As a Catholic, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to believe in nor acknowledge without offending the Almighty, His angels and saints, and my many good Catholic friends. Do forgive me, for I’m just a mere (im)mortal with his sporadic outbursts of piety coupled with extreme heathenism. For you see, dear reader, I do firmly believe in Fate and that things happen for a reason: whether we realize the reason or not is irrelevant. Free will, to me, is an expressed illusion, for our Fate has already been woven – we simply follow the thread through our own labyrinth.
For reference, view the first 25 seconds or so.
Forgive me, Catholic friends, for citing Odin as a skald to live by.
So, enough heathen outbursts; meat and potatoes, eh?
As you know, I have been volunteering as a hospitalero here in El Burgo Ranero since Sunday past. My initial stint was to only serve until yesterday morning; however, Fate, that insensitive bitch, decided to rob me of my American companion. Following a family emergency, he departed yesterday afternoon, leaving me alone to run the albergue during the bulk of the day. I have the assistance of a local sapo (that is, a local hospitalero who can show up as needed) to help clean the place and register pilgrims, but by the time the completo sign goes up, I am on my lonesome caring for the joint. And per the arrangement I made with my departing comrade, I will serve out the remainder of the month as the token American hospitalero here in El Burgo Ranero before the cavalry arrive.
Not quite how I expected this Camino to go, but I am incredibly grateful it took the turn it did.
Over a communal dinner, an American lass asked me what it takes to become a hospitalero. Varying country to country, the American Pilgrims on Camino (APOC) requirements stipulate that one must accomplish three things: successfully complete the Camino itself, participate in an accredited training workshop, and choose a two-week period you don’t mind volunteering. I successfully completed my first Jakobsweg back in 2014, a 10-week sojourn from Fribourg, Switzerland, to the fabled Finisterra, and ever since then have been itching to just give back to the Way. Last month, I attended the national gathering of APOC and there completed the required training to satisfy the second requirement. Now all I needed was to decide upon some dates, but me being me (Chaotic Good), I allowed things to grow as they go.
And how fortunate was that (in)decision making for I soon found myself the opportunity to prove my worth. And I must say, comrades, being a hospitalero is the most enlightening and charming thing about this Camino experience. What use is there of a fabled city with a dead saint when the real treasure walks through my door every day? Here is truly the international experience I seek for I nightly share my table with all continents, cultures, and beliefs; the entire world around one table.
The albergue itself is a modest faux-dobe building with a complete kitchen, dining area, fireplace, dedicated washer and mercurial dryer, plenty of hot water, and 30 beds. Every morning, Sapo and I clean the entire thing: beds, sheets, floors, windows, tables, chairs, kitchen, bathroom, the whole shebang. Fresh flowers dot the interior, bringing some nice color to the wood and tile decor, and, should weather permit, pilgrims might get themselves a roaring fire. As a municipal, many pilgrims are leery of settling for the night, but I do declare that Sapo and I alleviate any concerns through the expression of our job title: hospitality.
That’s the entire key to this volunteer gig – to be a hospitable person. We must check ourselves at the door and instead only offer kindness, patience, and understanding to a new group of tired, disgruntled pilgrims day after day. As I write this, a Frenchman and Italian are arguing over who gets to buy me the first beer because I opened the completo albergue, allowing them to rest upon the floor, along with 10 other pilgrims.
Every day brings new challenges and problems to be overcome, and meeting them with ill-temperament, short-handedness, or mere apathy will rankle anyone. One must remember that the pilgrims have been walking the bulk of their day – they are tired, hungry, dehydrated, and eager to rest – and being met at the door by an uncaring bureaucrat who sees little beyond a CV booster does much harm to their Camino experience. Hospitality; hell, it’s in the job title.
This volunteer opportunity isn’t all rainbow sunshine and unicorn farts, however, for pilgrims are still people, and God love ’em, people can be shitheads. The irritable ones who decry what the Camino has become (back in my day, types), the curt types who meet your smile with a shrug and see little more than a bed than an experience, and the sneaky types who wander about the albergue as if it were their own home, disregarding privacy of others or posted signs (hey, hospitaleros are human too; get out of my quarters!), and the list goes on. People, bless their hearts, people.
But the benefits far outweigh and overshadow any shortcomings one might find as a volunteer. Rather than letting an older Frenchman sleep on the floor (we being completo and all), I showed him my private quarters and lent him the spare bed for the night. A distraught Korean woman took the spare mattress in my hallway, whilst a slew of pilgrims will share the floor tonight – those with sleeping bags generously donated their blankets to their comrades on the ground. I have been reunited with many folks I had passed in previous days as a walking pilgrim – impromptu gatherings of this sort are fantastic. Offering food and drink to those who have none, greeting everyone with a smile, and carrying bags up and down the stairs – the little things, folks – they all add up. Pilgrims will remember their stay at an enjoyable albergue, and it’s our duty to make sure we’re part of those memories. Sure, we might not have WiFi, but we do our best to offer a genuine Camino experience to those seeking one.
