The Camino Frances

The Camino Frances

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Later the same day

Life is so different as a pilgrim. I left Rabanal at noon, and arrived at Foncebadon at 1:30. It was challenging. All uphill - I climbed 300 meters over 6 km, so it was quite steep, and hot too. I didn´t think that I could make another 10 km to El Acebo. And I am still getting used to my new backpack, which, of course, is too heavy, mostly with food.

I am staying in the parroquial alberque. It is very basic: bunks close together, small corridor kitchen, even tinier bathrooms, and no heat - no lovely wood burning fireplace. No comfy chairs or garden to sit in. However, it is run by a volunteer hospitalero, Renny, from the USA, so I sat in the sun with him and we compared experiences, and albergues. This one serves breakfast (instant coffee and bread) and a communal dinner. He is making lentils, and will take out the vegetarian portion before adding the chorizo. He is also making pasta salad, so I am going back to cook a few potatoes for myself. He is on crutches, and has been for 14 months, so this is the way he can be on the Camino. He has done this place many times before. I choose to stay here, as Tom, who was one of our trainers, loves to work here, and I wanted to see if I could see myself working here. The answer is no.

Foncebadon is much colder than Rabanal- last week when we were 10´ they were at 0´, as they are that much higher. It also only has 4 year round residents. It is windswept, with many abandoned buildings, and 4 albergues. The one I am staying in is in the church, and there will be a gathering to share tonight, but no organized vespers. Rabanal is really a fairy tale village - so clean, with flowers everywhere, and no abandoned building on the main street. The restaurants are both in hotels, so are lovely, with extensive menus.

Tomorrow, only 2 km uphill to the Cruz de Ferro, where pilgrims leave their stones, then it is downhill all the way to Molinaseca.. I just checked for links and they are all in Spanish, or Galician, which is what I think this computer is programmed in.

Must go as time is almost up.

Darlene, la peregrina

Leaving Rabanal

An uneventful day - no new bedbug cases, and no rowdy pilgrims. They are really quite well-behaved - focused on eating resting washing, sleeping and eating again. I had a chat with 2 French women - my French was as good as their English, so we used both. We had a slow opening, and didn´t fill up to 20 until about 4 pm.

We had lunch in the huerta - it was lovely yesterday, but cooled in the eveing, so once again we had a wood fire. I made oatmeal scones for my last day. It took almost an hour fiddling with the oven - at one point it went out and it took me about 10 minutes to realize it - but they were delicious, and perfectly browned.

I went to Compline last night at 9:30, and got the stones blessed - 2 for Judi, one for Peggy, and one for me. It was a beautiful service, with a blessing of the pilgrims. I will include some of it tomorrow. My plan is to go back to the Albergue, pack my new backpack and some food, and take off. I will definitely walk to Foncebadon
 and perhaps to El Ascebo.
It is a perfect day for walking - no clouds, and about 12¨

I hope to be able to blog from wherever I end up, but if not, talk to you tomorrow.

Darlene, who is between the two roles!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Next to last day at Gaucelmo

Liz and Dick joined us for lunch yesterday. I am trying to use up our food, and leave nothing behind when I leave tomorrow. My plan is to leave after lunch, and walk 5 km to Foncebadon, or perhaps 10 to El Ascebo. I will have to be ready to be a pilgrim again, expecting only a bed and a roof over my head, and anything else will be a bonus. Our pilgrims get much more. I  put my old backpack in a plastic bag and left it in the lost and found. Perhaps a pilgrim will arrive with a broken backpack, and can use mine.

Yesterday, there were 20 pilgrims when we opened at 2 pm, and we announced before we let them in that we had fumigated, in case anyone didn´t want to experience the residual fumes. We also asked if anyone had had a bag or themselves transported, and asked them to speak to us privately if they had bedbugs. Fortunately, no one had any problems with these 3 issues. By the time we put up the cerrado sign, we had 28, and it was about 1/3 of all the pilgrims staying in the 4 albergues. The hotels were full - they have about 18 rooms each. The village can sleep about 300 pilgrims, and I think it might be full often in the summer. Today we will open at 1 pm, as we have no other jobs to take care of, and I have become quite proficient and quick at the cleaning.

Dave and I went to dinner - a first! We agreed that we work well together, and that we could do it again in the future. He has already taken the last 2 weeks in October, and as my fingers are freezing at the moment, I would definitely need my fleece jacket if I were to join him. We will see. That was our last dinner at Gaspar´s. Tonight will be the last at Antonio´s. I am ready for this to end, and to become a pilgrim again, but I will miss the excitement of opening the gate and seeing just who will be our guests for the night. Hopefully my hands will heal a little - even the rubber gloves haven´t completely protected them. But that is a small price to pay for the fun and challenges of the job.

