Monday, July 27, 2009


Although I am not religious (I consider myself to be a Buddhist) one of my favourite spiritual writers is the Trappist-Catholic-Buddhist monk, Thomas Merton. I subscribe to the Merton Institute for a weekly reflection. The words that arrived in my email box the week before I left for the camino was like a message to a prospective hospitalera! I would like to share it here, with credit to the Merton Institute:

"Persons are known not by the intellect alone, nor by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action. To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as another self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, its demands. In effect, however, we are considering our nature in the concrete and his nature in the abstract. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused, an evil being.To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights, integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as accused along with him, condemned to death along with him, sinking into the abyss with him, and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved."
Thomas Merton. Seeds of Destruction (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961): 254-255.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Musings from the End of the World


San Roque albergue is about 9km from Finisterre. Many pilgrims who walk the various caminos finish in Santiago and although some walk to Finisterre, many others catch a bus or go there by taxi. Those who decide to walk the ± 90kms might stop at San Roque albergue (about 1km from Corcubion). This is the last albergue on the camino before "Fin do Camino - Fin da Terra" (the End of the Camino - End of the World).

Although a few pilgrims might only start walking in Santiago to walk the Fistera route, the majority have walked many hundreds of kilometres - some thousands - by the time they reach here. By this stage they have long sorted out their backpack problems or blisters and have become quite stoical about aches and pains. A few pilgrims who stop at San Roque are excited about reaching the end of their long pilgrimage. "I am ready now - no more, no further. Tomorrow is the end." they say.

Others are terrified of reaching the final marker - the 0.00km concrete stele at the top of the peninsula. "I don't want it to end," they say with haunted expressions. "I can't believe that tomorrow will be the last day."

I'm sure that there is a completely different atmosphere in the albergues where pilgrims are just starting out. I remember the majority of pilgrims in St Jean Pied de Port with their new backpacks and brightly coloured clothes. They walked around with nervous, anxious, expectant looks on their faces. They were embarking on a long journey into the unknown. They would have to cross three mountain ranges, cross some 70 rivers, pass through about 250 towns and villages, forests, plains, high hills and deep valleys before arriving at the tomb of the saint. Could they do it? Did they have the stamina, the endurance, the will power, had they done enough training?

Hospitaleros in the 'starting' places must have to be constantly encouraging, reassuring, cheering them on.
Hospitaleros in the 'middle' albergues must have a different duty - placating, urging those to carry on who want to give up or feel that they have done enough. Massaging tired muscles and treating blisters and hot spots.
Here at San Roque weather-beaten pilgrims in faded clothes and walnut tans have already proven themselves capable, strong, eduring. Here, most of the peregrinos fear only the end. They have walked through the pain and the doubt and have been tested by the elements, have gone the distance and now feel that they could go on forever.
They don't want to go home.
They don't want to go back to their 'normal' lives.
Most are already planning their next camino.

A tourist in Spain (and homecoming)

Lola in the San Roque Living room

Today I was a tourist again in Santiago. After serving breakfast at San Roque for the last time I said goodbye to all the pilgrims (tears from the German) and collected my things. Isa and I just hugged each other. "Hasta siempre mi mama Africa" she says.
Begona arrived from Finisterre with another passenger for Lola to taxi up to Santiago. "Thank you" she says, "I think you enjoyed it?"
"I did, very much. I'd like to come back sometime." She asks me if I would mentor other volunteers from South Africa. Something to think about when I get back.

The weather clears as we head towards Santiago and when the sun shines it is actually quite warm. We park in the catedral parking and the first thing we do is have a hot chocolate at the Dakar bar close to the cathedral. The Dakar Bar forms part of the chain of bars that used to be called the "Paris to Dakar" pub crawl in Santiago. Then I take Lola to the Pazo de Agra to find a room for the night. Fernando is surprised to see me and we get a very warm welcome. I've stayed there in 2002, 2004, 2009 and have sent many friends there. He shows us Lola's room and then we head off for the cathedral and take our places on the pews for the pilgrim's mass. A young girl from the US sits next to me.
"Do you think the Botafmeiro will swing today?" she asks. The famous silver incense burner is already suspended above the altar. "Yes, there it is" I point it out to her. The nun with the beautiful voice sings the responses required of the congregation. The mass begins. I look up at the cathedral, water stains, ancient mason signs in the columns, stained glass windows.

A statue of Maria the mother of James gazing down at the people in the congregation. She must be one proud Mama! She looks like the nun who leads the mass.
This is truly a 'pilgrim' cathedral. It is one of the few medieval churches that was never an abbey. How different from Rome - from St Peter's - which is not warm or welcoming. As pilgrims in 2006 we were not allowed into St Peter's because our arms were not covered. Here, pilgrims of all ages, in shorts, t-shirts, boots and sandals, with backpacks leaning against the ancient pillars, cram the aisles and sit on the flagstones. It has always been like this. When communion is over the men in maroon grab the large wheel with the ropes attached and start swinging the botafumeiro higher and higher. It looks smaller than I remember it from 2002. This is a replica and is not the 80kg silver thurible that we saw 7 years ago. It still elicits gasps from the congregation as it almost touches the ceiling. After mass we throng out of the cathedral back into the sunshine.

Lola's phone rings. It is Judith, phoning to say goodbye to me. She and Francelino had intended driving to San Roque today to wish me farewell but I had left already.
"We did our best to keep up the warm tradition of San Roque" I tell her.
"The pilgrims won't forget" she says. "I hope to see you back again one day".
I hope so too - I'm already feeling nostalgic.
Santiago is crowded. There are many groups of young people (it has a huge university and it is holidays) lolling about on all the steps around the cathedral. The narrow streets are filled with pilgrims, tourists and a few stoic residents who have to negotiate their way through the milling crowds. There are beggars, some with dogs, buskers playing guitar or flute, there are singers, harmonising troubadours in traditional La Tuna tights and tunics. Santiago is truly medieval. I don't imagine it looked too different 700 years ago with its myriad of tiny alleys, cobbled or grey granite streets, overhanging balconies, alleys and arches.

We make our way back to the Dakar bar for lunch. They have an excellent Menu del Dia for 10 euros (better than most) which includes salads, a drink and a coffee. One of the Spanish pilgrims from 4 days ago finds us and there is much rejoicing - kiss, kiss, hug, hug. I leave them chatting and go in search of souvenirs to take home to friends and family. How many fridge magnets or key rings can one have? Then I find the internet cafe and send emails home. I meet up with Lola again in the square and we sit on the stones in front of the cathedral enjoying the music, the happy sounds of pilgrims and enjoying the sun. Then it is time to go. We get the car and pick up a friend of Lola's and stop at a little bar on the way to Lavacolla for a drink. It is less than 10km to Lavacolla - I could have walked there. At 6pm I am at the airport. Bye-bye Lola, gracias por todo - kiss, kiss, hug, hug.
The plane leaves at 8h40pm and I arrive at Madrid Bajaras airport at 21h45. My flight only boards at 1h25am - we'll be half an hour late. I sleep on the plane but am still tired when we arrive in Johannesburg. I see black faces and hear the familiar sounds of isiZulu. I am home.
There is snow on the mountains when we fly over the Drakensberg. It is winter and it has been cold in Durban. We fly over the beachfront and I take a photograph of the new soccer stadium. When I land in Durban at 3pm Finn and my sister Patty are there to meet me. How wonderful to have family to greet you when you return home. After asking about the boys, their wives, our baby Emily and the dogs, Finn says, "Enough about us, tell us about your trip."
My trip?? Sigh. Is that what it was - a trip?
"I'm jet-lagged" I say, "I can't even think straight. Ask me questions rather and I'll answer as best I can." They ask a few questions, 'what time did you leave Corcubion? Were you sad to leave the albergue? How was the flight? Easy questions to answer. Everything else will have to be remembered, savoured, understood, processed in the coming weeks.
We visit Mark & Tammy and I get to hold my little Emily. She recognizes me and her grin is so huge that her little cheeks look like apples. I sing the 'Emily-Ann" song and she waves her hands about in recognition. I give my family their souvenirs and then we drive Patty home where I get a big warm welcome from her furry little Yorkie called Muffin. Then it is home to my Labbie and street special. Wag, wag, lick, lick - the doggie version of kiss, kiss, hug, hug. I chuck everything onto the floor. It can wait for the morning.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Last day

