Hey there folks,
Forgive my lack of posts and updates for the bulk of my time is devoted to the pilgrims at the albergue here in Grado. Plenty of time to jot down thoughts in my journal, but bangin’ out a bitchin’ blog post is much more difficult. I’m not even mad; this gig is such a welcome chapter of my Life. And soon, my Life will change yet again for the better. I go from one happy moment to the next – yes, Life is good.
But you didn’t come here to read about how much I’m enjoying Life and brimming with excitement for Our future. If you’ll allow me, curious reader, let me tell you about being a hospitalero.
If you’ve walked Camino, no doubt you’ve had your good and bad experiences at albergues and hostels throughout the Way. I am of the persuasion that such experiences depend upon the hospitaleros and their treatment of the pilgrims. For many, the hospitalero gig is just a job. You stamp some passports, write down some information, and clean up when the horde leaves.
For me, being a hospitalero is the most magnificent part about Camino.
Every day a new adventure walks through the door and I get to be the first to greet them. And being in Grado, I meet many pilgrims who have set out upon their first Camino and we are their first albergue experience. Not only am I host for a day, but I double as a psychiatrist, a soundboard for emotions, ideas, and information. I’m a helping hand in whatever form the pilgrim needs.
For whatever reason, many pilgrims will open up to their hospitaleros about anything and everything that ails them. We all have our reasons for walking the Way, but it’s nice to have a welcoming shoulder and listening ear. Sure, I’m no shrink, but I make an effort on the pilgrim’s behalf. You hear a great many tales from all sorts of characters: some are sad, some are good, but many more make you think. For a day, we’re just providing the best service we can.
Watch your ass, Salas, for we’ve set this bar high.
But lemme give you the layout of our typical day (and what keeps me so occupied from my neglected blog).
We begin the day by serving a small breakfast for our charges, usually some bread, jams, butter, fruit, coffee, and tea. Not the biggest nor most elaborate breakfast, but it’s something everyone can enjoy. And hey, if you’ve walked afore, you know how important it is to stock up on a donativo breakfast. Yes, this albergue is funded entirely by pilgrims’ donations – that’s how we’re able to provide something every day.
Donativo, dear reader, does not mean free. It means you pay what you feel like contributing to keep the albergue running for the next batch of pilgrims. If you enjoyed a place, throw something into the pot to keep it alive and well to better serve the pilgrim population. Write a comment in the book whilst you’re at it – kind words are always appreciated.
After the last pilgrim leaves for the morning, we (Andreu and I) typically prepare our own breakfast. Since I like to cook, our breakfast usually takes the form of something unhealthy and American: bacon, eggs, things fried in oil that shouldn’t be fried at all, that sort of thing. And since we’re in Asturias, we usually have a bottle of local cider too.
Because Asturias kicks ass.
Poor Andreu is going to become a fat fuck.
And then we limpio. We clean the entire albergue, bottom to top (more practical that way), to ensure our next charges have a clean and welcoming place to rest for the night. Nobody likes coming home to a messy house; why should an albergue be any different?
Dishes are cleaned, floors scrubbed, the showers attacked with bleach because pilgrims are filthy people, and the sheets are exchanged for fresh ones. Every surface is wiped down, scrubbed raw, and made anew. This usually only takes an hour or so because Andreu and I are actually Mexicans. And would you believe it: he and I enjoy the same kind of music. The albergue shakes to wailing guitars and furious brooms.
Afterward, we might enjoy a second breakfast (hobbits) before buggering off down the hill into Grado to procure the daily supplies. And, hot damn, Grado has an open-air farmer’s market twice a week!
Supplies usually take the form of pilgrim breakfast materials for the next day, whatever cleaning products we’re running low upon, and some victuals for our own dinner.
So wine and bread, mostly.
Armed with baked goods and acidic toilet bowl scrub, we deposit our illicit gains back at the albergue before either a) having a third breakfast and bottle of cider or b) going back in to town for a few pints afore opening at 2PM.
Tough gig, I know.
Just before opening hours, we set out a plate of chocolate for the pilgrims (conveniently located next to the donativo box), some cold water with lemon (a trick I learned during training), and light a bit of incense to mask the pilgrim smell. At 2PM, high on Life and cider, we kick open the doors and bid the pilgrims enter.
But this ain’t your typical albergue, I tell you what. Nah, we take our time with the registration process. There’s no rush, after all; the pilgrims are already here. Why hurry them along?
“Relax,” I oft catch myself saying. “You’re here. Welcome.”
We chat in whatever language is needed, explaining the rules and hours of the albergue, and make sure they all get some chocolate and water. A small piece of something sweet does wonders at the end of a long day, and a genuine interest in their well-being goes even further.
After all the paperwork is done – and it’s a bit tedious – we escort the pilgrims about the building, showing them the facilities and what the albergue has in store for them. It’s a simple gesture, the tour, that shows we care about their stay here. And I really do care. I want people to enjoy their night and wake up the next morning eager to walk a 100km and kick some ass.
By 5PM, once the bulk of pilgrims have arrived and are rested, we serve some coffee, tea, and crumpets because we’re actually British. It’s enjoyable, this social hour, because everyone talks. There’s no WiFi here (except in our room, suckers) and this little caveat ensures people communicate as humans, and not Millenials. The pilgrims might have arrived as strangers, but they leave as comrades. That’s the spirit.
Somewhere between 5PM and 6AM, we make ourselves some dinner, I try and write in my journal/blog, and we clean and prep for the next day’s breakfast. By 10PM, the pilgrims are sound asleep, utterly knackered, but refreshed. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, they come down to enjoy the donativo breakfast before once more continuing their Way.
And this is a beautiful lifestyle.
We simply help a group of strangers for a day, making them feel welcome and part of the family. By the time they leave the albergue, this batch of pilgrims is no longer a group of strangers, but a small community of friends once more setting out upon their Way.
Fuck me, I love it.
Chatting and listening to the international pilgrims, sharing coffee or tea for a few moments throughout the day, asking and answering their many questions, cleaning up before and after them – it’s fulfilling.
I may be completely and utterly knackered at the end of the day, functioning on fewer than 5 hours of sleep and more than a pot of coffee, but I really enjoy this gig. My time at Albergue Villa de Grado is drawing to a close, but this experience will always be with me.