What is a family? How do people come together? How do unwritten relationships develop?
Do you stick together always? Can you choose to become unglued? How do you find that delicate balance between being together and being separate?
People floated into and out of my circle of Camino family members on an almost daily basis. I would walk with people for days, then lose them for the rest of the trip.
My journal was full of names and incidents which would have been forgotten yet had made it into my journal because of their importance to me at the time. But some names were beginning to appear again and again.
My Camino family was coming together – Andres, Juan Carlos (the boys), myself, and Christina, the bright, friendly college student from Virginia.
The four of us began to run into each other more frequently.
We usually split up at the end of the day since we had already decided where we each wanted to stay, for whatever reason (“This place sounds cool,” ” I heard this place has good breakfast,” ” I need a washing machine,” etc).
Anyway, since we were walking the same basic plan (last one to leave the albergue, frequent stops for coffee and/or beer) we stood a good chance of running into each often.
But how do I explain the fact that, even when there were two or three choices of routes to take, we all seemed to magically pick the same one.
The Camino was pulling us together.
My albergue the night before had been glorious – clean, quiet, bright and spacious. I had seen several familiar faces and I was one of the last to leave in the morning.
On my way out, I asked the hospitalero which route he recommended I follow – there were three options. His answer, short, sweet, logical – “The easy one, of course!”
I took his advice, again an alternative route, which offered some stunning views, avoided traffic, and was not uber-challenging.
The route followed a river valley . The stream running on my left was peaceful and the bird songs were some of the most beautiful I had heard during the Camino. It was as if the Audubon Society played all their recordings at the same time.
After walking through such a Garden of Eden, I was surprised to stumble upon another place where the owners had decided to drop out of the rat race and start a new life on their own terms. Of course, at that hour of the morning, I was like a moth to a flame when I read the sign out front – “Fair Trade Coffee.”
As I drank my coffee and ate breakfast, I enjoyed the peace, the music and the really good food.
I asked the owners how they ended up here and where they got fair-trade coffee.
He was from the Netherlands and enjoyed cooking for people. They had local family who had told them about this spot. They pointed to the truck stop across the stream, next to a highway. They said that most drivers go to the truck stop but they did OK with the pilgrims on this side.
As I was finally leaving the coffee shop, who should come along but the boys, Juan Carlos and Andres.
By this time I had forgiven them for introducing me to “Botillo” the night before, that classic local dish which was mainly a ball of meat parts and which had endured in my stomach long after the sun had gone down.
The marvelous bird songs, great morning coffee, and dazzling blue sky and sunshine had put me in a wonderful mood.
Andres, Juan Carlos, and I walked together the rest of that day. We talked about every topic under the sun. They explained Spanish culture to me – history, language, geography, politics – with generosity of spirit and passion.
I learned they were brothers.
We talked about our families, our careers, our homes. I began to understand their deep love for their country.
When we arrived at our stop for the day, we were crushed to learn that the albergue had only one bed left If I took it, where would the boys go? The small village had only one albergue and there were no pensions in town. Heading up the mountain so late in the day to find a bed in the next town was out of the question.
I did not want to leave them without a place to stay – it had happened inadvertently weeks earlier and I still felt badly. We needed to find a place for three people.
The young hospitalero at the albergue was determined to find a place for us in spite of the fact that he had a full house of pilgrims to look after. He made phone call after phone call on our behalf.
He was finally able to find a local who had some empty rooms we could share, the double for the boys, the single for me. The problem was, the price of the single was twice the price of the double – way over my budget.
Then, the boys decided to split the total cost three ways. It would reduce the cost for me, but would increase the cost for them. But they did it anyway.
The Camino was gracing me with undeserved blessings, this time in the form of a true Camino family.
The rooms were in a four-bedroom house being renovated and we had the house to ourselves. When we went there with the owner, she discovered that the last person to stay in the house had left the double room unmade.
The result was that each of us would get a single.
St. Julian, patron saint of hospitaleros – You Rock!
Heavenly!! Soft, clean sheets, flowers at the windowsill. A huge double bed. A bathroom – with a bathtub!
We went to the only restaurant in town and Juan Carlos was excited to introduce me to the tiny little fish which were now in season. Eat the bones or not eat the bones? It was an ongoing topic of discussion.
Being an adventurous traveler, I ate the bones. This time, the boys’ culinary suggestion was spot on. That meal was one of the memorable ones of the Camino.
After exploring the village on the way back from dinner, we made our way back to the house. They managed to plug the right plug, switch the right switch and, for the first time in weeks, we had television!
They found a classic movie channel and they were appalled to learn that I had no clue as to the stars of the movie, their legendary status in Spanish cinema or their legacies that continue today.
That night, the three of us stayed up late watching Spanish movie musicals. Can you imagine hearing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” for the first time, unaware that it’s a classic? That was me, unaware of this entire aspect of great movie history.
We knew we had a rough day ahead of us but we stayed up late anyway. When we finally retired, and I crashed into bed, I slept like a person who had already climbed a mountain., No traffic, no snoring, no animal sounds – I was out.
La Hija de Juan Simon (1957). Starting out as a traditional flamenco singer, Antonio Molina’s amazing technique and good looks made him a star.