Saturday, January 10, 2015

Manifesto Villafranca del Bierzo - Section 4


MANIFESTO - SECTION IV: Hospitality and Welcoming the Pilgrims

Hospitality is, without a doubt, one of the fundamental elements that sustain the Camino. But owing to the absence of common regulations, a variety of privately owned, fixed-price “pilgrim albergues” are proliferating along the Way.

We propose:  

1.      To begin a movement to standardize existing rules on pilgrim accommodation.

2.      To change the designation of private albergues to avoid confusing them with traditional non-profit albergues. We can call them, for example ,“Posadas de Peregrinos,” or “Hostales de Peregrinos.” Albergues with a traditional and altruistic welcome, attended by volunteer hosts, are the foundation and the soul of the Camino. As such, they merit special protection and distinction.

3.      To offer preference in all institutional and traditional albergues to pilgrims traveling on foot, as well as long-distance hikers. Albergues operating under this designation will not accept reservations. 

4.      To configure, promote, and support a stable network of albergues and hospitality options for winter pilgrims.

5.      To adjust and rationalize the opening and closing hours in every kind of pilgrim albergue on the Camino to ensure hospitaleros and pilgrims get enough rest.

The Camino is here for walking and enjoying, not for racing from albergue to albergue, standing in queue from 9 a.m. to get a bed for the night. Respect and solidarity should come first on the Jacobean Way.
 

 
MANIFESTO:  “ …..a variety of privately owned fixed-price “pilgrim albergues” are proliferating along the Way.”

Comment: 

I see this as a good thing! On many of the lesser walked routes there aren’t enough albergues and on the crowded routes there aren’t enough traditional albergues left to cater for the large rise in numbers.  

Many Spanish people have opened their homes and rent out rooms to passing pilgrims.  This was encouraged by Elias Valiña’s 1987 guide, which suggested that Tourist offices could help pilgrims find these rooms. 




 
 In Zubiri a couple feeling the economic pinch when the father was retrenched in 2011 moved in with her parents and turned their home into a pension that can sleep 8 people.  

Many foreigners who walk a Camino and fall in love with it and return to Spain to live there. Some  end up taking in pilgrims to supplement their income.  According to Don Jose Ignacio Diaz Perez (of Grañon), one can find a comparison with the medieval pilgrimage when there were many cases of foreigners who came to settle after having been on the pilgrimage themselves.  
 
In the middle-ages thousands of French families were encouraged to relocate to the north of Spain in order to populate the country with Christians and so balance the threat of Islam and locals welcomed pilgrims into their homes.  (Hence the number of towns with the name Villafranca).

We cannot recreate the medieval hospitality experience - no matter how hard we try. The basic reason for providing shelter to pilgrims was almost purely religious.  Not so today.  When asked why they want to be hospitaleros, today's volunteers invariably say, "I want to give back to the Camino".  The religious culture of care has changed.  Being prepared to conduct an 'oracion' (blessing) is no longer a requirement for hospitaleros.
Albergues:  Choice is a good thing.  We can't keep looking backwards at what was offered to medieval pilgrims.  We are now in the 21st century and Camino pilgrims are a product of this era. 
There was class distinctions in the middle ages with better accommodation reserved for the upper classes, the best food allocated to the wealthy and numerous relics only displayed to a special class of pilgrim, not to the masses.  Today all pilgrims are treated equally and all pilgrims have the right to choose where they want to stay.
Not every pilgrim wants to stay in a basic albergue with no beds and two showers (Tosantos, Grañon) or no electricity (Manjarin, San Anton) even if these are voted as the most spiritual albergues on the Camino. 
 
Some people prefer to have a private room (perhaps they snore, suffer from sleep apnoea, are light sleepers or are just shy and don’t want to sleep with strangers).  The Camino can cater for all pilgrims and where they sleep shouldn’t be an issue.  As Peter Robbins said, “the albergues were meant only for pilgrims” but then the perception changed to “pilgrims should only sleep in albergues” which is nonsensical.    
 
Monasteries that traditionally provided accommodation for pilgrims in the middle-ages are now big business with tourists (and rooms are not cheap).  You can buy guides to lodgings in hundreds of monasteries all over the world.   
 
 

1. To begin a movement to standardize existing rules on pilgrim accommodation.

Question: 

What are the existing rules?  Do they concern size of dormitories, spaces between beds and number of beds per room, number of toilets per capita pilgrims, cleanliness, months that they are open, opening and closing times, the establishment of new albergues where one already exists?

Comment:

There are many private homes and pensions on the Camino Frances that offer mixed accommodation with private en suite rooms; private rooms with shared bathrooms and dormitories for pilgrims.  Don't these already adhere to local planning rules?  Will the proposed movement be able to legally impose their rules on privately owned establishments?
 
Let pilgrims be the watchdogs!  Pilgrims are quick to complain and albergues that are not up to scratch, or that are unsanitary, over charge, or that have bed-bugs are soon exposed on the Camino grape-vine via social networks like forums and Facebook.  There is nowhere for them to hide! 
Instead of starting a movement to impose more rules, perhaps a watch-dog group to investigate complaints would be more useful. 

2.      To change the designation of private albergues to avoid confusing them with traditional non-profit albergues. We can call them, for example ,“Posadas de Peregrinos,” or “Hostales de Peregrinos.” Albergues with a traditional and altruistic welcome, attended by volunteer hosts, are the foundation and the soul of the Camino. As such, they merit special protection and distinction.
 