Hope to post tomorrow before I leave, but time will tell

Hasta luego


Friday, September 28, 2012

A day without pilgrims

The albergue was fumigated when I got back from blogging yesterday. Then the plumber/gas guy arrived. Dave has been waiting since we arrived for him to show up. He will send an estimate to fix the instant gas hot water heater manana. Then the builders who want to erect a scaffold in our huerta (garden) to facilitate the building next door showed up with the priest, so that everyone was clear. Then the roofer showed up - they had been waiting for him since the spring rain. He said he would check and fix the roof in the winter. So by the time we got away to Astorga it was 5 pm, and we met Dick and Liz on the road and we pulled over to chat. They are taking over for us as hoapitalero/as, and we planned to go to dinner once we returned from Astorga. But as they pulled away we realized that we hadn´t told them not to go into the fumigated dorms, so we reluctantly turned around, and returned to Rabanal. We went to vespers together, then the 4 of us had dinner together. That was a novelty, as Dave and I have been going in shifts.

I slept until 6.30 am - what a treat! Shower, laundry, breakfast, then Astorga. I shipped my excess to Santiago for 4 euros, got cash and more dark chocolate with almonds, and more oats. I am going through a lot of them since both tea items use oats. Then the hardware stores. Since there is no Canadian Tire, with everything you might need, we were in 5 different stores getting keys cut, squeegies, pens, and vaccuum bags.

We had lunch, set up the dorms, and I ran off to blog. There are already about 10 people outside, and we will let in everyone who arrives by 2 pm. Dick is the chair of the Rabanal committee, so we discussed this very subject last night at dinner. There seems to be no rule that is fair to everyone. Dave and Dick are rewriting the Handbook, and will call it guidelines rather than rules, as we must use our discretion so many times. I pray there are no cinchas (bedbugs) today hitchhiking in with the new arrivals.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

More challenges

I am not so happy to share the news with you - we have had to close for 24hours to fumigate for bedbugs.
We had 2 people yesterday with symptoms, and one had fresh bites. So, isolate them in the entranceway washrooms, bring towels and fresh clothes, though the clothing was not too beautiful or warm, they shower and change clothes, and we wash all the clothes and the towels in 60' then in the dryer.  I brought them tea and coffee on a tray to their room, as the victims tend to be shell-shocked. It took about 4 hours to wash and dry all their clothes, and we left their backpacks in a plastic bag with fumigation spray for even longer.
Then we heard from another pilgrim who had stayed the day before who now has bites. They kindly called to tell us where they were sleeping. So Dave consulted with Christina at El Refugio Hotel. She helps to deal with the contractors and plumbers and electricians for us when Gaucelmo is closed. She recommended closing for 24 hours to fumigate, so that is what we have done.

We did a very thorough cleaning, including vaccuuming, as  there is part of the albergue, including the isolation room that has original floorboards, and sometimes half inch spaces between the boards, so we thought the fumigation might be more effective with a deeper cleaning.

Also, the refrigerator has died, so we moved the one for the pilgrims into our office. Seems like St James is challenging us, as Dave has put it.  On the happier side, the sun is shining and the sky is blue, for the first time in 4 days. I took off my long underwear and my socks, and am happy in my sandals again.

We´ll go into Astorga after the fumigation, and when the stores reopen, and I will mail a box to Santiago, the pilgrims office. That will give me a lighter backpack and better odds to cross the miles - 244km, actually, to Santiago. I will leave midday on Sunday, or early on Monday morning, and then I will once again be

Darlene la peregrina

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tea, harmonicas and guitar

My fingers are freezing, as the computer is in an open entrance to El Pilar! Dave and I had tortilla and salad and cafe con leche here yesterday, with Isabelle. I gave her a pin of  the Toronto city hall, and she gave me one of hers. She is great fun - wish I spoke more Spanish!

Yesterday´s tea  was held in the salon for 33  people ( actually only 28 showed up - the rest were eating or sleeping).  In addition to  tea and oatmeal fudgies, it included duets on  harmonicas from a Korean couple, and hours of guitar by Jonathan, and American singer and actor. My favourite was Hotel California, but the pilgrims like the fire in the fireplace best. It is about 8´outside and maybe 10  inside, except in the salon when the fire is on, and the kitchen when there is cooking. About 12 pilgrims cooked yesterday - too cold to even leave the albergue.

We had a pilgrim with bedbugs yesterday - we washed all her clothes, and her bedding after she left, in 60' and hours in the dryer - it is still at work. We sprayed her backpack and hard stuff and left it in a bag. And we sprayed the ísolation room when she left this morning. She was incredibly grateful, and left a huge donation. She said she cried in the shower at our kindness, and from relief that she was receiving help, and she teared up  when she left this morning.

It tell the pilgrims we have bottomless pots of tea and coffee, and they take us at our word. It is unusal to find coffee when you leave in the morning, and doubly unusual to find tea, so they are very grateful.

The highlight  of the day for me was receiving a card from my daughter Aislinn, all the way from Kelowna, BC. What a treat to get mail, and such a special card. Phoning  from  here is very hard, because of the time difference, and people´s busy lives, not to mention our schedules, so contact by mail and through this blog is  so sustaining  for me.  Thanks for reading and commenting. 

Aislinn asked for a picture of the priests, and so far I haven´t found one, but the first link is to this stretch of the Camino, and the second is  to the Monasterio.

There were 25 wet pilgrims waiting when we opened before 2 yesterday, so today´s notice says we will open at 1 pm. Who knows what or who today will bring.

Dalene la hospitalera

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mochila Nueva!

