Camino Talks with Francisco & Silvia – Camino Guides



Written by Caitlin

Francisco and Silvia are two of our longest-running guides on the Camino de Santiago. Umberto sat down with them in Santiago after they had finished a couple of guided tours with our awesome clients. Listen to them talk about how they became guides, what drew them to the Camino, and their experiences as Camino de Santiago tour guides.

They have plenty of stories about the people they have met and the adventures they have had!

Join one of our regular guided Camino de Santiago tours to meet them, or one of our other fantastic Camino Guides.

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Umberto

Hi, guys, welcome. We are here in a cafe in Santiago de Compostela and we have Francisco and Silvia, who are doing a lot of tremendous work for Follow the Camino as guides. Maybe before we start talking about your job and what you do. Can you introduce yourself briefly?

Francisco

Hi, guys. My name is Francisco. I have been guiding here on the Camino for many years. I actually grew up in a town called Ponferrada right on the French Camino. So I’ve always been very familiar with the Camino since I was very little.

Umberto

Very good. And yourself, Silvia?

Silvia

So, hello guys, my name is Silvia. I’m from Bilbao, actually, before working in the Camino as a guide, I was a mountain guide. My experience was in Himalayan High Mountains, and that was until I discovered the Camino and fell in love with it. This is my path now.

Umberto

Great stuff. So tell us a bit about the Camino, when is the first time you walked the Camino and how did you get to make guiding on the Camino your job?

Silvia

Actually it’s quite funny, I didn’t appreciate the Camino at the time, being a mountain guide, I always felt “why do people come and walk the Camino when you can walk the mountains?” Right? And then just a coincidence, I did the Camino walk and I fell in love with it. So after that, I walked the Camino on my own. It took me three months when it normally takes people one month to walk it.

Umberto

What happened to you?

Silvia

I kept meeting people and I wanted to learn the Camino with the stories of the people and not only the guides, so every time I saw a bar with people in there, I just went in, had a glass of wine with them, and they would tell me the legends, the stories, and so it took me three months and I fell in love with it. I moved to Galicia to live on the Camino itself. And it’s my passion, walking this thing.

Umberto

Very good. Francesco, what about yourself?

Francisco

Well, being from town on the Camino, it’s common for many people to walk the Camino when you’re very young. I actually walked the Camino as a pilgrim before I was a guide, when I was in my 20s. Then I didn’t actually pay much attention to the Camino, I went travelling and I was travelling around the world. I started guiding working as a tour guide in Asia, leading many groups of tourists in Southeast Asia mostly. But then I moved back to Spain and came back to the Camino. And I think it was the best choice I could ever have done because it’s wonderful to be here.

Umberto

So it seems to me that you guys have travelled around quite a bit. You, Silvia, you experienced the mountains so something a bit more challenging. That was probably when you were younger, as well, in your 20s. Oh sorry, you are not old now…

Silvia

Experienced. I will call us experienced.

Umberto

And Francisco it might be the same for you. Were you in South East Asia and so do you think has anything to do with age, you’ve experienced part of the world father away. And now you wanted to come back home.

Francisco

Well, after a travelling, moving around, quite lot in the past years and doing guiding, leading groups, in many other places, not on the Camino- I think that the Camino has something especial that nowhere else does. It’s amazing. Traveling, walking the Camino, it’s a unique experience that you don’t get anywhere else.

Umberto

How unique? What is this uniqueness? How would you describe it to people who have never done the Camino?

Francisco

I guess it’s the walking, all the walking that you do. The nature of our culture here in Spain, how our group’s get together and you make a friends for a lifetime. Sometimes… normally you go back home after walking the Camino with new friends that are going to be there for you forever. I’ve seen that – it doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve seen that a lot. And even for us as a guide, we sometimes become very good friends with some of our clients. It’s amazing – I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Umberto

Yourself, Silvia,  you say that the Camino for people who will bring this friendship amongst people in the group?

Silvia

Yeah, I think making an effort together always joins us. It’s a good bond. I think that’s actually the big part of it, because, it is a mystery to me why people would fly from Australia or other areas of the world to walk the Camino and come back and come back. And I think, I’m not sure, that’s one of the mysteries about the Camino, but I think that people on the other pilgrims experience of going through it together. Doing it with joy, doing it with love, and doing it with freedom. You know, that’s what creates some good bonds you know. The other pilgrims that come from all over the world, the energy that we create by walking this thing, that could be it. Now, I’m not even sure what is what makes this Camino magic. It does. It is magic.

