Many people have asked me why I chose to live in Santiago de Compostela. I didn’t. It was more serendipity than choice. In 2018 the youngest of my two daughters was assigned to the University of Santiago as an Erasmus student as part of her year abroad. Neither of us had even heard of the place before and had to Google it to find out exactly where it was.
At the time I was living in a seaside town just outside of Brighton in the UK and my landlady had decided to sell her property so I found myself unexpectedly flat hunting. Whilst I was unable to find a reasonably priced flat with two bedrooms in the inflated English market, my daughter phoned me from Spain to say that she had found a spacious three bedroom flat with a balcony for half the price of some of the (quite frankly) hovels that I had been looking at.
Upon discovering this, I decided to stop banging my head against a financial brick wall in a country I wasn’t particularly endeared to and leap at this new adventurous opportunity that life was proffering!
So…I handed in my notice as a lecturer in Art and Design, packed my worldly belongings and my two cats into a rental truck, and headed off to the nearest ferry pier. Having moved countries nearly a dozen times, I describe myself as a global nomad so change and the unknown doesn’t phase me. Even so, within a month I went from not remotely considering Spain as somewhere to live to setting up a new home in Galicia.
My initial intention was to stay for the year that my daughter was there and then possibly move further South and find myself another seaside town to settle down in. Being an atheist I was a bit wary of living in what I later discovered was one of the three main Catholic cities in the world. However when the time came to make a decision I wasn’t ready to leave just yet so I stayed here on my own for another year, renting out rooms to foreign students and soaking in the relaxed cafe terrace culture whilst doing a bit of online web design on the side.
I found myself falling in love with this World Heritage Galician city. There is something very reassuring and comforting about being encompassed by solid ancient stone architecture in an abundance of verdant surroundings. Coming from Hong Kong the constant flow of international pilgrims made me feel very much at home and I enjoyed meeting so many interesting and diverse people. Being half Sri Lankan I identified with the local prioritizing of food, family and celebration whilst the underlying Celtic heritage whispered to my half Welsh roots. It also made a pleasant change to be surrounded by peoples of a similar height and colouring to me and of course what’s not to love about the cheap yet excellent wines and abundance of fresh seafood? I even discovered a really great local cider.
The biggest obstacle for me was not knowing the language and although I did complete a beginners course I found it far too stressfully intensive and forgot more than I learnt. I also spent nearly a year simply replying that I didn’t need a bag at supermarkets, telling people that I was sorry that I didn’t speak Spanish and saying thank you a lot. What I found as I started to make friends was that many of the locals had learnt English at school but had not used it since, so as I struggled with my rudimentary Spanish they would eventually take pity on me and try and help out in English. The next thing I know we are having long meaningful conversations in broken English and unlike my Spanish their English would improve in leaps and bounds.
Realising that I would not be able to get a job teaching Art with my tentative grasp on the language I acknowledged that I needed to find a new career to go with my new life so when the opportunity arose to rent a small restaurant at the end of 2019 I decided to go for it. Over the last couple of years one of the few things that I did miss was decent spicy Asian food and more variety of vegetables (or any at all in some cases!). Through my chats with pilgrims it occured to me that despite the myriad restaurants and cafes in Santiago there was potentially a gap in the market for reasonably priced vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian food that offered an alternative cuisine. Taking yet another leap at serendipity I signed a five year lease and embarked on a further adventure.
Having settled on an environmentally friendly organic theme for my new enterprise, I approached it as an art installation and threw myself into researching and designing concepts. I spent the start of 2020 painting and decorating walls, upcycling furniture and repurposing pallets. No sooner had I come up with a logo and a menu when the global pandemic hit us and we went into a three and a half month severe lockdown. Undeterred I spent the time researching recipes and ecological products, painting canvases for the restaurant and forgetting what little Spanish I had previously learnt. The year that followed was probably one of the most challenging that I have experienced, both financially and emotionally. There were far too many issues that had to be dealt with to mention here but suffice to say that it was a very long and arduous life-Camino for me.
Fifteen months on my life has changed again, The Green House is finally open and business is building. I now have my eldest daughter and granddaughter living here with me, the former is helping me with social media and food prep whilst the latter (who is three years old) is bringing me much joy and destroying most of my valuables. As the restrictions ease I am once again meeting new and interesting people, juggling less financial balls, slowly improving my Spanish and sharing the food I love with others.
If you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago, check out my book, A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago. I share everything you need to know before you begin your Camino. Read at A Wild Woman’s Guide To The Camino De Santiago or click the link below.