Yesterday morning we kicked Carl out for a few hours to go to Astorga. We cannot leave anyone in the Albergue when we aren´t there. We went to the bank, the grocery store, and 3 ourdoor stores, and I bought a new backpack!! Dave helped me choose, as he said my old one is sh... It is a Trangoworld 40 litres, and it seems perfect. Everything wrong with the old Gregory is better on this one. I am now excited to leave, rather than apprehensive. It has a camera bag, a rain cover built in, a place to attach jackets, poles and shoes, narrower shoulders and an adjustable chest strap.

We came back and opened at 2, let in everyone who was waiting and locked the door. That made 26, so we opened the barn. So many people make Gaucelmo their destination for the day, and a lot of older people want to stay with us as our comfort level is high. But if they are slower walkers, we have to disappoint them. What a dilemma.

Last night we had
6 Irish, including Carl. They drank a lot of tea at teatime and breakfast.
6 Australians
5 English, including a couple who are interested in being hospitalero/as, and let me tell some stories
2 Germans - young women, one of whom translated the instructions on Carl´s prescription into German, then the other translated it into English
2 Belgians - a brother and sister. It was Luc´s 7th camino, and he usually walks with someone who is afraid to walk alone. This time it was his 79 year old sister, who has only 40% vision
2 Italians
1 South Korean
1 American
1 Canadian- an Italian-Canadian film maker

The film maker, Gian Ceccato, is making a documentary about the Camino. He is interviewing people. and letting them tell their own story in their own language. His pack is 18 kilograms - about 40 pounds! There is a young Korean film student who is following him and making a film about Gian´s journey. The Korean was staying at El Pilar, and though we called for permission, we didn´t hear back, so couldn´t let him film in the Refugio.

When everyone was signed in and had done their laundry, Dave and I went out and picked up garbage in the lane and swept the Plaza del Peregrino Julian Campo, which is bounded by Refugio Gaucelmo, Monasterio de San Salvador del Monte Irago, the guest house for the monastery, and the church, which may have another name. The compost of Father Pierce benefited from the sweeping of leaves and horse chestnuts. I took Father Pierce empty jam jars and some oatmeal fudgies to thank him for the elderberry  jam. It was very cold and rainy yesterday - about 8¨ when the pilgrims set out, and today, though a bit warmer, is still rainy.

We are having tortilla today with Isabelle at El Pilar. Then back to open the doors for 1:30.

Have a buenos dias.


Monday, September 24, 2012

the Pilgrim community

Another elderberry concoction from the priest next door. He picks the wild elderberries and makes jam and a kind of stew from them. I feel like I am growing into the community, but of course in only 2 weeks there is only so much connection you can make with others here, especially given my limited Spanish. My community is the pilgrims. It is amazing how close I can feel to certain pilgrims as they pass thorough. There was a young couple last night from PEI, and I really enjoyed talking to both of them. They cooked for themselves - Dave and I had my lentil soup for lunch, and they had their own lentil soup for dinner, supplemented with sorrel from our garden. They have 2 weeks after the camino to see Europe, and were asking for tips at breakfast.

We have another stay over guest today- A young Irish guy with food poisoning. He is very weak and shivvery, so will see the pharmacia tonight. I gave him some drops of oil of oregano  and a cup of camomile tea- I didn´t know what else to suggest. Hopefully he can be on his way tomorrow. We had another Canadian stay over with tendonitis. He is off this morning, hitching a ride with a Polish group of bus pilgrims.  We also put another young man in the ïnfirmary¨. He begged to stay after we put up the completo sign at 22 pilgrims. He is on a very limited budget, and has been sleeping outside, but it rained off and on yesterday, and one of the other albergues sent him to us as we are donativo. When he sat down to a meal of a tin of sardines, I offered pasta from the cupboard we keep for pilgrims. A very kind ex pat New Zealander who brought up her children in Norway, and is travelling with another Norwegian pilgrim, offered him the last half of her lunch boccadillo (sandwich, which is always on a big baguette). He was grateful, and a very interesting guy.

We have decided once again to close at 20, approximately, as we don´t want to take business from the commercial albergues, but it is always a challenge saying no, and Dave has a big heart, so it is a balancing act.

We are off to Astorga, hopefully, depending on the plumber. We are almost out of toilet paper!

Til tomorrow


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The rain in Spain

Our Canadian guest and her dad did stay over a second night. We drove up to the Iron Cross yesterday after lunch. The Dad walked up and we drove him back. It was strange being a tourist there, and fascinating. There was a tour bus there waiting for bus pilgrims to have a snack and be transported to the next sight on the Camino. I hope when I walk up next Monday, it will seem different.

So, we accepted everyone yesterday until we got to 36, and then we put up the completo sign. Doing tea for 30 was  a challenge, but it worked and fortunately I had a batch of cookies ready. A young man from Venezuala did all the dishes, and neither Dave or I could understand him.Breakfast was a challenge, as we can only seat 14 at a time, but still they all ate breakfast in 45 minutes. It was just as much fun as the smaller group from the day before. Every day brings challenges and joys, just as in my life at home, but here the challenges are solved and over quickly, and we move on. I shall try that at home.

