Sleeping on The Camino, Part 3

The Camino de Santiago has become big, big business in Spain. I’ve been to Spain many times, often for months at a time, and never have I seen as many television news segments and newspaper articles on The Camino as I saw this spring and summer. There were hard news pieces, like the one about Denise Thiem, the American woman who disappeared from The Camino in April this year,* but most of the Camino news segments are human-interest type stories on issues like the soaring numbers of pilgrims and high temperatures on The Camino. There are religious articles, too, like one about seven American seminarians who walked The Camino in their cassocks, or the Spanish priest who brought ten teenage boys from Santa Ana parish in Arizona to walk The Camino so that each “finds what God wants of them.”

Uterga to Ciraugui Priests

Being big business, the infrastructure on The Camino is fully established and rapidly expanding. Every year there are more private albergues than there were the year before, and many of these albergues offer private rooms, often with private bath, in addition to dormitory style accommodation. In Navarette, for example, a dozen yards from the municipal albergue, there is Albergue Buen Camino (http://www.alberguebuencamino.es). The owner of this private albergue also runs a hostal right next door with private en suite rooms. In mid-July, at the height of The Camino season, there were beds available in the albergue and rooms available in the hostal.

In Cirueña, I stayed at the new and comfortable Albergue Casa Victoria (http://wisepilgrim.com/albergue/casa-victoria). It offers private rooms as well as dormitory style rooms that sleep only four people. It’s a quarter of a mile off The Camino route so perhaps not as popular as other albergues directly on the route. As there were only I and one other person, I opted for one of the two bottom bunks in the dormitory room rather than paying the heftier cost of a private room.

Another benefit of private albergues is that owners often augument their income by offering a three course dinner with wine and bread. Such a meal typically runs seven or eight euros, which is very reasonable because bars and restaurants typically charge ten or more euros for the same.

If you’re relying upon the albergues listed in one of the several guides available for the Camino Francés, you are going to face stiff competition. Additonally, albergues that are directly on The Camino route tend to fill up early and don’t need to advertise. To find those accommodations that are slightly off the main route, your best bet is to pay attention to small signs posted on The Camino before reaching a town because out-of-the-way establishments will make an effort to attract business.

This sign was posted on the side of an irrigation chute en route to Cirueña.
This sign was posted on the side of an irrigation chute en route to Cirueña.

For the most part, private rooms for one are rare, but I did have a room for one, with sink, in Santiago de Compostela at the Albergue Seminario Menor (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187508-d1545943-Reviews-Albergue_Seminario_Menor-Santiago_de_Compostela_A_Coruna_Province_Galicia.html). It is very basic lodging but clean and comfortable enough for 15€. A major advantage of the private room in this albergue is that you can leave your belongings in the room during the daytime if you are booked to stay more than one night. (A word of warning: don’t presume for a moment that your private room here is secure. There are placards reminding pilgrims not to leave valuables, and my door had visible signs of forced entry at some point. One afternoon I happened to be in the room, with the door locked, when someone in the hallway attempted to open the door. I didn’t respond but listened as the person went down the hall trying all the door handles.)

The enormous albergue housed in a former seminary school is somewhat apart from the main part of Santiago and, hence, has lower prices.
The enormous albergue housed in a former seminary school is somewhat apart from the main part of Santiago and, hence, has lower prices.

Double rooms are common. If you’re traveling with someone or if you’re fed up and tired to the bone and just want a good night’s sleep, a private room in an albergue might be for you. If you’re too late to get a dormitory bed and you don’t want to continue walking until you find the next albergue, this might be an option. But be warned, it’s rarely an inexpensive option.

Between Roncesvalles** and Burgos, more or less, an albergue bed runs ten to twelve euros ($11 –13, £7 – 8.50) per night. Then the beds begin to get cheaper, eight or maybe seven euros. From León onward, you can easily find a bed for five euros ($5.50, £3.50) per night. If you want a private room in an albergue, however, the cheapest I can recall is thirty euros ($33, £21) and, typically, they were forty ($44, £28) or fifty euros ($55, £35), especially on the earlier stages of The Camino.

Of course, 50€ is very inexpensive by some standards. But if you’re comparing 5€ for a bed in a shared room against 50€ for a private room in the same building, perhaps even right next door to the shared room, 50€ looks pretty darned expensive.