It is raining.
It was a beautiful day yesterday - and all week - but today the mist is so thick you can´t even see the other side of the park. The electricity has tripped again. I uncoil the extension cord and drape it around the back of the benches so that I can put on the coffee and switch the fridge on. I boil a kettle, put a kettle of milk onto the stove and cut two loaves of bread for breakfast. Isa comes down - still sleepy. At 7 am sharp I put on Gregorian Chants and turn up the sound. The voices of the monks chanting echoes up the stairwell and wakes the sleeping pilgrims who slowly make their way down to the livingroom.
"Cafe?" I ask, "Solo or con leche?" "Cola Cao?" "Te?"
They dump their packs in the entrance hall and sit at the table eating toast, Marie biscuits, bread and jam sipping their hot drinks. "Is it raining?" asks one of the young German pilgrims. He has on a vest and shorts. Last night he told us that he would only be able to sleep in the municiapl albergue at Finisterre but not at the private one that charges 10€ because he has run out of money. "I will sleep on the beach" he says. The rain has really dampened his spirits. Kiss, kiss, hug, hug - angeles, engels - and then they are all gone.
"Thank you for everything" says Brian. "I hope you feel blessed by what you are doing here because we were blessed to have you". What a lovely thing to say - I am moved. I do feel blessed. Blessed that I am healthy and able to help the Association keep the albergue going in the spirit of camino - love, welcome, caring.
"I don´t think I´ve done it for the pilgrims so much as for the people who provide these shelters" I try to tell Isa when she asks why I volunteered to be a hospitalera.
´To give back´is a stock response but to give back to whom? For me, it has been to give back to those who provide the shelters, especially the donativo shelters. I am fulfilling a promise I made to myself 2 years ago, to come back and add my bit to the tapestry that is the camino.
It is still raining so we'll stay in today. After the usual 3 hour round of sweeping, mopping, dusting, wiping down, we defrost the fridge. We´ll leave the next hospitalera with a nice clean fridge. We tidy the pantry. Potatoes, lettuce, onions etc have all shed a few leaves or sand and the floor and boxes need cleaning. We tidy the pot cupboard. Its so easy to push a fry pan on top of a cooking pot and then the lids fall all over the place. We rearrange the books and CDs and tapes. Yesterday I put fresh hydrangeas into empty marmelade bottles. Lola brought me two red roses yesterday. These are now in the little pot with the Camomile daisies we picked in the forest at Finisterre. The place looks really homely.
I go upstairs and throw everything I possess onto my bed and sift through the old tickets, papers, rubbish collected along the caminos. I decide to leave the South African flag in the albergue - I put it on the mantlepiece when I arrived and it has stood proudly there for two weeks. I flatten my backpack and put it at the bottom of the folding kit bag. I pack all my camino stuff into the bag and leave out only the little folding backpack. I am ready to leave in the morning. I have mixed emotions.
The first pilgrims, a Spanish couple, arrive in the mist at about 2pm. Then two German men who look like Laurel and Hardy. They are soaked through and once inside the taller of the two struggles to get his credential out of his waistbag under the poncho. I put up my hands. "Nein" I say in my best German. "Sit down, take off your boots, leave your ponchos here. Go upstairs, choose a bed and have a hot shower. Come down and have some coffee or hot chocolate and then bring the credentials to me. I´m not going anywhere so we can do this when you are warm and dry. " They look at each other and the smaller one starts to cry. Oh shit!
"Nein, nein" I say. "Arriva, arriva" I shoo them upstairs. I find out that the younger (who is 64 years old) is an emotional man who cries when telling me about the kindness of strangers, about finding his daughter´s date of birth and sign of the zodiac on a marker outside Santiago, and who gets tearful recounting just about every other experience he has had on the camino. El Camino does that to some people - it can be a very powerful experience.
When they come down about an hour late the taller one asks me where I am from. When I say South Africa he startles me by bellowing out the entire National Anthem in a deep barritone.
Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

(He encourages me to join in by conducting with his hands. I join in but don´t know all the words so for this post I googled them)
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika.

(I know the next bit which is Afrikaans because we all learned the words at school. I bellow out at the top of my voice.)

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

(I am lost with English because I never did learn the words)

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

He sings in a choir in Frankfurt and sang at Free Mandela rallies carrying posters ad placards he says. He talks faster and faster in hybrid German/Dutch/English and I don´t really understand but I catch a few words and names - Walter Sisulu, Helen Suzman - so I nod appreciatively and show that I am grateful and proud of him. "Danke" I say. He smiles and nods.
After dinner we will sing the old Xhosa hymn again but this time in a small group.
More pilgrims arrive and then a very wet, bedraggled, exhausted looking woman arrives.
"You look like a very tired pilgrim" I say. "I am - I´m exhausted, I have walked over 40km today. I didn´t know that I could walk 40km and I am very proud of myself.
"Where are you from?" I ask, she has a familiar accent.
"South Africa" she says. Screech, screech, kiss, kiss, hug, hug. She is Ann from Cape Town. "Is there another South African here" she asks. "No, just me" I say. Her cousin should be here, or might be coming behind her. We get her out of her wet shoes, stuff them with newspaper and she struggles upstairs to find a bed, a hot shower and lie down for a while before coming down later.
It is my turn to cook. "Cook curry beans" asks Isa. She has developed a taste for spicy food. I blend all sorts of spices´- pizza spice, red and black piemento, curry powder, garlic, some spices I don´t know but they smell good, into a paste and start the dinner. I am preapring for 8 pilgrimgs, then two more arrive so the curry becomes a mixed one - white beans, lentils, bottles of vegetables, diced potatoes. I make pancakes which Isa helps to sprinkles with sugar and cinnamon and lemon juice and rolls them up onto a large platter. Winifried (the younger of the two German pilgrims) is delighted with the pancakes. "My mother made the best pancakes" he says wistfully, "we called them pfannkuchen". We all remember our mother's cooking, no matter how old we are or how far we are from home.
There is a knock on the door. It is Stephen from Johannesburg, Ann´s cousin. It is 8 o´clock and he has walked a long, hard day. We wait while he has a shower but he misses out on the San Roque choir singing "Tengo, tengo Hambre" "I am, I am hungry" "Ich bin Honrig" "Ek is, ek is honger".

