Guitarist couple Malazo and de Vera on a jamming stop.
Culture Music

This Pinoy couple had a most meaningful Camino pilgrimage, thanks to their guitars

Jeff Malazo and Jenny de Vera’s guitars have taken them to different parts of the world, so they decided to return the favor. "They thought we were crazy— not for bringing one guitar but two!"
Dahl Bennett | Jul 21 2019

When guitarists and husband and wife Jeff Malazo and Jenny de Vera decided to bring their guitars with them on their month-long pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in Spain, it changed the rhythm of their journey. "Our guitars have taken us to so many places already,” recalls Jenny. “This time, we took the guitars with us.”

 

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Jenny and Jeff are classical guitarists who have performed in the UK, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, and all over the Philippines. They performed together for the first time in 2011, playing Beethoven's “Waldstein” for two guitars. Eventually, they created the all-female guitar ensemble Triple Fret which had won awards internationally. It was when they posted a video of them playing a cover of “Diablo Rojo” by Rodrigo Y Gabriela on their wedding day that they got the attention for the music they do. They have since joined Pilipinas Got Talent Season 6 and got invited to perform here and abroad. Currently, they teach guitar at Miriam College's Music Center.

The couple found their way to the Camino in May this year.

Jenny and Jeff playing for pilgrims at an albergue.

"To do the Camino, one must dedicate 30 to 40 days for the journey, and that's too long for us without playing the guitar...We considered bringing ukuleles and guitaleles or baby guitars and thought about how we will attach them to our packs," says Jenny.

In the end, they each brought the 'bigger' classical guitars which they found themselves playing as early as while waiting for their train in Bayonne—the train that will take them to the starting point of their walk.

 

Bring only 10 percent of your weight

The Camino de Santiago is composed of a network of well-trodden pilgrimage routes, used as early as the Middle Ages by Christians seeking plenary indulgence—an act or punishment one goes through to reduce one’s sins and avoid purgatory. Jenny and Jeff decided to take the 800-km Camino Frances (The French Way) route, which starts at St. Jean Pied de Port in the South of France. The trail mostly covers the interiors of Spain—Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, Léon, Ponferrada—and ends in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the tomb of St. James is housed. "Since [Camino Frances] is the most popular, it's probably the most convenient because it has the best road markings...but according to statistics, of all the pilgrims who start from St. Jean Pied de Port, only a quarter actually make it to Santiago de Compostela," Jenny recalls.

The meseta, the vast flat and open plains of Central Spain. The early mornings can be quite cold with strong winds, quite hot as the sun goes up. There is no shade whatsoever and rest stops are few.

When walking the Camino, the rule is to pack only 10 percent of one’s body weight—but their guitars each added 2.5 kilograms to their packs which already weighed between 8 to 11 kilos. "Every time we take a step, we always ask ourselves if it's worth bringing the extra 2.5 kgs in our packs. There is always that inner dialogue. In the end, we are happy we brought it," she adds.

Their daily Camino routine consisted of waking up at 5 in the morning, packing, and then setting out at 6 am. Jenny and Jeff walked an average of 30 kilometers a day. On some days, they pushed as far as their 40 kilometer limit—rain, shine or blister.

Jeff and Jenny walking the Camino flanked with red poppies.

"Most of the pilgrims thought we just brought our guitars with us and have our packs taken by transport service,” says Jenny.  For 5 euros, one can have one’s packs taken to the town where one plans to stay the night, “so you can just walk with your daypack. Then, they take a closer look and realize we actually have our packs with us. They thought we were crazy— not for bringing one guitar but two!" narrates Jenny. When the pilgrims' curiosity had settled, they took pictures of Jenny and Jeff, guitar necks sticking out behind their heads.

As soon as they arrive at an albergue, the couple buys groceries to cook for dinner first because most stores close during siesta time at 2pm and reopens only at 5pm. Then they take a shower, change to clean clothes, wash the dirty ones, hang them to dry, then cook dinner and wash the dishes. Only after do they get the time to play their guitar or roam around the town. "Before we go to bed at 9pm, the clothes are already dry. We fold and pack. We sleep, wake up at 5am to repack our bags and sometimes tend to blisters by covering them with band aid, gauze and tape, hydrocolloid gel plasters (whichever works) before putting on shoes," details Jenny. "Then we start walking again at 6am."

