistance. Don’t worry if your Spanish is limited. As I mentioned, they have English-speaking operators to help you. They will assess the situation and dispatch an ambulancia or any other emergency services they deem necessary.

 

  • If you are coming from outside the European Union, then you should consider getting seguro (insurance).

And even if you are coming from within the EU, getting some seguro is not something you should dismiss, since the Tarjeta Sanitaria Europea is not an alternative to travel insurance. It does not cover any private healthcare or costs such as a return flight to your home country.

 

If you are not convinced, read Nidarosa’s story:

My Scouse Spouse and I have walked together several times – Astorga to Santiago for our honeymoon, Hadrian’s Wall, then Astorga to Santiago again earlier this year. I knew he enjoyed it and he sometimes mentioned wanting to walk the Francés from St Jean Pied de Port to Astorga to see what I have seen, […]

via Accidents and Emergencies — Somewhere Slowly

 

You can find more health-related info and Spanish in Necesito un médico. Ideally, you won’t need any of this, but you know what they say: Better safe than sorry or Más vale prevenir que curar, if you would like to say it in Spanish!

 

Today’s Spanish words & phrases

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¡Buen Camino!