We had three recently trained hospitaleras, all working from October 16-31. Because they had met at the training session in Victoria they made an effort to be in touch while they were serving. Here are their reports from Nájera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañon where they saw many of the same pilgrims and if you scroll down to October 26-28, you can read about a group of students who stayed in all three albergues.
October 16th from Nájera
I am now working at my volunteer posting in Najera where we greeted 30 pilgrims yesterday. It is sunny, clear, cold in the mornings and hot in the day. There are still a lot of people out walking for this time of the year. Many challenges with my lack of Spanish but fortunately my companion hospitalera is a really nice woman from Mexico City. The outgoing hospitaleros have been excellent in helping us get started. Our pilgrims so far were from Spain, Italy, Czech, France, Canada.....They are walking from here to see Heather in Santo Domingo de Calzada.
The bodies certainly get stressed from the heat, long distances, showing up in tendonitis, blisters, heat prostration.
Well, I will learn fast now. Great local people and support here for the albergue and the volunteers. Got to get to the bed bug check.....cannot wait.....!
October 18th from Grañon
I am here in Grañon and finally have some time for the internet. Learning the ropes and we are 3 here and so far it is going very well. Fermin is Spanish and Monique is from France and between the 3 of us it is a mix of languages. Poor Monique has a little English and a little Spanish so she is the go between. It is a good test of mi poco de español! So far most pilgrims going through here are Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Italian, Brazilian..not many speaking English. I saw Heather in Santo Domingo de la Calzada ayer and she gave me the tour. Wow..so different from Grañon. I love it here even tho´is was a surprise. The cooking has been good so far and we take turns with the evening meal. Tonight I am making potatas Riojana...We are averaging about 14 pilgrims per night. Not as many as Najera o Santo Domingo. but each group has its own personality! Must go for now but will try to keep in touch. I feel a little pang when we say goodbye to each pilgrim in the morning. I know that I will walk again in the future! Hasta Pronto por ahora...
October 21 from Grañon
I am ensconced in this small village and it is a wonderful experience so far. We work very hard...the 3 of us. Last night there were 26 pilgrims..the most so far. It was very full, but we added a little more to the pot of food we had prepared and it was like the loaves and the fishes...there was enough for everyone! I´m going for a walk today to a small hermita/monestary near to here and then back to work! Fermin and I went off to Santo Domingo this morning in his caravan...a vehicle for camping..and bought some comistibles..supplies, since we ate more food than we thought last night. Today the sun is back out and the skies are clear...a little chill in the air, but mostly very nice. Every day we meet so many people and their stories of their countries are eye opening..esp. last night a couple from South Africa and telling me about what it it like there. I´ll tell you later, but I will also tell Michael and Colette...they may think twice before retiring in that country. People are so open and tell a lot..walking does that and sharing a meal like we do hear makes people relax and feel kind of like a family. I am loving it. Monique is a character and an extremely hard worker. We get our chores done in short order each day...I am writing as much as I have time for in my journal, but sometimes at night around 10 30 I only last a few minutes before my body and mind crave sleep! Hasta luego
p.s. Tom and Mary...this is a great place for a first experience as a hospitalera. I highly recommend it!
October 23 from Grañon
Hola Tomas and Mary! Here I sit in the Bar Teo in Grañon after Mass..and the bar is full of people enjoying the Sunday chat. I really love these villages and the fact that I am becoming recognizable because I go to church every day!! My Spanish is a little better but last night there were absolutely no English speakers..only Spanish and a French family. It is certainly making my ear sharper. Tom, it is one week in for me and only one week to go. Wow it is going quickly and I am sure you are looking forward to being over in Spain! Today is warm but last week the temperature dipped a lot and there was some frost on the ground in the early morning. I find it difficult to say goodbye in the mornings..in one way...I feel like I should be going too! This will definitely give me another point of view when I walk the Camino again. Marina has been here a couple of times and again on Tuesday. We have to spray twice a week for chinches, but so far none apparent here. I have heard praises for MayBeth´s quick action when one peregrina came in covered in bites...also from another man who claims that she saved him when he was ill with stomach upset! It is fun to be on a road where there are 3 of us (Heather, too) in a row. I did get to see Heather and meet her sister briefly when I went to Santo Domingo with my cousin, but will not be able to meet up with the 3 of them in Madrid as my schedule is quite tight. I have been able to walk during the midday out one way..turn around and come back..out the other way..turn around and come back. I am totally enjoying the other 2 hospitaleros..Fermin is a delightful 73 year old who has done the Camino a dozen times..5 times cycling, and Monique, a rather cheeky French woman in her early 60´s. We have a good time dividing up the chores and each cooking our specialties despite our language limitations! The peregrinos have been so varied that it is hard to generalize. They all love the homey atmosphere and on the cool nights we light a fire in the fireplace. Lovely! A local bodega donated 12 bottles of excellent wine, so we have glass at meals and that is such a treat. I appreciate good wine! Hasta luego!
