“…I learned that pilgrims from every land–every color, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike–all snored in the same language.” ―Malcolm X
Huge rooms full of squeaky bunk beds, small rooms full of squeaky bunk beds, basement rooms, smelly rooms, a room in the basement of an athletic community center…family-style dinners with new friends from all over the world, evening sing-alongs from time-to-time (once even lead by nuns), bathroom lights turning off automatically at the most inopportune times…old showers, short showers, token-operated showers, men and women brushing their teeth side-by-side…vending machines for coffee, for soup, for toothpaste, for beer…vying for outlets, vying for gear space, vying for beds…
Experiences at the albergues on the Camino ran the gamut…
The pilgrim hostels, or albergues, along the Camino Francés, were varied and provided all manner of experiences, most welcome, others less so. Yet despite the myriad frustrations that often accompanied the communal living, the rewards far outweighed the drawbacks.
Pilgrim Diversity & Camaraderie
There were among us people from all walks of life; a multitude of ages, different socio-economic statuses, and diverse nationalities. In the space of five minutes, one might easily hear five different languages spoken; Korean, Dutch, German, French, Afrikaans, Spanish, and of course, ubiquitous English, which frequently seems to be the main language on the Camino. The youngest pilgrim I encountered was about two months old and the eldest, over eighty. Among the people I met were a marine anthropologist, a surgeon, teachers, retirees, students, people who had lost their jobs or couldn’t find work…
The sense of camaraderie (see my post about the interesting origins of this word) was palpable in most places, although to be sure, everyone did not always get along and there were times when certain people avoided certain others (what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino)… But overall there was a sense of common purpose and a shared journey.
“When I am with a group of human beings committed to hanging in there through both the agony and the joy of community, I have a dim sense that I am participating in a phenomenon for which there is only one word…’glory’.” ―M. Scott Peck
Laundry was an integral part of each and every day on the Camino (well, for most of us, and for the others, we wished it had been) and different albergues provided different facilities. Some had coin-operated washing machines and dryers, some had just the washing machines; the majority had sinks and clotheslines. (I wish I had taken pictures of the facilities in each place so that I might provide you with visuals.)
To ensure dry clothes by morning, laundry was typically the first thing we did upon arriving at our destination (well, after a shower), in order to take advantage of the warm, often hot, afternoon sun. Space on clotheslines was often at a premium and on my next Camino I will be sure to carry at least ten clothespins with me. Pilgrims spend a fair amount of time discussing laundry soap; some carried special laundry bars, others carried little containers of detergent. For many of us, shampoo did double duty as laundry soap. Quick-drying clothing from Ex Officio or SmartWool or one of many other companies almost guaranteed dry clothes by the morning.
Prior to embarking upon this adventure, I had planned to spend several nights at three- or four-star hotels, perhaps even a parador. But when I actually arrived at the cities with the fancy hotels, the last thing I wanted to do was separate myself from my “Camino family”. (The Emilio Estevez movie starring Martin Sheen, “The Way”, really goes a long way in illustrating the amazing camaraderie that can form on the Camino.)
Day-by-Day Breakdown of the Albergues
The night before my Camino began:
|Day 1: Refuge Orisson.|
|Day 1: Family-style dinner at Refuge Orisson. Some of my closest bonds
with people developed right here the first night.
|Day 1. Olalla and I continued traveling together for many days after that, until she experienced knee problems in Najera and had to take some rest days to heal. I still communicate regularly with Felix and Olalla from Orisson. I can’t recommend Orisson highly enough for those starting from SJPdP; I will definitely try to make reservations there again on my next Camino Francés.|
|Day 1: Two pilgrims relaxing at Orisson.|
Eating a vending machine breakfast in the dining hall at Roncesvalles before setting out for Zubiri. Thank goodness for “second breakfast”, which always came an hour or two after being on the Way.
Day 4: The kitchen at the municipal albergue in Pamplona.
The municipales are subsidized by the government and are
typically several Euros less expensive than private albergues.
Day 4: The dorms in the Albergue Municipal in Pamplona.
Amenities: light in each quad & an outlet for each bed.
Drawbacks; giant bright night lights and many, many people.
|Day 5: Vying for electrical outlets at the albergue municipal in Puente de La Reina|
Day 6: Little did I know what a luxury I would come to consider a bed that
wasn’t a bunk bed. It turns out that the bunk beds can feel rather like an
earthquake when the person above or below moves during the night.
|Day 6: My space for the night in Ayegui. That’s my clotheslines stretched from post to post.|
Day 7: Mexican sisters Ana and Yeni relaxing by the lockers at Pata de la Oca. I don’t remember whether any of actually used the lockers.
|Day 7: Waiting for dinner in the restaurant at Albergue Pata de la Oca in Torres del Rio.|
Day 8: Albergue Puerta de Nájera. Charming place albeit somewhat crowded with beds. I don’t think there was a night that I didn’t have a bottom bunk.
|Day 8: Albergue Puerta de Nájera.|
Day 8: Albergue Puerta de Nájera. Most of the albergues required that pilgrims remove their boots before entering the dormitories.
|Day 9: Santo Domingo de la Calzada (albergue municipale). #*_@#M(I@ night light.|
|Day 9: Santo Domingo de la Calzada (albergue municipale).|
|Day 10: Belorado, Burgos (Albergue Cuatro Cantones). Poor exhausted pilgrim crashed out at the kitchen table.|
Belorado, Burgos (Albergue Cuatro Cantones). More crashed out pilgrims mid-afternoon. This is actually a really sweet couple I ran into over and over.
|Day 11: Belorado, Burgos (Albergue Cuatro Cantones). Charming!|
Albergue Hutte in Atapuerca. I don’t know what “Hutte” means but “hut” would be appropriate. This was my least favorite of all the albergues in which I stayed. I got the impression that once it had been a barn. It was very dark (despite appearances). Additionally, all my friends stayed at the other albergue in town. How did this come about? When I arrived in Atapuerca and went to the other albergue, a person I didn’t feel comfortable with was already there. Rather than risk being stuck there with him alone (I didn’t know if my friends were going to end up in Atapuerca that night or not), I decided to go to the Hutte. The good news was that I met a very nice Spanish couple and their 12 year old daughter (see the picture below) and ended up walking with them frequently over the next few days.
Ana and Gael had stopped at the Albergue Municipal in Boadilla, which was at the entrance of the town when walking from Hontanas. There was, however, a long line and I could see that the dormitory was dark and crowded so I decided to walk around town. I looked at my list of albergues and noticed another one called, “En el Camino” so decided to check it out. (I also had the vague recollection of my Camino Forum penpal, Linda, telling me about it.) It looked interesting so I walked through the portal…
Albergue Paroquial Santa Maria in Carrion de Los Condes. Wow, what a change from the last albergue. Not only was it packed, here we ran into a huge group of college students from Pepperdine. They were very nice but it was strange to be around a large from of Americans after spending all my time with Europeans the past couple of weeks.
|Here’s my bunk (yep, the lower one) in Carrion.|
On Day 18, I stayed in Albergue Laganares in the one-horse town of San Nicolas del Real Camino. Visually it was charming. However, because it was the only “show” in town, the locals showed up at the bar around 9 at night and partied until late. It was actually rather surreal because they were so raucous.
See “Accomodations Part 2“…