A few weeks ago, we spent a weekend at an albergue (pilgrim’s hostel on the Camino de Santiago) in Grañón, a teeny tiny town of just over 300 people in Rioja. We had stayed at this albergue on the Camino, and it was one of our favorite experiences and evenings, so we were super excited to go back. Even the sleeping-on-the-floor part. Notsomuch the Symphony of Snores part. But oh well.
We decided when we finished the Camino that we would both love to work as “hospitaleros” – volunteers who work at the donation-only albergues on the Camino. These are the people who welcome all the pilgrims, answer all their questions about the town, often organize group dinners (and many times do the cooking!), are up to say goodbye and send off pilgrims in the morning. At all the crazy hours that pilgrims want to leave. In our experience, these people were kind, warm, friendly, full of smiles and support, and have the opportunity to really make a special and memorable experience. To be a hospitalero, you need to have done the Camino, and also to attend a weekend course – which is what we were doing in Grañón.
There were about 50 of us – 28 aspiring hospitaleros, and the rest teachers/helpers, etc., all hospitaleros themselves. The group was entirely Spanish, but of every variety – old, young, employed, retired, even a wonderful group of folks from a special needs program in Vitoria. Overall, interesting, lovely people (some who REALLY liked to talk, like a whole lot) who laughed easily, with me and AT me (I was, after all, the only Americana there).
So the course was about getting a better understanding of what being a hospitalero is all about…like I mentioned, there’s the side that drew us – meeting so many pilgrims, making an impact on their Camino, helping, listening, cooking. And then there’s the other side. The fact that you are also responsible for cleaning and maintenance. Basically it’s like living in a house, having anywhere from 30 – 200 people staying with you every night, taking care of all of them, and then when they leave in the morning, getting your house ready to host an entirely new group. In other words, it’s a LOT of work. So much that they only assign you in two week increments, because they say 2 weeks is where the crossover point is, where your patience starts to run out, where you can’t imagine scrubbing another bathroom or getting up again at 4 in the morning, and when what you can hold on to are the amazing experiences you’ve had instead of leaving feeling like you never want to do it again.
Despite the fact that the whole class was in Spanish (I have to admit my head hurt just a bit after two full days, and not just because of the wine consumption), we passed. Of course. As did everyone. And soon after we got back home, we got an email with our assignment. She gave us two choices – a smaller albergue where you organize a group dinner, OR a bigger albergue with 210 beds – too big to organize dinner, of course. The way she wrote the email made it sound like she would choose the bigger one…it was worded in sort of an odd way, but we read it several times and decided that’s what she meant. So we chose the big one, only to get a response along the lines of “this is the first time in my 25 years of doing this that someone has willingly chosen the harder of the two options…this says so much about you…blah blah blah.” Woops. Clearly we read her email the wrong way. Yes, we’re good people, but…um…oh well. We can do it. So off we will go for the first two weeks of July to Ponferrada. I’m nervous. 🙂
Aaaaanyhoo. Why bother making a drive to Rioja without…yeah, yeah, yeah, really tough to guess what I am going to say next.
It was at this point that I realized that my handy-dandy point-and-shoot, my trusted friend, mi amigo, who has been with me all over and taken a bijillion pictures and who had started to smoke a bit when using flash, was actually starting to officially poop out. Not focusing well, blah blah blah. Le sigh. I think I got it like 6 years ago? Maybe 7? That’s like 150 in point-and-shoot years. The little guy has served me well.