July 2018… We Are Rockin’ & Rollin’

Wow – it has definitely been a while since I have posted. And yes – Geof and I are still the owners of the Quinta Estrada Romana 🙂

Since last year, we have evolved from an owner-operated albergue to a pilgrim/volunteer community who are now bringing a fresh inclusive feel to our camino offering.

In our 5th season, we have …

Martine Blansjaar from the Netherlands – an INCREDIBLE BAKER;

Giuseppe Adelmar Carvelli from Italy – an AMAZING ITALIAN (VEGETARIAN) CHEF;

and Dries Nuitten from Belgium – a FABULOUS JUICE BAR BARISTO.

We have added a number of new features this year including our fresh fruit smoothie bar, a succulent and fresh summer menu and our Glastonbury tent project.

Stay tuned for more posts about how July 2018 unfolds. If you can’t join us in person – then follow us here or on Facebook – Quinta Estrada Romana !



A Crazy Wonderful Night

The beauty of the Quinta Estrada Romana is what called Geof and I into her space back in 2010. It is her very unique and powerful energy that draws all who walk down into our courtyard to decide to step off for a coffee, a sandwich, a beer, a glass (or bottle) of wine or the best ever overnight experience. There is something about her “atmosphere” that beacons those who pass by. Last night, she called out to 9 wonderful pilgrims from Germany, Canada and Italy. Around our homestyle dining room table, native language was transcended by our collective camino experience,  We all become one family for one night enjoying stories, hopes and dreams.

We Are Here!!!!

April 1 2017! It is hard to imagine where the time has flown since the end of Season 2016 and the beginning of this new year of incredible pilgrimage. Well for Geof, Jose and the many walkers who have already had coffee, lunch, dinner and peaceful sleep since January – it is hardly the beginning. Our doors remained open over the winter months to support walkers through the more challenging winter months. But before we turn to what is coming in this, our fourth season – let’s take a look back over some of the moments we shared during Season 2016! We had over 1500 pilgrims dine, sleep and breakfast with us and well over 4000 sit with us during the day for coffee, lunch, snacks and of course…beer and wine. All of this was made possible by the incredible Jessica, along with our ever crazy Lucas! It is thanks to them that we had the best season EVER!

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A Slice of Youth Perspective

Patio Dialogue
Patio Dialogue

The pitch of youthful voices is one of the enduring sounds of the Camino. Sharing in hundreds of these conversations has been both a privilege and an eye opener. The very nature of these dialogues not only gifted me with the views of these spirited pilgrims; but also provided me with a mirror of my own perspectives. As the weeks progressed, I began to realize that I had unconsciously programmed my thinking with media-driven, stereotypical messages in terms of how our youth of today are embracing the world’s pressurized environment. As the season came to an end, it became clear that the views expressed by this coming of age generation run counter to the main stream media reports of their dismal future outlook, their restricted aspirations due to destabilized economics, and their resulting apathy associated with elections and conventional politics.


Early on I came to understand that the young people with whom we were conversing did not respond, nor express their views of what the future would hold in terms of “good” or “bad”; “positive” or “negative”; “optimistic” or “pessimistic”. Rather than falling into the fixed polarized lenses held by previous generations, these young people preferred to define and convey their future in terms of its “reality”. Even in the context of a projected poor economy, low youth employment, and the disintegrating environment, their perspective did not fall prey to the type of schism that causes people to distort their thinking and decision making with judgmental filters. They were decidedly indifferent to the debate of good or bad; better or worse. Rather, their focus was on finding out what they needed to do to pursue the lifestyle that would be the most realistic in these unpredictable times.


Our young pilgrims described their respective realities with clarity and a type of mindfulness that illustrated their desire to take it on – whatever that would mean. There were few statements that conveyed victim-like behaviour – i.e. the “disenfranchised” and “unfortunate” circumstances that they had inherited, but rather a straightforward commentary of the options that were in front of them and the decisions that they would need to make. They appeared to “own” the life that appealed to their beliefs and was visible within their grasp.



Many of our walkers were students, some on their gap year, while others were traveling between terms.There were those who were either employed, or seeking employment upon their return. A significant number were living in, or moving to countries other than their homeland. And, as with the nature of the Camino, a small percentage was simply walking – with no particular destination or future plan in mind.

We were immediately intrigued by the mobility of this group. We experienced a freedom in their attitude and plans for the future that did not restrict them to a particular location or established expectations. Even those who were in graduate and post-graduate programs, including the most often identified fields of medicine, advanced communications technology, agriculture, architecture, and social (international) development spoke of alternative avenues that were available to them should their primary choice not sustain their interest. National boundaries, language and already acquired experience did not appear to restrict their views of what the world could hold for them.


