*Update: For more photos of my Camino adventures, visit THIS PAGE.
My Dearest Friends:
As most of you know, I will not be returning to AOA next year. I have loved teaching here, but I also love learning and traveling and exploring, and need to go see the world. That said, I care deeply for each and every one of your children, and would like to leave a final Spanish Summer Packet Challenge that parallels the first part of this new chapter of my life.
My adventures will begin in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port (France), where I will start walking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). El Camino is a 500 mile walk or pilgrimage across northern Spain that begins by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains (France/Spain border). It typically takes pilgrims thirty days to complete the walk on foot and arrive in Santiago de Compostela, España. To that end, students will have the opportunity to walk “with me” over the summer by completing specific challenges that correspond to mileage and geographic locations. (Pato will obviously be coming along—but primarily for the food and to post selfies on Instagram.)
1) Preparation: It is strongly recommended for anyone walking to have a special passport book specific to the Camino. The albergues (hostels for pilgrims) stamp your book each night so that you have a personalized record of where you stayed; it is also a nice memento, as every stamp is unique. Your first challenge, then, is to create a small passport booklet with five or ten pages to keep track of where you travel this summer. After you visit a place—local or overseas—design a miniature sticker/stamp/little picture to represent that place, and copy it into your passport booklet. If you are going to travel out of state, make one per state or country. If you are staying put, make one for each town you visit!
2) Preparation: Imagine that you are going on this walk for real: what would you pack? There are restaurants and stores along the way, so you do not need to carry much food, but water is a necessity during the hot summer months in Spain, and you must fit everything you need into a single backpack. Make a list and then… get packing! Encourage your family and/or friends to participate, and to complete this challenge, go on an actual hike with your bag and a friend. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!
3) Week 1 (Crossing the Pyrenees Mountains from France into Spain): Play The Great Language Game online at least three times. Here you will learn to recognize the world’s languages, one language at a time. Around 8,000 people walk El Camino during July, so I will be surrounded by many, many languages. This challenge is meant to mimic jumping into this incomprehensible but delightful swirl of linguistic happiness. High scores do not matter here; just have fun guessing!
4) Week 1: Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for its celebration of San Fermín and the annual Running of the Bulls. This tradition, although a huge part of Spanish culture, is highly controversial. This challenge asks you to read a Wikipedia or Scholastic article and watch a short YouTube video about the Running of the Bulls, and thendebate the topic with your family with Paso Doble music playing in the background. Do you see the nobility of the beast and the elegance of the bullfight, or do you see animal cruelty? Whatever your stance, start a conversation and try to understand both perspectives.
5) Week 2: An exciting part of traveling is getting to see and try different types of foods. What is “normal” to you is “strange” to others, and vice-versa. In Spain, tapas—also called pinchos when pierced with toothpicks—are found in many restaurants. They are snacks arranged in small dishes, and have an interesting history: a long time ago, many people were illiterate, so travelers going from one inn to the next could not read the menus; instead, they were given little plates to sample different types of food before ordering their meal. This challenge is to pretend you are in Spain and recreate tapas in your own kitchen. There are countless options, so find a few that you like, and have a little fiesta, or party. Some ideas include mixed olives and cheese; skewers with pickles; fried baby squid; mushrooms sautéed in garlic and oil, etc.—see more options HERE. Enjoy!
6) Week 2: The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, and represents the many paths pilgrims travel to reach one destination, namely, Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims attach a scallop to their backpacks, and follow the shell symbol on the Camino to stay on the right path. While I do not care where you purchase your petrol, I like seeing the Shell gas station signs around town, and pretend that when I see one, I know I am on the right road. This challenge asks you to go to the beach and see if you can find a scallop shell. If this is not an option, Bed Bath & Beyond (among other stores) also sells them!