Bear in mind that you’ll find every manner of accommodation available at all different prices, and there simply is no “best way” to go about finding lodging that meets all your criteria (unless you’re looking for the least expensive, bar none). The only thing to do is keep an open mind, ask questions, weigh your options, and make your best choice.

In Sleeping on The Camino, Part 4, I will discuss alternatives for private rooms that are not part of the typical multi-bed, dormitory style albergue. Stay tuned.

Albergue/pensión offering multiple types of accommodation.
Albergue/pensión offering multiple types of accommodation.

**I didn’t mention St. Jean Pied de Port because, this being the more or less official start of the Camino Francés, an albergue (auberge in French) tends to run higher. Even quite a bit higher. I had been one week in France prior to spending a week in Madrid and then going on to begin The Camino. Prices in France were considerably higher than they were in Spain for just about everything.

*Photo of Denise Thiem courtesy of AZCentral.com.

The Light and Dark of Travel

I’ve been to so many beautiful places across the globe. In fact, I can’t think of a single place that isn’t beautiful in its own right. There are times when selective vision helps to block out human intervention on the landscape and imagination helps to fill in the voids left behind, but, on the whole, the entire world is just plain beautiful. That said, it’s ironic that what I enjoy most about travel is not the intrinsic beauty of a place. No, it’s the people, those very same people who altered the landscape that I sometimes do my best to avoid seeing. People. What I love most about traveling are the people I encounter…their habits and customs, their beliefs and attitudes, even their appearance. It’s the people who fill me with wonder and awe.

Spaniards are a lovely people. They are open and accepting. They love to talk, sometimes all of them at once, about issues that inspire them to boisterous agreement or disagreement, but in the end, they accept and move on. Spaniards are hospitable and kind. I’ve met many people who are eager to know about my life in another part of the world. Many on The Camino offered a glass of wine, a cookie, or…ahem…a cigarette. I can’t abide the smell of cigarettes, but I can admit that there is something languid and leisurely about sitting back in one’s chair, tilting one’s head back, and slowly releasing a narrow plume of smoke that drifts upward and away. The image is one of pure relaxation.

In the evenings Spaniards go en masse to the streets where they stroll, eat, drink, and enjoy life with leisure.
In the evenings Spaniards go en masse to the streets where they stroll, eat, drink, and enjoy life with leisure.

Spaniards, on the whole, are laid back people. Sometimes, in my rental car, while waiting at a crosswalk, I use a stopwatch to see just exactly how long it can take someone to saunter across the street. I always take a book with me to the post office because it can take longer to buy a postage stamp than it takes for the letter to arrive once posted. (The postal system, Correos, inside Spain is very efficient.) At the market, where you must wait your turn to be served by the shopkeeper who tends to only one customer at a time, Spaniards never buy just one thing. It’s a kilo of potatoes, half a kilo of carrots, half a kilo of red peppers, a head of lettuce, three cucumbers, a kilo of onions, half a watermelon, a kilo of peaches, a bunch of parsley, four lemons, a pomegranate, and two heads of garlic.

Customers await their turn for the shopkeeper's attention.
Customers  in Ezcaray await their turn for the shopkeeper’s attention.

All in all, the pace of life in Spain is pretty slow. But put Spaniards on an airplane and an inexplicable transformation takes place. These amiable, easygoing people become darkly single-minded. Overhead lockers, for example, become prime parking space and Spaniards will run, jump, and force their way past other passengers to shove their bags into an empty spot that someone else is just about to occupy. One Spaniard, who “cut off” another passenger in a dangerous maneuver, then turned with a smile of relief, truly oblivious to the other passenger’s dilemma about where to stow a bag.

I booked a two and a half hour flight on EasyJet, a no-frills airline, from Madrid to London. I didn’t want to risk being wedged between passengers so when I bought the ticket, I paid an additional twelve euros for a guaranteed seat assignment. When boarding time came, I occupied my aisle seat toward the front of the plane. Along came a Spanish couple and their sixteen or seventeen year old daughter. They entreated me to exchange my aisle seat at the front of the plane for a center seat at the back of the plane so that the three of them could sit together. I kindly declined the opportunity explaining I had paid for the seat I was occupying. There then followed a barrage of insults, in Spanish, complaining about how ill-mannered some foreigners are. I laughed and said, in perfect Spanish, that pretty soon we would be in Great Britain and then the shoe would be on the other foot. Well, anybody who’s ever tried to learn a foreign language knows full well that you can’t make a literal translation of an idiom. All three of them looked at my feet, back at my face, and then quietly sat down without further discussion.

