This blog is a record of my observations, experiences and crazy thoughts about my 800 kilometer pilgrimage across northern Spain: the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (April-May 2009).
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Day 20 - Hontanas - Sunday, 10 May, 2009 (Mother's Day)
Rabe de las Calzadas -> Hontanas = 19K (458K to go!)
The Albergue Door Opens and the Terror Begins!
If I had do-overs, I would surely make different choices concerning this albergue, but when M. (the hostess at this private albergue) initially snapped at me, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
There is something to be said about people who are direct, I thought as I jumped up to respond to M.’s orders. And I like it when people are clear and direct. But I also expect people to be respectful of others, so when I heard M.’s sharp, demanding tone, I should have followed my gut feeling.
This woman is a bully.
And I would quickly learn that she has serious control issues.
B. and I later joked that M. was a fine example of the stereotypical controlling Catholic school director or perhaps a prison matron. I am generally the optimist and willing to give people a chance to prove themselves. I always find something good about people and rarely give into the urge to say unkind things. I am not a saint, but I do believe people generally act from their highest sense of right and people who know better, act better. So when I heard M.’s sharp tone I was fairly certain she was simply under temporary duress.
I was so wrong.
Throughout our entire stay, M. micro-managed every activity we undertook. She had many, many rules which she detailed to us during what could only be called an initial briefing. We sat for almost an hour while she asked each of us very personal questions and gave each of us unsolicited advice about our attire and our motives coupled with her own opinions.
Let me take a moment to interject a bit of information that may influence readers a bit: I am a retired US Air Force Master Sergeant. I went through a rigorous basic training and know what it is like to submit to a drill sergeant and how to put aside my feeling for the sake of a mission. I hope this information gives me some credibility when I say, this woman is like a drill sergeant gone amok! At least during my stay there.
I will refrain from detailing all the indignities we pilgrims submitted to during our stay at M.’s albergue. But not only was she a critical Cruella-deVille (101 Dalmatians), she also charged us for the privilege of being demeaned and demoralized! We paid 20E for a simple bed in a tiny bunk-filled room and a meal of lentils, accompanied by a lecture.
I cannot write about this experience in detail, because I will rant and digress.
Just trust me when I say, this was a terrible experience and I do not wish it on anyone.
[24 June 2009. I elected to NOT transcribe my detailed original notes on how we were treated at this albergue. It is still painful to relive the experience. VJP]
*The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I shared on a Camino newsgroup – I used some humor in my brief description of my experiences at M’s private albergue in [location deleted] but know that the experience was not amusing in the least. The 8 pilgrims who stayed that night were not treated with any dignity. I do not think there was malice intended, but our experiences there on that visit cast a shadow over our remaining days on Camino. Strong personalities and controlling behavior are difficult and can feel like bullying.
…Ahhhh yes, the "prison matron" of [name deleted].
Several times on my Camino I ran into my cellmates, er, I mean pilgrims who had shared accommodations with me on that dubious night and weeks later, they were still fuming and snorting and dealing with residual anger (and bitterness) about the experiences with the hostess (I use the term loosely). Her spouse, oddly enough, was a kindly man, filled with good humor and good stories...)
I should have known it would be bad when she initially grilled me ("Are you happy?" to which I responded, "Yes, I'm happy." She said, "You don't look happy!" I was inclined to stand up, salute and say "Yes Ma'am, I'm happy, Ma'am!" but, I refrained.) And she told me in no uncertain terms that I was not a pilgrim, but a tourist ("look at you bracelets and your long hair..these are not pilgrim ways!")
There were privacy violations (ie: she charged, with nary a knock, into the bathroom to micro-manage how one woman was managing her shower and lef tthe woman in tears!)
There was great concern about bedbugs so the woman had a very complicated system of bagging our things and lots of rules about how to conduct ourselves during our stay. One of my fellow inmates (oops, I mean travelers) broke into tear tears after a reprimand from this woman and ended up on the bench outside, sorting through her belongings. Later the woman berated one of the guests for not partaking of the wine -that individual was an AA member.
Interestingly enough, she wrote a few motivational words on my pilgrim credential.
I will share an extended version of my stay in my blog - I am slowly transcribing my notes so it will be a while. Suffice it to say, I would certainly not recommend staying at her lovely home...
Just a bit of my experience in [location deleted]... and I did not go into details because it is too painful to conjure up these memories.
Despite this, I say: life is good...
So on to Another Camino Adventure -> On the Road to Hontanas
I was on the road to Hantanas by 0630 and was a rabbit – the full moon was glorious. I walked fast. I was eager to put Rabe behind me.
I walked to San Bol, an isolated, oasis of an albergue with no electricity or running water. After mile after mile of green fields, the grove of trees at this small hippie-style albergue looks so inviting. I am still haunted by the treatment I received last night (M.’s albergue in Rabe), so it is a real delight to be treated so well here. A kind volunteer made me a cup of coffee and some toast (over an open flame and in candlelight).
Refreshed and glad to have met kind, warm people, I continue my walk to Hantanas. I walked with a wonderful Austrian man and shared stimulating conversation as we traversed the countryside. In Hontanas, we stopped for tortilla and café con leche in a charming bar on a small, crowded plaza. I decide to stay the night here.
The next few days will be through flat, hot countryside, so walking early and early stops are likely.
I am almost halfway through my magical 40 days.
As I write this I am seated on a sunny bench on the main road. Less than a foot away from me a group of curious German pilgrims stand, gaping at the ergonomic pen I am using. Do these Germans speak to me? No they stare and then speak to one another as if I am not even here. At first I do not realize it is the pen that they are puzzling over. Once I understand this, I initiate a dialogue about it. It is only then that they even speak to me. Their curiosity about the pen amused me, but not as much as the fact that they did not address me.
Daylight is fading and this pilgrim is off to find an evening meal and maybe an Internet connection. It is Mother’s Day (in the USA – Spain celebrated last week!). Perhaps there will be a pleasant surprise in my inbox!
In April 2009, I began my 500-mile trek across the rocky paths and mountains of northen Spain. I finished my walk on the the ancient Way of St James (the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) in early June 2009.
I consider this a pilgrimage of gratitude. Each step was an opportunity to express gratitude for the abundance life offers; each footstep, one of finding joy. It was a humbling experience. It was a character-building experience. It was a spiritual adventure and a physical one too - who knew I was such a mountain goat? I hope you will enjoy my rambling, stream of consciousness obeservations of my experiences as a pilgrim on this historic pilgrimage route that really is only the begining.
Of course veteran pilgrims know: the Camino never ends - once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim. So, wherever YOUR path takes you, I wish you "Buen Camino".