 We had help with the cleaning this morning, (the Canadian Dad - they took a taxi to Cacabelos, hoping to be able to walk tomorrow) so it went well. I just hope the sun comes out so the pilgrims´ laundry dries for them. We do have a balcony and drying racks, but not enough space for the laundry of 30 pilgrims.

Life does seem so simple here.

Til tomorrow

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Our first stay-over guest

We are now turning no one away, so yesterday, we were prepared for 40, and only 12 showed up! There really seems to be no rhyme or reason for the numbers.  We had 2 Canadians, including a French Canadian from New Brunswick, who is involved in a french speaking Camino group there. This is his 7th Camino, the first without his wife, who is training for a marathon -- They are in their late 60s.  The other Canadian has tendonitis, and is staying over. Dave took her to the pharmacia last night. That is the only medical attention available here. We will drive her up to the Iron Cross today - it is 7 km - and she will meet her father there, who is walking up, then we will bring them back in time to open the albergue. Every day is different, and joyous in many ways.

I have a salad Nicoise ready for lunch today, and oatmeal fudgies for tea, so we can take the time to go to the cross with her. I look forward to  heading out myself - a week from Monday.

We had a young Korean woman spend the afternoon on our patio yesterday. She had arranged to stay in the Monastery, but they are not open until around 4. She had had bedbugs too, about 5 days ago, so she wanted a rest for a few days. I can´t imagine how horrifying it is to have them, and then to live in fear that they are not gone, or that you might encounter more.

Most of the people who stay with us are in their 50s and 60s, and some students. There are very few in their 30s and 40s - I guess they are too busy at home. We had our first Polish guests yesterday, and the day before, someone now living in England who was from the Cayman islands. It certainly is an education.

Til tomorrow

Friday, September 21, 2012

What have I done?

Saturday Sept 15 in Rabanal

So, dinner with David and a pilgrim was great - the food was fine, and the talk was great - the pilgrim was a psychologist, so who and why the Camino was an interesting topic.
I was in charge of the Albergue while my partner David Arthur went to dinner with Claire and Keith, who are leaving tomorrow, then they went to Compline. There are 3 services a day at the church across the plaza, run by the Benedictine monks, who have a monastery beside us. I didn´t get to bed until 11, but for now I am not a pilgrim.

However, the day begins at 6 am, as we prepare breakfast, which is coffee and tea, hot milk, bread and jam. It is served from 6:30 to  7:30, then we encourage the pilgrims to leave so that we can begin the breakfast cleanup, then the cleaning of 4 bathrooms, containing 8 showers and 8 toilets. Then we also wash all the stone and tile floors, in the bedrooms, the barn, which has 16 beds, and the stone floor in the garden. The mind boggles! It took 4 of us about 2.5 hours, and tomorrow just David and I will clean. We have already registered 32 pilgrims, and will take 8 more if they show up. It was hot today, and several walked 40 km, so I have seen some damaged feet (to put it delicately).

David and I went into Astorga from 11-1, to pick up supplies for the hostel and pilgrims, and lunch type food for he and I. We are aiming for salad for lunch each day, as our cost for the pilgrim menu is covered each day.

I served tea in the garden from 5 to 5:45 - we went through many pots, and most of the pilgrims made a point of showing up for some, and the biscuits, of course. It felt easy and familiar, as will breakfast, but I am not looking forward to the cleaning, to put it mildly.

It will happen, but just how I don´t know. Wish me luck, and good rubber gloves.

Darlene, the  hospitalera

Fri - answering questions

Aislinn, my daughter has asked quite a few questions, so I am going to answer them today.

First, let me introduce my co-hospitalero. Dave Arthur lives near Bilbao, Spain with his Spanish wife of 28 years. He is British, but has worked all over the world, and speaks wonderful Spanish, passable French, some German and some Italian. He also has worked here several times, and is the premises coordinator for Gaucelmo, so he can fix most things, and knows how everything operates, so he is wonderful to work with. Plus, he is always upbeat, and great at moving people with humour. I am very lucky to be working with him. To top it all off, he drove here, so we have the use of his car - thus, the trip to Astorga yesterday.

I am now awakening naturally at about 5;45, and Dave´s alarm goes off at 6, so I jump out of bed, brush my teeth and wash my face, and try to beat Dave downstairs to turn on the lights, open the big door so pilgrims can leave, make the tea, coffee, hot milk, and cut the bread.

 Compline is in the church which is about 30 meters away across the small plaza. It is from about 9.30 to 9.45. I am usually in bed by 10, leaving Dave to lock up and turn out the lights, which he does as soon as everyone is in his or her bunk. I am now sleeping through the night . Yeah!

To my knowledge, we are the only albergue which serves tea, and I guess that is because we are run by the British Confraternity of St James. Some albergues serve dinner for a fee. Others do a communal dinner, and everyone contribues. In ours, individual pilgrims will decide to cook, and sometimes will invite others, or cook together. Not all the albergues have kitchens. It is usually mentioned in the guidebooks. But I usually go out for dinner, just to get a break from always being on duty. Last night a couple asked us to share their dinner, and Dave did, but I didn´t.

