On Hospitality

Hey there folks,

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.

Home until 31 May

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.

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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.

Buen Camino, Peregrino!

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.

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Oh, the Pilgrims You’ll Meet!

Hey there folks,

As you recall from my previous post, I have been volunteering as a hospitalero here in El Burgo Ranero.

And if you don’t recall because you haven’t been following my blog, then shame on you, peasant. Go on. The Follow link is to the right. I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve rectified your grievous error, we can get on with the meat and potatoes of this post, which is a brief introduction to the sorts of pilgrims I’ve come across.

Continue reading “Oh, the Pilgrims You’ll Meet!”

Merry Happenstance

Hey there folks,

Camino is a very strange place, lemme tell you. Of course, if you’re out here, or have walked afore, you know this already. But if you haven’t walked the Way yet, let me a’splain the situation to you.

For many people, the Way is little more than a walk through northern Spain with some nice photo ops here and there, some fuckold churches (can I say that?), and sharing a big room with a bunch of drunken assholes that need to wake up at 5AM to walk 20km to the next big room full of drunken assholes.

A fuckold church (tower)

For me, it is (mostly) that, but there are a great many things that go unappreciated and undocumented in the copious amount of (unnecessary) guides people lug around.

Continue reading “Merry Happenstance”

Putting Things into Perspective

Hey there folks,

I write to you from the small municipal albergue of Boadilla del Camino, a rather sleepy town without much going on it seems. Cycling is upon the television, the locals are drinking up a storm (it’s 4PM), and there are far fewer dipshit turigrinos here than last night. So, yes, not a bad way to end the day. Yet what a day twas!

But let us backtrack just a wee bit, eh?

Yesterday evening, after a lovely night of chicken paella, copious vino, and serving as the impromptu Italian translator (weird, I know), I went to get my laundry from the line before turning in for the night. Much to my (mis)fortune, however, a small stone lodged itself between my foot and sandal, slicing apart the fleshy goodness that was my left big toe, leaving it a bloody, and painful, mess. Fuck, I’m fairly certainly I cried out in several languages. Not good – definitely not a good spot to injure yourself on Camino.

Instead of a photo of my eviscerated toe, here’s a pretty shot of the Meseta.

Fuck, again. Now what? I thought to myself as I watched an unending flow of blood stream forth from the hideous laceration, the suspect stone mocking me as my blood pooled about it. Buen Camino! I heard the little bastard laugh at me. I kicked it away in disgust, forgetting my laundry as I hobbled to the nearest sink, doing my best to not track blood everywhere. Christ, how it hurt.

Injuries are commonplace amidst the Camino. Many people will earn themselves more than a few blisters along the way, and the ubiquitous joint and back pain seem to affect more still. But almost severing a toe via stone? Bah.

What choices did I have then? After patching up the wound, I could continue the Way and hope my Boy Scout First Aid training pulled through. It would certainly be touch and go, a slower day no less. Or I could sit a day out and let the wound heal up naturally before continuing onward, giving not only my toe, but my body as well, time to heal and recuperate.

But momma didn’t raise no bitch, I said in defiant triumph, stitching together the remnants of my toe in preparation for the morrow. As the famous Dewey Cox once said, “And I will walk. Hard.

The next morning I donned my tactical sandals in lieu of my boots and began my trek westward. Trying to squeeze my wounded foot into my boots was not happening – too rigid and no air for the wound to breathe. Luckily the Way was mostly flat – albeit there was one steep hill – and it was typically easygoing.

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Not the hill in question; just a bitchin’ shot.

As I trudged along, and I mean trudged, I recalled that everything happens for a reason, absolutely everything, and my injury was no exception. There was a purpose behind that malicious stone, no doubt, and as I walked, anger, bravado, and frustration gave way to clarity and calm. Gone were the ill feelings that haunted my early rising, that sense of uncertainty about the day and my performance – here were only good things now.

By walking at a slower pace, I had more time to admire the beauty of the Meseta, a region many people find dull or lackluster. Yet here I was surrounded by an absurd amount of colors, sounds, and sights that strained all of my senses to truly appreciate.

The crunch of the gravel underfoot was coupled with the singing of various avians and the squeaks of mammalian critters, and the soft sound of the wind whistling throughout the budding wheat.

Greens of all hues and shades were juxtaposed against fields of fresh earth, punctuated here and there by haphazard splashes of floral colors. Multi-hued tractors churned the earth anew, their drivers just as colorful as their mechanic beasts.

And in the distance, one could always see the stone spire of a venerable church.

No, my injury was far from an impediment – it was the catalyst to clarity. Befitting, too, that it occurred upon entering the Meseta, the mental portion of Camino.

My mind soon focused not upon the emotions I let grip me the evening afore, but instead upon the beauty surrounding me in every waking moment. The pristine beauty of the Meseta and all Spain had to offer this day.

It allowed me to slow down and share with strangers, to laugh and talk with one another as if we were all old friends. The lovely German and Irish couple, the Irish gal redder than the sun, the friendly Spanish bar owner who gave me a medallion, the two French ladies enjoying the hilltop view, the people and souls of Camino who I might have simply walked on past had I not been humbled by a single stone.

That’s what felled Goliath, after all.

Bruno Goes to Burgos

Hey there folks,

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.

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So this is what 6AM looks like

If Burgos tickles your fancy, then by all means, comrade, read on.

Continue reading “Bruno Goes to Burgos”

Trail Wisdom

Hey there folks,

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.

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Mmm, mountains

– 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.

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Stealth Photo!

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.

Righto. Here’s to next time, folks!

We Caen Do This

That’s my well

Hey there folks,

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.

Continue reading “We Caen Do This”