Not even the Germans bother to try to keep the Spaniards in check. (Remember, I’m talking about airline travel here.) Yesterday on my Lufthansa flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, there was general chaos as the recently landed plane approached the gate. Well before it had come “to a complete stop and the captain [had] turned off the fasten seatbelt sign,” Spaniards were up and moving. Two people raced up the aisle toward the front of the plane, colliding with another passenger who was charging down the aisle to reclaim the suitcase she had stowed in the overhead bin in the back of the plane. Once retrieved, she lofted it overhead and then pushed her way through other passengers who, despite the plane still moving, were crowding the aisle. Already overhead bins had flewn open and luggage was being yanked out with a sense of urgency. One bag coming down met with the head of one passenger attempting to stand up.

Another passenger shouted several rows back to anyone who would listen, “Hand me the black bag with the pink tag.” She shouted several times before the bag was finally removed from the bin and shunted over the heads of passengers in the aisle until it reached its owner.

And then we waited. It’s a simple fact of flying: only one person at a time can exit through the door at the front of the plane. I’ve long maintained that when a large plane arrives at an airport, the back of the plane arrives twenty minutes later than the front of the plane. All the rush in the back of the plane only serves to highlight the inevitable wait.

Upon disembarking, some Spaniards jostled passed me and rushed up the gang way. A short while later, as I passed through the baggage collection area, I saw the same people standing, chatting, laughing, and patiently waiting alongside a carousel that hadn’t yet begun to disgorge its cargo. So much for the rush. They had begun to revert to their pre-flight amiability. They would soon be ordering a few pints and discussing matters of interest well into the night, meanwhile I, thinking about the work ahead, was just beginning my own transformation to the dark side…

Is the Customer Still King? (Update)

Hmmm. Marriott Customer Care has responded to my tongue in cheek response to their dismissive response to my email asserting that a reservation was cancelled without prompting from me. Maybe Kara P. realized I wasn’t asking for anything?

Hello Claudia L.

Thank you for your reply regarding the Fairfield Inn & Suites Potomac Mills Woodbridge.

I shared the details you provided with the executive team at the hotel. They will take action and respond to you soon. I ask that you allow us three to five business days to resolve this issue.

You can count on Marriott to improve your experience in the future.

Safe travels,

Kara P.

Marriott Customer Care

Is the Customer Still King?

Speaking of kings…I mean, customer service, whatever happened to the saying championed by Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) in the early 1900’s, “The customer is always right.”? Innumerable business self-help books and gurus say that it costs X times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer. Corollary: Take care of your customers and they’ll keep coming back.

I used to be a top-tier rewards customer at Marriott International. I planned my travels, as much as possible, around availability of Marriott hotels. I was a completely loyal customer, and I was the best kind of promotion for Marriott because I used to tell others how great the company is: how it takes terrific care of its employees, who in turn take terrific care of its customers. Little by little over the last few years, however, I’ve found that, while Marriott hotels are still clean and comfortable, the customer service at times just doesn’t warrant the premium one pays to stay at a Marriott. If I can find a reasonably less expensive option with equal comfort and cleanliness, I’m likely to stray.

I dropped down from top-tier, to middle tier, and then to the bottom tier rewards level. Last year I actually fell below the minimum number of nights’ stayed to maintain the bottom tier, but Marriott graciously awarded me bottom tier again for 2015. I was touched. Honestly.  I thought, “That’s good customer service, and smart business.” It made me feel good again about Marriott.

I’ll earn my bottom tier status for 2016, but my most recent Marriott experience has again thrown into doubt my loyalty. Why? I booked a reservation for a single night in Woodbridge, Virginia. That Marriott is ten miles from where I want to be the following morning. There are Hiltons, Hyatts, and a number of other chain and independent hotels available within one mile of my destination, but I figured I’d brave the extra nine miles of morning traffic in order to express my gratitude to Mr. Marriott.