Tortillas; In Spain, that means potatoes and onions cooked in a fry pan, then more olive oil is added and eggs. It cooks on the top of the stove, and usually is slid out onto a plate and returned to the pan so the top cooks that way. It is available at every bar here, sometimes sitting on the top of the bar. It is not usually part of the pilgrim menu, as it is so widely available the rest of the day. The ones that the German´s made the other night were full of other vegetables: onions, carrots, tinned corn and peas and mushrooms, and some herbs from the garden, and they were about 1.5 inches thich. They are quite substantial and filling.

Re groups: I had already signed in the first Taiwanese, so we couldn´t very well turn them away, and, as I said, they were great, and participated fully. The Spaniards were 2 couples travelling together, and expecting a daughter to join them by bus, so we saved her a space. That is how we ended up with 2 ¨groups¨  in spite of the general rule to keep groups to 4.

We had our first encounter with a bedbug problem yesterday. A young German woman said she had had a case 5 days ago, and had washed all her clothing 3 times, so we gave her a separate bedroom with her friend, treated her empty backpack with a spray, and enclosed it in a garbage bag, and welcomed her.  Another pilgrim thanked me in private for welcoming that young woman, as she had felt shamed elsewhere. Let´s see how I feel if I see someone with bleeding sores. Hers were already dry and healing. Hope this isn´t too much info for you readers.

I made my Canadian version of oatmeal scones yesterday, with no substitutions. The oven gas went out part way through and it took me about 10 minutes to notice that, but we relit the oven, covered them with foil, and they turned out perfectly. Maybe third time will be the charm. Today I am not going to push my luck - I´ll  make oatmeal fudgies on the top of the stove.

So if you have any questions, ask away. It is such a pleasure to know that friends and relatives are reading.

Hasta pronto


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The benefits of tea

I´m rushed today as we went into Astorga to shop for supplies, so must rush back to serve tea.

Yesterday´s pilgrims could not have been different from the German cooks of the night before. We had 7 from Taiwan - our previous total over 10 years for Taiwan was 11! We usually don´t host groups over 4, as they change the dynamics, and usually keep to their own group, but I made it work - the magic of tea! We also had a group of 5 Spanish, who usually keep separate, but once again, they loved the tea party. Also, 4 Danish women and a Danish man,  a couple from the USA who run a hostel along the Appalatian (sp?) Trail, an Austrian who went out and painted a lovely 9x12¨painting in watercolour of the church, (he is staying on at the monastery next door for a rest and to paint more) and a German girl who helped to set up for brieakfast this morning.

Tea was a smashing success. Everyone talked, there were bottomless pots of tea, and the oatmeal fudgies were a great hit, and I could eat them too! Hurrah for the soothing benefits of tea.

One of the Taiwanese women has 2 children in school at U of T, and when she found out I was from Toronto, she helped me to wash up from tea and told me about her visit to Ontario and Quebec.

It was a very peaceful and restful group, and I ended the day by going to Compline at 9:30. The service is entirely in Latin, and most of it is sung by the 3 priests. They did a blessing of the pilgrims - also in Latin. I had a very healing sleep last night, and woke promptly at 6, just in time to head down and turn on the coffee pot. And so it goes.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wed Sept 19, I think

I think I have it down now. I have figured out a routine, and am now enjoying everything, including the cleaning. It is very satisfying to walk out of a pristine bathroom, especially since the pilgrims comment on how clean the whole albergue is.

Julie asked about the weather. It has been warm - even hot while I was walking. I have the windows wide open all day and night, and the albergue is quite comfortable. There has been no rain for a month or 2 and the scenery is quite brown. Most pilgrims leave at about sunrise wearing shorts or capris. Long pants are the exception. One woman was wearing the disposable plastic gloves that you get in supermarkets over here, as she forgot her gloves, and her hands get cold.

Once again there was a lineup when we opened, and we were completo at 25. We don´t know how many go away when they see our completo sign but we don´t want to open the barn, as it makes twice as much to clean.

Yesterday was a first for me, and for Dave, who has been here many times. Two young German men sat down to register, with a beer each in glasses. They said they would be cooking dinner, and invited everyone to eat with them. They had carried about 5 pounds of potatoes with them from Astorga, and assorted other vegetables. They settled on a Spanish menu of tortillas and Andrei made a risotto. The liquid  in the risotto was white wine. Apparently it was very tasty. They worked thorough the early evening and served dinner about 7.30. I found it was just too much noise ( German punk music or something like it on their mp3 with a speaker), and they made about 4 visits to the tienda, each time coming back with more tinned vegetables and more wine. They ended up making about 6 tortillas. Dave stayed to enjoy and monitor, and I went to vespers at 7 and slept through the service. Then I went to Gaspar´s and enjoyed a quiet dinner with a pilgrim. The kitchen was empty and clean when I got back. There was leftover tortilla, which we served for  breakfast, and some was wrapped up to take on the road. One of the fellows had a beer for breakfast. It made cleaning the garbage bags challenging, as they were leaking beer. So it was an alcohol fueled celebration, which almost all of the pilgrims enjoyed. ( Dave fielded a few complains while I was out).

