"The Camino Helped Me Be Brave," Says Yoon

Meet Yoon Heesang, who runs a restaurant in Santiago de Compostela and is in love with the Camino. "When I do the Camino de Santiago, I get rid of all my nagging thoughts."

By Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
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Of all the pilgrims from Asia who come to Santiago de Compostela, most come from South Korea. Yoon Heesang is South Korean, and he was already working in Spain when he first came across the Camino. "I had heard a bit about the Camino de Santiago, like 'Oh, it's so great, it helps so many folks solve their problems, with meditation, religion, you know …' So, I said I had to go there."

Yoon Heesang and family (2018)Regional Government of Galicia

In Holy Year 2010, Yoon was feeling a bit overwhelmed by his circumstances: the economic crisis was in full swing, he had just got married and become a father, and he had a very demanding job that barely let him spend any time with his family. He carved out a month in his life to walk the French Way (Camino Francés) from Roncesvalles.

Yoon Heesang (2019)Regional Government of Galicia

"My mother said, 'the only thing that matters to you is work,' but in my mind I was working for my family. The Camino de Santiago gave me a chance to reflect and understand her point of view." At first, Yoon started the Camino as an introspective journey, but as the days went by, it became more about sharing conversations and experiences with other pilgrims.

Yoon Heesang on the Way of St. James (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

He was hooked on the Camino. Since then, he has made pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela 11 times following different routes, and always alone. He has plans to do the Camino at least twice more—one via the Silver Way (Vía de la Plata) from Seville.

Yoon Heesang (2018)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
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Yoon's relationship with the Camino is not just about pilgrimage. In 2014, he decided to leave his job, and he and his wife Kim moved to Santiago de Compostela, where they opened a hostel for fellow South Koreans. "When I first did the Camino, I never imagined that I'd come back and set up a business in Galicia. But I can also say that had I not done the Camino de Santiago, I'd never be here today."

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
00:00

Two years later, they converted their hostel into a restaurant called NuMaru. "Many Koreans came to the hostel with their friends who had come from abroad to do the Camino. Italians, Americans, Spanish … they came to my house together, and we wanted to give them Korean food, because in the hostels it's hard to get proper food."

Yoon Heesang (2019)Regional Government of Galicia

"Doing the Camino de Santiago helped me be brave and not fear change." Yoon believes that if he hadn't done the Camino, he wouldn't have had the courage to quit his job and embark on a new adventure with the hostel. "When I gave up on the hostel to set up the restaurant, I no longer had this fear."

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

His restaurant is very popular in the city, even among the locals. It's small, so it's nearly always full of people. Many Koreans who go there after finishing the Camino can't even get a free table. So, Yoon decided to expand the business and opened another premises that's bigger and closer to the Cathedral of Santiago. He opened the new restaurant in summer 2020.

Yoon Heesang (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
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Yoon says that people always ask him the same thing: why do so many Koreans do the Camino de Santiago? "A famous writer in Korea, Kim Nam-hee, did the Camino de Santiago two years before me, and she published a really good book about her experience. The second reason is religion: in Korea, 35% of people are Christian or Catholic. Young people come to think about what they want to do with their lives. Many universities have Camino de Santiago programs and recommend them to their students. In South Korea, the Camino de Santiago is seen as a positive thing."

Yoon Heesang on the Way of St. James (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

"It's seen as more of an inner journey than tourism," he adds. "Even the agencies themselves present it that way. Before leaving Korea, people already have an idea of what the Camino de Santiago is, though after they've gone through it everyone will have had a different experience."

Yoon Heesang in Fisterra (2018)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
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Speaking about the reasons for doing the Camino, Yoon says that, since 2010, "the people, the Camino, and I have changed. When I did it for the first time, there was a more spiritual motivation behind it. We came together in the hostels, we spoke, we talked about our lives, difficulties, and things like that. Now, people come and do the Camino for different reasons: to look inward, for ecotourism, gastronomy, health … and many don't even know why. They'll say, ‘I heard good things about this place, so I wanted to check it out.'"

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Yoon Heesang, owner of NuMaru restaurant
00:00

Yoon also approaches the Camino differently now, saying "For me, it's like writing a diary. I don't have the time to write every day, but when I do the Camino de Santiago, I get rid of all those nagging thoughts, both past and present."

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