Umberto

Tell me something – the bonding that happened during the walk, you said that when people almost suffer together, this is what creates that bonding. You walked in mountainous areas and in more challenging places. How difficult is the Camino?

Silvia

Compared to mountains in the Himalayas, obviously is not. It’s easier and we are more prepared. Good thing about the Camino nowadays is that it is prepared for people in any physical shape with any hiking experience. So I think – also because it is so well marketed – it’s easy for people to really enjoy it. They don’t have to worry about where do I have to turn, where do I have to sleep.

Francisco

It is very safe, as well, these days. You always feel safe in your comfort.

Silvia

Yeah, but it’s challenging for sure. Walking 100 kilometres in one week, especially for some people who normally do not walk. But it is feasible. Everybody can do it.

Umberto

When you did a group, you see people of different abilities and most of the time you don’t know them. So how do you see a group coming in and how the week is going to go? Are they going to be on the more challenging side for them? How do you gauge that and how do you manage the people through that week? Some of them will be flying, some of them might be struggling a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about the group, the psychology, on the day and during the week?

Francisco

Well, the way I do it, I don’t know about Silvia because every guide has his own method… the way I do it, I always give everybody leeway to feel relaxed and to walk at their own pace. You don’t put any pressure on anybody. We are a group. We spend the week together as a group, but we’re also individual, so I always let my people do their own thing. I’m always around them. You always move around. You look after your group to check on them, but at the same time, you let them do their own thing. And that’s the way they feel most comfortable to enjoy their own personal Camino. That’s the way I do it.

Silvia

Yeah, I agree totally. I think a good thing is that we give them a safe place to have their own adventure. So it’s always had good balance in between – we give you comfort, we help you do it, we are here for you in case you need us. In my opinion as well, we should honor this pilgrimage. And some people need to walk faster. Some people need silence, and some people come for the social. So in a couple of days, we get to know what each person needs. So we give them a little freedom and safety and care. But we need to give each group and each person whatever they need because they all come here for different reasons and they all come here with different levels of hiking experience, different ages, different disabilities, and we can accommodate it all. So the key, it’s freedom and respect for all of them, so they walk. And we only appear in a magic way when they need us the right time. It is magic.

Umberto

That sounds like a very easy job.

Francisco

We can’t complain. I love my job. Sometimes we have a hard time. But this, I think is very enjoyable. And we are in charge of the group, but we blend being so well with the group that it’s easy for us to leave these trips and be part of the groups as friends.

Umberto

Let me ask you something you said, Silvia,  the Camino is not difficult technically, Francisco, you were saying this as well, it’s safe, although for some people it’s still a challenge. I compare that maybe to “there is an Everest for everybody”, right? So, I was joking when I was saying that your job seems very easy. No? Can you tell us a bit about some challenging times when some people are maybe struggling a bit more and how you overcame that, how did the people react? And were they happy, not happy? What was that experience?

Silvia

To me when it becomes more challenging is when people are not doing the Camino or walking the way they really should, or need, or want. And some people don’t accept their limitations. And I think sometimes our job as a guide is to, first, make them feel safe. And it’s really not important, if we get you in a taxi for the last five kilometres one day, it’s better to save your energy, save your feet and don’t feel any guilt about that, because this is not about making 95 or 100 kilometres to me. It’s about experiencing this pilgrimage and accepting that you have limitations. To me the hardest is when I see people going beyond their limits and hurting themselves and missing out, pretty much a lot by trying to rush into their hotel because no matter how beautiful the hotel room is, the Camino is going to be more beautiful. And sometimes it’s hard to pass the message because everybody wants to arrive. And when I see people walking beyond their capacity or limitations. I think that’s one of the key things in our job.

Umberto

So how would you talk to somebody about that and how do you make them change slightly, how they approach the Camino and so on? Maybe you will have such cases? People will maybe push themselves a bit too much? And how do you get them to, maybe, slow down?

