I hate bunk beds

bunkbeds_blogMost of the albergues you’ll stay at along the Camino de Santiago have bunk beds – an obvious way to maximize the use of space and accommodate as many peregrinos as possible. But I quickly grew to dislike bunk beds after whacking my head several times while sitting on the lower bunk. (Only a couple of the bunks had sufficient clearance to avoid this mishap.) Yes – even as short as I am, I suffered through numerous bumps and bangs – a rather amazing feat considering that I’m only 4’10”. (My father will tell you that I’m exaggerating and am only 4’9 3/4″, but he’s not the one writing this blog.)

My dislike for the bunk beds was only exceeded by my even more quickly developed dislike for the large municipal albergues. All those people crammed into those space (even if divided into separate rooms) generated a noise level which sets my nerves on edge. And I’m not even talking about the snoring, which wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard. I mean the general noise level of all the conversations reverberating through the spaces until “lights out” (especially bad at the Jesus y Maria albergue in Pamplona). So we developed a strategy to avoid the larger hostels, even if it meant rearranging our intended distances/destinations to stop short (or go ahead) of the major cities: a strategy I highly recommend.

I very much enjoyed the smaller, privately run albergues which facilitated more intimate interactions with our fellow peregrinos, to include more enjoyable communal meals and smaller common rooms to sit around and chat.

In Viskarret, we stayed at Corazon Puro, run by a lovely Hungarian couple. Me, Xina, and Emelia (from Denmark) were the only guests. We had a lovely meal, prepared by Barbara who joined us for dessert and conversation.

In Larrasoana, we stayed at the San Nicolas albergue, which had only been open for ten (10) days! Brand spanking new! We enjoyed another delicious meal and conversation with peregrinos from a number of countries. Some of these same peregrinos we would run into again and again at different stages, including Emelia. By the way, put together two tables of travelers (from places ranging from Canada, Brazil, Germany, England, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, etc.) and what language is everyone speaking? English.

In Obanos, despite being in an albergue (Usda) with more than 20 beds, Xina and I were the only guests – quite nice to have a place all to ourselves. (Most people continue on to Puente la Reina, but we were tired and stopped short.) In Villatuerta, we stayed at Case de Magica, known for its vegetarian meals. This is where the first included photo is from. See: no bunk beds!!

In Los Arcos, we stayed at Casa de Austria, welcomed warmly by Julian, a hyperactive 20-something from Germany – and very nice! They didn’t have a kitchen, but there were numerous cafes within easy walking distance even for me (this was the leg during which I suffered my initial foot injury). One of the amusing happenings on this leg was again running into Guy, from Montreal, at the municipal albergue when we went to pick up our bags which we’d had shipped ahead. He was sharing a snack with a young man out on the porch, and when we confirmed just how nice San Nicolas was, the young man made a choking motion toward Guy. Why? He thought Guy was exaggerating about its amenities and, after suffering through the municipal albergue in Larraosoana – reportedly even more horrible than we had been warned – he was very annoyed to find out that Guy was not exaggerating. Lesson learned: don’t stay at that place!

In Ventosa, we stayed at San Saturnino run by an older woman who seemed rather stern – at least at first – but she warmed up to everyone in the morning and was more talkative. San Saturnino had a wonderful central courtyard and was beautifully decorated. Saturnino_blogWe did stay at the municipal albergue in Azofra – which doesn’t stick out in my memory for some reason.

In Santo Domingo, we stayed at Casa Santo which seemed nice at first because the numerous beds were divided up into multiple rooms, but proved to be rather noisy because of the central atrium. Didn’t like it, especially after the 20-something “Brit Twit” (no, I don’t mean all the other very nice and considerate Brits I encountered) who sprayed his stinky, scented deodorant all over his clothes (rather than washing them) in a room full of people with utterly no consideration for anyone who might have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues (like me). He seemed to think it was not a problem, but I assure you it was. I had to leave the room and even go out to a pharmacy to buy cough syrup. Did he think his stinky, scented crap stayed in the immediate vicinity of where he sprayed it? Talk about a complete lack of common sense understanding of the dispersal of air molecules. What an asshole. (Yet another reason to not like large albergues.)

