Yesterday at the Casa de las Sonrisas, The House of Smiles, we met a 69-year-old German pilgrim who’s been walking the Camino non-stop for the past nine years.
Now, there are a dozen different Caminos that pilgrims can take to get to Santiago, starting from different points in Spain, France and Portugal, though in truth a pilgrim can start from anywhere they want; I’ve met at least three Dutch pilgrims who started walking their Camino from their home in the Netherlands.
But the most popular and most-walked Camino by far is the one Tom and I are walking, the Camino Frances, the French Camino, that starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
Anyway, this elderly pilgrim who’s been walking the Camino for nine straight years varies his Caminos, walking one, then the other, and when he reaches Santiago walking or sometimes taking a train back to another starting point.
I asked him what about his home and family? He answered that the Camino is his home and the pilgrims are his family.
"Don't you get tired?" I asked.
"When I get tired I stop," he replied. He told me the shortest distance he'd ever walked was 2 kilometers and the longest was 64 k's.
I asked him how heavy his backpack was and he told me 10 kilos-about 20 pounds - before water.
I asked him didn't his backpack feel heavy, didn't his back, feet, knees ever hurt from carrying it all the time?
He said he didn't even feel his backpack anymore.
"Do you ever get sick?" I asked him.
He answered that he never gets sick anymore, though when he was 12 years old he was always sick and was taken from doctor to doctor to doctor. But, he said, he hasn't seen a doctor since 1994 and takes no pills.
"Wow," I said, "you're going to live to a hundred and six, and you'll still be walking!"
He replied that he didn't care how long or short he lived as long as he was healthy to the end.
I didn't tell him that that's pretty much how we all feel except that it doesn't work out that way for most of us. Still I think that that pilgrim does have a leg up on most of us.
We walked 15.7 kilometers yesterday from Grañon to the town of Belorado, leaving the region of La Rioja and entering the region of Castilla y Leon.
Along the way we stopped for brunch at the albergue cafe in the village of Viloria de la Rioja. This cafe was the most charming little spot,
...where the hospitaliero whipped us up a delicious omelet sandwich,
...on the freshest baguette.
And there was a poster on the wall that I loved:
It says "Let's go to a quiet place to talk and try to reach an agreement".
When we reached Belorado about 3 hours later the town was, as has generally been the case, jammed with pilgrims seeking lodging.
I found myself feeling a weence doubtful about finding a bed in the albergue in Belorado which we had our hearts set on staying at, one of our favorites along the Camino, a place at the far end of town called Los Quatros Cantones, a pretty, rustic little albergue with 7€ beds and and an 8€ pilgrim meal run by the lovely Cantone family, three brothers and a sister who’s a chef by profession, so the food’s super-good.
However in truth I was feeling a weence doubtful about finding beds anywhere in this pilgrim-crowded town.
But Tom said not to worry, there were many albergues along the way through town before we'd reach Los Quatros Cantones so hopefully the herd would be 'way thinned by then.
And the pilgrim herd did, in fact, thin greatly the farther we walked through the town, until we turned a corner and saw that the line at Los Quatros Cantones was out the door.
"This doesn't look good," I said.
"Let's just try," said Tom.
So we stood in line, and at one point I thought I heard the hospitaliera, one of the Cantones who was also the chef, call out the door that now it was reservations only. But I wasn't completely sure.
"Let's just wait," said Tom.
Two ahead of us was a group of older Americans, day trippers with a reservation for six. Day trippers are my name for pilgrims who don't carry backpacks, but have their packs or luggage shipped from albergue to albergue (or hostel or hotel) at which they have, of course, reserved a room. Back when we walked the Camino two years ago you saw the occasional day tripper, usually a pilgrim who was injured or feeling sick or just needed to take it easy for a bit. But now the day trippers have greatly proliferated along the Camino, and some days appear to be as numerous along the way as the backpacking pilgrims.
Anyway, after this group with their reservation for six I figured our chance of getting beds was dead on arrival.
"Let's wait anyway," said Tom.
Directly ahead of us was an older Spanish couple without a reservation. I'm not sure exactly what their conversation with the hospitaliera entailed, but the exchange sounded quite heated, with the hospitaliera on the defensive.
Then into the reception area whisked one of the American party of six, a woman who looked about my age, totally indignant over the fact that half of their beds were top bunks when they wanted all bottom bunks, or something like that.
Between dealing with the ticked-off Spaniards and the ticked-off American, the harried hospitaliera looked up from the fray for a moment and our eyes met. I smiled sympathetically at her.
The Spanish couple huffed out of the albergue and it was our turn.
"This is hopeless," I muttered to Tom as we approached the reception desk.
"Let's see," he muttered back.
In sheepish Spanish I told the hospitaliera that we had no reservations, but.....
She told me she was sorry but there were no more beds unless we had a reservation, and didn't I hear her tell the people in line that it was reservations only?
She seemed upset that we'd stood in line so long for nothing, but we smiled and told her that it was all right, that she shouldn't worry about it, and we thanked her anyway and wished her a nice day.
We turned to leave and she said, "Wait, wait! Maybe I can help you! What time is it?"
It was 2:20 pm. She explained to us that they only guaranteed reservations until 2 pm. She looked through her book and called to the line, "Paolo! Sergio! Estan aqui? (are you here?)"
The call for Paolo and Sergio went down the line until it was determined that neither Paolo nor Sergio were present.
The hospitaiera hesitated a moment, sighed, the said in English, "What the the hell, I give you the beds!"
Now, I know we've been having a great run of Camino Karma, but this was downright spooky.
But in a good way, and it got even better when we saw our accommodatons in a beautiful first floor dorm room right off the bathroom:
....and we had the bottom bunks!
Later when we thanked the hospitaliera for giving us beds she said, "how could I resist you, standing there so nice?"
I kind of think we had the "two cute old folks" thing going on.
Los Quatros Cantones albergue:
....and there's a pool.
The beautiful town of Belorado
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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