October 23 from Nájera
So good to hear your experiences from Granon. I try to send some ¨nice¨pilgrims your way...the ones that can easily walk the extra 5 km past Sto Domingo. Our days are varied and a local man took me out walking in the hills around Najera yesterday with fall colours, vineyards, caves, almonds, olives and pines and spectacular views of the entire region. We have a very small group so far today although we hear that the Logrono albergue was totally full last night....not sure where they all went today. Quite an experience to welcome people from all over the world. I really enjoy seeing everyone safely and happily on their way in the mornings, sending them on to the other ¨Canadian¨ hospitaleras.
October 23 from Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Well, since everyone else has been giving their reports, I figure I might as well too. My sister and I have had the pleasure of visits from Maybeth and Brenda. I highly doubt we will be given any time off to reciprocate. Our days start at 5:30a where one of us takes a shower since the water tank isn't big enough for both of us to take even quick showers. We try to be over in the albergue around 6a to open up, print out the weather report, get the book ready for the day, and send pilgrims off with a buen camino and let them know where the only place we know is open...the pasteleria! After the pilgrims are gone, we empty the trash (we have a cleaning crew), wait for the luggage guy, then we get a couple of hours of rest before opening at Noon. Somewhere around 1:30p, my sister goes off to cook lunch (that's why I brought her!) and then when she comes back, I go eat. There is usually a member of the cofradia here from about 1p to 3:30p, then they leave for their lunch and come back around 7p. They usually let us loose around 9p and close up the albergue. We don't eat again, we are usually too tired and go to bed.
Our time here started out kinda wobbly with the language barrier being a huge issue. It still continues to be on some days with Spanish pilgrims who think we should speak the language if we are "working" here. Once I started wearing my Canada (with an Oregon pin over the maple leaf...don't want to be a poser!) Voluntaria Hospitalera pañuelo (sp?), that attitude seemed to disappear though I do get the occasional crazy French pilgrim who yells at me because he has to take his boots off. That was a fun one last night. He yelled "Viva la France!" when he left this morning...he even frustrated Julio, my cofradia amigo.
We get in free to the Cathedral, the Tower and the Pilgrim exhibit and have been to two of the three. The tower is pretty cool. We went up there the other day and could see 360 degrees around and it was about 6 stories up. We have also been doing walks in the morning when it is not 3 degrees out and hope to do the "Monastery" walk this week before we leave.
We just said goodbye last night to Julio, our cofradia amigo, who has been with us for the past week. He will be replaced by another cofradia, but will be missed. He put up with our butchering of his language and even our feeble attempts to use Google Translate to communicate the important things. He also took us out one by one every night, sometimes twice, for vino tinto and pinxtos! The next guy has a lot to live up to. :)
The pilgrims have been great for the most part. We have had pilgrims from all over...Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, England, Ireland, Scotland, US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, S. Korea, Japan and more...due to our language barrier, we do our best, but sometimes it seems that is not enough for some people. There are lots of "weekend warriors" who do the Camino on the weekends, so that might be why the albergues have been so full. We have been hovering around the 35-45 pilgrims the past few nights. We like it when we stay under 34 because then we don't have to open the room that is particularly freezing. They haven't turned on the heat yet and out of our two rooms in the old albergue, the smaller one is particularly brutal with its coldness.
My only thoughts about Sto. Domingo de la Calzada for future hospìtaleros...you should have reasonable Spanish skills and you should not mind having people hovering over you watching you work...this albergue is not "yours", it is "theirs" and they have a way they like to do things. They are very welcoming and warm and will bend over backwards to make sure you are doing well, but there is no food allowance, so you have to buy your own food (there was nothing about this in the information I received..). They will also have your back, like Julio did last night with the French pilgrim who didn't want to take his boots off. That being said, I think I would pick another place to serve in the future...like a place with no cleaning crew and maybe in a smaller town.
The weather report says it is going to rain today with a 90 percent chance...it's going to dip back down into the mid-teens during the day and single digits at night. I expect more crummy weather is on it's way, but we all know the weather changes rapidly here, so it might be a balmy 26 if we wait long enough!
That's my report from Sto. Domingo...
October 26 from Nájera
We have been enjoying time with 21-28 pilgrims for several days. Last evening we had 49 here because there was a group of 30 11-12 year old French children with their adult walking leaders. Starting 5 years ago, the parish started taking their confirmation class for a 7 day Camino walk, moving forward each year on the camino from their last stopping point. The kids walk 10 kms each day. They were really delightful to have here, very well supervised, having dinner at a local restaurant and breakfast at my favourite bar before leaving on their walk to see Heather in Santo Domingo.
I am keeping a photo log of some of the ways we have been helping the pilgrims start their day happily. Today a woman had torture boots that were destroying her feet. With an extra pair of warm socks and a pair of sandals from our ¨left behind take what you need¨ shelf, she left with a big smile.