They were neither naĂŻve, nor arrogant. They simply believed that they could carve out a life that met their needs amidst the realities of this world.

Of course, politics was a subject that presented a wide range of alternative perspectives. One wouldn’t expect anything less with the captivating mixture of eastern, western, northern and southern worldviews. Such impassioned dialogue would momentarily pivot on global affairs and the governmental giants – moving more often than not to the area of influence where these young people felt they had real impact – to their communities of interest – geographic, professional, or interest based.


Without question, we experienced a generation who are committed to civic responsibility; not in the traditional sense of political parties or voting, but in the role each of them want to play in making a difference for their current and future families. For some, their voices are heard through demonstrations and petitions. For others, their commitment to sustainable living is evident in the cooperative communities in which they live and work. The universal appeal; however, appears to be one of civic collaboration, working towards a more tolerant, sustainable and fair society.

I certainly do not want to leave you with a Pollyanna taste in your mouth. You may be thinking that I was wearing rose coloured glasses throughout the past several months. Of course, there were many views stated that have not been represented in this blog. There were significant fears and vulnerabilities expressed, as well as momentary anger and anxiety. They were however, the tip of the iceberg – the stepping-stones into a deeper pool of thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Below this surface, it seemed that reality, freedom, ownership and civic responsibility prevailed.

Stay tuned to our next blog “A Pictorial Essay of Wellington Boot”. It is sure to be a hum dinger as we explore the life and times of the Camino’s Canine Hospitalier.




The Unspoken Code of the Camino

IMG_1669 IMG_1847 The very nature of an “unspoken” code is that it defies definition. When Geof and I walked our various Caminos, we experienced first hand the deeply -rooted ethics of trust, honesty and respect. We unconsciously came to realize that walking through unfamiliar terrain, bedding down with strangers, and finding ourselves in countless moments of raw bewilderment were only possible when the inner journeying was made safe by the outer experience. As the mysteries of the Camino unfolded before us, we became aware that we were safeguarded by the implicit principles that no one explicitly states; yet everyone lives by on the way.

Our exposure, however, until this spring, was limited to our fellow journeyers who shared with us the common sense of timing, route, weather, and direction on each of our respective Caminos. As we began our first season as hospitaliers, Geof and I wondered if and how this silent code would be evident through months of Camino experiences and well over a thousand visiting pilgrims.

With 18 beds and café /patio seating for 30, we would be considered a medium size Albergue. Our aspiration from the very beginning was to be a “home away from home” for our guests. This was the reason why we built pilgrim-friendly sleeping quarters, bathrooms and an intimate café with a “home-cook” feel. But most of all, we were committed to hosting with love – love of the Camino and the people who take it on.

shoes They say that respect begins at home – and in our case, it did indeed. Throughout the past six months, our Albergue has been universally treated as a well respected home. Without direction, nor instruction, boots were routinely left at the Albergue door, beds were made, help given in food preparation and dish washing, and not an item broken – okay a couple of wine glasses but that was it! The atmosphere was one of friendship, excitement, and gratitude. Everyone was welcome – not because of any marketing strategy; but because we deeply believed it to be a privilege that people would choose to stop at our Quinta on his or her way to and from Santiago. We never doubted that we were the ones blessed to share our home and our story.

IMG_1676We discovered that this particular belief enabled Geof and I to transcend language barriers. Our inability to speak Portuguese and Spanish was in the vast majority of cases, an opportunity to use common human gestures as a means to communicate needs and offerings. (Of course, our main gal Jessica, who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English and French, was there to rescue us if we appeared completely bewildered.) As I became increasingly comfortable with my role as host, I found my French coming back to me from my childhood in Quebec, Canada. As I transcended my fear of appearing stupid, my memory opened up like a floodgate.

But regardless of the spoken word, we found that the universal language of the Camino seeks to connect – regardless of language. As most pilgrims will tell you, the implicit code of the Camino overcomes superficial linguistic challenges. The human desire to bond and belong has its own heart-felt language that overrides nationality, cultural differences and dialect. Such was the case when laughter and appreciation were often the outcome of Geof’s multi-linguistic attempts – stringing together French, Spanish, Portuguese and English words (with an accent) in sentences that were completely unrecognizable to anyone. The message was simple – he just wanted to engage. His heart was louder that his voice. And he was understood!

