Wednesday, December 09, 2015


In 1986 (30 years ago) 2491 pilgrims received a Compostela. This has increased by over ten-fold.

Between 1996 and 2015 over 2.5 million pilgrims earned a Compostela.

1996 17138
1997 25179
1998 30126
1999 61418
2000 55004
2001 61418
2002 68952
2003 74614
2004 179944
2005 93924
2006 100377
2007 114026
2008 125141
2009 145877
2010 272135
2011 183366
2012 192488
2013 215880
2014 237812
2015 262000

The total number of pilgrims who have received a Compostela so far - January to November - is 260,396.

In December 2014 the number was 1870 so we can assume that at least that number will be reached by the end of the month. 262,266 for 2015.

With Pope Frances announcing an Extraordinary Roman Holy Year of Mercy in 2016 and appealing for cathedrals with Holy Doors to open them next year, I reckon that the numbers will go up exponentially. The Santiago Cathedral is opening their Holy Door on 16th December.

A previous pilgrim office Dean calculated that only 1 in 5 pilgrims walking the Camino routes during the year obtain a Compostela. Many Europeans walk a week at a time; some walk shorter routes that do not end in Santiago; others do not apply for the certificate. If that is still valid, there were over a million pilgrims walking the Camino routes this year and the numbers will rise in 2016.

The number of pilgrims walking to Rome is also expected to rise. There are now dozens of tour companies offering various distance walks on the Via Francigena and although we started booking accommodation for our groups a few months ago, many places are already full. The same can be expected on the Camino, especially the last 114km from Sarria.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Angela is a Camino angel.  She served in the albergue in Castrojeriz for 9 years and when they started charging 4 years ago she moved to San Anton where she serves every September. 

From the first day she arrived we just clicked, like women sometimes do.  She thought my black solar shower bags were a hoot but was happy when she had her first lukewarm shower instead of a freezing cold shower.
She loved the pilgrims and they loved her.  She was always kind, cheerful and supporting.  She was fascinated as I assembled all the ingredients for a Durban curry, with a home-made Spanish style chutney made from apricot jam, finely diced onions and balsamic vinegar.  "Mermelade en currie?" 
She was always generous and when we went to mass at the convent of Santa Clara she introduced me to the sisters as the hospitalera who had introduced a prayer request box. 
I had been home two weeks when I received this email from her.

Querida Silvia
Me alegro mucho de haberte conocido,gracias por lo considerada y amable que fuiste conmigo.
Quiero que sepas que me encantaría volver a tenerte como compañera hospitalera porque eres la más trabajadora,entregada,amable y amorosa que he conocido en los 13 años que llevo de hospitalera.
Es verdad que en tu afan de hacerlo lo mejor posible, te escediste en lavar todos los días las sabanas, cuando realmente no hacia falta, ya que se podian llevar cada semana a la lavandería del hotel.pero bendita seas por el amor que pusiste en ello.
Nunca olvidare tu exquisita y amable atención a los peregrinos, las veladas de hermandad y unión que creabas cada noche despues de la cena, pidiendo a los peregrinos que cantaran una canción de su pais, que dijeran como se sentian en el camino y que leyeras cada petición que dejaban escrita.Fue precioso y lo conseguias tu cada día con la mayor sencillez.
Que dios te bendiga Silvia, espero verte en logroño cuando vengas, no te olvides de llamarme y mandame las fotos.
Un fuerte abrazo

Google Translation:

Dear SilviaI'm glad to have met you, thanks for how considerate and kind you were with me.I want you to know that I would love to have you as hospitalera partner because you're the hardest-working, dedicated, kind and loving I have met in the 13 years I've been in hospitalera.It is true that in your eagerness to do your best, you exceeded, to wash the sheets every day, when it really was not necessary, as it could lead to the laundry each week hotel. But be blessed by the love you put into it.Exquisite and never forget your kind attention to the pilgrims, veiled brotherhood and unity you used to create each night after dinner, asking the pilgrims to sing a song of his country, to tell how they felt on the way and for them to read each request that left precious escrita. It was beautiful and conseguias your every day with great simplicity.Silvia God bless you, I hope to see you when you come Logroño not forget to call me and send me photos.A hugAngela