The sun has come out. It will be a nice day tomorrow - my last day in Spain. We move the wash rack into the sun in the park. After dinner Winfried (of the Frankfurt mens Choir) Ann, a relucuctant Stephen and I stand up and sing nKosi Sikhele iAfrica to much applause. Then Winfried and Tomas sing a rather sombre German folk song. We serve coffee, tea, hot chocolate. Ann and I chat away - it is 11pm. I am tired. We go to bed. I can see the lights of Finsiterre through the window. Tomorrow I leave.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 11

I´ve developed a thing about hair. I just can´t believe that humans lose so much hair and that it is everywhere. Wipe a tiled wall and there will be at least one offending snake left crawling across the wall. Shake the sheets when making a bed and they float up and settle back on the sheets - long blond hair, dark wavy hair, short and curly hair (you know what I mean!) It is starting to drive me nuts. Every morning the broom grows a beard Santa would be proud of - and I have to scratch it off. I´m sure they could manufacture duvet´s for the poor with all the hair that is shed on the camino.
I´ve had a few mishaps with the shopping. There is a stray cat that visits the albergue and we decided to buy some cat pellets when we went shopping the other day.
¨You get food for el gato¨says Isa. We have called the cat Sebastian (because Isa is from San Sebastian) but we don´t know if it should be Sebastiana. No one is prepared to catch the cat and look between its legs. Its happy to walk into the albergue and meow for food but it isn´t too happy with human contact. I've got scratches to prove it. So, off I go to the pet food section and see a very nice packet with a picture of a charming kitty on it. When Sebastian/a came in arching his/her back screeching for food, I opened the packet only to find that I bought Kitty-litter! Screech, screech went the indignant cat so we opened a tin of tuna.

With so many household brands with no pictures on the containers I have put laundry wash in the toilet bowls (no pictures of where the nice smelling´stuff should go. ) I´ve washed down the walls with disinfectant and the other day I cleaned the mirrors with stain remover. They need to have a colour picture manual of household items for those who don´t read Spanish. Isa and I have developed a very vocal ´hospitalera´language.

"Squish, squish" she says whilst demostrating the squeazing of an imaginary hand-held stain remover spray onto an imanginary item before I do the washing.

"Chaka, chaka, chak" accompanied by waist high Ninja-like chops of the right hand means "chop the onions and peppers".

"Floo, floo, floo" whilst rapidly waving the hands, palms up, up and down in the air means shake the sheets on the beds. There is a sound for every activity and duty.

We walked into Corcubion yeserday to do some shopping. The man in the Farmacia very kindly changed my glasses (yes, I managed to break another pair) for a new pair so I can see again. We had a photo of Isa and me printed for the new albergue book that pilgrims write messages in. I now wish that I had copied some of them. We are variously described as ángeles, engels, angel etc - all meaning ángels´. Well, pilgrims think you are an angel if you let them in early or give them a glass of cold water, or perhaps let them go upstairs and shower before having to sign them in. It doesn´t take much to be an ángeles´on the camino.
When we returned to the albergue there was a surprise waiting for me - Sebastien, the French pilgrim-cum-hospital-clown who we had met on our first day from Lourdes to Asson had finally made it to the Fistera Route. Kiss, kiss, hug, hug - long lost family member. Sebastien thought he had picked up bed bugs in Negreira so we found him a shirt (2 sizes too small) and a pair of mens boxers to change into whilst we put all his clothes and sleeping nag into hot water and then the washing machine. He walked around all afternoon with his clown´s hat and boxers. Newly arriving pilgrims were quite startled by the sight but once explanations were made they all nodded sagely and accepted this as the wise thing to do.
Our first Japanese pilgrim arrives. He speaks English and Spanish. "Thunk-ooo. Thunk-oooo!" he says when I tell him about dinner at 8pm and breakfast at 7h30am. "Thunk-ooo, thunk-ooo" he bobs up and down from the waist up with his praying hands together when I tell him that there is tea or coffee in the living room. He looks like one of those plastic birds one attaches to the side of a glass that bob up and down. He is painfully thin (only 50kg he tells me at dinner) like a stick figure. He has a large see through folder with a ton of paper, maps, guides, google maps, GPS positions. "Preparation is most important" he says nodding vigorously I wonder what Sant Iago, the fisherman from the east, would think about this wise man from the far east who has walked all the way from St Jean Pied de Port to visit his tomb?

Later in the afternoon a smiling pilgrim arrives and when I meet him at the door he grins and says, "I think I know you". I had never seen him before. Mistaken identity?
Then he showed me his Pilgrimage-to-Santiago forum badge - the first I've seen. Ah-ha! Who was he?
"I´m from Ireland" he said.
"Sagalout!" I shouted. Big mistake.
"No, he is from England" he said.
Whoops! He was Brian - Brian McKenna from the forum, a delightful pilgrim with a big grin and so happy to be at San Roque I think I would have kept the albergue open just for him.
Isa made spaghetti with mushroom sauce and we got three peregrinas to make fruit salad which we had with cheese and membrillo - a firm, quice jelly-jam that you can cut in thin slices to serve with the sliced cheese. Two young German pilgrims sang a lovely song about about walking with your back to the wind, the sun in your face and when you die, being in heaven for 40 days before the devil knew that you were dead. (At least I think that is what it was about.) The young German chicos didn´t go to bed until after 11pm so Isa went up and left Lola and me holding the fort. I am getting more and more tired and am in need of a loooooong sleep. This up at 6am and getting to bed after 11:30pm is for the younger birds.
Penultimate day and I have mixed feelings. I love it here but I miss home and my family and I want to see my little Emily who was 7 moths old when I left and is now over 8 months and is sitting, crawling about and doesn´t know her ´Silly´granny.
Hasta manana.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 10


Yahoo!! Today we escaped again and went to Finisterre. Lola drove us to the outskirts of the village and we walked half way up the hill to the Faro, taking an alternate path to see the ruins of San Guilleremo - a local saint who lived high up on the bluff and helped woman who couldn´t have children. I'm not sure how he accomplished that but there is a little stone font in the ruins of his home where young women put money. Isa put in two 5c pieces.
"Twins?" I asked. I had to make a sign of 2 fingers and roll my hands over my tummy, "Dos ninos?" "NO!" she laughs.
It is a lovely walk, about 3km through pine woods to the ridge of the bluff with stunning views over both sides - the Finisterre village way down below on one side and the beautiful Playas (beaches) on the other. On the way back we see a squirrel on the electricty line. He is chirping and twitching and flicking his tail about. We keep very still and watch him for a long time. When he scampers down the electricity pole we just grin at each other - what a privelege to see a little wild creature so close to humanity.
Then we walked down to the Playa do Mar Foro where we ate our picnic lunch. There are caves here where many pilgrims sleep when they can't afford to pay for alternative accommodation.
I paddled in the Atlantic ocean - cold - and walked along the beach looking for shells.
We visited the Fistera albergue when we got back and met the French pilgrim from the night before. We all had a drink at the cafe bar across the road and then Isa and I took the bus back to Corcubion. "How many pilgrims will be waiting?" asks Isa. "Mmmm... its a beautiful day so I don't think many" I say confidently, "maybe 2, or 3 at the most".
7 pilgrims waiting for us in the park. (Groan!) "Sil, por favor, lets shower first?" asked Isa. "OK, you shower while I let them in, its no problem."
So after changing out of our shorts and me my boots, I let them in. A group of 5 Spanish women walking together to Finisterre. A beautiful young man with a sad face from Hungary. Tomash (that´s how he pronounced his name) is sad because his camino is coming to an end. He has to go back to work but he doesn't want to.


