Last night, I literally hobbled into the albergue in Ledigos, a tiny farming village. There was a better place to stay a few kilometers away, but I couldn´t go any further. Plus, the weather was starting to change. The hospitalero, with jet black hair and a thick rural accent, checked me in.
“Your name?” he asked.
“Ilona,” I said, and started to spell it. He got confused. “My name is on my credencial,” I said, taking the document out of my money belt so he could look at it.
“I can´t see. I’ve got a bad eye.” He pointed to his right eyeball, glassy and stuck in place.
“I´ll write it down for you.” I took the pen and wrote my name in the registry.
He showed me to the dorm room. Chilly red ceramic tiles covered the floor. Two bare bulbs suspended from the ceiling barely illuminated the huge room. I picked a bottom bunk by a radiator but when I touched the metal it was cold. To get to the toilets, sinks and showers, I had to walk outside. Then it started to rain, amplifying the dreariness. I reminded myself that at least I was indoors, protected.
I went to the front of the building to get a hot drink; the albergue was the only business open in town.
“Do you have green tea?” I asked. The gal behind the bar pulled out a green box of tea. Except it wasn’t green tea.
“What types of tea do you have?” I phrased it differently.
“Regular and camomile.”
“I´ll have the camomile.”
Like in every other Spanish establishment, she filled a tiny metal pot with hot water and put the bag inside. The white ceramic cup, used for coffee, was about half the size of a tea mug, yielding maybe five or six sips worth, not more. Having decided to toss my tea paraphernalia, I chose to get used to it.
That night, I and the other Pilgrims huddled under blankets in the common room until the owner finally turned on the heat. This morning, I left before sunrise and walked in the thick morning mist from one village to the next, stopping at each for a hot drink. As I approached the second village, Moratinos, still shrouded in fog, I spotted a hostal with a brightly lit cafe on the first floor. I approached and looked inside at the white walls, tidy wood chairs and benches with bright orange cushions, funky lamps hanging from the ceiling. I opened the door and said hello. A ponytailed woman, perhaps in her 50s, came to the counter.
“Do you have green tea?” I asked, in Spanish.
“Yes,” she said in English, producing a wooden box with a glass cover, filled with colorful packets. It turned out she was from Munich and had opened the hostal last year. “Which kind would you like?”
I wondered if it was a mirage, this bounty of delicately flavored teas in an inviting and contemporary space in the middle of nowhere. Moratinos has a population of 22. I chose a fluorescent green packet that had the word Angel on it; it was infused with pear and other fruits.
The tea, served in a regularly sized glass mug, was delicate. I nursed it for 20 minutes. I had forgotten the restorative powers of such a beverage. Normally good tea is not a big deal but at that moment it felt like a small miracle.