Sunday, September 27, 2015

27 September - LAST DAY - SAN ANTON

I opened the gate extra early this morning because two pilgrims wanted to leave before 6am.  The moon was low in the sky and shone through the open circle with the TAU at the top of the gate. 
The walls glowed in the moonlight and I thought, 'How am I going to manage going back to cities and noise and closed spaces after living in a place with the sky for a roof, moonlight for illumination and only the sound of the wind or pilgrims singing?"    I was missing my family and wanted to get back to them, but I was torn between needing them and wanting to stay here longer.

After breakfast Angela, Kristine and some of our pilgrims went off to mass.  A young Italian pilgrim went with them but left his pack as he intended coming back later.  I did the usual housekeeping, and whilst I was shaking out the blankets a familiar figure on a bicycle came through the gates - it was Mau.  I was really pleased to see him and offered him a coffee.  He had brought tomatoes, onions and a the biggest zucchini I'd ever seen slung over his shoulder. 

"You are happy to be going home to your family?" he asked.
"Yes and no," I said.  "I am missing them but I am also sad to be leaving this place."  I almost felt like weeping, something I don't do easily.   He just nodded in understanding, and we sat and had our drink.  He is a special human being, gentle and kind and he told me about a visit he's had from his father who he's been estranged from for many years because his father didn't approve of or understand his choice of a way of life that was so different from his own.

Once Mau left I tidied the prayer box, set out the register and the first pilgrim of the day arrived, my first South African!  Well, they are not born and bred South African's but moved to Cape Town from Argentina and call South Africa their home.  She asked if she and her husband, who was struggling along the path behind her, could stay the night.  We are not supposed to keep beds for people on the trail but I couldn't refuse an injured husband with the wife sitting in front of me.  He arrived soon after and they chose their bunk beds.  The Italian pilgrim returned from Mass for his pack and he soon carried on walking to Castrojeriz.

A tour bus arrived and the guide asked if we had seen a group of German pilgrims.  No, we hadn't seen them.  He told us that he had lost a group of pilgrims outside San Anton.  "Is there are bar anywhere here?" asked a German sitting outside the albergue.  "Only 4 km away, at Castrojeriz," I told him.  "That's where they will be, : he said.

Two American pilgrims arrived - a young woman and her older friend.  They asked if they could stay.  Rebecca was thinking of doing a hospitaleros course and I told her that she could also volunteer, arrive a couple of days early and be shown the ropes at the albergue she was assigned to. 

A car pulled up outside and Rebekah Scot and her husband Paddy walked in.  Reb and I had a chat about the albergue, the bed bugs, about Angela and me leaving tomorrow and leaving Kristine on her own.
I introduced her to Rebecca and after a long chat, Rebecca and Lois agreed to spend the next two days with Kristine, after which Reb would join her for the last two days.  The universe had a way of making things right and everyone was happy!

Angela and Kristine returned and Angela told me that we had an appointment with the sisters at 4:00pm.  When we arrived at the convent she rang the bell at the revolving hatch and they passed a key to her for the door on left.  We went upstairs and sat down in a room, separated from another smaller room behind bars.  Soon a few nuns arrived, including two from Kenya and one from Berundi.  We had a great conversation about Africa, our President Zuma, polygamy and politics.  They were interested in my heritage and were surprised to learn that on my mother's side, the Dutch had arrived at the Cape over 400 years ago.  They were happy to provide a prayer box for pilgrims.

We hoped to hitch a lift back to the albergue but all the traffic was going to Castrojeriz so we ended up having to walk the 4km back.  When we arrived back the place was full and we only had two beds left. 