"So much has changed" he says, "So many things, places, people." He doesn't want his camino to end. He was going to walk straight through to Finisterre but he is delaying the end by spending a night at San Roque. He has studied Dutch and is a translator so we chat in Afrikaans. I make Potato bake with no oven. Potatoes, butternut, onions, mushrooms all precooked and tossed together. Sprinkle over cream of mushroom soup powder and add a large cartoin of cream. Put into two plastic bowls and cook each in the microwave for 10 minutes. It goes down well and the Spanish ladies all want the recipe. I also make a salsa with onions, peppers, garlic, tomato from a tin and chopped up frankfurter sausages.
At about 6pm Sonke - a German pilgrim who stayed with us 3 days earlier - arrives. "I am back again!" he says. "I walked to Finsisterre and to Muxia and am now walking back to Santiago. Can I stay here? You have a bed?" He has dark brown eyes, curly dark hair and a face like a cherub. He could be mistaken for Greek, or Turkish or even Italian or Spanish. How can we refuse? "Of course you can" I say. "What is for dinner?" he asks. "I have missed your cooking and have been dreaming of a good dinner. It is my birthday today and I wanted to spend it with friends." A man comes to the albergue with two dogs, pulling a trolley with his camping and clothing. Can he have a shower he asks, and he´d like to camp in the park. He is not really allowed to but it is not our park. We tell him its up to him to take a chance. At 8pm as we are bring the food to the table two more pilgrims arrive. The young man is from the USA and the young woman from Ecquador. "Go straight upstairs and find your bed" I say. "We are starting dinner so you can bring your credentials down when you come." We wait a while for them before starting dinner. We sing our "I am hungry" song and tuck into the meal. Isa brings out a Caramel desert and a candle and we all sing Happy Birthday to Sonke who gets quite emotional. No one minds. Lola made Arroz con leche - Rice pudding - so we all have desert. As we are clearing the tables, two more pilgrims arrive. Phshew! We get them settled in, dish up salad into two plate and heat up the left over potato and salsa. Eventually, at about 11pm they finally start saying Buenos noches, gooda-night.
I shower - I still have beach sand between my toes. "Manana" says Isa. "Sleep tight" I say.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 9

When pilgrims leave in the morning they smell differently to when they arrive. If it is raining when they arrive they emit humid clouds of damp, sweaty and mouldy aromas. They have to leave their boots on a rack behind the front door so when all those wet boots come off in our little entrance hall the smells are sometimes overpowering. The boots are stuffed with newspapers and this adds to the smell of damp.
In the morning when they all come down to put on their boots, the smells are also overpowering - Vick rub, eucalyptus, Deep Heat, Arnica mingling with after shave, deodorant and shampoos. The entrance hall always needs and extra good sweep and mopping and we spray it with air freshener.

We only had 10 pilgrims last night, from Poland, Germany, Japan, Chezck republic, and France.
The French pilgrim walked in with a Basque beret. Isa immediately started talking to him in Spanish. "Non, non" he says, "He is French not Basque." "I am Basque" says Isa. "I like the Basques very much he says quickly." He has walked from the north-east of France and has been on the road for 4 months. He has to telephone his mother every second day to let her know that he is alright. From his bald head we guess that he is in his mid-forties.

A young woman from Poland played guitar and sang folk songs after dinner. We served Marie biscuits with hot chocolate. A Swedish pilgrim tells me that Marie biscuits originated in Sweden. I remember something about them being made in England to celebrate the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh to a duchess named Marie?? (I'll have to check that when I get home). You learn a lot from interacting with people from so many different countries and cultures. One of the German pilgrims tells me that he comes from the town with the famous piper - Aahh, it is Hamelin. He tells me the true story of the pied-piper of Hamelin. The Polish pilgrim tells me that everyone in Poland has to learn other languages becuase their language is so difficult nobody can learn it.

This morning I read some of the coments written in the Albergue book by pilgrims. One was by the guy from Belguim who, it turns out, is the President of the Belguim Society of St Jacques. You never know who your guests will be!

We had many professionals last night, doctors, teachers, nurse, linguist, paramedicas but no electricians - we need an electrician. One of the plugs (not sure which one or which circuit) is tripping the electricity. So, we have an extension cord draped behind the benches at the two dining tables, where we can plug in the fridge and the CD player.

It was my turn to do the bathrooms today. Albergue San Roque has, in my opinion, the best showers on the camino. They are roomy - enough I reckon for 3 people to shower at the same time - with a double hook for towel or face cloth, a plastic coated corner shelf for shampoos etc as well as a soap dish. Unheard of luxury in most showers on the camino. The water is always hot, the taps are easy to work - turn to the left and it is hot, to the right for cold, in the middle for just right.

The worst showers are those where you push a knob on the wall and the water spurts out for about 10 seconds leaving you with shampoo running down your face while you blindly try to find the knob and press it again. Some say that you should keep it pressed in with your elbow whilst washing with the other hand. Many shower heads don´t stay up on the hook fittings and often those that you can hook up slowly collaps downward like dying swans forcing you to hold it up with one hand whilst trying to wash with the other. (Elbow on the knob, shower head in the other hand means no hand to do the washing!) Our shower heads give a good hard spray of water but not enough to wet the goodies in your corner shelf, so unless you are going to do a pirouette in the shower, there is no chance of it getting wet. And, the water stays in the shower cubicle where in many others the water ends up flooding the floor of the bathrooms. I check the wall and floor tiles for the scourge of camino showers - algae. It might be the most ancient and enduring of life-forms but its not taking up residence in my showers - not on my shift, its not. Any little black spot is examined and vigorously scrubbed away.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 8


We cleaned the albergue to the sounds of Full Monty again - Isa´s favourite tape in the collection. Its like doing aerobics with a mop and a broom.
"We are family" sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep - wiggle the butt.
"I´ve got all my sisters with me." Twirl, twirl, twirl the mop - side to side sway.
"We are family". Mop, mop, mop, mop - bop, bop, bop.
"Get up everybody and dance".


We walked into Corcubion where we collected a few shells on the little beach along the esplanade. I bought new glasses and we bought a few salad ingredients for dinner. We walked back on the camino trail, a steep little track between high, moss covered stone walls and between barns and gardens rather than on the road. Along the way we pick orange wild flowers for the albergue.

There were 6 pilgrims lying around on the grass waiting for us. "Give us half an hour to unpack our shopping" I said, "we will open early for you." You could see their relief. All a pilgrim really wants is to get into the albergue, have a shower, wash their clothes and relax. Of course at San Roque they can also have water with lemon, tea or coffee with biscuits. Tonight I made veg curry and rice and salad. Before eating we sang the albergue theme tune, "Bang, bang, bang - bang, bang, bang. Tengo, tengo hambre. Bang. bang. bang. "We are, we are hungry". Bang, bang, bang. I put the lemon yellow arrows on top of the salad every night and most pilgrims take photographs of them. We had 15 pilgrims so the table was full but not overcrowded. Pilgrims from Korea, Poland, Spain, Belguim, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Canada.
The Korean peregrina, a doctor, had a swelling on her foot. She said that she usually has to use orthotics but decided not to use them on the walk. Go Figure?? So, I gave her a foot massage and wished her well for the next day´s walk.
There is a discussion about the Camino Frances. It is very crowded, especially from Sarria. "There are just too many pilgrims that start from Sarria" says a Dutch pilgrim. "Many Spanish pilgrims only do the last 100km, what is the use of that? And, when we reach Sarria after walking 700 kms we have to rush to get beds." A Spanish pilgrim objects. "The problem is too many foreigners" she says. "It is OK for a Spanish pilgrim to start at Cebrero or Sarria but then there are too many foreign pilgrims who take all the beds. We pay the taxes and they sleep cheap." The Dutch pilgrim backs down and walks over to the table to pur another cup of coffee. Nobody wants a confrontation.
At about 10:30pm we started tidying up and getting the table ready for tomorrow when there was a knock on the door. A Swiss pilgrim had arrived at Cee too late to get a bed at the hostal so he walked the 1km up the hill to the alberge. OK we said. You can sleep here. Are you hungry? Yes please. So out came the left overs, curry, rice, salad, bread, wine and fruit salad. Got to bed at 11:15pm.