But a peculiar thing happened…well, read it for yourself. My brief exchange with Marriott Customer Care follows:

———

Hello,

The most peculiar thing happened. I received notification for cancellation of a reservation. The problem is…I didn’t cancel the reservation. Here is the information from the email:

RESERVATION CANCELLED: 8xxxxxxx0

Reservation Cancellation: 5xxxxxx0

I will attempt to rebook but I am bringing this to your attention because it is very strange and also worrying. There are times when losing a reservation, particularly this close to the date of stay, would be devastating.

 Sincerely,

Claudia L.

——–

Hello Claudia L.

Thank you for taking the time to reach out to Marriott Customer Care today. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Based on your inquiry, I have researched the history of your cancelled reservation. I did locate that you cancelled the booking on Marriott.com on July 28, 2015.

Safe travels,

Kara P.

Marriott Customer Care

——–

Hi Kara P.,

Thanks for your reply informing me that I cancelled the reservation about which I wrote to you to say I hadn’t cancelled. Thanks too for apologize for the inconvenience I caused when I cancelled the reservation.

I will go immediately to my doctor and ask for treatment for sleepwalking. While I’m there, I’ll ask for a referral to a psychiatrist so I can find out why I seem to have developed an aversion to Woodbridge, Virginia, a place I’ve never been before.

I sure hope this aversion doesn’t spread to Kalapaki Beach, Kauai.

Yours truly,

Claudia L.

Customer

———

I’ve never been to Kalapaki Beach either, but I’m hoping to go. I’ve been saving reward points for decades and pretty soon I’m going to blow them out. I’ve always believed that Marriott’s customer service would be as accommodating to members who pay with points as they are to customers who pay with cash. Now I’m not sure about either.

Sleeping on The Camino, Part 2

As mentioned in a previous post, “What’s an albergue?” municipal albergues tend to provide a large, dormitory style sleeping arrangement. While that’s true in general, not all municipal albergues involve dormitory sleeping and, certainly, some private albergues do.

The municipal albergue in Roncesvalles, Spain, at the foot of the Pyrenees, is in a grand old building that has been completely modernized into a clean and comfortable facility. It has two large rooms that have been sectioned off into cubicles each of which has two sets of well-constructed bunk beds. The arrangement is pretty good because sharing a room with four is generally doable. Believe it or not, and I didn’t until I experienced it myself, most people don’t snore. It’s true. Most men don’t snore, and most of those who do, don’t snore terribly loudly. That came as a surprise to me because I’ve often heard women complain about the snoring of their male partners. I had presumed it was something of a universal problem. Not so. Then too, some women, particularly older women, snore but I’ve never heard one who reached the ear-splitting volume of some men. So if most people don’t snore and if there are only four people in your room, the odds are great that you won’t experience a sleepless night because of (someone else’s) snoring.

Other municipal albergues, right off hand I recall two, those in Azofra in La Rioja, and in Cacabelos, León, have tiny rooms that sleep only two people, not in bunkbeds. For the most part it’s hit or miss. Perhaps, when you’re ready to pack it in for the day, you find a splendid, comfortable albergue with small rooms and few beds, or maybe you find yourself among a herd of cattle.

The municipal albergue in Cacabelos sleeps two to a room.
The municipal albergue in Cacabelos wraps around the church with a row of rooms that sleep two.

Rooms in private albergues are typically less dense, but sometimes you pay extra to sleep in a room with fewer people. I generally find it’s worth it. Occasionally they’ll have private rooms for two but only rarely will you find a room only for one. Of course, if you’re willing to pay for a double, and I occasionally was, then you’re good to go.

In Villafranca del Bierzo in the province of Leon, Albergue San Nicolás, formerly El Real Monasterio de San Nicolás (The Royal Monastery of Saint Nicholas,  http://www.villafrancadelbierzo.org/turismo-patrimonio-san-nicolas.php), offers rooms with three single beds. When I arrived at the reception for Albergue San Nicolás, I was met by a thirty-ish fellow who looked exhausted. He spoke with a slow and heavy voice in an accent not native to Spain, possibly Romanian. I’ve met a few Romanian hospitaleros in private albergues on The Camino. Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, and other Eastern European member states of the European Union supply fairly cheap labor to the wealthier EU countries. Spain is in pretty dire straits economically, so heaven only knows what conditions induce Romanians and Slovakians to emigrate west.