We are a well oiled team here, enjoying our second week when we actually have time to have coffee, make meals. Tonight the other hospitalera Yolande is hosting a birthday party to celebrate her birthday....it starts at 10:00 after we close the albergue and can leave here. The local amigos of the camino are all her friends so will all be there. We are really looking forward to it.
October 27 from Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Well, we had the group of French kids last night...they were delayed yesterday because two of the boys were out exploring during lunch in Azofra and discovered a human skeleton in a vineyard! So the police were called and it delayed the group a bit...crazy times! There are 19 total including adults and they even have a priest with them so they had mass this morning in our chapel. Pretty cool!
And we got the woman who you outfitted with warm socks and sandals! She was so appreciative of your help, Maybeth.
Last night I got a tour of the cofradía's space on the second floor. No pictures were allowed, but it was pretty special. One room was their meeting space where they have special events. So much history in that one space. I could feel it oozing out of the wood in the walls! Then there was another room with their memorabilia and awards. Also, equally impressive. I felt like it was a real treat to get to go up there.
This coming Sunday, I asked to go to hear a Gregorian chant performance at the Cathedral and am looking forward to getting out for a couple of hours in the evening. Most pilgrims are done walking by 8p, although we had a woman who had walked the route from Irun and had gotten turned around a bit, so she arrived around 8:30p last night. Her difficulty was switching to Spanish after having learned a lot of Basque over the past week of walking in Basque country! She's australian and was super nice. She overstayed a bit today. Thank goodness the cleaning lady didn't arrive until 9:30a. We've been letting the pilgrims stay a little later because it's so dark here in the morning.
Looking forward to the end, but also happy to have met so many neat people who have tolerated our inability to speak their language. :)
October 27th from Nájera
I cannot believe that we have only a few more days here. Last evening Sylvia and I were invited to the birthday party of our third team member, Yolande. The party started at 10:00 pm when we tucked all the pilgrims into their beds and locked the doors in the albergue. We felt like we were breaking out of the albergue and went off to have a wonderful meal of appetizers, wine, spaghetti and 3 desserts sneaking back at 12:30 to break back in to the albergue. We had so much fun with the local people during the meal, a true Camino experience. Tonight we have another party they are giving to honour our time here. We look forward to more wonderful food, laughter, life lived at full volume in true Spanish style.
October 28 from Nájera
It is so much fun that we share the same pilgrim group. The skeleton episode was explored here with a trip to find the guardia civil station and report the find.
Our party was a lot of fun last night with another late night of 12:30. they showered us with gifts including 3 bottles of wine from the local very large bodega, a full size umbrella that will be tough to take on the plane, a carry bag with their logo, and a wonderful clay pilgrim sculpture made of the local clay by artisans in the area.
We finally went to visit the monastery here, went to the pilgrim mass to ring the bell for God, Santiago, and ourselves, and I walked out into the colourful woods along the riverbank this afternoon.
How can it possibly be Oct 28 already.
October 28 from Grañon
Thanks, Heather...we also had a group of French kids and adults traveling with their parish priest but no skeletons in Grañon! That will be the highlight of their trip! Last night was the most we have had..totalling 34 for dinner and to stay the night...this may seem like a small amount but when we prepare the cena...it makes a difference! Quite a different level of energy when the kids were there...lots of laughter and one of the leaders brought his guitar so the singing was great! Today we had to restock the larder and were told that there will probably be many more pilgrims this weekend who only walk for a few days for the holiday. Padre Jesus took us on a tour of some local monasteries on Wed. The fall colours are lovely. I have to leave on Sunday morning in order to catch my previously booked flight out of Madrid. Can´t believe the time has gone so quickly! Each day is unique in the way it unfolds...and at night now I don´t even hear the chiming church bells each hour...We had a new efficient stove installed yesterday that uses less wood and provides more heat. Now that the nights are colder it is a good renovation...enjoy the rest of your days in Spain and I look forward to a reunion! Tom...Marina said she remembers you so you will probably see her at the Pilgrims meeting later this fall...I remember her from the first time I walked in 2008. She is quite a character and everyone here knows her when she sweeps into town on her weekly visits. Hasta luego, todos!
And one final note:
I cannot believe we are in our second week. My colleague Sylvia and I have the hang of things now and we have our place sparkling. Pilgrims have been arriving with very negative experiences as well as bed bugs from Logrono. We give them a good clean up and a warm stay and they leave happy and grateful. I love gently waking them up in the morning with a small light at first and more lights later. When they are all fed, watered, geared up, I love sending them on their way for a positive day or whatever awaits. Daily there are challenges with blisters, tendonitis, flagging spirits and I enjoy the personal contact here. We try to make the albergue like a family experience.
There was a big town party in the square last night and a wonderful massive pan of bull and potato.