View of Finisterre from our bedroom window




Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 7


Last night we were 15. I made South African style Macaroni with cheese sauce, tomatoes and bacon. No oven, so all cooked on top of the stove. It went down very well. We started off with soup, then macaroni and salad and a desert of sliced oranges with sugar.
This morning we hurried through the albergue, sweeping and mopping. We changed all the sheets and pillowcases and put on a load in the washing the machine first thing. By the time all the pilgrims had left we were able to load the second lot of linen and hang up the first. We bought a long loaf from the ´panaderia´van and made bocadillos with lettuce, cheese, tomato and ham for Isa.
Then I put on my boots and off we went. We felt like school children escaping from boarding school!
It is a lovely walk to Finisterre and we walked the 8.5km in just under 2 hours.

"We go to the Faro first?" asked Isa. "Yes" I replied "we can eat bocadillos later".

So up we walked to the end of the world at a lighthouse on the bluff jutting out into the Atlantic. There we see two Spanish boys who had stayed at the albergue last night. Hug, hug, kiss, kiss, "Photos, photos". On the way down we realised that we would only have 1/2 hour for our lunch so I suggested she put out her thumb and hitch. A car stopped for us right away and we whizzed down the hill saving a good 20 minutes. On the way around the little port we walked through a market and met the English girls who had arrived at the albergue so wet and bedraggled on Sunday night. Screech, screech, hug, hug, kiss, kiss. Long lost family.
"That was the best night of our camino" they said. We smile, grateful for their praise. We must be doing something right!
We sat on a stone bench eating our bocadillos. "Pees" says Isa. "¿Qué?" I ask, confused. "I pees" she says. I shake my head and frown. "Aseos" she says looking at me as though I am dumb. She needs the loo.
"Niza niñas no decir 'piss'" I tell her, "dicen 'Wee'" "Oh-kay - I wee" she says smiling. She pops into the nearest cafe-bar to use the toilet. I hear a voice shouting at me in Afrikaans. They are pilgrims from Pretoria who have spotted my RSA flag shorts. We chat for a while and then Isa joins us and we head off to get the bus back to Corcubion, the driver kindly droping us off almost outside the albergue.
There was only one pilgrim waiting for us. Pilgrims always look so relieved to see us when we arrive. There is a look of hope in their eyes, "Will she let us in early or will we have to wait?
"You can come in" I said, "Its cold out here". (The wind had come up and it was cold in the shade).
"Oh no, its Ok" he said "You only open at 4pm".
"No, you come in and get settled inside."
Pilgrims are pathetically grateful for little things. When they see a bed with sheets, a blanket and a pillow, they are overwhelmed! When we say that they can have tea or coffee they look incredulous and when we tell them that we will cook their dinner and give them breakfast they almost burst into tears!!
So in came our German pilgrim who later helps us fix the washline that is falling over. Albergue washlines are usually makeshift affairs. They seem to grow as the needs arise and this one has stretched from tree to tree but it needed a stable take in the middle. The existing branch has rotted and our pilgrim finds another and hammers it into the ground with a stone. Soon a Spanish couple arrives, then a young German man who looks more Spanish than German and then a French couple. A Polish priest was the last to arrive.
I make baked potatoes in the microwave, carrots Julienne with sugar and butter, two salads and a minestrone soup. Isa cut up apples and oranges for fruit salad. We sang the house song, "Tengo, tengo hambre" bang, bang, "Ich bin, ich bin Hungrig" bang, bang (and whatever it was in Polish).
The priest did the blessing before dinner. Afterwards he played the guitar and sang songs in Polish. He has a deep, booming voice and the songs sound more like pub songs than parish songs! The only song he knew in German was¨"Silent Night" and the only song in English was "Auld Lang Syne". We all sang along as best we could. I massaged the Spanish woman´s feet and by 9:30 they all started drifting off. Yay!! Early night.
Isa and I set the table to the morning, and went upstairs to bed. Looking through the window we could see the lights of Finsterre just coming on.
"It will be a good sunset over the Atlantic tonight" I said.
"Si" said Isa.
I felt pleased for our pilgrims from the night before, they would have the experience of watching the sun dragons swallow up the earth.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 6

My world is this old schoolhouse in Spain

It´s Monday. I only realised that when Isa suggested we walk to Finisterre on Tuesday after doing our chores. "What day is it today?" I asked. "Lunes" she said.

We don´t have a radio here, no television, no newspapers. We do have a CD player and early in the morning we awaken the pilgrims with Gregorian Chants. Once they have all left, we put on something more lively, like The Full Monty or Greatest Hits and we dance with the brooms and the mops!!

For two weeks my world is a little double storied Casa on the edge of a playground surrounded by trees. In the afternoon children come to play and we can hear them as they swing and screech on the slides. Sometimes pilgrims, bored waiting for the albergue to open, mess about on the equipment too. My world starts at about 6:30am when I creep downstairs, put on the lights, the kettle, milk on the stove, get the coffee machine going, add bottles of jams and butter to the table, cut two loaves of bread and set out two flasks, one with hot water for tea and the other with made coffee and boiled milk for the hot chocolate. Then I put on the Gregorian Chants CD and and at 7am the sounds of monks chanting rises through stairwell up to the dormitory where the pilgrims sleep.

My world has become a passing parade of transients who arrive like old friends - kiss, kiss, hug, hug (no time for polite greetings or handshakes, no time for ´getting to know you´) it all happens in about 18 hours. Within 5 minutes they will lift a shirt to show me a rash on their back or stomach, or show me a swelling on a leg or blisters on their feet. After breakfast they leave with more kiss, kiss, hug, hugs and I know we´ll never see them again - unless we bump into them in Finisterre or Santiago, then we greet each other like long lost family! Its definitely a camino-pilgrim thing - me pilgrim, you pilgrim, we are family so I feel comfortable with you and can show you my blistered feet or discuss my period pains. No strangers here.

My world is sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, cleaning. I have learned that you can´t pick up a hair with your finger tips until you have rolled it into a little spiral. There is always hair in the showers and on the floors. How come there is so much hair on the floor in the living room where nobody combs or brushes their hair? Every day the broom is full of hair. Pilgrims leave little bits of themselves behind. Besides the hat, a shoe, a walking stick, bandana or other items of clothing, they leave nail clippings, blister plasters, and hair everywhere! I swear that if I was into Voodoo I could cast a hoodoo spell on them all!

At dinner time I sit at the head of the table like a matriarch - proudly watching her smiling brood tucking into their meal as though its the last one they´ll ever have. I enjoy listening to the volunteers who wash the dishes, laughing and chatting, discussing the routes, the towns, the albergues, their various aches and pains - its just like a big family. But there are always goodbyes. Instant friendship, certain farewells.
A few will continue from Finisterre to Muxia or even beyond but for most, it is the end of the line when they reach Finisterre and you can see the reluctance on their faces and the sadness in their eyes. They have reached the land of the Dark Star - the End of the World and the end of their camino.

