(Adapted as a travel article from my forthcoming book, “Su Camino…”)
ALBERGUES on the Camino de Santiago are a ubiquitous lot, many in every village, town and city—from the diminutive to the grand. Whether conversions from ancient pilgrim hospitals or modern, utilitarian edifices, they beckon at day’s
end. Trailside or a short few meters out of the way, shelter from summer sun and winter cold—so very little more, but all one needs.
An albergue (pronounced al-bear-gay), or hostel in English, is the Camino pilgrim’s nightly savior, providing shelter, usually nourishment in the name of the Pilgrim’s Menu, a place to rest weary bones and worn out feet. The evening meal a hearty meat dish and a salad, or pasta, sausage and honey and curds dessert, or an abundant vegetarian fare. With a blessing of the meal, or not. The pilgrim, thru-hiker or spiritual-adventurer proselytized to, or barely even acknowledged. Though one common factor wherever you stay: other, more or less like-minded walkers of the path to share with in conversation and perhaps a glass or two of vino.
The Camino follows a country road to Murias de Rechivaldo where it wanders through this small village nestled among wheat fields and the path becomes gravel once more. As we staggered through the hot late afternoon of Rechivaldo, my travel partner asked how much further to our planned stop for the night. We had come to the edge of town and could see before us the path heading off into the hot dry distance. She looked to the right and said, “If that hostel has a washing machine, we’re staying.” I thought of the alternative and said, “Fine by me.” As our mumblings came to an end, we heard a voice from the albergue’s entryway, beckoning us in from the summer heat. A siren’s voice. We asked if they had a washing machine. Indeed they did. Did they have available rooms? Of course. The matter was settled, Albergue Las Aguedas it was. Too, we asked if they also provided a pilgrim’s menu. And continuing the theme of perfection, yes, they did, however it was vegetarian fare. Fine by us.
This particular albergue serves a wonderful family style meal; Priscilla the proprietress is head cook (and siren). However, the best part of the evening was the group at the table: Three young women from Germany; a wonderful young couple, she from Germany and he originally from Slovakia; a woman from Austria; a gentleman, Eddy, and then ourselves. Eddy at 69 years young had walked 2,200 kilometers from his home in London, England. He said, “I just walked out the front door and headed for Santiago.”
Eddy happily tells on himself. He walks fast but not for many hours. He drinks too much of the evening, loving wine, smokes, gets up in the morning “a bit hung-over”, drinks too much coffee and starts it all again. By the time we all met him there in Rechivaldo, he had been on the Camino 105 days. Eddy had an infectious sense-of-humor and before long we were all laughing at him hysterically. I couldn’t decide what was funniest, Eddy, the young German girls laughing so hard (at him), or my friend laughing at them.
While we all waited at the table for dinner to begin, Eddy started asking everyone where they were from and commenting about what he knew of or people he had met from their, our countries. He would say he had, “…never met anyone from Slovakia”, and asked rhetorically why that was, then talked about the brash nature in which Germans communicate, and for balance talked about how the English are known to be pompous. The overriding perspective I gained from our encounter, and quoting Eddy, came in one of his more philosophical moments during our dinner, “We must resist our temptation to judge others. Everyone has a history, a story, and we have no idea what they have been through, what brings them here.” This came about during our conversations when my travel partner said something about how we do not know why someone, or some culture, was thought of in a certain way. Eddy leapt on that notion and gave us this great little lecture.
Great fun and why I love traveling “the hostel method”. You always meet interesting people. Later, I sat with Eddy in the courtyard. So much love of life and great perspectives. I could have talked with him all night.