Shortly after writing my previous post (A Tourist Demands. A Pilgrim Appreciates), I resumed the Camino after taking a day´s rest at a hostal in Burgos. I bought some warmer clothes, a fleece vest and a hooded top. And I enjoyed a room of my own: a double bed (rather than a bunk bed). A full bathtub with super hot water where I soaked for half an hour. Real bathsheets, not my paper thin microfiber trekking towel. No snoring neighbors. Lights off when I wanted, which was around 9pm, earlier than in the hostels. Darkening shades blackened the room.
The reentry was jarring. After walking 20km (12 miles), the typical distance, I arrived to Hornillos del Camino, medieval farming village with just one grocery store, a single bar/restaurant, and the municipal albergue. It was still early in the day, but the next available albergue was another 10km (6 miles) away, too far for me. I had no choice but to stay.
The albergue was the most cramped so far. Beds squeezed so close together there was no room to put backpacks and clothing nearby, not enough clearance for two people to stand between the bunks. The mattresses were worn, surfaces pilling, and saggy to boot. I thought of what I had written…that I only needed hot water and a firm mattress to feel gratitude. Maybe I needed space, too.
Was the Universe testing me?
I chose a top bunk against a wall, so that I would not be in the middle of the room, squeezed between two people. I left to check the restaurant menu (not appealing) and then went to the store. The proprietress had limited provisions. I asked her if she´d be open the next day.
“I´m closing at 5pm today,” she said. “For the season.”
I wondered what the Pilgrims coming in the next days would do for food as I cobbled together a meal and snacks for the next day: a can of sardines, a tomato, yogurts, a banana, a can of olives, chocolate, mixed nuts. Annoyed that I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, and hadn´t anticipated that I might want to avoid this particular town, I returned to the hostel and sat downstairs, in the common dining area with basic kitchen and wood stove, and took out my journal. Since it was drizzling outside, washed clothing hung on metal racks. A tall fellow with spectacles, wearing clinging black cycling tights, came in to see if his hiking pants had dried. He asked me how far I was walking.
“To Finisterre,” I said. It means the end of the earth and it´s on the coast.
“So, you are one of the privileged ones who can take the time,” he said in accented English.
“Yes,” I said. He was right. I am privileged, yet in that moment I couldn´t appreciate my circumstances. “Thanks for the reminder.”
Other people had gathered downstairs and were chatting and laughing, sipping coffee from the vending machine. Clearly, it was possible to enjoy this place, despite its shortcomings. Could I turn my head around and make the best of it, or at least not make it worse?
The hospitalera came down and started a fire, feeding large chunks of wood into the black metal hearth. It glowed a bright orange. Maybe I could focus on her kind gesture. As I basked in the warmth, I scanned the room. There was a poster that read:
“Yo No Hago El Camino. El Camino Me Hace a Mi.” I am not doing the Camino. The Camino is making me.
That night a man snored loudly as I was getting ready for bed. Others sighed, groaned. Beds squeaked. I jammed in my earplugs and, on top of those, my iPod earbuds. Still, I awoke several times during the night, as I have pretty much every night here, even in the room of my own. I was eager to leave, to find some breathing room and solitude in the Spanish countryside.
This morning, I left in the darkness, the path lit by my headlamp. I thought about privilege, and how the Chinese workers who stitched my new fleece vest probably live in such crowded conditions for years, not just one day. So do many people in the world, sleeping three or four to a room, if not a bed. The military, prisoners, detainees…all spend long stretches of time in difficult conditions.
How dare I kvetch, even to myself, about this particular restless night?
Will I remember to not “do the Camino” and instead allow it to do its work on me?