Foremost I would like to thank Michael and Kathryn from the Heart, Mind & Soul Project for hosting me at lunch today here in sunny Albuquerque. These two wonderful people were passing through my beloved New Mexico – of course we had to meet as fellow writers and volunteers are wont to do! Good conversation and better company is always on the menu.
That having been said, I have about a dozen drafts flitting about the place this moment – nothing is really worthy of being published I’m afraid.
That’s what happens when you are your biggest critic. Writers, amirite?
Whilst enjoying victuals this afternoon, Michael, Kathryn, and I swapped Camino stories – the two are quite well-traveled (the best kind of company) – and I was asked about my first Camino back in 2014. Rather than relate the conversation verbatim here, might I instead, dear reader, have you enjoy the following piece I penned shortly after Camino Primaris?
I’m not certain if I wrote the following for a contest or just because, but, all the same, enjoy it, eh?
I’m currently in the midst of what I call a Dark Day – that is, where the depression seems stronger than normal. I’m literally sitting in an ivory tower, watching the pristine ocean fade away into nothingness, cold beer in hand: and I feel nothing.
Guess it’s time to write, eh?
As you recall, I am in the midst of giving my testimony to a group of college-aged kids in Chile. You can read the first part here and the second here. If that tickles your fancy, go ahead and give them a read, then return here for part three of the Limping Along series:
On Camino the First and Revelations Aplenty
Editor’s Note – I’m pretty certain I didn’t go into this much detail when I spoke the testimony, but, again, the story might change but the message is the same.
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 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: