Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Report from Nájera

I will be posting reports from Canadian Hospitaleros as they send emails to me.  Karen and Dayton have recorded their experience on the blog: and below there are reports from Gib Clark who served at Nájera from May 1-15.  The first report is after the first 4 days and followed 5 days later and then after the two weeks were completed.

May 4, 2011
Hi there-

For the benefit of those of you who have not been a "Peregrina" ( a
hiker or pilgrim) on the Camino de Compostela, let me explain that
this is my first report of my experiences as a Hospitalero in the
Albergue located in Najera, in northern Spain, The Camino is an
ancient pilgrim's way that has been in continuous use for at least
1000 years. The particular route that I walked is known as the Camino
de France and is about 800 kms. in length.

There is a very strong historical tradition that pilgrims will be
granted food and lodging for free. This continues to this day (as to
shelter) in a number of Albergues. I was fortunate enough to have the
oppportunity (after going to a short preparation course) to volunteer
in the Albergue in Najera, in northern Spain.

So, here I am. This Albergue has about 80 beds (2 high bunk style),
all in the same room. My room (private thankful-about 10 by 12) is
in one corner and is very far from soundproof, so I hear sounds in the
night that are not really all that cool. I am told that one of our
guests who is here tonight is an infamous snorer. There are always a

I arrived here on Thusday, April 28 to start my 2 week stay that
officially started on May 1. My predecessors were 2 young ladies who
spoke absolutely no English! (In Spain-who knew?) They gave me the
short course on what to do as to cleaning, etc. On Saturday, at about
5:00 P.M., my partner arrived. At about 5:01 P.M., the girls left. My
partner is a great guy and is English skills are a very small bit

So, on Saturday evening we made sure everyone was registered, assigned
bunks and stamped their credencials (this is record of where they have
stopped during their Camino) and must be presented to earn a
certificate of completion. By the way, when you ask for your certifcate
at the end of the walk, if you have done it for religious reasons, you
get a beautiful document in Latin that uses a Latin form of your
names. On mine, it is a letter sized document that in effect says "Gib
did it for secular reasons"-it looks somewhat like an enlarged dry
cleaning receipt.

Anyhow, my first night was somewhat exciting. We sell bottles of wine
produced by a guy who lives down the street-literally-for 1.5 Euros
(C$1.40, US$.98-Ha!)

We obviously were not paying attention to a rather small gentleman who
is either Indian or Pakistani. To cut to the chase, he apparently
tried to grope a few ladies So, after lengthy discussions, during
which we had to restrain this guy from falling on someone, I finally
prevailed and we called the cops. Within about 3 minutes 2 "Policia
Locale" and 2 "Guardia Civile" arrived. After a conference, and some
discussion to the effect that we would throw him out on the street,
they said "We won´t do anything." (An obviously very Latinate (word?)
Spanish approach.)

After a few more hours, during which the guy literally fell down in
front of the building onto a concrete sidewalk, we got him into bed.
Shortly after, he got up and fell on top of a German lady who had just
fallen asleep. She was not amused-at least I think that is what she

I of course said the police thing again, but the do gooders again won
out. He tried on about 3 occasions to get out of bed again, but
finally passed out.

The next morning he, displayed no indication that he recalled anything
about what he had done. However, I was gratified by the young guy who
said that he guessed I was right as a result of my experiences. I
don´t know whether this was an insult or a compliment.

Anyhow, this morning, after our guests had all gone, my partner and I
went to get a coffee and muffin. On returning, we found a young girl
working away at cleaning the place. I guess the girls trold me that we
did not have to do this because they paid people to do it, but I just
didn.t understand. What a great surprise!

A few miscellaneous thoughts-other occurrences so far:

-a uni lingual trying to speak to you (and this includes us in that
circumstance) will speak louder and slower which does not help at all

-the pillows get sprayed by Agent Orange or something like it

- in the morning, we wake up everyone starting at 6:00 A.M. and all
have to be out by 8. We then close until 2:00 when we reopen and start
registering guests

-it is an absolute rule that if asked what is the price, the answer is
that it is free-and that is an absolute. Donations, however, will be
accepted. It is also an absolute that nobody will be turned away. This
may mean sleeping on the floor or in the barn or wherever.

-stays of more than one night are not allowed unless in the case of
injury or illness

-there is a really neat Medieval Festival this weekend

May 9, 2011
Hello to all-

Greetings from Najera-pronounced Nakura or something it. The  rate of speaking is such that it is difficult to catch even pronunciation.