Angela, the South African pilgrim and Kristine started preparing for dinner and as I was signing in a pilgrim I looked up and saw a familiar person walking through the door.  It was Dean, a Ramblers pilgrim from Durban who had come to nearly every Camino workshop of mine since 2002!  He had finally got his act together and was walking his first Camino.  He wasn't sure if I would still be at San Anton and because he was walking quite slowly he was a little behind his planned schedule.
I was delighted to see him and we sat together at dinner so that we could catch up on news. 
This was my last night on the Camino and at San Anton and as I looked around the table at the pilgrims who still had over 450 km to go, I wondered how the Camino would impact on their lives. 
After the last song was sung, the last thank you said to the Camino, and the last prayer request added to the box, I said good bye to Angela and Kristine.  Pedro the taxi guy was coming for me at about 5h45 and I preferred to say goodbye now than wake them up and get them out of bed in the morning.  I left my down jacket for Kristine to use on her Primitivo walk and wished her well.  Angela and I promised to keep in touch.


I got up at 5h15 and quietly carried my big case to the gates.  Then I packed my things into my backpack and whispered good bye to Angela and Kristine.  I closed the gates behind me and walked up to the road.  The walls of the monastery looked different from the outside, the moon shining through the arch that spanned the road.  How many pilgrims have walked through that arch, I wondered?  Millions.  I could almost hear the shuffling of feet and the click-click of walking poles on the road.  The taxi arrived and we were soon speeding along towards Burgos.

I had time to think on the way to Burgos.  Besides the joy of serving pilgrims, very special pilgrims who had chosen to stay at San Anton because they wanted to experience the spirit of the Camino, what lessons had a I learned this time?  I have learned patience, tolerance and endurance, and not to give in to a bossy person, for the sake of peace, on issues that I feel are important or right.  I learned to stand my ground with a smile and not get into any disagreements or arguments. 
I have served with 7 hospitaleros and have fortunately have had a special, happy relationship with all but one - Mrs Bossy.  Even this relationship wasn't doom and gloom, more like stoically enduring constant fault finding and control.  Would I serve with her again?  Probably yes - if we could sit down on day one and agree that there will be no fault finding or bossiness.  They say an apple doesn't fall far from the tree and she has displayed the very qualities that she disliked in her mother.  The fact that she has been on her own for 27 years, raised her children on her own, is an occupational health nurse also contributes to her controlling nature.  She can't help it - in her world she is the boss-lady and she brought that with her to the Camino, and to San Anton. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I suggested to Angela last night that she take Kristine with her to mass from now on.  After we leave, Kristine will be on her own and won't be able to leave the albergue again.  She agreed but said that we would visit the sisters in the afternoon to discuss the idea for the prayer box so they went off after breakfast and I started the daily cleaning routine.

A tiny, elderly Mexican pilgrim hobbled in at around 8am and asked if she could please stay.  Her legs were painful and she didn't think she could walk any further today.  I offered her the last of the coffee from the pot and some breakfast and chose a lower bunk bed for her, taking her backpack into the dormitory. 
I told her to sit and take it easy, but the next thing she had taken a cleaning cloth and was wiping down the table and sweeping up the breakfast crumbs!  When I started wringing the sheets she came to help but she was too short to help me hang them on the wash line.

Pilgrims come and go all morning.  Some stop and rest, others have a cursory look and move on.  Most get a 'sello' and have a drink of water, dropping a few coins into the pottery cup.  We have two 'sellos'.  One is the TAU and is the stamp for the albergue. The other is left on the table for anyone to use and represents the Tau, sign of Malta, and the logos of Castile y Leon.
I have come to realise that only special pilgrims want to stay here, really want to stay.  Some run to get here in order to secure a bed.  They have marked San Anton on their 'must stay' list and we have had to turn bitterly disappointed pilgrims away when we are full.
 Others express an interest in staying but no electricity, no Wi-Fi and no hot water is too much for them and they move on to Castrojeriz.  I can understand this.  That was me, 13 years ago when I first walked the Camino and shunned all places that were described as 'basic' i.e. mattresses on the floor, no hot water or no electricity.  "Pass!" we said - and moved on to a more upmarket, modern albergue.  After a long, hot day of walking the least we wanted was a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