I asked the hospitalero why he seemed so very tired and he explained that he works fifteen hours per day, seven days per week, managing the albergue. I assured him that it is a great deal to ask of one person and that he has every reason to be tired. He seemed gratified by my empathetic response. He began to speak openly and told me about the conditions, about the wealthy Spanish pilgrims who arrived on horseback, and where the horses had been set to pasture for the night. I’m a naturally inquisitive person so with this kind of encouragement, I couldn’t resist asking him all manner of questions about the albergue, the town, the pilgrims, and whatever came to mind.

The galleries of windows is typical of the architectural style of The Bierzo and the region around it.
The galleries of windows is typical of the architectural style of The Bierzo and the region around it.

The mass of pilgrims on The Camino, particularly between late spring and early autumn, arrive each day like an ocean tide: flowing in, encompassing everything in its path, and then flowing out again. As soon as the tide resides, hospitaleros clear away the debris left in its wake and prepare for the next high tide. Rarely do they become personally acquainted with the individuals who flow in and out of their albegues. Whenever practical, I tried to get to know the hospitalero. They come from all over the globe. Depending upon the size of the albergue, they come alone, in pairs, or in large groups. Those in municipal and parochial albergues are usually volunteers. They have already walked The Camino at least once so they know the trials and tribulations of the pilgrim. Humbling themselves to make the night’s rest as good as possible for other pilgrims is a way to give back to The Camino what The Camino so willing shared with them.

The noble and elegant building of Albergue San Nicolás was once a well-endowed Jesuit monastery for nuns and school for girls, founded by the wealthy nobleman, Don Gabriel de Robles. I can’t help wondering what motivated Don Gabriel to create this monastery. By its name we know that the monastery was officially sanctioned by the king of Spain, so there must be an interesting story behind the grand building that now serves a more humble function.

The building has many beautifully carved friezes. The cloister is an interior courtyard without arches but with elaborately carved stone relief at the upper stories. For myself, and other pilgrims I met who were born and raised in the new world, a four hundred year old building, particularly of such palatial richness, is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

The patio/cloister of El Real Monasterio de San Nicolás.
The patio/cloister of El Real Monasterio de San Nicolás.

Eventually the hospitalero led me up one flight of a grand marbled staircase and showed me the former classrooms, now dormitories with beds that each rent for 5€ per night. Then he led me up another, more humble, though still marbled, flight of stairs, to the floor where, for hundreds of years, when the building cleared of students, the nuns retreated to their monastic way of prayer and contemplation. For 10€ a modern day pilgrim may share with two others, one of these ample cells, now kitted out with en suite bath. What a luxury to share a bathroom with only two other people!

He ushered me into a wide hallway that was cool and dark. There were no windows in the hallway and all the narrow, dark wood doors and transoms to the cells were closed tightly. He opened one of the doors and light from a large window spilled out onto the hallway’s marble floor. Already two of the three beds in the room were covered in personal belongings. I could tell, by the size of the shoes, that both the occupants were men. I decided to take advantage of the rapport I had established with the hospitalero.

“Are there any ‘female only’ rooms?” I asked. He shook his head slowly and seemed a bit regretful so I pressed my case. “I could really use a good night’s sleep.” He hesitated for a moment and then led me back across the hallway and opened the door to another cell. This time daylight dashed across the hallway floor and up onto the wall opposite.

“If more people come, I’ll have to bring them in here,” he said slowly.

“I understand completely,” I replied. “Thank you.”

When I’d finished the typical arrival rituals, I went down to the kitchen that is just off the great hall. I prepared my typical meal of bread, cheese, and wine, and, happily, a vacuum-sealed bag of lettuce that I spied in the cheese shop’s refrigerated display case. I settled myself at the large table with a book to read while enjoying the feast.

