Here I am in a hostel full of young people, and I have little to no interest. Why? Because they are new travelers, I am tired of explaining where I am from and what I am doing. This statement is not entirely true, by which I mean, not a true reflection of my feelings. I am not entirely weary mentally. Far from it, I crave companionship, usually. I suppose it is the days in a row spent sheltering from the storms, my readiness for some camping, and the latent exhaustion from the last three days, having been rained on all day en route to Lugo in the 100 kilometer dash, climbing all day yesterday, in soggy boots. I am mucousy, a little sore in the throat, and just simply spent. I could barely get up this morning.
I was napping when an Australian girl came in. I was waiting for someone to interrupt my coma, for I knew I shouldn’t fall asleep so soon! I asked her where she started, and when she said, “here,” something changed. I felt, irrationally, that I ought not burden her with my fatigued state. My indecorous vulnerability may not be appreciated, from an outsider’s perspective. I am very much a product of my environment, and overly gentlemanly, so I excused myself, allowing her to get settled, considering myself uncomposed, so to speak, for conversation. I was asleep at five in the evening, which is decidedly uncouth, but that is not the whole of it.
Already I am a weathered traveller, possessed of some hermetic, gypsy characteristic that is peculiar in that along with it comes a strong sense of smell for those without it. Perhaps it has to do with their absence of stench, the smell of rain and sweat and dirt. Or perhaps I am just tired. My legs certainly are! It is not their fault, but they do not have it- they are not yet intimately entwined with the road. Oh, we all fall in and out of it. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed a couple weeks ago! There are novelties for the fresh traveller that are not there for me any longer. I also realize that I am a career man, this is not a holiday for me. Were I gone for two weeks, or even two months, my budget would be much more generous, accounting for touring every castle, going out for food and drinks, exploring, spending time in town! For me, I spend my time in many towns, every day. I have a thousand intimate, isolated interactions with the peoples and places of the countryside that define my mode of travel, rather than exploring deeply a few places. Both have their merit, mine simply has less gloss. I am not a tourist, I am a traveller, a true pilgrim. The richness of my experience comes from the minutia, the miracles in the mundane. I like to watch flumes of steam rise from the forest in the morning as the sun warms their bedewed branches. I watch snippets of people’s lives, I study abandoned buildings, absorb the impression of the people’s lives, at home, which cities, as natural extremes, do not accurately represent.
Some people here, like the group who just walked in, have the air of travel about them, they smell of the woods, one can see that they bring a part of the woods and the weary miles with them. There is a philosophy inherent there, in how people interact with the world. Not only how they travel, but why they travel. I am passing no judgement here. In fact, I am only catering to my own preferences, for, of the various people one meets on the road, one’s depth and ease of conversation varies to a greater extent. Some days I crave company, any company, but if we cannot travel deep in some direction, the allure soon wears thin.
Well, as the day wore on, many more pilgrims arrived, including a group that met on the trail, composed of two Americans and a Kazakhstani German (Roundabout story, German grandfather emigrated to Russia, his parents moved to Kazakhstan, and then when he was eleven, all returned to Germany…). These are the first Americans I have met thus far. There is also a gregarious young Italian, who I chat with a bit. There are a couple girls from South America, and a couple of Korean men, as far as I can judge, for they disappeared into their rooms quickly. I ended up talking with the Americans quite a bit. The first I encountered was Ernie (Ernesto) from Chicago. I thought he was in his forties, but he’s 56! Looking good Ernie. He is of Hispanic heritage and gets along just fine linguistically, though he is sore! We chat a little, then I start to drink some beer, waking up a little and thinking about dinner.
There is a sign about an “orácion” at 7:00 and I inquire about it. I had a hard time understanding, but it seemed there was a little service in the small chapel out back! The lady insists that it is a lovely thing, and I decide to attend. I am a pilgrim, after all. We are let into the cathedral at seven, and it has a very ornate wooden display of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, with a nice, somewhat modern fresco on the domed ceiling. I am very impressed, for so small a chapel! We take a prayer card and are seated. There are none in English, so I take a Spanish one. We each read the prayer and say “Amen.” When my turn comes, I find I can’t quite translate it, and Ernesto graciously does so for me. Then a song is sung, led quite well by one of the ladies. It is a canticle for the Pilgrims, and afterwards we prayed. It felt good to affirm the spirit of our journeys, and I hope more of this happens along the way, for it was beautiful. Afterwards we were asked to say why we were on our pilgrimages. In Spanish, of course. I got the gist- some were walking for the deceased, or some such, and when it came to me I said “A encontrar Dios en el mundo,” To find God in the world. It seemed to be accepted all right. I am grateful for the service.
Ernesto invites me to dinner. I politely decline, but realize perhaps he would like some company, and so would I. I rescind and say I’ll go for a beer and an appetizer or something. We return to the hostel and I drink more beer. The boys are waiting for their clothes to dry, and it takes a while. I forget about the dinner invitation, and spend a while talking to the American girl, Kaylie, from Wisconsin. She is a cool gal, and conversation flows. Eventually I get up and make some eggs, which are plentiful, with some broccoli, all free leftovers. I eat it and observe, sadly, that I am still hungry and should have made more, but my pan is already soaking. I am cleaning my dishes when Ernie pops in and asks, “Is this a bad time? We’re going to dinner.” No sir, it is not! Ernie, Kaylie, Vassili (Kazakhi-German) and myself go across the street to a “Pilgrim Restaurant” (it was just a nice, ordinary spot), and get settled in. I thank Ernie again and acknowledge that I would be a fool not to accept his hospitality, to which he readily agreed. There are no appetizers, price-wise, so I may as well order the burger, as I am dining with Americans tonight. Ernie orders me a beer, good man, does not let my meekness get in the way of a good glass of suds. I was warned that the burger is spicy, but I have discovered that the Spanish know nothing of spice- really Europe in general. I hope to find an eye-watering curry dish, at least. There is almost no spice factor, but the burger is delicious. We talk about gear and the Camino, passing the time pleasantly in very good company. We realize it is ten o’clock, and we must get back to the hostel.
They shut the doors at ten thirty, after which no one enters, no one leaves. I sit and talk to Kaylie until the ladies- by which I mean the hospitaleros, who are having a grand time and were a delight to be around- declare lights out and we are all sent to bed. I have a hard time sleeping because one of my roommates rubs her legs together almost incessantly, but not consistently enough to shove to the back of my mind. That nap may have something to do with this. I eventually get to sleep, but am up at seven- everybody is. Checkout is 8:00 am, which is standard for pilgrim hostels, though I am told that in the summer, people leave at 4 or 5 in the morning, racing to the next hostel before the beds are filled! I get up and make some coffee, chat with Ernie some more about travel, its value, its purpose. I also end up checking the fit on a couple packs, as I admitted the night before to working in the industry for a few years. Now I sit here, up bright and early, with a large climb before me. I am glad I have all day to do it. On the whole, staying at this pilgrim albergue has been the best experience so far this trip, and I am growing quite fond of the Camino. I suspect I shall be back…