By choosing only the modern albergues we didn't stay in any albergues that offered meals, no candlelight dinners, sing-alongs or pilgrim blessings.  I didn't realise what I had missed until I returned home and started hearing other pilgrims' glowing accounts of communal meals, special 'oraciones' or blessings.  In 2004 I walked from Paris, a route that had no pilgrim shelters for at least 750km until we reached the south and then we started finding a few albergues close to Saint Jean Pied de Port. 

When I returned to walk the Camino Frances in 2007 I made a list of the most popular traditional pilgrim shelters and we religiously sought them out and stayed in every one of them - Eunate, Granon, Tosantos, San Bol, Bercianos, Manjarin, Ave Fenix, Vegetariano, Ruitelin, San Xulian - all chosen for atmosphere and tradition.  I reckoned I could have shiny new bathrooms, comfortable beds and bedside lamps when I got back home! 
I was just like the pilgrims that run to San Anton with a determination to stay here.

Angela and Kristine returned and we were able to sit and chat to the pilgrims that were staying the night.  I took wine left over from the night before and a few more plums to the niche under the arch and topped up a black shower bag so that I could have a lukewarm shower.  A couple of the pilgrims followed and also had a warm shower.
I checked the fridge and when I saw that we only had lettuce and tomatoes, I decided to fetch a large, red apple a pilgrim had given me from the ice-box.  As I started to dice it into the salad Mrs Bossy looked at me and said, "We could've shared that apple.  You didn't have to use it in the salad." 
"Id prefer to share it with all the pilgrims," I said with a smile.  After all it was my apple, given by a pilgrim and now many would share it.
We had a full house at dinner and half way through, we saw bicycle lights approaching the albergue through the gates.  I had set a place for San Anton and we had enough food so when the cyclist asked if we had a bed we said yes, and offered him some dinner. 
"Where are you from?" I asked the stock question as I prepared to sign him in and stamp his credencial. "I'm from the Netherlands, " he answered. 
"And what is your name?" I asked.
"My name is Anton," he said.
We all started laughing and had to share with him our tradition of keeping a place for San Anton!
Kristine was going to be walking the Primitivo when she left here but she was concerned that she didn't have enough warm clothing.  It had turned chilly and the temperatures at night and in the early mornings were very low.  I offered her my down, padded jacket and said I would give it to before I left.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Today was my turn to go to mass at Santa Clara and a small group of us left after breakfast, walking in the early dawn towards Castrojeriz.  There were at least a dozen prayer request in the box this morning and by the time the pilgrims left, only a few remained.  It was gratifying to know that the pilgrims' prayer requests were being taken to Santiago by other pilgrims. 
I had an idea for continuing the prayer requests after the albergue closed next week and chatted to Angela about it on our way to Castrojeriz.  Perhaps the sisters at Santa Clara would be prepared to provide a box in the church where pilgrims could leave their requests, as they did in other churches along the Camino.  I told Angela about the box of prayers in the Church of Santiago in her home town of Logrono and she said she would make an appointment for us to visit the sisters and speak to
them about the ides.
Because we had to wait until 1pm to see the nurse, Angela and I climbed the hill to visit the castle above the village.  When Marion and I visited it in 2007, most of it was off limits and was pretty much just a ruined pile of stones but in the last few years, a lot of money has been spent on the renovation and restoration of the castle.  One can now walk through the castle and see where the small dwellings were.  Climbing the narrow stone stairways gives you a view of four floors of living quarters, kitchens, pantries and water containers.