As I was sitting facing the door, I couldn’t help but notice that another pilgrim, a woman, possibly Dutch or Norwegian, followed the hospitalero up the grand staircase. Ah, would he put her with the two men? Or with me? No matter, I was quite happy to share with another woman. A short while later he led a small group up the stairs, three women who appeared to be traveling together. I smiled to myself…no doubt they will share a room of their own. I finished my meal and went poking about Villafranca. When I returned, I was very pleased to find that my room was still “a private room.” I slept like a queen in the king’s monastery.

Sleeping on The Camino, Part 1

Is it possible to do the Camino without sharing a room with ANYONE? I know that, for me, a single room would be the only option. If not a single room, then maybe a campsite–but sharing a room with others would definitely not work for me. I want to know because I would like to hike the Camino, but I don’t like sharing a room. For me, sharing a room with others at the end of the day would take away from the pleasure of the experience.

The above comment led me down a path of thought that weaves a contrasting thread across the fabric of My Camino. Come with me as I explore its meanderings. Neither you nor I know where it will lead, thus it becomes a new adventure that we share together.

Ask a hundred people to synthesize their Camino experience, and I’ll bet you’ll get at least twenty wildly differing responses. The remaining eighty will probably fall loosely into one of the first twenty. That’s my unofficial, uncorroborated, and unsubstantiated assertion. Among the different twenty, though, there is ample leeway for constructing a Camino of one’s own. There are, you see, few rules and those exist only if you are eager to acquire a compostela, if making a spiritual pilgrimage, or a certificado, if making a non-spiritual journey, attesting to the fact that you made the effort to cover at least the final sixty miles on foot (or 120 miles on bicycle or horseback) before reaching Santiago de Compostela.

The lack of rules is, I believe, one reason that so many people from so many walks of life, of varying age and nationality, race, creed, physical ability, social and economic status, personal preference, and character, are found every day on The Camino. Some are optimists and some are pessimists. Some are athletes and some are obese. Some are gregarious and some are timid. But all are challenging the limits of their own abilities and, indeed, of the way they relate to the environment, to the people around them, and to the world at large.

The interesting thing about challenging oneself is that it leads to change. One needn’t have any intention of change: the very act of challenging oneself is the open door to change. It happens naturally and without conscious effort.

With the exception of teens and students, virtually everyone I spoke with during the early phase of My Camino, chafed at the concept of sharing a room with any number of unknown individuals. Even groups of friends who travel together and share a room among only themselves, sometimes find the communal living difficult because one of them snores loudly or reads late into the night or has smelly feet. It’s natural.

DSCN1622

But as the days wore on and bodies grew tired with each day’s effort, pilgrims, myself included, grew gradually accustomed to the hubbub, clatter, and clutter of fellow pilgrims. What seemed intolerable in the beginning, eventually became customary. I grew to expect the inconveniences of others’ habits and recognized that my habits too might be less than appealing to others. In fact, I began to look upon the acceptance of differences between me and others as part of the pilgrimage process…the letting go of expectations and demands, acquiring the ability to adapt and to cope in substantially less than ideal circumstances, and the observation of how some others cope with little or no effort.

This last one, the observation of others, was particularly interesting to me. I routinely marveled at how different people cope with different situations. Perhaps more than most, I like a clean and tidy environment. I like clean body, clean clothes, clean sheets, clean everything really. I balk at the dirt, debris, loose hair, even the sloughed off skin cells of other human beings and animals. How interesting it was for me to see that those people who travel with the least weight on their backs were able to do so because when it came time to sleep, they curled up in an albuergue blanket used by who knows how many people before them, and laid their head upon the albergue pillow without bothering to cover it with a pillowcase of their own. They slept soundly, and in the morning they had nothing more to do than fold the blanket and be on their way.

In contrast, if I suspected the sheet had not been changed, I removed it, turned it over, and replaced it. Sometimes I placed a disposable sheet over the albergue’s sheet and in the morning I carefully stowed it so I could use it again. I always put my own pillowcase over the pillow. I discarded any provided blanket and laid out my own down sleeping blanket. Not surprisingly, in the morning I had to make numerous preparations before I could leave. I’m convinced I would have left earlier more often had I not had so much to do that would have necessarily disturbed those around me.

