Christina Has a Meltdown – Just One More Day Until Santiago


In my mind’s eye, Dear Reader, I see Christina leaping across the  desk, grabbing the clerk by his t-shirt, and giving him a slight, yet intense, shake, as she says, between gritted teeth:

“I. Need. A Bed. And I Need. One. Now.”

She gives me a look out of the corner of her eye, looks back at the clerk, her eyes narrowing, and adds,”

“No. I Need Two. Two Beds.  PRONTO!”

How had we come to this uncharacteristic turn of events? We would be in Santiago the next day. What was happening???


This crisis had begun earlier in the day. Christina and I had separated during our walk, as usual. We knew we would run into each other later in the day. I was the faster walker and prone to long, leisurely stops for bocadillos and beer,  she was slow and steady.

We were Camino family.

As we got closer to Santiago, there were fewer and fewer beds available. The crush of pilgrims who began their Camino in the city of Sarria was surprising and overwhelming. There were the same number of albergues, but there were more pilgrims to accommodate. Survival belonged to the fittest. And the fastest.

Christina and I were neither.IMGP4520

At lunch time, I had pondered (over my bocadillo and beer) the real possibility that there might not be any beds available for many kilometers. The weather was blisteringly hot and sunny.

Christina came along as I sat there eating and drinking. We considered our options.

I had noticed the warning signs of no room ahead and was thinking about getting a taxi to take us to the nearest available albergue. Christina would have none of it.

She reminded me that catching a ride at this point would betray weeks of  decisions to walk rather that catch cabs, buses, vans, etc., as so many other pilgrims had done.  Walking had made us a family.

She was right. I could not give in this close to the end.

(blubbering like a baby) “I can’t do it, Sarge! I just can’t do it (sniveling). I wasn’t cut out for this (wailing, moaning)!!”

(slap) “Snap out of it,  Private! (slap) You’ll do it ’cause it’s your mission!! (slap, slap) It’s what you came here to do!! Now get back in there!! (slap).”

I snapped out of it.

By hook or by crook, we would continue walking and, somehow, we would find an open albergue for our last night on the Camino.


We set out in the hot midday sun. This was why people got up at 0430 and left before dawn – so that they would not have to walk in the middle of the afternoon.

But, you, know, it just wasn’t our style.

So we walked.

As always, we split, me ahead, her behind.

I walked along highways and villages, beginning to see more and more of the trappings of suburbs and not of abandoned villages. More stores, fewer dogs lying in the sun.

I passed an albergue which looked inviting. There were young people lying on the nicely mowed grass as their clothes dried on the nearby clothes lines. I heard music. There was  gentle conversation and laughter. I think I hallucinated people playing badminton in the backyard while a little white dog got a belly rub.

I approached the door and saw the dreaded sign which filled me with a sadness that I was becoming accustomed to – “Completo.”


I trudged on.


It was later in the day than I had ever been walking. There were few pilgrims on the Camino now. Most had stopped for the day. But I, and I knew Christina, still hadn’t found a place for the night.

I came to a small town with a tourist information booth. It was a small log cabin with a bulletin board outside, brochures, postcards, and a friendly young man getting ready to close for the day.

I asked him if there were any albergues in the area that might have beds available. He didn’t know but there was an albergue a few kilometers down the road. If that one was full, there was another a few kilometers from that.

I began to consider the possibility that I might be spending the night under the stars, in the suburbs of Santiago.

As I looked at maps and brochures, in walked a very exhausted Christina. We were happy to see each other but we looked bedraggled and faced a serious problem.

I told her that there were no albergues in the area and no guarantee that there were any beds available down the road for many kilometers. It was so late in the day, you see, Dear Reader, that most beds were already taken.

This is when Christine had her virtual meltdown.

This is what I saw in my mind’s eye. Nostrils flaring. Eyes widening. I saw Christina’s spirit reach across the counter and grab the innocent tourist information clerk.

What Christina actually did was politely ask if there were any places in the area which might have space.

I heard the tiny twinge of desperation in her voice (she kept her hands to herself).

The clerk must have heard something and seen the “Don’t-you-DARE-give-me-an-answer-I-don’t-want-to-hear” look in her eyes.

Uhm, yes, the clerk replied, there was a hotel up the road.

She looked at me. I had been standing at the other end of the counter, flipping through brochures but mentally weighing my options.

She and I were both on a strict pilgrim budget. We could not afford to spend more than the usual 5 or six euro for beds, especially this close to the end. She had a plane to catch so she had time constraints. I would soon have to pay some to-be-determined dollars for a t0-be-determined way to get home.

We both knew we couldn’t afford to spend a night in a hotel.  And we couldn’t afford to waste time.

And then, Christine pulled a silver bullet out of her wallet.

“My Dad,” She explained to me, “gave me a credit card to use in emergencies. I haven’t used it yet. This is an emergency.”

I explained that I didn’t have enough money to split the cost.

“My Dad won’t mind,” she said.

