El carretera no es el Camino.
No shit, Dude.
I’d just staggered into the albergue in Tábara after almost 18 hellish miles (28 km) on a busy, shoulderless road. I had decided to cut one stage off the Camino by taking a direct, diagonal route to Tábara rather than taking the square north then west.
It was, admittedly, a bad idea. I’d not only missed out on what I heard was a beautiful part of the Camino, but I’d spent an entirely unpleasant and somewhat dangerous day in so doing.
I was meet by a serious, bearded hospitalero with some definite ideas about how the Camino ought to be attempted and road walking in order to save a day was not in the canon.
Can’t say I disagree, but let me get a shower first.
The role of the hospitalero/a (they can be both men and women) on the Camino is hospitality toward the peregrinos who shelter in the albergues each night. It’s an ancient role. The Knights Hospitaller were a military and religious organization during the Crusades whose job, in part, was to minister to pilgrims to the Holy Land.
On the Camino, you really appreciate the hospitaleros who take the job seriously. Often, they just pop in to take your money and stamp your credencial. This is often the case if the albergue is private. It’s a money-making enterprise with little sense of the tradition of hospitality.
But those albergues, which may be run by the municipality or a religious order and staffed with volunteers, are more likely to understand their role. Everyone who walls through the door has walked for hours. Everyone is tired, at least. A few are injured; some may be ill.
“Yesterday the albergue was filled with old people,” one of the volunteers ( from California) told me. They’d walked from Merida- about 25 miles. She put them in special double rooms so they wouldn’t have to walk up an extra flight of stairs and deal with bunk beds. She kept an eye on the hypoglycemic one.
When I was there, she gave her own private room to a girl who wasn’t feeling well.
Even though the albergue may not be as fancy–and indeed some are pretty basic–the attitude of the hospitalero makes all the difference.
The albergue in Tábara was unique in that Pedro and Juan are the permanent hospitaleros. It runs on donations, and after scolding me for breaking the spirit of the Camino, Pedro took my dirty clothes, along with the others, and washed them and hung them to dry. He cooked and served our dinner. There was a little film about some historic features of Tabara. He passed out inspirational quotes that he’d laminated for us to keep. We peregrinos jointly decided when we wanted to eat breakfast, which he and Juan also served. (Breakfast in Spain is very simple)
If you tried to help, you were told, no, your job was to rest. Apparently, the role of the pilgrim is also respected. When I thanked him for his service, he said that he is served by the peregrinos.
Despite his initial disapproval, I can tell you that I left feeling humbled and cared for in a way I never feel in pay-for-service places.
At Tábara I turn west toward Santiago, after walking north for all these weeks. The sun now rises at my back. I am hearing the end. Incredibly.