The walk to Melide was easy and uneventful.
As I neared the city, I was surprised and amused to see that the tall apartment houses I had seen from the distance were surrounded by meadows where sheep, goats and horses grazed. I imagined it would be nice to look out your apartment window and see a flock of sheep where a parking lot would otherwise be.
I knew that Christina was somewhere behind me and would probably need a place to stay. We hadn’t talked about it when we had separated but I assumed she would stay in the municipal albergue, which was where I was headed.
I found the albergue on the other side of town – a large, modern building, very clean and well-kept. It was spacious, could hold more than 150 pilgrims without feeling too crowded, and only cost €6 per night. I had to wait a bit before the hospitalera arrived, although some pilgrims had already checked in.
I liked the municipal albergues, called “Xunta” in Galicia. The only drawback was that the ones I’d stayed in had beautiful, modern and spacious kitchens with no pots, pans, or cooking and eating utensils. I never saw anyone use the kitchens, not even to boil water.
I suppose that is why they were so sparkling clean.
The day before, I had asked the hospitalera why there were no pots and pans in the Xunta kitchens. She suggested that the “less prayerful” hospitaleros walked off with the equipment so often that the municipales stopped replacing them.
Times are tough all over.
I signed in at the Xunta, got my receipt (as I had for the other Xuntas), and walked upstairs, meeting pilgrims heading downstairs for the showers and laundry on the ground floor.
I found a quiet corner by a window facing away from the main street. I put my things on a bottom bunk and put some things on the bed across from me to save a spot for Christina when she arrived.
I showered, washed my clothes and found space to hang them to dry on the short clothesline outside (definitely not enough space for 150 pilgrims to hang their clothes). I decided to take a short nap.
I must have really slept soundly because when I awoke, about an hour later, all the beds around me were taken.
Including the one I had set aside for Christina and not by Christina.
I was sad but not annoyed. Camino etiquette dictates that beds can’t be saved for people who haven’t arrived. This mainly applies in small albergues where beds are limited, but it is the unspoken rule everywhere so I couldn’t be upset at having my things moved off the bed.
But I had messed up more than I realized.
As I rose and prepared to walk around town to find a recommended restaurant for dinner, a young pilgrim approached and began to speak urgently in Spanish.
I couldn’t understand a word he said but I knew he was telling me something very important. We walked into the sitting area and, as he and I struggled to understand each other, the horrible and embarrassing truth began to dawn on me.
[To Be Continued]