The tourist office was closing in five minutes.

I said, sure.

She made the transaction, I thanked her, and said a big prayer of gratitude to my Saints. I also added Christina’s Dad to my list of people I say a rosary for.

She headed towards the hotel, and I stayed back to make a reservation for my time in Santiago. Christine and I would arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago the next evening, after dinner and I did not want to wander around without a place to stay,

I left the tourist information booth, having made a reservation in Santiago.  I followed the clerk’s directions to get to the hotel – go up, turn left  at the corner, and it would be less than five minutes away.

I misunderstood.

I walked out of the booth, the clerk locked the door behind me and took off in his car. There were no people in the narrow street, no voices, and no sign that said “Hotel this way, you idiot,” which was what I needed.

I walked to the corner, turned left and went straight ahead to a house with an open door.


It was very quiet.

Too quiet.

I hesitated at the door.

“Hello??” I called from outside the doorway.

There was a bucket just inside the door with some cleaning tools, as if someone was in the middle of washing the floor and had left the door open.

This didn’t feel like a hotel. It felt like someone’s home.

“Hello? Christine?” I called again, still not entering the building. These were the directions, but this didn’t seem like a hotel. And Christine had only been about ten minutes ahead of me. Surely she would be on the lookout for me. I heard conversation in a back room.

Should I walk in? What kind of low-key hotel is this?

I slowly realized that this wasn’t a hotel but someone’s house, someone who probably did not speak English. Sweaty, smelly, dusty, with hat and sunglasses, I stood a very good chance of scaring the crap out of a family watching t.v. and eating dinner.

Imagine as I walk in, drop my backpack and say, in my faltering Spanish, “Hola! The gentleman said you have a room for me and my friend??” Imagine as their forks fall from their hands, mid-bite, dropping paella all over the just washed tile floor.

I decided to quietly back away from the door and look around town a little more.

I went back to the main road, went up a few more blocks and found the hotel. I went to the reception desk (real hotels have one) and told them my friend had just come in. They directed me to the room and there was Christina, stuff already spread out around the room.


Within minutes it looked like our backpacks had exploded. Stuff was everywhere, airing out. Girls gone wild. We each crashed on our very own twin beds. No sleeping bags tonight!! Nice clean sheets, soft mattresses, and a bathroom we only needed to share with one other person. We didn’t even worry about leaving our stuff out while we each took turns in the shower.


After washing clothes in the sink (yes, we still had to do that), we headed down to the bar.

We were handed a drink menu. It had been many weeks since I had seen one of those.

The day called for one particular drink.

Not beer.

Not wine.

The perfect drink for this most interesting day?

An icy gin and tonic.








As I Fall Asleep

IMGP4500I hear the gentle snoring of people falling asleep.

I hear grown men in bunk beds laughing uncontrollably like school boys at summer camp, one softly saying a word that sends the others into giggling fits. Then the other whispers something that leads to even stronger bed-shaking hilarity. On and on. I know tears flood their eyes – they are hysterical yet trying soooo hard not to wake anyone  up.

I hear the creaking of  upper bunk beds and mentally assess how new the beds are and the weight of my own upper bunkmate.

I hear women snoring. Yes, it happens.

I hear sleeping bag zippers being zipped slowly to not disturb people. Unfortunately, like undoing velcro, it can’t be done silently.

I recall the sound and sight of a group of gray-haired, slow-moving grandmothers laughing uproariously like teenagers, in the showers at the end of the day.

I smell the sickly sweet odor of that God-awful ointment that someone is rubbing on their feet and calves. Do they know how horrible it smells? I will never get that “fragrance” out of my brain.

I smell the body odor of those who don’t wash themselves and/or their clothes.

I hear the soft pad of bare feet on the tile floor as people head into bed after lights out.

I hear the loud clunk of something accidentally falling out of an upper bunk in the dimness as a person tries to roll over.

I hear the echo of a group talking and laughing down the hall in the living area.

I see the light of someone reading an e-book in bed.

I hear the very soft scratch of someone writing in a journal.

I see soft twilight still glowing at 1030 at night. For a night owl like me, it is perfection and I smile.


Elisa’s Precio – Leon


The magnificent Cathedral in Leon.

I planned a two-day stay in Leon. I wanted to see the sights of this great city. I wanted to get my cell phone taken care of. I wanted to walk for a day without my pack and a sense of urgency. I wanted to play tourist for 24 hours.

But instead of going all tourist-y on you, Dear Reader,  I’m going to take you down a different path.

My plan was not falling into place. I had gone to the tourist office to find a hostel and had gotten a short list of places what might fit my budget. The old section of the city was packed with short, winding streets full of people and lacked obvious street signs.

In other words, I spent alot of time trying to un-lost myself.

I went from hostel to hostel but they offered no prospect of success – “We’re all full, every place is full today!”

I decided that I would try one last spot and, if I couldn’t find a bed there, I would go to the municipal albergue, spend the night, and leave Leon in the morning.