And here at El Burgo Ranero, I hope you enjoy your experience.
After my chance reunion with my Icelandic comrade in the town of Bercianos del Camino, we walked ran the next 8km to El Burgo Ranero in short order, arriving before the local municipal, Domenico Laffi, had officially opened to pilgrims for the day.
As the two of us sat outside in the wind and sun, I took the opportunity to reflect upon how far I had come already this Camino. Sunday marked two weeks walking, non-stop, from St. Jean. Some days were brutal and long; some were relatively quiet and short. But each was a blessing unto itself, with trials and afflictions sharing the same path as alleviation and respite. Every day you wake up, comrades, is a day to appreciate.
Yes, it’s true, your erstwhile wanderer has made it to the fabulous city of Burgos, somewhat officially marking the beginning of the Mesata on Camino. I had originally planned to walk on through this bloated industrial habitation, but upon glimpsing the cathedral spires through the trees, I was compelled to stop for the day. And lawdy am I glad I did.
If Burgos tickles your fancy, then by all means, comrade, read on.
I was planning on writing a longer post but I’m absolutely knackered from pimp slappin’ the Pyrenees today so you’ll just have to make do with pictures and bullet points. Quit your bitchin’ – this is trail wisdom. You’ll go far, kid, with these observations about Life on the Way.
Bruno’s Trail Wisdom; or, Here’s to Enjoying Life
– If you’re on the fence about bringing an item, leave it behind. – Exactly what it says on the tin, folks. Today, it being the first day for many pilgrims, you see bags filled to the brim with absolutely every pocket stuffed with gods knows what; the give-and-take table at the albergue is completely covered in such items. If you are hiking for any amount of time, be mindful of what you bring because you have to carry every ounce upon your back.
– Every mountain has a peak. – Don’t get discouraged because the trail keeps going up; it has to end somewhere. You just keep chugging along, one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, hell, you just climbed a mountain! It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or if you take a break, or if you want to quit and go home. The important thing is to remember that everything that might seem difficult to you now will be inconsequential so long as you keep going. Reach the peak, then shout from the top.
– Turn around now and then. – Not to see who’s following you or whom you’ve left behind, but to take in your accomplishments and see the world you just passed by. Look how far you’ve come already! Just by keeping your head on a swivel, you can really improve your mood. That mountain behind you? Yeah, you hiked that fucker. The city eating your dust? Left it behind like an orphan baby. People are capable of incredible things, and sometimes you just need that friendly reminder. Turn around and take in those sights.
– Be friendly to everyone, yes, everyone you meet on the trail. – For starters, being a dickhead is rarely acceptable behavior (unless you’re from the North), and a smile goes a very long way. Even if you don’t speak the lingo, a simple nod, smile, wave, or anything, really can do wonders for other people. Maybe homeboy’s having a shitty day, and you just brightened his mood by being polite. Yes, being polite to everyone – including those goddamned wop daigos and their insufferable audible levels – can work wonders. Be nice on the trail.
– You’re never alone. – Look at those two! Fuck, I walked behind them for a few hundred meters waiting to get a good shot of them holding hands as they hiked; it was beautiful. Just two loving pilgrims walking along together, paying no mind to the howling wind or stinging rain; simply walking as one. Always remember, no matter where you are, you aren’t alone. You are always in someone’s thoughts, prayers, hopes, and dreams. When you stop and realize that, well, it makes all the hardships more bearable.
You will see that well I have mentioned a few times in previous posts. I added a total of four layers to it; makes it less of a trip hazard. Not bad for having never done anything remotely close to bricklaying, eh? Apart from working with the animals (and slaughtering a few of them) this was my proudest moment at the Wwoof site. Well said (get it? well said??)
But as you know, if you’ve been following along, my time Wwoofing has come to an end and I once more find myself upon the road with few cares and little aim – the way I like it. I tossed around the idea of walking from Mont-St-Michel towards Santiago, kicked about the notion to spend some time in Paris, even debated the merits of just Wwoofing across France and postponing Santiago in entirety.
The Gathering of Pilgrims has come to a rousing conclusion with many a tearful farewell and promises to keep in touch. This blog will hopefully allow me to maintain some connections because I am actually pretty terrible at writing emails reliably. Letters, however, are another story and I can (and will) write those on the reg for some special Roses. Maybe even call once in a while too.
Well, I’ve been in lovely Ireland for approximately three hours now and the rain has yet to stop. Oh sure, it might slow down for a bit, maybe even suspend itself mid-drop to give the illusion of stopping, but this lovely country is either blessed or cursed by the machinations of the Rain God(s). Through the constant gray mist and perpetual showers, I have seen some rather green (and soaked) fields and interesting (yet soaked) architecture. Just on my block (Quay Street), I can see the steeples of at least four churches. And we’re talkin’ steeples here, mind, not the jibber jabber us Americans are used to – these are churches!
I’ve shacked up in the Four Courts Hostel now for the next two nights: one to recover from jet lag and excessive airplane travel and one to play tourist in the city of Dublin itself. After all, I want to look inside all of those steeples I can glimpse here and there through the downpour. It’s a lovely city, Dublin, and I really do look forward to exploring it, camera in tow, Guinness on draft.