Andrei, who made the risotto, was here 2 nights ago. He then walked to Ponferrada, took the bus back to Astorga, met his friends, and talked them into staying with us. I was quite surprised to see him again. He is returning to Italy to complete a 3 month residency, take his exams, and begin practice as a doctor. He seemed so young to me!

I made a lentil soup for Dave and I for lunch and there is enough for today. Yeah!! Plus I made a double batch of oatmeal fudgies for tea, and  so there are some for tea today too. We have decided that we will be completo at 20, and be prepared to take in 24 if there is an emergency. So off I go to start the cycle all over again.

I wish I could illustrate the blog with pictures. However, if you google
 images Rabanal  you will get several thousand pictures, and a lot of them are of Rfugio Gaucelmo.

Darlene la hospitalera

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


When we opened the doors yesterday at about 1 pm there was a lineup. About 10 people sat on the patio, as I signed them in, one by one, or in couples. There was a woman from Jasper, Canada, and a guy from NZ and 2 Americans, a couple from Ireland, and assorted others. We put up a sign saying Completo (full) after 23, and let in one more single person. We decided to leave the barn closed. We sent anyone who walked in without reading the sign to El Pilar, as their charge is 5 E and they have 100 beds.

The first woman sat down and said ¨Do you have my bag?¨ Gaucelmo has a policy that we only accept pilgrims who do not use transport for themselves or their bags, and the company Jacotrans, knows this, and usually doesnt accept the bag´ for transport. If they accept by mistake, they deliver it to El Pilar´s. So that was a bit difficult, though not as hard as a woman on the previous day who had thought she sent the bag to us, and wanted us to find it and send it on, while she walked on. We didn´t want that responsibility, but Dave  did find it.

Once we were filled we switched to assisting pilgrims with questions and laundry. We have a centrifuge which spins the laundry so it dries in the garden in about an hour, and they appreciated it very much. Then tea at 5 in the garden - no scones, as there were too many pilgrims. Most of them showed up, and stayed to chat.

Today the cleaning was 1.5 hours, so I went for a walk towards Rabanal Viejo, but I turned around before I had to descend into and out of a valley to get there. I will try to walk so I stay in shape, but time is so limited.

Our average per pilgrim was 6 euros yesterday. That is about $8 - for a clean bed, a shower, tea, breakfast of tea, coffee with hot milk and bread and 3 kinds of jam, plus assistance with the route, blisters, lost items ( we replaced a towel for a guy today), a listening ear and dinner from the cupboard if they need it. This is a priceless service we are offering and it is not about the donativo, but I wonder at the value placed on the service. We have donors who sponsor a week, so that might cover some repairs, or garbage bags, or tea for the week.

However, I am here to serve, and am now going back to the albergue to do it all over again. I wonder who will show up today?

Darlene la hospitalera

Monday, September 17, 2012

All is well

Monday Sept 17 in Rabanal

It has gone very well over the past 24 hours. What a relief to have the day under my belt. We just had 14 pilgrims yesterday, so we didn´t need to use the barn, so only had one dorm and one bathroom with 2 showers, 2 toilets, and 3 sinks to clean, plus the floors. Everything has gone so well!

The comments from the pilgrims in the book were terrific. The donations averaged 7 euro, so that is fine. 5 euros per day is apparently our break even point. Some young people are travelling very cheaply, and so choose albergues like ours which are donativo ( by donation), so don´t put much in the box. One young woman arrived last night about 8 pm. She went to the kitchen, checked out the supplies which other pilgrims had left and made herself pasta with tomato paste, adding an onion and some wild rosemary which she had brought with her. We also gave her several compete (sp?) which are special bandaids for blisters. In contrast, another pilgrim made several donations, each time saying he hadn´t put enough in.

I am making lunch for Dave and I each day. Yesterday I found sorrel in our garden, so I added that to the salad. It has a very mild flavour, so was great in the salad. Dinner yesterday evening was sole and gazpacho and chocolate mousse - so good that I may stick with that dessert for the duration of my stay.

Because we only had 12 people by 3 pm, I decided to make scones for tea time. I encountered several challenges. The oven never got about 300¨, so the scones took longer. The flame stayed on, so they were too brown on top and very pale on the bottom. I had no butter or margerine, so I used olive oil. I didñ´t know how old the baking powder was. How fresh was the flour and the oats? What saved them was the chopped dark chocolate and almond bar that I had bought at the museum of chocolate in Astorga. I think they tasted fine, and the pilgrims agreed. We had tea in the garden, and everyone showed up and drank lots of tea, all the scones and some biscuits. I think I´ll do it again  as long as there are no more than 15 pilgrims
- and try some other goodies like oatmeal fudgies.

I slept right through the night for the first time since I left home - I think I am finally over the jet lag, and the next leg of my pilgrimage should go much better. I woke at 6, ready to serve breakfast and see the pilgrims off.

It is very quiet in town today , but who knows what the Camino will bring to us?

Buenos dias!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

I can do it!

It is noon, and I am enjoying a cafe con leche in Pilar´s Alberge. It has 100 beds, and internet,and makes real ccl, as opposed to our strong coffee and hot milk, which we serve for breakfast. Many groups stay at Pilar´s, and one just left after singing several songs on departure. Isabelle, the owner is trying to sell the albergue, but there are no takers. This is a village with 13 residents in winter, when most of the albergues close,  so the only business is pilgrims. This short video shows one of the churches.