Things have quietened down-not yet!

Here is what has happened since my last letter:

-the night after the difficult drunk, we had happy drunk-I believe a Scotsman. However, this guy happily went to bed and was  no problem. I mention this only to point out that all the news is not necessarily bad.

-the next day, after all had left,at about 8:30, I went out the front door and a young guy was consoling his girl friend who was lying on a bench. All she wanted to do was sleep. As she was obviously ill, we got her inside on a proper bed. She in fact was unconscious, so I suggested we call an ambulance. For some reason, my partner wanted to call a taxi. As the girl showed no signs of any change, I  insisted and we called.

Within about 2 minutes, a police car arrived with 1 cop. He got out and looked at the girl, went to his car, and placed a call. Shortly thereafter, a police car, now with 2 cops in it, arrived. They got out and looked at the girl. They then called the ambulance. About 7-8 minutes had now elapsed. I kept a record of the time out of curiosity.

The ambulance arrived about 21 minutes after the call was placed and she was taken to the hospital. The good news is that by about 4:00 o´clock they returned and we, of course, allowed them to stay a second night.

-Plumbing 1-

The next afternoon, sewer pipes  plugged up and flowed into the shower stalls. We called Luiz (sp.?), who is the go to guy for anything about the albergue, and he and another came over. They are quite familiar with plumbing stuff. They spent at least 1 hour trying to unclog one of the main drain pipes. They couldn't get it clear, so a very large "sucker truck"  was brought in.  After a further hour or so, voila! ,job complete.

Plumbing 2

The next day, the flow was into the ladies stalls resumed. So, a repeat performance. (see para above)

-we had an issue with bikes. In error, we allowed about 6-8 bikers to stay. I hasten to add that, even counting these guys, we were  not full.

The issue, however, was bike storage.Our area for this type of thing is quite small and using it as bike storage would impede access  by others. I insisted on outside storage and it was done. The next A.M., guess where the bikes were? I did not make an issue of it as it was now history.

-lat night, some non resident people arrived and my partner allowed them to come and cook and eat their dinner. In the final result, there was  no real problem, but I didn't think this was a wise thing to do.

So, I now eagerly (or anxiously) await the next issue(s) that are on the way!

I will try to keep all informed.

All the best-I would  love to hear your comments.

So, another eventful time.

June 19, 2011

Hello to all-

I have now been home for about 5 weeks and I think I have some perspective about my experiences.

First, if you ever get the opportunity to be a Hospitalero-DO IT!

This was a great experience. It was a daily exposure to the best and the not so best in people. It was the pleasure of seeing total strangers become close to others very quickly. It was the routine of the unexpected-each day we wondered-really wondered-what might occur.

I have mentioned some of these occurrences in my earlier notes to you. Suffice to say, there were many other incidents. Some were quite funny, but you "had to be there" to appreciate them. Some were pleasant and others not. They all combined to result in a truly memorable experience.

It was not all exciting. In fact, a routine quickly developed. We would get up at 6, say goodby to all until 8 when we made sure all were gone. I would then go for breakfast at a bar about 300 metres away. This was followed by clean up time. We split  the job., I did the dormitory room. This meant tidying the bunks, changing bedding and sweeping and mopping the floor.  I also usually did the toilets. This is not as bad as you may think-all of the tools had very long handles!

At 2 we would open the doors. Most days, there was a significant line up. In fact, on a couple of days, we were full before all who were waiting could be accommodated. Lights out occurred at 10 PM and usually were out on the button.

My partner for the 2 weeks, Ignatio, and I ended up spelling each other off. On most days, we had a routine for when each of us would go to dinner, or have a nap, or simply go for a walk.

In my earlier letters, I mentioned some of the problems with the building. Jean Luis, who is the volunteer head of the local committee running the albergue, is a wonderful person. He and his wife were a great support to us. Somehow we managed some degree of communication in spite of the language barrier. He was always available when needed. Simply put, he is a very fine person.

So, at the end of the 2 weeks, it was nice to be finished, but also sad. One of the most significant events of the whole visit occurred at its conclusion. Luis and his wife presented us with very unique small (and funny) statues of a Pergrino-complete with staff and shell. I will treasure this-and will be reminded of  fond memories by its presence for a very long time.

As always,
Buen Camino!


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