Francisco

Everyday we do meetings, we talk to our groups. We give a lot of tips for the day. Every day we do that. And sometimes when it is needed, when we have some people that are way too determined or stubborn,  and as Silvia was saying, they push themselves too much, but they are not able to. I mean, they are not so fit to do that. We just try to make them… to comfort them.

Silvia

You have to accept, it’s up to a point, we can tell people. We talk to them as I would talk to my friend – I tell them, “maybe that’s not what I would do”. But we also need to accept that sometimes we need to be watching them making those mistakes. And those are the ones we need to watch in case they hurt themselves. Because I mean, all of us are adults here, we are pilgrims and sometimes we just need to say it and let people make mistakes sometimes.

Umberto

And tell me something, so, sometimes the Camino is a challenge for some people, but I would say it’s a minority of people, where they might not have prepared as much or maybe they had a bad day yesterday. Silvia, you were talking to one of your group members who had three pairs of shoes and still got blisters.  You know, she had the hiking shoes, she had the runners, she had this and that. So, sometimes there is this side, but you sometimes have to stop people from stopping by every bar, or like sitting down?

Silvia

I let them go, I let them do it. I had somebody in my last tour, it took her twelve hours to make twenty five kilometres, normally, it takes, what 5 hours? 6? She told me I’ll meet you at dinner tonight. I want to walk this at my own pace, and I’m going to stop in every bar, in every place I want to make a picture. So we’re here also to keep space for those people. So, yeah, she arrived at 8 in the evening to the hotel. I will never stop somebody from that. I let people walk as much, or as slow as they want and give freedom. And as long as I know where they are and that they’re safe. Fine with me.

Umberto

That’s great. So tell us about the general people. Have you seen people transform through the trip? Coming on the Saturday?

Francisco

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Sometimes people come to the Camino not knowing what the Camino is like, not knowing what the Camino is about, and very insecure. And then when we start walking, as doays go on, you see those people getting more confident and stronger, those that from the very beginning were not sure, they wouldn’t have that confidence in themselves. You see that a lot. And then arriving in Santiago, last days, it can be a very transforming, changing experience. It is actually to most pilgrims walking the Camino, it’s not just our groups. When you arrive in Santiago, when you walk into Obradoiro Square, you see the cathedral, you see how emotional most people get. I’m sure that people go back home, but something has changed in them when they go home, after being here.

Umberto

And I think that obviously when you’re guiding a group your role in that is almost to allow people to grow and to gain some sort of independence and the Camino is, I suppose, just a medium for that, for me to get that balance about walking 20, 25 kilometers every day, having the odd blister that might make things more challenging. Meeting people and you can see them grow to the end of the trip and so on. Tell us about, on the main square, when you when you arrive there with people, tell us about a couple  of stories, people who impressed you, made you laugh? Made you cry?

Silvia

Let me go here because I had a man from England who sang opera. I think you saw it. Were you there when we arrived? He started singing opera right there and the whole square was looking at us. I mean, it just came out. He just felt inspiration in that way. So it’s an experience, for sure. Very emotional. A lot of joy, as well. So we roll on the floor. We go barefoot and take pictures of our injured feet and laugh about it. It’s a big deal to make it there and feel the energy of that square.

Francisco

Yeah, you get a lot of people. You see a lot of people walking on to the square, singing, big groups for people, pilgrims, coming from all over. Coming from the French Camino, from the Portuguese Camino, from wherever everybody comes there, and as they walk into the square. People sing, they sing all along together, cheering each other. It’s a fun time to be there at the square.

Silvia

Amazing energy. That is clear.

Umberto

There is. There is. So that’s great. Give us some ideas, maybe some stories, about very funny moments that you had along the Camino?

Francisco

There was a lady she wasn’t in our group. But this is something something that we saw in the newspapers, from the news. One or two years ago, this lady from Austria, she was from Vienna. She was with an older woman with her group. And she was missing. She was missing. So it was like, oh, my God, she was missing for two days. Nobody could find her. The police was patrolling around, searching for her. Nobody could find her. And apparently, this woman, she was a little bit senile. She went off the track in the forest, walking from, I don’t know if she was walking from Arsu up to a federal saw from Pedrosa to Santiago. So she went off the track. She was missing. Nobody could find her for two days missing.