So now Dave and I are in charge. Claire and Keith left this morning, after helping with breakfast and cleaning, so tomorrow will be the test. There are so many cleaning products here, but I know it will be better once I get into the flow, and find my own way to get it all done. There is a great expanse of floor, and string mops to wash them with. They will shortly be reverting to cotton sheets from disposables, so that will add a lot to the job.

Yesterday we had 33 pilgrims. I hope we have less than 24 today - that way we won´t open the barn - 16 fewer beds, and we will have less bathrooms to clean. The pilgrims all have their own story.  Last night we had a couple from Toronto! About 5 young pilgrims left at 5 am this morning in order to be at the Cruz de Ferro for sunrise. More power to them! So we had about 25 at breakfast.

After the cleaning we walk the garbage up to the top of the town to big bins - just like at the Bain!. They only recycle bottles here. We took the crusts of  our breakfast bread to a man on the way and he will feed them to his hens. We try to be good neighbours, so I cleaned the square this morning - mostly emptied the garbage bins and the cigarette butts.

I´m going to try and blog about this time every day, so enjoy this with your morning coffee or hot water and lemon.

Hasta luego

Friday, September 14, 2012

First phase complete

Murias de Rechivaldo to Rabanal del Camino  Sept 14  16 km

I have arrived in Rabanal, where I will be working as a volunteer hospitalera. Even though my job doesn´t start until Sunday morning with breakfast, my training has already started.

But first, today. Angelica, the hospitalera at Murias, was an angel . She was so kind, making sure I had the food I needed - she cooked me rice instead of the pasta for supper, as the primera. Then it was chicken again, plus salad, and yogurt for dessert. I slept much better, and was ready to start this morning by 8, after a breakfast of cafe con leche, yogurt, and granola from home. Food is an incredible preoccupation, as an army ( pilgrims) marches on it´s stomach.  Then the other hospitalero adjusted my pack for me, and I was off. 5 km to Santa Catalina de Somoza, and another ccl ( cafe con leche). 5 more kms, all uphill to el Ganso and the Cowboy Bar, for a juice. Then more very steep up hill, and 6.5 km to Rabanal. ( I went from 997 to 1149 meters in height). It was hot again, and quite a challenge, but the scenery was beautiful, and then there were multiple stops to pick and eat the wild blackberries.

I had lunch - sardines on rice cakes, cheese and a cookie, while waiting for the Albergue to open. They opened late as there was a fiesta today. Then a rest, a shower, and setting up for tea. Tea in the garden with biscuits was lovely. Most of the 28 people here so far joined in and once again they are multiple nationalities, with 6 Danes, and 2 French Canadians.

Tonight I am having dinner with David, who is leaving tomorrow morning, so I have been instructed in how to do his job of cleaning half the bathrooms and the barn. We will go to Vespers at 7 then dinner, then Compline at 9;30, then bed as I start cleaning right after breakfast, which we serve from 6:30-7:30. I feel rushed already, so I will close with a deep breath. I can do it, I can do it.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Murias de Rechiva

Santibanez to Murias de Rechivaldo thurs Sept 13 about 17 km

Up earlier today, and the bar next door was open, so I ate cookies from home, cafe con leche and a tomato given to me by Maj-lis and her friend Anita, who shared my room last night. We started off together, and walked together to Astorga. It was a lovely day, with beautiful views, and about 28´ - up and down, up and down then the steepest up yet into Astorga. Along the way we stopped at Julie¨s recommendation at a bar set up by David. It was overlooking the valley, and he lived in the barn there. No running water or electricity, and he had his cart filled with organic food - apples, bananas, meusli, hard boiled eggs, and coffee. There was no charge, as it was by donation. After hugs, we set off, feeling better about the generosity in the world.

May-lis and Anita and I parted in Astorga, after exchanging addresses, and promising to visit. We shared a brief lunch in the park then they checked into the albergue where I stayed in 2007.

I visited the Museum of Chocolate, saw a video about the old method and the even older method of making chocolate. The video was very old too. Then there was tasting, and I bought a bar which should last a while. There is no gluten in chocolate!

On the way out of town I met up with 3 people that I had talked to in the airport lounge in Toronto, and we walked together to Murias, but they went on. Judy and I shared stories about our children, grandchildren, activities with the church - she crochets sleeping mats and sandals, I knit prayer shawls and pneumonia vests.

Now I am settled in a lovely albergue. The hospitalera will modify dinner for me - rice instead of pasta, and I am looking forward to showering, doing laundry, and wandering the village.

Tomorrow I arrive at Rabanal.

Buen Camino

Brain Fried

Wed Sept 12 - Villadangos del Paramos to Santibanez de Valdeiglesia somewhere around 16 km

Last night I had dinner with Louise and Constance, and after walking the whole day with Rya, who spoke only minimal English, it was a challenge to speak to Louise, who is Quebecois from Quebec City. Her English was marginally better than my french, so we spoke both, and then trying to make the waitress undersand my fractured Spanish - my brain was fried! But dinner was great, and it reminded my why I came back - good food, great wine, people to meet from all over the world, and a challenge a minute.
I didn`t sleep too well, so was off by 8:45 - almost the last to leave.

