No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story

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]

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I Get a Camino Family – Day 24 – Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

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I had cancelled my reservation for the community dinner at the convent the evening before so I could go to the bullfight. In return, I made a reservation for breakfast in the morning.

I arrived with the last wave for breakfast and enjoyed the food and conversation.  When the last hospitalero (I’m not sure if she was a nun or not) came into the breakfast room and saw that I didn’t have breakfast in front of me (it had already been cleared away), she insisted upon getting me breakfast. No amount of Spanish on my part could convince her – I knew she understood what I was saying  – that I had already eaten.

In case you’re wondering, breakfast consisted of cafe con leche, some cellophaned croissants, butter, jam, a juice box, and a sandwich to take on the road. If this sounds spartan, please don’t think so. The breakfast was fine and I was grateful for anything offered with a glad heart. All I really ate in the mornings was coffee and maybe a croissant anyway, so this was more than I usually had before getting on the road.

Understand my predicament, then, when the woman in the convent made me sit and have a second breakfast. Coffee, I would drink, no problem. juice, OK, I’m always thirsty. But I already had the first sandwich tucked into my backpack, knowing in my heart that I would not eat it.

And yet, refusing food, in a convent, would probably upset the mojo of the Camino big time.

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Breakfast number two just for me.

So I ate another croissant, drank more coffee and juice, and tucked sandwich number two next to its brother in my pack and set out.

I soon had to decide which path to take.

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Why all the graffiti?

The guidebook listed two choices on this relentlessly hot day. Option one, recommended,  would take me along the ancient Roman road. Historic, yes, but flat, shadeless, and with only one water stop. The other, the Real Camino Frances (that is, Real as in “Royal,” not as in “not fake”) would follow a road.

I decided that I had had enough of ancient roads, historic bridges, and centuries-old churches for a while. The path along the road, which is called a senda, looked straight and well maintained. I decided to take the way that offered a stop (and a bathroom) about halfway.

I took the not-recommended route.

Dear reader, you expect this to turn out badly, but it turned out well in every way. The road had very few cars. The senda was tree-lined and brush free, making it comfortable to walk.

I walked under a little metal archway, an art installation by the local government. It made me think of all the people whom I had not met and would never meet, but who had thought about me, walking the Camino in their town, and who wanted to show that they were aware of my travel. They wanted to give me a sign that I was not forgotten and was well thought of. They wanted to give me a work of art. I cherished that little archway as I passed under it and said thanks to the artist and the people who approved it.

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IMGP3779 At the halfway point, Bercianos del Real Camino, I ran into a home of one of my saints who I have not mentioned in a while. St. Roque (“row-KAY” in Spanish, “Rocky” to his friends) had an inauspicious little “ermitage” next to the bar where I  stopped for a drink. This bar was one of only two places on the Camino where I thirstily downed two sodas in the middle of the morning.

I was very surprised to find Rocky in this most unexpected place. Once again, this ermitage (hermitage) was not on the map.  St. Christopher was apparently guiding my steps. IMGP3780

The ermitage was locked so I couldn’t go in. It probably would not have been much to see anyway.

No great altar, no gold statues, no ceiling up to heaven. Just a simple hermitage, a place of solitude, introspection, and local devotion. It would be meaningful for me only because these weird encounters with my saints  kept happening.

When I settled in at the municipal albergue in El Burgo Ranero at the end of the day, I met Otto, who was Austrian and ran a ski resort and hotel. I also ran into  M.L, whom you may remember had called the albergue at San Juan de Ortega a “hell hole” and was complaining about the conditions in this town now. I had walked part of that day with a woman named Deana, who was English but lived in Germany. And I was happy to meet up again with  Dave and Rena, the newly weds from my first day on the Camino – we had been passing each other for weeks.

But I was happiest to catch up with my two Spanish friends, Andres and Juan Carlos. Our language skills were terrible – my Spanish, their English – but they were funny, they were sweet and they were helpful.  We were similar ages, and similarly enjoyed being among the last to fall asleep and the last to get out in the morning.  They had both been on the Camino before and were enjoying themselves immensely, each for wildly different reasons. Our conversations struck a chord and we became Camino family members.

I, who had decided to travel solo, discovered that just knowing that friends were up ahead or just behind added pleasure to my journey. I liked knowing that there could be familiar faces at the end of the day to share stories with.

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Carlos, me and Andres at Bercianos del Real Camino.

Camino minus 17 – Half Full? Half Empty?

Inside the Cathedral, there is a grating where worshippers and visitors drop coins, which can be seen glistening from above.

Inside the Cathedral, there is a grating where worshippers and visitors drop coins, which can be seen glistening from above.

The sun came out, the birds sang, and the dishes were put back in their places. Yesterday’s rain morphed into today’s sunshine. We recovered from Saturday night’s party and everyone looked good in the photos I had taken. Success!

I’m running out of time. The guilt is starting to hit. What guilt? The guilt of leaving DH behind for weeks on end while I’m walking. He’s going to be the Gary Sinise to my Tom Hanks on Apollo 13 (without the failure!!). I’m looking forward to the challenge and what this Camino will bring me. But DH gets to stay behind and work.

I’ve asked if he wants to join me for at least part of the trip and he gracefully declines. He really isn’t into that kind of thing (anymore). So I should not feel guilty.

But I do.

This week I will begin my final packing for the trip. Pack, weigh, delete. Pack, weigh, delete. Pack, weigh, delete. I can already see the pattern ahead of me and I’m dreading it yet, I’m excited.

Saying goodbye will be not so exciting.

Today we decided to go to Strasbourg, France. It is close by, about two hours. I needed to try out the credit union debit card I’ve mentioned. I had to make sure it worked in a foreign country. It did.

The front of the Cathedral in Strasbourg.
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But I also wanted to take DH away for a visit , a mini-vacation, before we went our temporarily seperate ways.  We got lost looking for a place to park, spent hours walking around the beautiful little city, had coffee, hot chocolate, and pie in a little restaurant. We were back home in time for dinner.

I wore my no-longer-new boots and forgot that I had them on. I declined climbing the 300+ steps to the top of the Cathedral for fear that I wouldn’t make it to the top and I don’t need that kind of stress this close to my big event.  I said “Bonjour” instead of “Merci” when leaving the tourist information center. What a dweeb I am!!

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I’m not worried. My language skills improve dramatically once I get started. I used my French to order at the cafe and I understood why what I wanted was not available (hint: now I remember the French word for breakfast).

I’m excited about packing, yet worried that I’m still missing things I can’t afford.

I’m looking forward to the new experiences and the people whom I’ll encounter on the Camino, yet I’ll miss my family and friends.

I’m chomping at the bit like a race horse at the Kentucky Derby, yet can’t answer the simple question,  “Why are you going?”

Like the wineglass next to me as I write this, I am half full and half empty.