I watched those casual folks who lived simply, took what came their way, and embraced it with no psychological angst. I began to examine my personal habits and found myself easing up here and there on my own prejudices regarding the presence of other people. For example, by the end of My Camino, I had taken to sleeping merely underneath my own blanket rather than wrapped up in it. I also reverted to sleeping nude, which is what I do at home. I made an effort to be discreet, but I didn’t worry overly if some fellow pilgrim happened to catch a glimpse of my buttock. What of it?

Crazy Things I’ve Seen on the Camino: Big Bad Baby Buggy

What’s more difficult than hauling a pack across Spain, uphill and down, in heat and in rain? How about hauling a baby across Spain?

In Ventas de Narón, about halfway between Portomarín and Palas de Rei, I decided to call it quits for the day. I checked into an albergue and hauled my pack up the stairs to the dormitory room indicated. All the bottom bunks had already been claimed so I chose a top bunk between the door and the window, hoping for a cross breeze during the night. A fellow pilgrim with whom I had shared a dormitory the night before told me that the bunk below the one I had chosen was occupied by his friend, a horrific snorer, and that I might want to choose another bunk. I thanked him and, with a lingering look at the window, I headed for the top bunk in a far corner where there would be no breeze.

I showered, washed my clothes, and sat down on the patio to enjoy a beer. Precisely at that moment a couple approached with the most magnificent pram/baby buggy I have ever seen. It is a large, three-wheeled vehicle with lights and reflectors. It is obviously rugged because, as I later learned, it has been pushed all the way along The Camino Frances.

For some The Camino is a family adventure.
For some The Camino is a family adventure.

When the couple stopped at the door of the albergue, a toddler, roughly eighteen months, emerged from the buggy. She immediately availed herself of the freedom and began to run helter-skelter, picking things up and dropping them, splashing her hands in the fountain, flirting with pilgrims, and enjoying herself thoroughly.

The couple, it turns out, are Italian. The man is a big fellow and his feet hung over the edge of the top bunk he selected near mine. The woman selected the top bunk opposite and then set about organizing her daughter and washing the family’s considerably dirty laundry. What a chore it must be to travel this way with a toddler. I imagined them to be very dedicated parents and I thought how lucky the little girl is to have parents who found a way to spend so much quality time together as a family.

Long before night had fallen, I regretted moving away from the snorer I knew because I had, as it were, jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The Italian snored like an eruption of Vesuvius, inhaling loudly and then bursting forth with the loudest, most ungodly, irregular cacophony of nasal explosion that I have ever heard. I stared out the open window and watched as daylight turned to dusk and then to darkness. I slept little that night but when I did doze off, I was awakened by the crying of the little girl. She was in the same bunk with her mother who immediately awakened and began to coo the toddler back to sleep.

I had no idea what time it was but as I was convinced that I would not sleep any more that night, I climbed out of bed, grabbed my pack and a few stray belongings and went out to the hallway to arrange myself for the coming trek. I was greeted by half a dozen other baggy-eyed pilgrims had already had the same idea.

The morning was foggy and I strolled along admiring the trees where they peered through the fog. Before long I came upon a bench where I sat down and promptly nodded off. Wouldn’t you know it, I was awakened by the voices of the Italians as they passed by. The day was well on its way and the fog had lifted somewhat. I grabbed my camera and snapped a photo of the source of my fatigue.

DSCN1483

That afternoon, at Casa Domingo, the albergue of the Quemada I described in “What’s an Albergue?,” I was again resting peaceably when the Italians appeared at the door of the albergue. After they had registered and gone to find their beds, I asked the owner if they were sleeping in my room. If they were, I was fully prepared to sacrifice the price of my bed and pack up and move on to another albergue, however far away. He assured me they had arrived too late to acquire beds in the dormitory and they were staying in a private room. Whew.

The following morning, I made a late start, took my time walking, and arrived reasonably late to an albergue. I carefully scanned for a big, red, baby buggy before checking in. I crisscrossed the Italians a few times during the next few days but I had managed to break out of the cycle of their rest stops.

When the child rides on dad's shoulders, the baby buggy becomes a convenient means to haul gear.
When the child rides on dad’s shoulders, the baby buggy becomes a convenient means to haul gear.

So, is it crazy to take a toddler on The Camino? I don’t know about that, but I think it’s darned crazy to stay in albergue dormitories knowing full well that you are going to be the only person who sleeps at night.