And then two days later, she was found. She appeared at a rock music festival in Santiago on her own. And the thing is that when she went off the track, she couldn’t find a way back to the Camino. And it was in the summer, so, it was good weather. She slept on the ground in the forest on her own while the police was looking for her. And the whole group of hers and her guide – I’m I’m glad that I wasn’t her guide, because that guide must have been very stressed. And yet two days later, she just, she was there at the rock music festival in Santiago. Unbelievable!

Umberto

That’s a great story. Tell us about some places that you like to pass by every time you go, some bars and some special memories. I know that you, Fran, you play the guitar, but you don’t bring your guitar with you when you walk do?

Francisco

I do. I sometimes say serenade my group! But not always. I don’t know. Landmarks on the Camino, places that we recommend…

Silvia

The river in revadiso…

Francisco

That river in revadiso is a nice place to soak your feet in. The Celtic Village, on day one? Day one? When you walk from Saria? On day two, this Celtic settlement that not many people know about. You can go off the path to visit it. We recommend that people go have a look. There’s quite a few interesting places. And then, of course, many, many bars and restaurants and cafes all along the way where you can always hang out with other pilgrims, make new friends.

Umberto

And for you Silvia, what do you think in terms of food, drinks? What are the nice things?

Silvia

Well, what I always tell my pilgrims is that in Galicia, on the Camino, the Camino is not about luxury. We’re not going to find luxury in the food on the Camino. We’re going to find fresh food, very cheap, very basic. A lot of vegetables, good fish, good meat, basic, but fresh and pretty much homemade. Because most of the businesses on the Camino are family-run, which I think is a luxury, to have family-run. Sometimes it’s worth the wait. And yeah, I think the food is one of the things that the pilgrims appreciate the most. Because it’s fresh, it’s cheap. Good wine. Everybody loves Galacian wine. We have everything to enjoy here, good food, good wine, good beer, the best beer in Spain.

Umberto

That’s great. That’s great. That sounds great. It is great, the work that you are doing, I think three years ago, Follow the Camino, we started to name our guided tour – “a guided tour to make friends for life”. And I think to summarize a bit, what you Francisco were talking about, the experience and you said Silvia that you see people transforming. So that’s great. And I think that encompasses the Camino – friendship, no luxury, as you say, it’s comfortable, very comfortable beds and so on, the other trips as well, etc. So that’s really great, I think.

Which route would you… maybe, give us the route that you prefer, doesn’t mean that the others are not great, you know, but that you prefer, and maybe some tips for people who wish to walk the Camino either on a guided tour or self-guided tour, what you do tell people who want to do the Camino?

Silvia

I really love the Portuguese Coast Camino. For some reason, I feel it has a great energy to be walking next to the ocean. There are less people than in the French Camino. I love the flowers. I love it, the colours. I always feel it is a more feminine energy Camino, compared to the French Camino, which I feel is solid, is inland, is authentic. It’s genuine. It’s more masculine. But this is my thoughts about it. I really like that one. I mean, I don’t know if I can give anybody any advice without knowing them previously, but, just comet. Sometimes you’re bored. You’re feeling life is trapping you just come to walk. As simple as walking can make a big difference in the mind, a lot of peace in the mind when you walk.

Umberto

Thank you. And yourself, Francisco?

Francisco

I agree with Silvia that I really like today the Coastal Portugues Camino a lot. But the central Portugues Camino as good as well. The French Camino, the last bit of the French Camino from Sarria to Santiago. It’s good to see, more crowded, but it’s good. So either one of them is a great experience. Tips… Well, the usual things. If you are a fit person, then you may not have to do any training before. But if you are not used to working, please go for a long walk. Say at least one or two weeks before you come to the Camino and be prepared for some heels. Because I always tell my groups that Camino is not so difficult, but it can be a bit challenging, depending on how fit you are. And it’s a bit more than a simple stroll in the park.

Umberto

That’s great. Thank you very much, Francisco, Silvia.

Francisco

Come to the Camino next year! I want to see you here!

Umberto

Thank you very much, guys.



About Camino Talks
Camino Talks is a collection of interviews about the famous Camino de Santiago. We talk to the people that make it so special and share their stories with you. By Follow the Camino
15th April 2020

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