Question:  

The term 'traditional non-profit' isn't clear.  What does it mean?  Does this mean that only donativo albergues will be classified as ‘non-profit’ albergues?   What about traditional albergues that charge pilgrims?

Comments:

There are many traditional albergues that now charge which pre-date the ‘refugios’ set up by the AMIGOS after the 1987 congress in Jaca. This includes the one in Santo Domingo de la Calzada which was the first to be established for modern day pilgrims and is probably one of the oldest still in existence.
 

In Elias Valiña’s Pilgrim Guide (reprinted 1n 1987) there is a list of 72 ‘refugios’ on the Camino Frances whose “.... maintenance depends on the AMIGOS Ayuntamientos, Religious communities, Parishes or individuals.” 
There is no indication whether these refugios charged pilgrims or not but with so few donativo albergues left, I’m sure that a search to compare then and now will show that many of those that were donativo now charge – like all the municipal albergues in Galicia, the one in Santo Domingo and the convent in Leon.
 
According to Colin Jones of the CSJ, there were about 88 refugios in 2000 - 58 municipal, 10 private and 20 belonging to the church.
The 2002 CSJ (Confraternity of St James) guide to the Camino Frances, lists 107 refugios; only 15 more than in 1987 so not a huge growth in numbers.
 
Doing a rough count, there are over 400 albergues on the Camino Frances today and only 15 of these are traditional non-profit (i.e. donativo). They are in Estella, Viana, Logrono, Najera, Granon, Tosantos, Villalcazar de Sirga, Sahagun Madres Benedictinas, Bercianos del Real Camino, El Burgo Ranero, Rabanal, Parroquial de Foncebadon, Parroquial de El Acebo, Ponferrada and Samos.

This shows that there has been a considerable growth in the number of albergues in the past 12 years which reflects the comparative rise in the number of people doing the Camino.  It also reflects one of the most fundamental concepts driving economics - supply and demand.  
 
If the church, or the municipalities, or the various Jacobean organisations had been able to keep up with the  number of pilgrims needing accommodation, it might not have been economically viable for so many private albergues to be established.  Instead, as things stand, the number of traditional donativo albergues have dropped (two of the oldest parish albergues started charging in 2013) and the private albergues have taken their place.

1.      To offer preference in all institutional and traditional albergues to pilgrims traveling on foot, as well as long-distance hikers. Albergues operating under this designation will not accept reservations. 

Comment:

Fair enough - I know where they are coming from, and this is what we teach trainee hospitaleros, but I think this rule could have contributed to the bed-rush in the past!  A possible solution was considered for pilgrims in Galicia in 2005 but I don’t think anything came of it. In 2005 this was posted on the St James’ forum:
Last week the Xunta, and the new Director of Tourism, Ruben Leos, arrived at an accord whereby pilgrims that occupy the albergues will be asked to contribute to their upkeep by paying a fee which will range from 3 to 10 Euros.  The income from such fees will allow the albergues to offer better service, including bed-clothing and towels, and it will also provide some means for augmenting personnel in the albergues so that claims of being a pilgrim may be looked into in such a manner that phony ones may be detected.
The good news about the proposed change is that, in addition to better services in the albergues, true pilgrims will be able to make reservations in the forthcoming albergue as they leave one.  This will avoid the necessity of pilgrims starting out before dawn, in the dark, so that they may reach the next albergue by one o'clock in order to find a space.  Since the reservations will be made from one albergue to another presumably the increased attention, time intervals, and tracking will uncover free-loaders pretending to be pilgrims and will provide needed ease of mind to true pilgrims
.”


Well – I don’t whether that idea was ever implemented, but in 2007 when I walked the Camino, we made reservations in private albergues each day from Sarria to Santiago and this meant that we didn’t have to join the bed-race.  We were able to walk at a sensible pace, visit churches and places of interest and arrive after lunchtime with sufficient time to wash our clothes and sightsee in the town.  And what's more, some of them were the best albergues on the Camino with welcoming and gracious hosts with a wonderful pilgrim ethos.  
 

4.      To configure, promote, and support a stable network of albergues and hospitality options for winter pilgrims.

Comment:

‘Stable network’ is what caught my eye.  Albergues that advertise that they are open in winter often are not – such as the Jesus y Maria in Pamplona which is supposed to be open during winter but was closed for a Christmas Holiday and only reopened on the 11th January. 

5.      To adjust and rationalize the opening and closing hours in every kind of pilgrim albergue on the Camino to ensure hospitaleros and pilgrims get enough rest.
 
Comment:

It’s a well meant idea but I really don’t see how it can work in private albergues.  Many private albergues don’t have hospitaleros as such and some that are in private homes-cum-albergues don’t have specific opening or closing times.   

Many municipal albergues have a volunteer who arrives at check-in time to stamp sellos and take the fee.  After a few hours they leave.  This was the case in many of the municipal albergues I’ve stayed in on the Camino Frances.  In a couple of albergues the front doors are locked but pilgrims are told that can enter after hours through a side gate or back door. 
 

Note:
The second International Conference of the CSJ of UK held in Canterbury in 2001 was attended by over 100 delegates.  The theme of the conference was ‘Body & Soul, hospitality through the ages on the Roads to Compostela’. 
 
Anybody interested in learning about hospitality on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela should buy and read a copy of the Conference Proceedings, available from the CSJ Bookshop. 

 

 

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent post Sil,
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete