Field Report from Rabanal del Camino, Spain
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The four of us (Bob, Rowena, Chard and me) have now completed more than half our tour of duty here in Rabanal. We are scheduled for departure one week from today and are all a bit nostalgic about it. We agree that the experience has been good for each of us and take great pleasure from the fact that the vast majority (maybe all) of the pilgrims passing through our doors have left us with smiles on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
Today is rainy and cold. The rain moved in last night, along with the chill and clouds. We expect it may remain this way for a few more days, having consulted Google and knowing that these mountains tend hold this sort of weather.
Our daily jobs are virtually unchanged. Our front door opens for business each day at 2:00PM. Rowena (a linguist able to speak six languages) greets each pilgrim individually as they enter and provides them with information on how our establishment works and what is expected of them. I check them in at the front desk by inspecting their Credential, then obtaining their name, country of residence, city of residence and the name of the city where then began their Camino. Bob and Chard them escort them to their beds in one of the two bunk rooms, carrying their heavy packs up the stairs for them and getting them settled.
I generally can notice which ones have blisters or foot problems when they are walking in – and tell them at the front desk that I will attend to their foot problems after they shower and scrub.
So by around 3:00pm, I get out my bag of bandages and lotions and begin doctoring and then rubbing their feet (acknowledging that the young females may get both faster service and longer foot massages). Most of those with problems have simple blisters, whose treatment has now become familiar. Some however have really painful skin wounds, damaged by not treating their blisters early on, and the care of these special cases therefore takes a little longer and the outcome is less certain. Bob, being a surgeon by profession back at home, gives expert treatment advice on the compelling situations.
Chard starts the yoga class by around 4:00pm, with the group of pupils dictating how much intensity they want. From a distance, it looks like more stretching than anything else. There is always a lot of laughing, loud whining, and happy camaraderie among the exercisers. They begin the process of getting acquainted with each other during the exercise class which is a welcomed opportunity for them since most are traveling alone.
Bob and Rowena serve English Tea at exactly 5:00pm. The pilgrims seat themselves around the table as the two of them caringly serve the tea to each pilgrim in ceramic cups, accompanied by special shortbreads brought from England. This daily event is where the evening’s pilgrims become familiar with each other and where we all (the hospitaleros included) get some chat time with them as well. This special service is the highlight of most pilgrims’ day. Naturally, the pilgrims tend to become segregated by language and place of origin.
Following tea, most of the pilgrims walk down to the little convenience store, bring back their dinner ingredients, and start cooking together in the common kitchen. They generally purchase one or more bottles of red wine at the store and pop those when the cooking begins. Being polite and mannerly, the four of us feel it is our duty to have at least one glass of wine with each one.
Bob has become our hospitaleros cook and prepares, with a skilled hand, a drop-dead wonderful dinner for the four of us each evening. Last night we had fresh fish from the market in Astorga. And we had a brilliant risotto paella the night before.
Heretofore, we have all eaten together with the pilgrims each evening at the large table on the patio. Last night we all moved inside due to the weather and dined together in the library – featuring a warming fire. Every night, regardless of whether inside or out, dinner seems to develop into a friendly party with ample laughter and noise. Last night, we did a group sing-along to a John Denver CD. Then we shut it all down by 10:00pm and send everyone off to bed.
And so, our hardship continues for another week.
Hospitalero Richard Baldwin, reporting live from along the El Camino de Santiago in northwest Spain.
Fringe Benefit: On many evenings we have what are poignant conversations with pilgrims. The background to these conversations is that over the course of the afternoon and evening hours each day we hospitaleros often have extended conversations with the pilgrims. Our job is to try and focus the conversations on their Camino so we encourage them to do most of the talking. Anyway, due to our location as the last stop before the Cruz de Faro, pilgrims often volunteer their stories of their sorrow stones that they will put down the next day at the Cruz de Farro (a two-hour walk up the mountain from here). Sorrow stones are generally picked up by pilgrims in their home towns, brought along the entire Camino them, and finally to the Cruz de Farro where they are laid down. The stones represent some irreconcilable issue in their lives that they cannot mend, and that must simply therefore be laid aside. At the Cruz de Farro some two hours’ hike from here, those burdens of life are laid down with the sorrow stones – and a new (and hopefully happier) chapter begins for the carrier of the stones.
Many of the stories we hear are powerful, heartbreaking, and filled with saddness. Their stories often involve lost children, departed parents, and other life-events that cannot be changed, and which if left unattended, manifest themselves in feelings of acute and extended melancholy.
Mostly, we can just listen, hold a hand, or silently enter into their lives with our quiet and compassion.
We view this unexpected part of the job as being perhaps the most rewarding!