My friend Marianne asked why there are so many more pilgrims on the Camino this September than last time we were here in September two years ago . A couple of hospitalieros we asked about it both said that, as the summers have been so hot in recent years, the crowds are starting to come in May and September, with the numbers 'way down in the hot summer months. So I guess now the formerly busy summer months are the best time to come to avoid the crowds. But I can tell you of another recent phenomenon that has to be contributing to the pilgrim jam: the Americans have arrived.
When Tom and walked the Camino two years ago it was rare to meet an American along the way. Now every other person you meet is American. I'm not at all exaggerating. One young American pilgrim I met mused that all the interest among Americans in the Camino bloomed when "The Way" came to Netflix. "When something comes to Netflix, the whole culture changes," she said.
Yesterday morning we set out from Circueña and on the way we saw the lovely, ethereal illusion called cloud islands that occurs in the mountains when the morning clouds float below the mountain tops so that the mountain tops look like islands in the sea.
We stopped for brunch in the town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada- we've taken a hankering to a plate of sunny-side eggs, potatoes and bacon a few hours after our usual 7 am typical Spanish breakfast of tostada, which is also very good,
Anyway, Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a tourist spot where people come to visit the 13th century cathedral.
When we reached the town of Grañon, 13 k's from where we started, we decided to call it a day. We arrived in Grañon a little before 2 pm and the first albergue we tried was already full from pilgrims who's made reservations. We headed on until we arrived at the Casa de las Sonrisas, The House Of Smiles,
....the arty albergue owned by hospitaliero Ernesto,
...who takes in and feeds homeless people as well as pilgrims and so doesn't stamp pilgrim passports soa as not to distinguish between the more and less well-off.
When we entered the albergue and asked the hospitaliero if he had any beds he pulled aside some curtains on the wall just inside the entrance,
...and showed us all he had left, three mattresses on the floor. He said we could have the whole room to ourselves. Camino Karma comes through yet again!
We jumped on his offer, but insisted that if another pilgrim came in who needed a bed of course they could stay in "our" room. Over the course of the aftenoon several pilgrim couples came in and - in the caring way typical of the hospitalieros - to each he offered that one could sleep on the mattress and one could sleep on the sofa in our room, but they all turned down his offer, even though by then there were no more albergue beds left in town. Maybe they wanted to try the hotel down the way. Once a group of four pilgrims came in and he offered them the mattress and couch in our room, the couch in the hallway, and the couch in the living room,
...which was comfy enough, I thought.
But this group, too, decided to seek greener pastures. I hope they all found beds somewhere.
Late in the afternoon an exhausted Danish pilgrim, a lovely woman about our age, came dragging into the Camino. She was thrilled to share our space on the floor, and so we finally had a roomate.
Anyway, this is the cutest, most whimsical place.
The living room has a fireplace, in which the hospitaliero had a nice, cozy fire burning.
Here's the garden, where we could wash out and hang our clothes,
The walls were covered in Ernesto's art work and pilgrim graffiti.
There's only one bathroom and one shower in then whole albergue, but as there were only 15 of us, it all worked out..
Ernesto doesn't charge a set fee, but asks for whatever we're willing to give for a bed, a dinner that he requires all the pilgrims to eat together as a family, and breakfast in the morning.
A few minutes before dinner Ernesto came into the living room where most of the pilgrims were gathered chatting around the fire,
...and told us we all had to go outside. As we stood in a circle outside the albergue the hospitaliero told us that the baker next door had our dinner ready but that she wouldn't give it to us until we gathered into groups by our language and each group sang a song in their language. It turned out the languages represented among us were English, German, and Danish. I suggested the English speakers sing "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands", so we did. The Germans sang "Oh Tannenbaum", and I'm not sure what our Danish friend sang. But it was fun.
After the singing our hospitaliero called for five volunteers to go onto the bakery while the rest of us waited outside. A few minutes later the volunteers came out with trays of food,..
...in mandatory wigs..
The volunteers carried the food next door to the albergue then we all sat down to a dinner of potato and canned tuna soup (an acquired taste, I fear), lentil soup, baked potatoes, baked squash, salad, fresh bread, and fresh figs for dessert.
After dinner the pilgrims cleaned up and washed the dishes.
Tom and our young Camino friend Susan
Each evening Ernesto prepares for dinner whatever he can afford to buy from the contributions left by the pilgrims the day before. Sometimes the pilgrims don't leave enough for him to buy food for the next night's dinner. We left him 60€.to help with tonight's dinner.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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