They are like the legend of the Abbot San Virila who stayed too long in the woods, enchanted by the singing of a bird and did not notice the passing of time.
"After what I thought were a few hours, I returned to the monastery, my home. After entering the front door, none of the monks there were familiar to me. I walked through the different rooms, surprised at what I saw, realising that something strange was happening. When I became aware that nobody recognised me I went to see the Prior, who listened to my story with astonished attention. We went to the library to try to decipher the enigma. Looking through old documents we discovered that around three hundred years before, a holy monk called San Virila who had ruled the monastery had disappered, presumed eaten by wild animals on one of his spring walks in the woods."

These pilgrims have condensed 300 years of life experiences into 30 days or more and for many, life will never be the same again.

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 5


Rain, rain, rain. It rains most days here and even though the sun shone yesterday, it started raining in the night and was still raining in the morning. I feel sorry for the pilgrims when they have to leave the warm, cosy casa and walk off in the mist and rain, but it is only 9km to Finisterre and even the rain can´t stop their joy at reaching the last marker with the 0,00km marker at the top of bluff near the lighthouse.
The Austrian was first up and left after a cup of coffee. Then the rest came down in dribs and drabs, nobody really has a sense of urgency with so few kms to walk.
"Whats for dinner?" asked Isa when they had all left and we were having our breakfast.
"It´s cold" I said, "Let me make a vegetable curry tonight". She wasn´t sure, people in Spain are not accustomed to Indian curry, but I convinced her to let me make curried beans, South African style.

Once we had done the houswork and had a shower, we set off for Cee. Corcubion and Cee are practictaly one place, right next to each other like Johannesburg suburbs. There was a weekly flea-market in in the square and streets around the supermercado and we strolled around looking at the wares. I bought a blouse for 3€ to replace my polka-dot blouse which is now only good for doing housework in, and a long sleeve top for 3€. I also had to buy some reading glasses. Somewhere yesterday the little screw came out of one side of my glasses and I couldn´t find it so I bought another pair in Cee.

Then we went off to Muxia, a really pretty place with a lovely coastline, picturesque lighthouses and a church right on the sea with enormous, smooth rocks - apparently the place where San´Tiago landed in the stone boat which sailed across the sea without sails.
We had a cafe-bar stop along the way back and I bought Isa a Martini (poor girl is never going to guess right!) but I felt sorry for her!
"How many pilgrims tonight?" she asked.
"If it rains, completo" I said, "But if it stops raining, maybe 15 or 16."

When we got back there was a lone pilgrim sleeping on the bench. She got up when we pulled up in the car.
"Wait" said "Isa "we open just now." We had lunch, got the kettle on and the books ready and I opened the door for the pilgrim. When she gave me her credential I screeched! It was a South African credential, one that I had issued. Matty had emailed me for an urgent Visa letter before leaving South Africa and I had no idea that she was going on to Finisterre. So it was "Hello Skattie, hoe gaan dit" hug, hug, jump, jump, kiss, kiss! My first South African pilgrim at Corcubion.
Then two very bedraggled young women appeared. They sat down outside so I went to them and asked, "Are you going to sleep here tonight?"
"We´d really like to," they said folornly. "We walked too far yesterday and didn´t make it to the town so we slept in a tent, and we got wet, and the ground sloped the wrong way, and we are very cold and my feet are terribly painful ......"
"Come in then" I said to them, "Go upstairs, choose a bed, get out of these wet clothes and have a hot shower. When you are ready you can come down with your credentials and I´ll register you."
They looked like grateful puppies! "Oh thank you, thank you so much" said the younger girl. We are so tired.......".
"Go on then" I said, "When you come back down you can have a cup of tea or coffee." The older girl looked as though she was going to burst into tears.
"I think I'm going to cry" she said.
"Don´t you start that" I said. "You´ll have us all drizzling. Upstairs."
They come down an hour later showered and smiling but in bare feet. They have blisters and can't wear shoes.
Then Isa got a call from Begona in Finisterre. A group of 5 pilgrims had arrived in Cee and wanted to know if there was space in San Roque before walking up the hill.
"Yes" said Isa "we can take them". Soon we had another group of wet and bedraggled, limping pilgrims to process. They were friends of the first two so we organised the rooms so that they could be together. Four were from England, one from Holland and another from New Zealand. Then a Spanish couple arrived with a friend in tow and soon we had 15 pilgrims in the house. Once all had had a cup of something the sun came out and some did washing whilst others sat inside listening to music or writing. I cooked a huge pot of curried beans but had to keep adding an extra bottle of beans, and when those ran out, a bottle of veges as the numbers grew. We made three bowls of salads and with Lola´s veg soup as a starter we had more than enough for all the pilgrims.
"We have been dreaming of a big, hearty, vegetable stew" said one of the Enligh girls, "But this was even better - thank you". We sang the ´we are hungry´song and they took photos of the lemon peel arrows in the salads. By 10pm we had cleaned up and had started setting the table for breakfast when there was a knock on the door. A young French pilgrim arriving late, hungry and in need of a bed. Out came the soup, a bowl of curry, bread and a yoghurt for desert. He said that we were angels and he had come to heaven! Well, this angel was ready for bed so I took myself off and went to sleep listening to guitar playing and singing wafting up from downstairs.

(Isa receives an email from a German pilgrim)
For me a dream has come true! I owe God and all people thanks who have helped me on this way - with dear words by her friendliness and by her actions. My short visit in the Albergue of Corcubion will remain unforgettably for me. I am very grateful to you, Isabel, Lola and Sil.

video

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 4

We´ve got the cleaning down to a fine art. One day I do the bathrooms and Isa the bedrooms and then we swap. We share the downstairs I sweep and dust and Isa mops and then she sweeps and dusts and I mop.
After two days my nails all started splitting (harsh disinfectant here) so I´ve taken to using gloves. After turning my lovely red blouse into a polka dot creation I´ve also started wearing an apron so I really look like Sadie-the-cleaning-lady! The albergue is spotless. We sweep, spray, swab and scrub every surface every day and the place smells really fresh and clean. I like the Pine frangrance and Isa the Lavendar so it all smells like a forest. In the afternoon we put on the coffee machine and burn an incense stick and it has a very welcoming, home-from-home feeling.

On Saturday Lola took us to Cee where we had a drink and Tapas at a terraced bar outside the main Carrefour supermecado. I still haven´t had to buy Isa a Martini because she has still not guessed correctly the number of pilgrims we´ll have each night.
The book that the pilgrims write comments in is full so Isa and I buy a new one for the albergue. Some pilgrims draw elaborate pictures, add stickers and get quite lyrical in the comments they write in the book.
When we got back to the albergue there was a "Gary Cooper" look alike waiting on the bench. "We only open at 4pm" said Isa. "OK" he said. "I´ll wait because I have a painful leg and can´t carry on walking today". So, what do you do? You open early, which is what did after grabbing a bite to eat and getting the registration book ready. We write in blue ink one day and red ink the next.
I bang my head on the pantry ceiling. The pantry is a space under the stairs - normally one would use the space for a broom or boots closet - but this is our pantry and you have to reverse out bent over otherwise you bang your head. A group of rather noisy girl pilgrims arrive and we let them in too. We showed them the view of Finisterre from the bedroom windows and they showered, had some coffee, sat on the lawn chatting and smoking. The next minute they told us they had decided to walk to Finisterre after all. I couldn´t blame them. The shine was shining and there was a good chance that they might see a sunset over the Atlantic. After the full house the night before we had only 7 pilgrims last night. Even so, we sang the San Roque - Queen song and had a great time at dinner. One of the pilgrims had a swollen shin and I offered to massage it for him with Arnica. It is a strange thing about pilgrims. He was a very well dressed, cultured man (a dentist from Austria) who brought a bottle of good wine to share at the table but left without giving a donation. Sometimes it is the mendicant pilgrim who drops a coin in the box who is the most grateful. Lola has offered to take us to Muxia tomorrow which about 18 kms from Corcubion. Another day in paradise!