We serioIMG_1911usly put the code to the test when we decided to operate solely on donations for everything – from a coffee to our nightly accommodation. While the details of this will be the subject matter of an upcoming blog, we can say that we were most often stunned by the generosity that showed up in our Donation Box. We came to learn that there was a significant correlation between the time we were able to spend with individuals and the nature of their contribution. It seemed the more our walkers came to know us and the underlying reasons why we had chosen to significantly change our lives, the more we sparked their fearlessness and willingness to reflect on their own dreams. Their recognition of the Camino’s code in action, as evidenced by the spirit of this phoenix farmhouse (from a barn to a home for hundreds) showed up in our Donation Box.

Lively conversation would easily arise around our tables, inside and out, as soon as a new pilgrim inhabited a chair. Common ground was unanimously sought across national boundaries, cultures, ideologies, generations, gender, and beliefs as a means to further the shared experience of the Camino community.   We never experienced an outburst of anger nor any conflict, even as intense dialogues mined the depths of people’s emotions, motivations, and experiences – personal, professional, political, economic and social.

IMG_1792No lockers or safes were provided in our hostel, yet not a worry was expressed as up to 22 people a night shared their living arrangements. Backpacks with all of one’s immediate worldly possessions were left untended throughout the Albergue. Our fridge filled with beer, wine, drinks, and food was made openly available to pilgrims with the request to use the “honour” system of placing their respective donations in the Donation Box. This box sat on the serving buffet, unguarded so as to be openly available for giving. Since part of our offering was to wash our walkers’ clothes, our drying lines were continually full of clothes hanging in and outside of the Albergue. These lines included everything from the very best in walking gear to the most basic in pilgrim attire. Every morning, our Camino trekkers removed their clothes from the line and packed up – never once missing an item.

Over tIMG_0936his season, we began to understand why all of this was possible. It is the underlying principle that underscores the unspoken code – the Camino is an inherently safe place- made safe by the thousands who walk it every day across Portugal, France and Spain. They make it so with their resolute commitment to walk in trust, honesty and respect. These living values are the very ingredients that sponsor one’s ability to travel internally while transporting oneself through external landscapes. Such a powerful ethos releases the fear that undermines one’s ability to find inner wisdom. It triggers one’s deepest hopes to surface. This way of life unfolds without any explicit media or mention. There are no posters, billboards, pamphlets, orientation programs or education seminars used to instil these values – simply an unspoken and inherently created safe, deeply human environment.

So what, you might ask? For me, these realizations have led me to question some of the most perceptively successful practices I routinely performed over the past thirty years as a management consultant. Organizations have spent billions of dollars hashing out and inculcating vision, mission and values statements. During the latter stages of my career, I began to question the validity of such significant investments in money, time, and most importantly human emotion. I have come to think that such grand gestures are the misguided fabrication of leaders who are unable to create and sustain safe environments.

infinity in sandThe concept of safe havens goes well beyond organizations. Truly safe neighbourhoods, which are not policed to be so, are even more important to our well-being. And where does such a notion sit inside our family lives? How do we enable our members to intrinsically experience such a deep sense of security that they are able to function without fear? How do they sustain unconditional safety and the unspoken code of trust, honesty and respect evident in the symbol of eternity in which each creates the other?

Only then can this natural, yet magical energetic power empower people to garner the courage to undertake what they once thought to be impossible? Isn’t that the quest of our new world order – to find solutions to what have become crippling social and economic issues?

These are the very topics that found themselves central to the dialogue around our dining room table over the past several months. Yes, indeed, it has been an incredible season. The experience has been both humbling and inspiring.

We did not go into this adventure with any explicit expectation of witnessing such enlightened behaviour, nor such deep investigations into the world around us. But on the other hand – I doubt we would have set off on this journey if we hadn’t believed it to be so.

Please stay tuned to future blogs on subjects such as “The Quest of Youth Walking”; “The Economy of the Camino”, “Our Wishing Tree”, “The Tales of Wellington Boot”, and “The Elixir of Love on the Camino”.



The Camino As a “Still Life” Portrait of Our Evolving World

Our first "walk on" in 2010.
Our first “walk on” in 2010.

As you already know, Geof and I left Canada four years ago to walk the Camino Portuguese. We had no intention of undertaking anything other than a very long walk – 880 km. We returned to Portugal three months after our arrival back in Canada to respond to a life changing “call” that had presented no other option than to respond. We did so by returning to Canada in possession of a Portuguese ruin, an abandoned 11 acre farm and a vision.

