As I prepared for the Camino I read a lot of postings on the Internet as well as a couple of guide books. It was said almost everywhere that although you did not need to know or speak Spanish that knowing a few phrases could be useful. This was generally followed by a few dozen useful phrases from English to Spanish. Having walked about a third of the way I think I can categorically say that you don’t need to be able to speak or understand Spanish. Nor, for that matter, do you need to know French or German or Danish or…even English.
We met Jutran (our phonetic spelling of her name) on the road from SJPP to Orisson. She appeared before us as a pink backpack cover holding an umbrella overhead to protect her from the rain. She was struggling! She would climb up the mountain a couple of steps and then stop and rest. Her appearance was “Camino challenged.”
as we passed we said “hi” and words of encouragement and she laughed and said unintelligible words back. She is Korean and it turns out knows probably 30 or so words in English…less in Spanish. As we worked our way up and around a curve at our very slow pace we looked back and down and saw her barely moving way behind us. She would be lucky to make it to Orisson, let alone Santiago. Later in Orisson, over the table, we talked more with her. June managed to learn her story. I don’t know how. Her mother died several years ago. Her father died 2 months ago. Her son was conscripted into the Korean army. Her daughter left for college. Her husband is a busy banker and not home much. She decided it was time for her to do something that she had wanted to do for herself for a long time. She decided to walk the Camino. We don’t know how she learned of the Camino. We have run into her several times since Orisson. I’m sure she will complete her walk. She is walking without being to speak or understand English or Spanish. I have mentioned Sawa (though not by name). He is from Japan. We met him over the table and on the Camino many times. He enjoys interacting with us but probably knows 5 words of English and 3 Spanish…max. We wonder if he feels very alone but he is always cheerful and seems to be always happy to see us. He is walking the Camino without understanding English or Spanish. On the other hand most of our over the table conversation is in English with lapses into Spanish. Often there are side conversations in French or German or whatever. Some of our best times of sobremesa have been when the host of the albergue joined us for the meal and much of the conversation was in Spanish. We talked of many things and laughed a lot. So you can, indeed, walk the Camino without knowing Spanish. But the conversations over the table that include Spanish are richer and more enjoyable. Sent from my iPhone