Camino de Santiago de Compostela


Eleven years ago, I walked for twenty-one days across northern Spain, on an ancient pathway beginning in the Pyrenees near the French border – the famed Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Two close friends (“sole sisters”) accompanied me, Rona and Lanice. We carried everything we’d need for the entire journey in our heavy (20 pound) backpacks. More importantly, we carried friendship, the loving support of our families we’d left behind, and a sense of embarking on a great adventure. If you’ve walked the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, you know what I experienced. If you haven’t, I urge you to consider taking this life-altering journey. The Camino de Santiago route is over 1000 years old, and it currently sees over 300,000 pilgrims each year. For bibliophiles, an interesting note: the oldest book written about this pilgrimage is the Codex Calixtinus, which was written sometime in the 12th Century about the Camino Frances and is kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Fast-forward eleven years, past a second shared pilgrimage with the same friends and much joy and heartache in the intervening years, and I headed back to the Spanish camino route. This time, I would volunteer at one of the hostels (albergues) along the pilgrimage route, with one of my two sole sisters, Lanice. After 24 hours of training from the previous hospitalero, Jorge, we were on our own. This is what we’d planned for, why we’d taken a weekend training course back home, and why we’d saved to cover the costs of our own travel to Spain for. To give back to the Camino, in gratitude for those who had cared for us when we were on our journey. Lanice speaks decent Spanish. I have a pathetic smattering of French plus Google Translate on my phone, to create my “Camino blessings” to give out to pilgrims at breakfast. Our local hosts spoke only Spanish and Basque. What could possibly go wrong?


What this albergue needs

Is a stool.

Or perhaps simply a tall friend with a long reach who is

Happy to stop her own chores and fetch what is desired.

What this albergue needs

Is a working toaster.

Our locals tell us there isn’t a toaster to be found in all of the village.

But the pilgrims need something hot for breakfast!

“Pain perdu” served hot from the skillet, every morning

Solves the problem of stale bread and only requires us to rise another half hour earlier.

What this albergue needs

Is a candle

so we can sit outside at night and eat, and drink wine

And listen to someone play the guitar.

A headlamp and paper towel cone make a magical lantern

And cast a soft glow, inviting camaraderie.

What this albergue needs

Is a yoga studio.

Hours of sweeping and mopping

And scrubbing showers and toilets leave us with sore backs and shoulders.

Not to mention the pilgrims’ need for stretching out sore calf muscles.

But a plastic tarp from the donation bin and three thick blankets

Are adequate.

What this albergue needs

Is a bigger kitchen.

There’s barely room for one cook, and only one dish washer at a time. No wonder some pilgrims don’t wash and put away their dishes!

Yet, isn’t it fun to squeeze three cooks into the tiny space, with helpers chopping the vegetables on the communal dining table?

What this albergue needs

Is a clothes dryer.

And yet – a double spin cycle on the sheets and dishtowels and a few hours drying on the line in the warm Spanish sun does the job with the bonus of fresh scent and requires stretching and bending and, well, see Yoga Studio.

What this albergue needs

Is nothing more than what it has.

Two servants’ hearts, four listening ears, and two hospitaleras with enough love and laughter to fill this tiny space.

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