It took over three years to clear the land and transition the ruin to a robust 16 bed Albergue and Cafe on the Camino de Santiago – 11 km south of Tui Spain – the 100 km mark to Santiago. While I donned an apron for the first time in my life, Geof became the master of the omelette. Jessica cooked up a storm every night and in the morning we changed beds, cleaned bathrooms and readied bunk rooms for the next night. Throughout the day, we made coffee, served lunch, hand drew Camino stamps, refreshed weary pilgrims with a wide assortment of drinks and conversed with as many as we could. To everyone who entered, we were simply the Canadian hospitaliers, (along with the intrepid Wellington Boot) who had experienced the good fortune of realizing a dream.

With that said, I have spent my life as an anthropologist, studying and practicing the art and science of evolutionary culture in an ever-changing world. Geof had been a renowned international TV journalist and producer.  We had spent our lives witnessing and commenting on human behaviour as it unfolded in front of us amidst revolutionary dynamics and waning systems. We had not dedicated our lives to these careers to simply abandon them when the call of the Camino came. We knew that we had discovered the most brilliant place to silently and unobtrusively observe the canvas of human dynamics that walked into our lives every day. It was too good an opportunity to deny.

For this reason, we are dedicating the next several blogs to the prevalent observations we have made, in this, our first season.

We welcome your comments and feedback so as to ignite a deeper and wider conversation of the world as we know it.



What A Season It Has Been!

Well here we are, 5 1/2 months since our soft launch opening and what an incredible time we have had! We have hosted over 630 pilgrims overnight, 1,000 for coffee and lunch stops and have personally drawn more than 2000 stamps in peregrino credentials. The countries represented around our evening dining room table have included Germany, Poland, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, England, Latvia, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Switzerland, France, Philippines, Czech Republic, Holland, Canada, USA, Brazil, Chile, Denmark, Venezuela, Norway, Lithuania, Austria, Belgium, Taiwan, and of course, Spain and Portugal. The spirit of the Camino has deeply affected us through the sharing of thousands of conversations as to the nature of the  pilgrim experience, the motivation for the walk, the friendships that have emerged, and the awakenings that are emerging. The age range has been between 7 years of age and 87!

Word of mouth in regards to the Quinta Estrada Romana – our official name that means “Farm on the Roman Way”, has traveled up and down the Portuguese and French Caminos, bringing to us many walkers who had heard of “The Canadians”. We have come to truly realize the nature of community that exists throughout these paths.

We have learned a great deal – which we will share in upcoming blogs. Stay tuned!IMG_1807 IMG_1758






Creating the Indoor Spaces for Our Walkers

The Albergue Reception & Cafe
The Albergue Reception & Cafe
Geof's Creation
Geof’s Spiral Creation

It has been a truly intriguing experience to watch as our vision for the farmhouse’s spaces came alive. The first floor revealed her new identity  the moment we laid the Gaudi floors. Antoni GaudĂ­ (1852–1926) was a Spanish Catalan architect from Reus. Many buildings throughout the Barcelona area are a testament to his exceptional and outstanding creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The moment we saw these tiles, we knew that they had to become part of the Albergue experience.

Then came the circular staircase, designed by Geof and hand made by a local steel man. The wood on the treads are Acacia, also cut and crafted by Geof. It was a happy day when we were able to walk up the stairs to the second floor without having to go back and around outside!

You can see the seating that we have purchased from a Dutch furniture company  – all solid pieces that once placed will not move. At this point we have seating for 16 in the cafe. The commercial kitchen will be placed at the top of the picture  – gas stove, deli counter, panini refrigerator station and of course – a European coffee machine. We will be offering our overnight walkers a hot meal and breakfast, and will be serving sandwiches, soups, snacks, pastries, coffee, cold drinks, wine and beer throughout the day.

Our Wood Burning Stove
Our Wood Burning Stove

We have just welcomed our wood burning stove into the fold. Her job will be to keep the main floor warm as well as function as a hot surface for soup, water, and warm dishes. Her oven will be a great back-up for when our hot services are in demand. A computer station will be set up in the corner near the stove for those who wish to make contact with the outside world.

First Floor Washroom – Getting Ready

There are two red & white washrooms with showers off to the right of the cafe, and a utility room, that runs the length of the kitchen, for our back-up refrigerator, washing machine and storage.


The multipurpose room has been designed to play a number of roles such as overflow dining and sleeping. It also will function as a community gathering room as well as a silent space for meditation and yoga. Our walkers will tell us what purpose it will best serve – and we will oblige!