At the end of their daily walk, the guitarists would look for an albergue or hostel to spend the evening. There, they showered, did their laundry, cooked occasionally, and ate. And only when it was time to hang their clothes to dry did they finally manage to pull out their guitars from its cases. "We brought our guitars for ourselves," says Jenny. "The guitar is both a blessing and a burden. It's a burden especially if you don't take it out of the case...After a hard day, when you realize there's time for it, it's the best feeling ever. We play because we want to. Unlike in the Philippines, it’s work for us. In the Camino, you are so connected to your inner self."

 

Blood sausages and cerveza

On the road, when the sound of Jenny and Jeff's strumming found its way to a weary pilgrims' earshot, the pull is almost inevitable. "We usually find a spot to practice, a spot without people. We don't want to attract attention so much. We are both shy," Jenny confesses. “But then there are people who [would hear us play] and come to check where the music is coming from. Then they [would] gather around." Jenny and Jeff's playing often concluded with heartfelt applause from the pilgrims and, on occasion, a free cerveza and blood sausage from the hospitalero, the hostel owner. 

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The music they played depended on what they already know by heart or what is accessible on their phones. And lucky were the pilgrims who happened to be nearby. One time, while playing Stanley Myer's “Cavatina for two Guitars” by the 13th century Passo Honroso (Honorable Crossing) in Hospital de Orbigo, they didn't know they had company. It was only at the end of their piece that they heard clapping coming from atop the bridge.

"Usually, slow songs are good to play on the Camino because all of us are so emotional there. But we also play our usuals like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to change the mood. The pilgrims sing along," recalls Jenny.

 

Robbed at a stop in Grañon

One of the most profound moments for the couple was being among tired pilgrims who were robbed at a stop in Grañon. The unfortunate incident cost the victims their phones and a total of 2,000 euros. One of the victims was Jenny’s uncle, who was with them on the trail, a second timer at the Camino. In this situation, the couple just felt a natural urge to play. "We play for ourselves and for the pilgrims who need it. Those with aching bodies and souls. Almost always, they cry and hug us after and thank us for the music," offers Jenny. 

Jeff trying out a Conde Hermanos guitar at the Albergue Parrochial San Juan Bautista in Grañon where the couple stayed for a night. "Music is just so powerful here in the Camino. Tears were flowing out of the hospitalera's eyes."

Jenny and Jeff completed their pilgrimage on June 24, this year, exactly a month since they left St. Jean Pied de Port. "There are so many things that the Camino will teach you," Jenny says. "Planning the distance and the days for walking the Camino didn't work for us. So in life, like the Camino, we are going to take it one day at a time.” The Camino taught them to listen to their bodies. “Rest if we feel exhausted. Push ourselves only when we can. Honor our pace but keep on going.” 

There’s more. “Choose to be happy even in discomfort. Live with less. And yes, that music is powerful," Jenny declares.

Jeff found a stick at the Pyrenees on the morning of Day 1. He improvised with pieces of wood, rubber bands, ropes and a stick of metal, all of them he found along the way. We left the stick on Day 33 at the sunset in Finisterre.

They committed to do one final leg after getting their pilgrimage certificates—travel to Finisterre, also known as the End of the World. This is the point where most pilgrims of the Camino say their final goodbyes to the road, the journey, and the friends made along the way. "You are happy because you did it and because your Camino friends did it as well,” says Jenny. “It felt strange because there were a lot of people whom you do not recognize and who came from other routes. You knew that will be the last day of walking and then you realize the pilgrimage's true meaning—that it was really the journey that mattered and not the destination.”

Once they reached the cape, Jenny and Jeff ended the same way they began, with their fingers on their guitar strings, plucking away—this time to a song about death and the end: Egberto Gismonti's “Agua e Vinho.” And your heart no longer feared the flames of hell / And the endless darkness. / Love should come.

 

All photos and videos provided by Jenny and Jeff.