7) Week 3: Typical walking hours for the Camino are usually 5am-1pm (due to the extreme summer heat). After that, pilgrims find a place to stay for the night, eat together, and rest their tired, blistered feet. Many people take a book along with them to read in the afternoons and later exchange with other pilgrims. Don Quijote de la Mancha is the main character in a very famous, very old, 900-page novel that takes place in Spain. While the literary masterpiece is probably too heavy to carry in book form, and the language the Spanish equivalent of Elizabethan English, it is world-renowned and well worth learning about. This challenge is to watch three chapters about Don Quijote on YouTube. What is your “impawssible” dream? “One day or Day One?”
8) Week 3: Did you think you were going to be able to survive only on tapas for 500 miles? Think again! This challenge is to cook a more complete meal: either una tortilla española or un bocadillo. The tortilla española is similar to an omelet, but much thicker and a very hearty breakfast. A bocadillo is an inexpensive and simple but delicious sandwich—I like to add pickles on mine! Note that “boca” means mouth in Spanish. If have some time on your hands and are interested in dessert, flan and churros (dipped in chocolate or dulce de leche) are also eaten in Spain. Yum!
*“History is divided on how exactly churros came to exist. Some say they were the invention of nomadic Spanish shepherds. Living high in the mountains with no access to bakeries, the Spanish shepherds supposedly created churros, which were easy for them to cook in frying pans over fire. Lending credibility to this version of history is the fact that there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Navajo-Churro’, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula; the horns of these sheep look similar to the fried pastry.
Another story says that Portuguese sailors discovered a similar food in Northern China called ‘Yóu Tiáo’ and they brought it back with them. The Spanish learned of the new culinary treat from their neighbors, and put their own spin on it by passing the dough through a star-shaped tip which gives the churro its signature ridges.” (source).
9) Week 4: There are lush, rolling forests of Eucalyptus trees near the end of the Camino to welcome you into the final city of Santiago de Compostela. It is said that “the popular Spanish name for the astronomical Milky Way is El Camino de Santiago. According to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by traveling pilgrims” (Wikipedia). It makes perfect sense, then, that “Compostela” would mean field of stars. Two of my friends who walked the Camino last year told me that the smell of Eucalyptus is incredibly strong here. This challenge is to find Eucalyptus oil at a store and take a whiff of one of the samplers. Now imagine that scent times five million, and that is probably what I am smelling right now. 🙂
10) Week 4: There are hours upon hours to talk to people on the Camino, but when you get tired of that, many play music to pass the time. In northern Spain, five languages are spoken, namely, Spanish, Galician, Basque (Euskara), Aranès, and Catalan. For me, listening to languages I do not understand acts as a “brain break” and feels refreshing somehow; it helps to clear my mind. This challenge is to listen to a few of the songs below, and think about what makes you happy. Then, do something nice for a family member or friend—in other words, make someone else happy! If they want to ‘repay’ you with a gift, tell them to pay it forward. Regardless of the language you speak, always remember: “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain).
a. Flamenco, Zapatos de baile (Spanish)
b. Aldapan gora, Huntza Band (Euskara)
c. Boig Per Tu, Shakira (Catalan)
d. Galician Folk Music (Galician)
e. Renata Flores Rivera (Quechua**)
f. Vivir mi vida, Marc Anthony (Spanish)
**Quechua is an indigenous language spoken in the Andes Mountains and highlands of South America (and NOT Spain), but this young girl with a powerful voice is revitalizing her mother tongue through music; read the full story HERE.
My hope is that this Spanish Summer Packet reinforces the fact that language-learning is a journey. Do not be overly concerned with arriving, or that magical destination called Fluency. With hard work and passion, you will get there, I promise. Just never ever give up, ever! And in the meantime, revel in the magic of the present moment: enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures along the way… and “hashtag happiness” wherever you go (#happiness). We are all on this journey together, and I am grateful to have met each and every one of you. Be well, have a wonderful summer, fall, winter, spring, and life—and please keep in touch!
Peace, love, and hugs,
IMAGE CREDIT, @Trevor Huxham