And, of course, I can’t say enough about Divina Pastora in Burgos. It’s very small (only 16 beds), but it’s quiet, intimate, and Alicia (the hospitalero) is sweet, kind, and caring. It’s located above a small church near the cathedral and one does wonder if he/she might have made a mistake choosing these accommodations upon feeling the church bell clanging the hour (yes, it actually vibrates through the structure), but the bell does not ring during the night so you can sleep peacefully. I look forward to returning to the Camino, starting in Burgos, and hopefully getting a bed at Divina Pastora. DivinaPastora_blog

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Reflections upon an Unfinished Camino

Foot_ForBlogIt’s been a little over a week since I had to return home early from Spain, cutting short my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It would be terrific to still be walking with my friend, Xina Uhl, who is now within 100 kilometers of Santiago de Compostela but there is no way I could have kept up with her 20+ kilometer a day pace nor withstood the increasing pain in my left foot. And my foot still likes to remind me of that with random stabs of pain and bizarre tingling sensations. X-rays were inconclusive because, according to the podiatrist, stress fractures can take more than two weeks to show themselves. At the very least the foot is severely sprained and the doctor said I could not have continued to walk on it without exacerbating the damage. (That was my fear: had I kept going – would I have found myself somewhere along the Camino, unable to walk and not near a major city, encountering even more difficulty trying to get out?) That is why I chose to turn around in Burgos, which was still close enough to return to Barcelona on a single six hour train ride. As it was, between the non-existent customer service of Norwegian Air and the unreachable customer service of CheapoAir (the ticket reseller I had purchased the Norwegian Air ticket), resulted in my having to buy an entirely new plane ticket to get back to the U.S. (My complaints to the two companies are still outstanding.)

But I refuse to let my injury and outbound frustrations darken my experience upon the Camino. The Spanish countryside is beautiful and the people are extremely friendly and helpful, a bonus Xina and I discovered early on: from the hostel receptionist who kept the doors open past closing time because our Barcelona-Pamplona train was delayed to the several people in the small towns and villages who ran out of their houses to let us know we were going the wrong way when they saw us miss the route markers. Then there was Barbara, the Hungarian woman who co-owns Corazon Puro in Viskarret who steered us to our next destination (the San Nicolas albergue in Larrasoana) – for which we’re ever grateful, because we not only met so many other wonderful peregrinos there but because we later heard how horrible the municipal albergue in Larrasoana is. (I’ll save further comments on the various albergues for later.)

In Obanos we asked an older gentleman to point us in right direction. He didn’t just point; he walked us to the edge of town, chatting as best we could in our mangled Spanglish. In Villatuerta, at La Casa Magica, the receptionist extinguished the incense burning in the lobby when my friend explained that I am allergic to it (and can get serious migraines) and then walked me up to the rooms via the back way to allow time for the incense smell to dissipate. In Los Arcos, the owner (we think he was the owner) of Casa de Austria made wire art of our names while we sat, chatting and enjoying a drink in the common room. name_art

My two favorite hosts: Alicia, who runs the small Divina Pastora albergue, and Tony, the receptionist at Hotel Alda Entrearcos, both in Burgos. Alicia I can best describe as a woman who is confident and secure in her faith and her duties to care for the peregrinos who pass through her doors. She played her guitar and sang for us in the morning (“Buenos Dias Maria”) as a gentle wakeup call. And, upon our leaving that last morning and seeing how upset I was about having to quit and return home, she gave me a big hug and told me she’d see me next year or the year after when I return. Tony was equally gracious, although I didn’t find that out until later. I had stayed at his hotel my second of the three nights in Burgos as a break from the constant socializing within the albergues and was then surprised to see him walk past me in the Burgos train station. He recognized me instantly and said hello, seeming quite surprised that I wasn’t back on the pilgrim trail. When I explained the situation to him, he insisted on buying me a cup of tea. We sat and chatted for awhile, and I learned that he and his wife had emigrated from Romania, looking for better job opportunities, and are happy to be raising a five-year-old daughter named Christina in Spain. The two work in a couple different hotels and commute back and forth. As we parted ways, he walked me up to the train platform and made sure I got on the right train to Barcelona.

It is kindnesses like these that make me look forward to returning some day to finish the Camino. While Xina is getting close to the finish line without me, I know that I have a couple friends and relatives who would like to do the Camino in the future. It will be a pleasure to share the experience with them.