I found the building, and buzzed. No response. I buzzed again, preparing for a walk to the muni. Suddenly, there was a voice on the intercom – “Hola!”

I said I was a peregrina and looking for a bed for two nights. The door buzzed to let me in. However, it was too short a buzz for me to get the door open and before I could turn the knob, it was locked again.

Did I really want to stay here?

I rang again and, after another long pause, the door buzzed. This time I was prepared and went inside.

I looked at the mailboxes in the darkened lobby and found the name of the hostel. Second floor. The elevator looked iffy and so small that I took the stairs. The building was really quiet. No voices from inside the apartments. No sound of traffic. Somber and breezeless, more than a little discomforting.

I knocked on the door of the hostel. I waited and waited and, just as I was about to give up, the door opened and a frazzled yet friendly looking woman welcomed me in. I must have looked a sight, tired, sweaty, leaning on my hiking poles. She motioned me to sit and wait and she disappeared down the hall of the apartment.

Five, maybe ten minutes later she returned, wiping her hands on her apron. She grabbed some keys and I followed her out of the apartment, across the landing, and into another apartment.

She explained to me that she took care of the residents, making their meals and cleaning up after them. I had never heard of peregrinos being called residents but figured it was a local thing and if there was a bed, I didn’t care what I was called.

She showed me a simple, clean room, much less expensive and much larger than other singles I had stayed in so far. There was a pleasant amount of light coming in and the street outside was quiet.


Clean, neat, large and bright.

She showed me the tiny kitchen and the bathroom down the hall.


The kitchen and bathroom had a surprisingly large amount of people’s stuff in them – towels, toothbrushes, plates, mugs, shampoo, a bar of soap, a half used box of laundry detergent. It looked like people lived there.

Whatever. The room would be mine for the next two nights. I didn’t ask about communal meals.

And now, Dear Reader, I’m going to do something I haven’t done before. I’m going to simply quote what I’ve written in my journal. I hope it isn’t too choppy:

I thought I was staying in a weird place, instead I was blessed – old people live in this hostel, hospitalera makes dinner, takes care of them – Great! surrounded by old people! – after shower in less than pristine bathroom (I doubt I’ll get diseases), I headed out to 1100 Mass at Cathedral – as I was leaving room, I ran into one of the residents, Elisa – at least 90, using her walker, she greeted me as she was also on her way out – I told her I was a peregrina, she began asking questions, asking if I had a “precio” – I had just told her I was on way to Mass so didn’t know if precio was something for Church? price? what? – she told me to wait – I did although it might make me late & I didn’t know what I was waiting for – she slowly returned with a picture she had made of the Cathedral! She gave it to me as a gift! – she asked me to ride the elevator down with her – how could I say no? – I squeezed in & she started telling me about all the sights I needed to see in Leon – a few minutes later we parted ways, me towards the Cathedral, she towards the park – what a blessing I had been given from a place I expected to receive bedbugs from.

I spent the rest of that day, and all of the next, wandering around Leon, visiting the park, the Cathedral, San Isodoro, San Marcos, Gaudi’s Casa de Botines, the Pantheon.


A beautiful park.


I’d been walking through gates on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for decades. Now, seeing these in the Cathedral, I understood.


Gaudi’s Casa de Botines on the left, Town Hall on the right.


Superb frescos honor the final resting place of 11 Kings, 12 Queens, and 23 Princes!


Medallions in the historic Plaza San Marcos mark each of the major cities one goes through on the Camino de Santiago de Campostella, from Roncevalles to Santiago.

I ate good food . . .


Can you imagine a more satisfying lunch?

. . . and met nice people, even some pilgrims I knew from previous encounters.


Sabine and Markus.


A Leon native and I share a photo-op with the statue of Gaudi, sketching away.

The rains came and went and the city folk paraded up and down the main thoroughfare, elegant, happy and comfortable, stylish yet open and friendly.


A few tourists, also.

That night, I was comfortable in my room. The t.v. didn’t work so I prepared to catch up with YouTube on my iPad but Oops, no wi-fi.  It turned out that the window that let in all that lovely bright light didn’t have a shade or shutters. So all that lovely bright light came into the room at zero-dark-thirty in the morning. Oh, well.

It took me 24 hours to realize that I didn’t have to lock my door in a hostel I was sharing with a bunch of 80 and 90 year olds. What were they going to do? Sneak in while I was in the shower and take my iPad?  There’s no wi-fi. Take my phone? I couldn’t even figure the phone out and I had already had it for a month!

And I felt badly that I had only had the one encounter with Elisa, who had been so kind and seemed so happy to have someone new to talk to. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to talk with her. I hadn’t even gotten a photo of her to remind me of her face, her voice, her kindness.

Then, serendipity. She was coming in as I was going out the next afternoon and I got her photo.


My dear Elisa.


Elisa’s Precio

Thank you St. Julian. You done good. To quote my journal again, “On Camino, I am recipient of much more kindness than I deserve.”