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 3

We are in Santiago!
Isa´s friend offered to bring us after we had done our chores and with only a few pilgrims it didn´t take too long to tidy beds, mop floors and clean showers and toilets. I put on Gregorian Chants at 7am to wake the pilgrims and they came down to breakfast with a smile on their faces!

Yesterday a Polish pilgrim left 10 eggs in a box which he didn´t want to carry to Santiago so I boiled them for our pilgrims for breakfast. I did a few extras which I´ll use in a potato salad for tonight. We each got hug hugs and muchas gracias´s from all the pilgrims. It started off misty and raining in Corcubion and this might mean that we will have more pilgrims tonight. Will have to wait and see.
The return journey to Corcubion was misty and rainy.
"How many pilgrims do you think we will have tonight?" asked Isa.
"14" said Lola.
"Completo" I replied.
"No Sil, not completo, maybe 18" said Isa.
When we arrived at the albergue there were 9 pilgrims waiting for us - all wet and cold , including a family with two young boys - so we let them in early, registered them and let them upstairs to shower and settle in. Then two arrived, then 1, then 3 more and by 5:30pm we were completo with one pilgrim looking really sick. Isa gave him water and his companion led him upstairs. He told me in the morning that he had walked 40km to Santiago, felt tired and headachy but still celebrated with his friends until the early hours and then didn´t drink much water the next day when he walked another 40km. He was probably hung-over and dehydrated!
I wrote a sign for the door - Completo, Full, sorry! but still they came. It was terrible to turn them away. It is another 9km to Finisterre and a long downhill 1km back to Corcubion. (No pilgrim likes to go backwards, ever.) One poor pilgrim was most distressed so we arranged for a taxi to fetch him, take him to the hostal in Cee and bring him back to the albergue so he could continue walking the next day. A third pilgrim arrived, saw the sign on the door and turned disconsolately away. I don´t know whether she walked on or turned back. Turning pilgrims away is hard - it really sucks!! Especially when it is late, cold and wet and there isn't anywhere close by to go to.
Dinner was salad, macaroni with Chorizo (Salsa for the vegetarians) and melon for desert. Pilgrims keep telling us that they are hungry. "I am so hungry" says one. "Ich bin hongrig" "Tengo hambre". I borrowed an idea from the albergue at Granon and suggested they join the San Roque Albergue choir and sing for their supper . To the tune of "We will rock you" they clapped their hands and banged on the table singing in their various languages. I start them off in English. Clap, clap, Bang - clap, clap, bang "We are... we are hungry" bang, clap, clap bang. "Tengo, tengo....hambre" bang, clap clap bang "Ich bin... ich bin hungrig". Queen would have been proud of them!
While we were eating Isa asked me if I was a Catholic. "No, I am a Buddhist" I said. "Que? What?" she looked positively shocked. "A Buddhist" I said. She laughed until the tears were rolling down her cheeks. The word for prostitute in Spanish sounds very similar to Buddhist in English and it seemed I was proudly telling her that I was a prostitute!! We had to share the joke but it was lost on so many different nationalities - Korean, Dutch, Italian, French, German, Dutch - there was even an Aussie there but he was hard of hearing so didn´t catch the whole story. There wasn´t much food left and after the meal one of the Dutch pilgrims sang a song that he had sung in the church at Santiago. Some of the pilgrims helped wash the dishes - bonus. One would think that with 20 pilgrims and a good home cooked meal the donations would be generous but they left less than the 7 pilgrims we´d had the night before. Once again we set out the plates and cups for breakfast and we finally got to bed at 11:30pm.
Breakfast at San Roque

Hospitalera in Corcubion - Day 2

Isa and I share a small room. There are two beds, a bedside table and a desk. No cupboard to hang clothes so they hang on hook on the walls.
I am an early riser so I got up quietly at 6h00 and crept downstairs to put on the kettle, the coffee, boil the milk and cut the bread for breakfast. Isa came down soon after and we put out jams, biscuits and melba toast for breakfast. One by one the pilgrims came down heading for the coffee machine or the hot milk to make chocolate - ColaCao. One of the pilgrims who had looked really tired the night before and who didin´t participate in the singing or conversations was decidedly perky! He put on Dire Straits CD(Masters of Swing?) and was bobbing and boogeying to the music. I joined him and we did a synchronized hand jive at the head of the table to much applause from the pilgrims! We managed to get them all out and on their way by 9am and then started cleaning. I told Isa that I would do upstairs so I started by straightening all the beds, folding blankets, dragging a big plastic bag around picking up bits of plaster papers, old leaflets, a couple of empty water bottles and clearing out the bins in the rooms and the bathrooms. Then I swept the floors in the bedrooms and mopped the floors and then I started in the bathrooms. I wiped down the walls and scrubbed the floors in the showers, scrubbed the toilets - yes, I really did! - and the washed hand basins. I swept the stairs down to the lower level and passed Isa on the way down. Once I´d put all the trash in the large tip-bin outside the albergue I went back upstairs to find Isa now mopping the floors and washing the walls in the showers!
!No! No!" Isa, "I said, "I have done the rooms upstairs. Completo".
She just laughed. We decided that we needed to communicate better. I asked if I could use the washing machine to wash my pilgrim clothes and we added the albergue towels, dishcloths and a few pillow slips to the machine. At 9h15 there was a ´toot! toot!¨outside from the "panaderia' (bakery van) and we grab the bread bag and go together to buy bread for the day. We prefer the fat round cottage loaves to the long bacquets and bought 4 just in case we had another full house. When we had done all the chores we sat and wrote a shopping list. Isa´s friend, Lola, came to take us shopping.

Our first mishap - Isa slammed the door with the keys still in the lock and one of the keys got stuck in the frame. We jiggled it and wriggled it but it wouldn´t budge. We couldn´t open the door and we couldn´t take the other keys off the ring. Eventually I managed to shovel it up and down far enough to get the circlular part out and use a nail file as leverage. Finally we got the key out. But we couldn´t open the door so Isa telephoned Begona who gave us the number for a locksmith. He was very quick and soon the door was open and we were on our way to town. We sat at a terraced restaurant where I had a coke and Isa had a Martini! We then did the shopping. You have to put a Euro coin into a slot in the shopping trolley before you can push it around the store which you get back whn you return it. Carrefour is a huge shopping chain and they had most of the things we needed at reasonable prices.
By 3pm we only had one pilgrim. By 4pm there were 3 and in the end we only had 7 pilgrims. "There will be another late pilgrim" said Isa. "I don´t think so," I replied. "OK. We take a bet" she said. "If there are no more pilgrims I will buy you coffee tomorrow". "Alright" I said "and I will buy you a Martini!" By the time we sat down to dinner Isa´s hopes of a free martini had faded.
It was a beautiful day and from the upstairs windows you could actually see the village of Finisterre as well as the lighthouse at the top at Carbo Finisterre. At night the sweeping lights of the lighthouse shine into the rooms and one can hear the fog horn sending off its mournful "whoooo...whooooooo..." Finisterre is about 9km away and the lighthouse 12kms away. We returned to the albergue and unpacked the shopping. During the day an occasional pilgrim will knock asking for a sello (stamp in the pilgrim passport) or to use the toilet and children come to play in the park. There was a large cabbage in the fridge and I offered to make a salad. "With this?" she asked, incredulous. "Si - es delicioso!" I said. She pulled up her nose - Isa doesn´t like cabbage. I made a cole-slaw salad with finely shredded cabbage, grated carrots, chopped oranges, a few red pimentos and chopped olives. Then I made a dressing with mayonaise, garlic salt and olive oil. It was delicious and there wasn´t a scrap left at the end of the meal. I also made another green salad and placed the little yellow lemon peel arrows on top again much to the delight of our pilgrims. This time Isa cooked a risotto and added chopped sausages. We had miniature ice-creams for desert and these went down very well. After dinner the two Swiss-German girls - Sarah-Jayne and Leah - played guitar and sang folk songs. Pietro, an Italian pilgrim, had a sore foot so I gave him a foot massage and he got tears in his eyes. He said it was the sweet singing of the young girls and the caring of the hospitalera. Dear, dear pilgrims. They all went to bed at around 11pm and once again Isa and I set the table for breakfast and went to bed. The lights from the lighthouse sweeping across the bay from Finsiterre to Corcubion was hypnotic and I don´t remember falling asleep.