Now then, I need to sleep and recuperate. I am a very tired monkey, after all. Cheers for now.
Tonight at the Gathering of Pilgrims, to round out the night, they showed a film to us about one man’s journey to complete the Camino. This man, Phil, was diagnosed with cancer and, per his doctors, will more than likely perish from this. I will admit that heart strings were pulled and tears were shed as I watched this short film. It was, simply, beautiful.
The film (which you can find here and on Facebook) was partly brought into fruition through the machinations of one of my fellow hospitaleras. It was actually shown at the SXSW festival earlier this year for you Austin types. My new acquaintance is the one on the far left; the director, who spoke about her film, is on the far right.
This film, Phil’s Camino, tells the very moving tale about a man destined to die yet is determined to finish his walk to Santiago. I really cannot express enough how beautiful this is to me. My mother had breast cancer (yet she beat the ever living shit out of it) so this film really hit home for me. Perhaps it was the wine, more than likely the heart strings being tugged, but this was the first film in a very long time to make me shed some saline. It is moving to watch his family and friends support his decision to walk, and very possibly die, on Camino.
Even in his finite time on the Earth, Phil seizes the day and strides forth, walking about the Camino as he fulfills his pledge even as cancer ravages his body. This documentary film showcases one of the many reasons people take to Camino and how that affects them and their loved ones back home. It is very well done, and the fact that the crew were in tow available for questioning made it even more endearing.
Through tears and broken voice, I hugged the director and her staff, thanking them for their incredible film and the potential impact it would have on future (and past) pilgrims. Yes, my mother survived the cancer, but what family isn’t touched by this horrendous decay? In Phil’s Camino, they brought life to death and made a memorable film for people to enjoy, or rather, take heed.
Go. Go forth and seize that day. Take to Camino, take to the road, and seize whatever day you’ve set aside for yourself. There is no time like the present, so it goes, and you never know when the Reaper comes. In that regard, go. Just go.
If you can spare a few bucks, please donate to this film and get the message out. It’s a worthy investment, a beautiful tale, and something worth spreading.
After a final night of schmoozing and drinking with the family, I boarded my first plane at approximately 6AM to begin the next chapter in my wandering lifestyle. My heart was heavy for I was leaving a great many things behind me – the sort of things a man doesn’t want to let go of – but my journey had to begin with this first step.
Two flights and a train ride later, here I am in Illinois at the Our Lady of the Snows chapel, ready to begin some hospitalero training courtesy of the American Pilgrims on the Camino. Already I’ve met a smattering of delightful folks I’m eager to spend the week with – seems like plenty of stories to be heard and shared. It has been a hell of a day and I’m quite an exhausted monkey, but I felt the need to share my thoughts (and packing list) before I became too embroiled in the week’s upcoming events.
Without further ado, let us go over The Packing List.
The bag pictured to the left holds all of my gear for the next few months (excluding the things I’ll be wearing day-to-day). It’s a nice bag, an REI model in the M/L range my brother was kind enough to let me borrow. The rain cover was a bit dull so I spruced it up with a positive message: To the ends of the Earth. Because, really, this bag is going places.
In all, I am carrying the following and justifying them thusly:
2 Pairs of Clothing (Shirts, socks, pant/short combo, and drawers)
1 Rain Coat (ponchos are too heavy and cumbersome; this pulls double duty in colder temperatures)
1 Hippie Blanket (a silly sheet you find at Ren Faires you can fold into various articles of clothing; versatile, lightweight, and fits any occasion)
Hiking Boots and Jesus Sandals (walk hard, play hard)
1 Hat and Bandanna (they go on my head)
1 Microfiber Towel (lightweight, dries fast, doubles as an extra blanket)
1 ASUS T100 2-in-1 Tablet (the better to blog with)
1 Fujifilm XP80 Camera (to inundate you with photos; also impervious to much of Nature’s wrath)
2 leather-bound journals (one to keep track of personal thoughts and reflections, the other to document Camino itself and her nuances)
1 Fanny Pack (replete with cash, passports, paper, and exclusive Euro vibes)
1 Canteen (you put water in it)
And that’s it. Everything, excluding the water, comes out to approximately 11 pounds. A good rule of thumb for long distance hiking is to carry about 10% of your weight max. Me being a fatass, that number would be closer to 17 pounds; however, my being a badass ensures this number is far lower and easier to carry. Trust me – you don’t need most things you think you might need when you’re out and about. As my brother said, “Ounces equal poundses.” You have to carry every last ounce so be mindful of that when packing.
After months of planning and prepping, hell, it is difficult to believe the day has finally arrived. Will some days suck? Absolutely. Will my fatbody protest in impotent rage? Of course. Will the experience be worth it? Damn right.
Now then, I am off to find some grub that isn’t coffee, shave my pathetic neckbeard, and hopefully get myself a nap. Until next time, comrades.
Oh and here’s the cutest picture you’ll see today: