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Wading deep into another culture.

Camino(s) past & future
VdlP(2012) Madrid(2014)Frances(2015) VdlP(2016)
VdlP(2017)Madrid/Sanabres/Frances reverse(2018)
Matthew Merten, If you recognise the phrasing of this thread title, i borrowed it from you. I was struck by your use of it in a recent post.

I wonder what that phrase evokes in some of you, coming face to face with the wonder of Spain on your first Camino.

For me, it was meeting of minds in 2012, when I rode the Via de ls Plata, at a very leisurely pace on an overloaded bike. I had never attempted anything of that nature before. For the first week or so I met few people, and frequently had an albergue to myself. I was rather in awe of the occasional walker I encountered, feeling, dare I say it, a bit of a fraud riding on after a brief conversation - when that was possible. I had marvelled alone at the splendours of Sevilla and Merida.

But at Galisteo we were four pilgrims, and two of them were English. “At last, conversation!” I thought. Well, not really. One of them was an overbearing, conversation-stifling type who regailed us with, well, himself. The fourth pilgrim was an elderly, rather distinguished-looking Spaniard, who sat in silence through it all, because, I assumed, he spoke no English.

I arrived at Baños, and was delighted with the well-appointed albergue, (the one that has a Via de la Plata display on the ground floor). I wanted to award myself a rest day, having achieved the half-way point, and the hospitalero agreed to allow me two nights.

Late on the second afternoon, I was sitting on the steps of the nearby public library, (closed), connected to the wifi and contacting my family back in Australia. Who should approach but the Spanish gentleman from Galisteo. After our mutual recognition, he asked me in perfectly good English where the albergue was.

And so began my first significant pilgrim connection, for Jésus was the real deal. For many years he had been devoting 2 weeks of his annual leave walking the various caminos in stages. He was the professor of sociology at one of Spain’s prestigious universities, so our conversation over dinner that evening was hardly trivial. He questioned me about my motives, and instilled in me a deep awareness of the pilgrimage, in both the religious and spiritual sense, which has sustained me through several subsequent caminos.

He encouraged me to ride a shorter distance than I was intending the following day. “You must stay at Fuenterroble”, he said. He knew Fr Blas personally, and told me a lot of his history promoting the camino, and his passionate commitment to social justice, and his confrontations with the government to that end.

So we met again the following night, and although I didn’t really meet Fr Blas - he breezed in and out on some mission of importance - we were treated to dinner by his volunteer hospitalero, who turned out to be a retired foreign correspondent for El Pais. As I knew almost no Spanish, Jésus generously included me totally in the very stimulating conversation by acting as interpreter. I learnt more about Spain in those few hours than I could have achieved through any book research.

We said farewell and buen camino next morning like old friends. I was moving ahead to Salamanca. He invited me to visit him at his home, and I did just that after my second camino 2 years later.

(PS, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of you recognise and have also met Jésus).


Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thanks @Peregrinopaul I appreciate very much what you have written. I think the issue of 'wading (ankle) deep into another culture or two' as @Matthew Merten mentioned is an important one for me. I have lived in half a dozen countries and I hope I have never tried to bring too much of my culture with me, or that when I have, I have kept it, to a degree, to myself.

I tire quickly of speaking English to expats if that is ALL I do. Which is not to say I don't enjoy having friends from my own cultural background - of course I do. But I have enriched my Camino experience by learning Spanish, and on VF last year found most of my most rewarding exchanges were through French and Italian, however halting at times. I am off to Turkey next year to pick up again the road to Jerusalem, and I am learning Turkish before I go. And yes of course it would be easier to seek out Turkish people who speak English, but I feel it is respectful to make the effort.

I don't know much Albanian ;), or Macedonian, but I used all I could muster this year and had some wonderful conversations with shepherds and shopkeepers in Italian. (Moreso in Albania, where many older men have some Italian and German.)

Of blisters, bedbugs and snoring I never say anything. But as I said one day in southern Italy, 'We spoke of walnuts and lemons and sheep and sheep's cheese and cherries and plums, and walking, and the consolations of old age.'

Ankle deep......
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