Hospitalera in Corcubion

In 2007 I walked the camino Frances (3rd time) and wrote this on my blog after staying at Granon and Tosantos:
These ´donativo´refuges are run solely for pilgrims to Santiago and we find it amazing that people are prepared to volunteer to cook and clean up after us, out of the goodness of their hearts.
I decided that if I ever got back to Spain to walk a camino, I would volunteer in one of the donativo albergues. I was able to do a pilot online hospitalero course and was fortunate to be assigned to the albergue San Roque outside Corcubion on the Santiago to Fistera route. I should have started there on 27th June but whilst in Santiago I got a call to say that the albergue was closed for 4 days as there was a fiesta in the park and the stands were right up against the albergue building. I decided to walk to Finisterre and once there I was able to help out at the municipal albergue there for a day before being taken to the albergue San Roque.
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From 4pm to 10:30pm I was assistant Hospitalera at Finisterre. Well, Begoña said that I was the hospitalera and she was the Police!
Walking around Finisterre, I met up again with the two Cape Town pilgrims I'd come across at Oliveiroa. We sat on the sea front for a while talking about home, the camino and other nostalgic things. We had our photographs taken so that we could submit them to the CSJ of SA for the newsletter.
Back at the albergue municipal I was put to work! I learned how to register the pilgrims as they arrived - queues of them waiting at the door at 4pm - handed out the Finsterra document, the disposable bedding, explained about the doors closing at 10:30pm but a side gate being left open until mid-night for late comers and that they had to be out by 8h30 which is when the municipal cleaners move in. No scrubbing toilets at Finisterre - that was still to come! One of the pilgrims in the queue was Conny (the Dutch girl I´d left at a cafe bar on the way to Finisterre).

I didn´t get to bed until after 11pm and was up and ready by 7am. At 8h30 it was time to chase up the many young peregrinos who had partied at the lighthouse until late.
"I´m looking forward to seeing how you handle this" said Conny.
I walked through the dormitory tickling feet and telling everyone in a loud voice to get up and get out because it was after 8h30.
"Why do we have to get up so early?" asked one sleepy pilgrim. "This is the end, we don't have to walk today".
"So that the cleaners can come in and scrub the showers and toilets and make your bed for the next pilgrim" I said.
"Arghhhh...!!!" he moaned, and put his pillow over his head. Conny looked at me and laughed. "Tell him vee hav vays of making them move!"
By 9am most of the peregrinos were downstairs in various stages of dressing. But when I went to check for a last time, there were clothes on the folding dryer, boots under a bed, a good collapsible walking pole in a corner and other paraphenalia in the room.
"Don´t worry" said Begona, just put it in the laundry room with all the other lost stuff. I was amazed to find clothing, shoes, sandals, boots, backpacks, hats etc in a large pile in the laundry. Perhaps being at the end of the walk many pilgrims can´t be bothered to carry all their stuff home so they just leave it behind!
Perhaps there could be a 2nd hand depot for pilgrims who can't afford to purchase all this stuff?When the cleaners came I went across the road to the cafe-bar and joined Conny for breakfast. We said our 2nd goodbyes and promised to email. Then I went back to the albergue and met Isabel who will be my companion hospitalera for 2 weeks. Isa is a tiny little thing from the Basque country and doesn´t speak any English - besides ´thank you´and ´good bye´ so I´m expecting my Spanish to improve in two weeks! It is also her first stint as hospitalera so we both felt a bit nervous when Francelino fetched us to take us to Corcubion.
The Albergue has such a good reputation that we feel like custodians and promise each other to do our best to maintain the high standard of cleanliness, warm welcome and love established by our predecessors. Judith met us at the albergue and after showing us the rooms up and downstairs, where we would share a room, the showers, First Aid box, how the stove and washing machine worked, how to stack the pantry, what the general daily routine was, she helped us make a grocery list, then she took us into Cee which is the village right next to Corcubion, to do shopping. We went to Carrefour, a large supermarket where we bought provisions. They have an excellent delivery service and the goods arrived at the albergue almost at the same time as we did.
On the way back to the albergue she took me to the Correos to collect the parcel I had sent from Santiago with my working clothes, rubber gloves and On-Line hospitalero notes prepared by Rebekah Scot. These were to prove really useful in the days to come.
Isa offered to cook lentils for dinner and I said that I would make the salad. By 2:30pm pilgrims were queuing outside. San Roque officially opens at 4pm but Judith suggested we use our discretion and if it is raining or someone looks really desperate, we could open earlier.
"We prefer not to have more than 14" she said, "But if more arrive, open the other room where there are beds for 6 more pilgrims."
It was a mizzy-drizzly day so we opened about 30 minutes early. I registered the pilgrims as they arrived, 19 of them in the end - almost completo. Isa helped question the Spanish pilgrims - age, profession, where did you start? I managed with those from Belguim, Holland, Germany using my Afrikaans skills. Under no circumstances are we allowed to accept even one extra pilgrim (even though there is stacks of room on the floor) because of the insurance rules.
We soon had all our pilgrims upstairs, showered, some resting, others reading or writing. Isa and I chopped and cut up vegetables for the lentil pot and I made a salad. A couple of pilgrims helped us set the table and cut up the bread. I stole an idea from Eunate and made little yellow arrows out of lemon peels to place on top of the three salad bowls. We turned them so that they pointed towards Finisterre. The pilgrims were delighted and most took photos. I asked the French pilgrims if they would sing Chanson du Pelerin St Jacques as the oracion and we soon had all 21 of us joining in the chorus. We had made three large bowls of salads, cut up 2.5 loaves of bread and had a huge pot of lentils and nearly every scrap of it was wolfed down by the hungry pilgrims. We served wine and water with the meal and desert was yoghurt, and then tea/coffee or hot chocolate. All of this including the overnight stay is donativo and we lit a candle next to the donation box which is kept on the fridge.
There is a guitar in the albergue and a Chilean pilgrim played and sang for those pilgrims who had stayed up. Eventually we were able to sweep the floor, set the tables for breakfast and get to bed ourselves by 11:30pm. Isa and I were pleased with our first day and felt a sense of satisfaction when we switched off the lights and closed the front door before tip-toeing upstairs to get to bed.