Blue Multipurpose Room
Blue Multipurpose Room


Our Ocher Women’s Bathroom

The second floor has two full bathrooms and showers for men and women. We have been committed to using local materials. Our bathroom steel work was crafted by our neighbour and all of the tiles, granite and porcelain are from our local area.

Our Blue Men's Washroom
Our Blue Men’s Bathroom

I can’t wait until I experience the walls ringing with the voices of pilgrims on their journey.


Welcome To Our Sleeping Quarters

Private Accommodation
Private Pension Room

It has been far too long since I last wrote. To be truthful, I was waiting for the magical moment when everything was completely finished and I could show you the prize. But this is Portugal and as one jigsaw piece gets placed, another pops out. And that has been our story for the past 2.5 years. All that said, we are opening this April YEAH!!! The walkers are starting to come in decent numbers and many stop to ask if we are open. Yes – we are that close. So I am going to show you the rooms that are getting their final touches for you to grace when you arrive and experience this venture. The real story is about to begin…as those doors open!

The Lofts
The Lofts

This post is dedicated to the sleeping quarters, which are housed on the second and third floors. We have beds for 18, plus an overflow capacity. The Pension Room has its own entrance, private bathroom with a shower and a wood burning stove.

A Quiet Place for 6.
A Quiet Place For 6


The lofts have individual beds  – 6 on one side and 4 on the other. A spiral staircase from the sleeping floor takes the walkers up to their accommodation and a steel bridge allows movement between the 2 loft areas.

The 6 bed bunk room has been designed so that no one is facing any other walker while sleeping. Each bunk is equipped with its own light and electric socket for charging technology. This room has its own wood burning stove for those cold rainy nights that no one thinks about in May through to September. But one thing Geof and I learned on our walks, is that there is nothing like being warm when the sun goes down from October through to April.

Bunk Room With Wood Buring stove
Another Angle With Stove


Saude (Cheers)!

On OcJuicy Grapestober 1st our Quinta Estrada Romano celebrated her first vine harvest! After months of tender loving care, our vineyard produced 250 litres of Vino Tinto. This milestone; however, has been years in the making. It all began late fall 2012, when Geof took his shears and aggressively cut back the tired old vines that had been left untended for over a decade.  He went back in the spring of this year and pruned once again.  Then came the tedious job of spraying for fungus.


The year before (2012), Geof had attempted to revive the vineyard by spraying the vines using a heavy gear backpack that he had to manually pump to get the spray on the vines. This was no easy feat given that our vineyard wraps around the exterior boundary of our 11-acre farm! This April, I caught Geof ogling a spray unit on wheels at our local Agricola store. He was so enthralled that he asked one of the fellows manning the shop to give him a demonstration. This took over an hour. Why? Because no one could get the engine to start. After countless yanks on the crankshaft, the engine refused to turn over. Finally, after basically taking the engine apart, we had water spraying all over the warehouse, like an uncapped fire hydrant. We thanked the fatigued sales staff for the demo and left convinced that we needed a different option.


Our next stop was our local Husqvarna store. Sitting on the sidewalk was yet another spay unit. This time the demo went like a charm. Within 15 minutes our new mobile spray unit was tucked neatly into the back of Snowy. We thought we had it made in the shade, particularly since this slightly larger engine was less expensive than our previous demo. Little did we know – Geof would need to lug a very heavy cart, loaded with liquid fungus fighter, around the rough terrain of our farm’s circumference! He would repeat this laborious process two more times over the summer.

But, man was it worth it. We watched in glee as our liwine distilleryttle tiny grapes swelled into beautiful clusters of grapes under the summer heat. It was then a waiting game as we let nature take its course. By the time Geof returned to the farm in September, after 5 weeks in Canada, they were ready for harvest. Indeed, it was a family affair as Manual and his family helped Geof pluck the grapes from their vines. (We have been living in Manual and Liberia’s cottage for the past two years.) Since our adega remains hidden behind our albergue’s dining room wall, Manual (seen in this pic) offered up his wine cellar. Before our very eyes, our harvest turned from a heap of grapes into a flurry of red wine oozing out of our new 250 litre fermenter.


wine distillery2Of course, Geof couldn’t wait for time to take its course. Manual filtered a bottle’s worth of juicy vino tinto and handed it to Geof. This taste test literally rocked Geof’s socks off. Willing to wait for the next bottle, Geof and Manual locked away the fruits of their labour, allowing the fermenter to do its job.


But do not fear, you will be greeted with a glass of Quinta Estrada Romano Vino Tinto when you arrive at the Beautiful Boot next spring.

A World of Connection

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