It was a 5 km walk to my first cafe con leche, which I enjoyed at a picnic table with Mark and Fiona from Australia. He helped me to adjust my backpack with safety pins.

Here is one of the way I occupy myself on a long stretch ´- this one was 7 km, along a highway. There were markers every 500 m so I figured out that I was walking 1 km every 12 minutes. It helped me to pass the time.

Another passtime: a meditation on cow manure. Why does it smell so bad - or is it really bad?
Is that just brain washing? If I grew up on a farm, would I enjoy the smell? Could I train myself to find it pleasant? It is all pervasive once we enter Galicia, so it is worth working on. Not sure I can be successful.

Arrived at Santibanez around 2 pm, and stayed at a lovely albergue with a back yard crowded with apple and pear trees, tables, and cats. Dinner was prepared by the hospitalero, as there was no restaurant for dinner. There were 16 of us around the table: I was the only North American. Swedes, Belgians, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, South American... not much english was spoken at the table. Then a short mass, all in Spanish, then bed, but not sleep. I am having some trouble - it should be better at Rabanal, where I will have my own room!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Here I am in Villadangos - Wow! about 20 km for my first day, and I am so glad to be sitting down. I didn´t mean to walk this far, but I got persuaded. This morning, after mailing weight to Rabanal, I went for breakfast. Cafe con leche - HOORAY, a small glass of orange juice, a generous piece of tortilla, all for only 2 euros. There I met 4 Finnish women, and one of them asked me to walk with them so she could practice her English. The best laid plans of mice and women!
So, we stopped to purchase walking sticks, and by the time we were all ready to go, it was 11 am. A bit late, but that is what we managed. It turned out the 3 of them were very slow, and the english speaker who wished to practice, took a bus. I´m not sure what the problem was - we are here in the municipal albergue, and it is 5 pm - I walked 6 hours, minus a few minutes for another cafe con leche, hb egg ,cheese and rice cracker from my backpack, blowing my nose, drinking water, checking our maps, etc.
The woman who walked all the way with me had very minimal English, so I entertained her with singing. It is interesting which song lyrics stick in my head. Quite a few songs from my time with toddlers at the library, and time at drop-ins with Cy  - The wheels on the bus, eency weency spider, bumping up and down. Then there were the hymns: We are pilgrims on a journey, one more step along the road I take, Morning has broken, and Johnny Appleseed ( does that count as a hymn?). Then the musicals; Oklahoma, the sound of music.
Our last stop was 1 km from the albergue - I could go no further without chocolate, so we shared part of my Camino chocolate bar - very appropriate - a birthday gift from Peggy.
I swear I will get another backpack for the next time. Despite constant adjustment, it felt very heavy on my shoulders, but it is heavy - 20 lbs, and I was wearing a sleeveless shirt (and sunblock), and it seemed to rub on my skin. Plus it was very hot - about 26^` all day, and we took the road route, so there was minimal shade.
So now, the familiar routine. Legs up the wall, shower and wash clothes, check out the town, and dinner about 8 pm. After that fall into bed - luckily I have a bottom bunk, as they are triple deckers, with 6 people per cubicle. But for 4 € who can camplain. I resolve not to complain.

Thanks for reading along.

Buen Camino
PS.My feet look brand new - no red spots, and no blisters. I am so grateful to my training, my training partners, Keen boots, and vaseline.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Leon!

I made it! A long and grueling journey, but I am settled in a hotel ( just for tonight) and back to an albergue for tomorrow. I am in a room by myself, with sheets and towels, just 2 blocks from the cathedral.
Check out the pictures at
 For now this is what I need.
I was at the airport in plenty of time, thanks to Wendy, and after having a delicious send-off dinner with Meg, Arlo, Cy and Lola. It was easy to spot the pilgrims in the waiting lounge - hats, zip-off pants, and carry-on backpacks. The first one I chatted to  was Tim who I had met at the CCOP meeting. Then a few others, plus more on the plane. But we landed at noon in Madrid, and I caught a slow bus to Leon, and no more pilgims. It was a challenging walk from the bus terminal in Leon to find my hostal - it is always a trial for me to find my way in cities.But I asked for help, and people really want to help, even though their english is sparse.
The last stop before Leon was Mansilla de las Mulas, and that is where we first intersected the Camino Frances. How exciting to catch glimpses of the trail out the bus window. And my hotel is on the Camino!
I hope I sleep well tonight - there is little sleep to be had on an overnight flight. Tomorrow I will mail a few things to Rabanal, buy some walking poles, and start out. I am not sure of my destination tomorrow - I´ll just see how it goes. Perhaps Virgen del Camino, or perhaps farther.
Buen Camino to you all

Sunday, September 2, 2012

One last training walk

I'll be doing one more long walk before leaving on September 9th.
Join me on my favourite walk through the ravines of Toronto on Wed Sept 5.
Meet at my place at 8:30 for a great day of walking and camino talk, plus a  vegetarian lunch along the way. Email or phone me if you want to join.
Here's a link to the brochure that covers most of the walk.
Buen Camino