At one albergue in El Burgo Ranero, a village in the meseta, a hand-printed sign urged Pilgrims to shower before going to bed. Each albergue has its rules (no smoking, quiet hours, etc.) but this was a first.
“Do people really need to be reminded?” I asked the volunteer hospitalera, a woman from Toronto. Who wouldn’t want a hot shower after a day of physical exertion? It´s a way of transitioning from movement to relaxation.
“You´d be surprised,” she said. Indeed, I had met two reeking young men at a very small hostel in Burgos. Their ripe aroma was so overpowering that I quickly left to do some sightseeing; still, I could smell them on my clothes. Luckily, they had showered by bedtime.
Two nights ago, in an albergue in the mountain hamlet of Foncebadon, during dinner an older gentleman complained that it was too cold to take a shower.
“It’s only cold for about 30 seconds,” I said. “Then you´ll be warm again.”
“But I dread that moment of taking off my clothes,” he said. So had I, when I arrived mid-afternoon. But I noticed there was only one shower for 20+ people and decided to use it before the place filled up. The bathroom was chilly. Pulling back the plastic shower curtain, I noticed that the window open (even though it was raining). I shut the window, took off my clothes, and prayed for hot water. Luckily, it came in spades.
“But there is only one shower,” he said, as if the shower: human ratio precluded bathing. Indeed, others put off showering because there was only one, as if not being able to shower exactly when one wanted to meant it was better to not do it at all.
“Well, maybe you’ll have to wait,” I said.
“But it’s going to be cold,” he repeated, mantra-like.
The odd thing was, we were not only several weeks into the Camino, so we’ve all had to deal with some inconvenience, but this was his ninth time doing the Pilgrimage. And, he was in 70s, old enough to have been in this situation before. Since he didn’t smell, as far as I could tell, I didn’t care if he showered or not. But he seemed to be trapped in that horrid fear zone, desiring something but blocked by a momentary discomfort that loomed as high as the mountain pass we would cross the next day. How often do we stop ourselves from either showering, or making a date, or calling a prospective client, simply due to a smidgen of fear?
“You need to focus on feeling good afterward,” I said.
“You’re right,” he said. ¨Cognitive reprogramming.”
“And the bathroom itself is warm now,” I said. “Lots of people have used it. It was cold when I got here.”
Another woman at the table also encouraged him to shower; he´d feel better afterward. This dialogue — him kvetching, us reassuring — went on for too many minutes. After dinner, around 9:30pm, or six hours after I had showered, he gathered his towel and soap. As I brushed my teeth, I heard him turn on the water.
A few minutes later he returned to the dormitory, freshly bathed.
“There was no hot water,” he said. “They must have ran out.”
It´s a shame he hadn’t faced his fear sooner.