When we returned to the path in front of the castle we hitched a ride down to the village with a young man.  We walked to the Hotel Jacobus and both of us were able to have a hot shower - my first proper shower in two weeks!  Wonderful to wash your hair under a running stream of hot water instead of in a basin using a plastic cup to rinse!
We walked back to the square and visited Angela's friend, buying a few fresh provisions for albergue.  At 1pm I saw the same nurse at the clinic.  She changed the dressing on my finger and declared it almost healed. 
We returned to the Hotel and I met Ovidio for the first time.  He was busy behind his bar counter but listened avidly as Angela told him about the bed bugs and how we had been dealing with them.  She gave him a list of things we needed, including water, wine, candles, milk, bottled vegetables and fresh, and after half an hour he took us back to the albergue in his car, promising to return later with provisions. 
Kristine went off on her walk and Angela and I tidied the pantry cupboard and fridge so that we would be ready to pack the new provisions when Ovidio returned.  He brought a box of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cucumber as well as lettuces, a box of bottled salsa sauce, milk and bottles of chickpeas and lentils.  He also brought 5L water bottles and a box of red wine.
That evening Maria Alvarez arrived again, this time bearing a huge tray-box of sweet plums and another of apples for the albergue.  We invited her to stay for dinner and when she told us that it was her birthday, we all sang happy birthday to her.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


"Don't you think you've cut too much bread?" said Mrs Bossy this morning at breakfast.  "No problem," said I, smiling, "we can toast and left-overs tomorrow or have it for lunch."  There was none left over.  After breakfast, a small group of pilgrims were ready to accompany Angela and Kristine to the Convent for mass before continuing to Castrojeriz.

"No lavar los platos!" said Angela (do not wash the dishes).  I wasn't supposed to get the dressing on my finger wet but I pulled on a silicone glove and a plastic glove and was able to wash the dishes, stew the sheets and hang them, wash down the shower walls and floor and mop the two rooms without getting it wet.

Any water left over from the black shower bags or final rinse water went on the herbs and plants.  The herb pots contained rosemary, basil, Italian parsley, oregano and there were tomatoes on the vine, a couple of peppers, a large pumpkin almost ready to pick and zucchinis.  I also watered the Cyprus trees that had been planted in honour of Julian and Jose. 

I had to listen out for the bread van.  He gave a long hoot like a train whistle and if you didn't hustle he could drive off and there would be no bread for the pilgrims. 
" Con pan y vino se anda el Camino"  (with bread and wine we walk the Camino).
No bread would be unthinkable!  I had decided to treat the pilgrims and had ordered two large tuna empanadas (baked pies) for dinner.  

Angela and Kristine returned at around 1:30 pm and shortly after a car arrived with a special visitor for me.  I had never met Maria Alvarez but had heard about the angel who lived in Burgos and spent days standing at a crossroads directing pilgrims around a construction site.  Tom from Jenny's group had met her and when she met Moyra, she told her that she knew a South African called Sylvia from Facebook.  There are many unsung heroes on the Camino who serve pilgrims in their own way.  A cyclist pushed his bike through the gate and up the hill to the albergue.  He looked dehydrated.  "I've cycled too far with no water" he said. "But I have to go on and meet my sister in Castrojeriz."  I poured a glass of water for him and filled his bottle. "Its only 4km to the village" I told him.
"You shouldn't have given him our water" said Mrs Bossy. "The water is meant for us and our pilgrims." 
"All pilgrims are our pilgrims," I replied.  There was always water in the two carafes on the tables outside so giving the cyclist water wouldn't leave us short.  How could we refuse a thirsty pilgrim some water?  If we ever ran out we could boil tap water and fill the bottles for drinking.

The empanadas were golden in their boxes and we were able to heat them by placing them on upturned lids over pots of boiling water.   We decided on a tapa starter with bread, olive oil and balsamic mix to dip bread into, slices of pickled peppers and olives.  Empanada and salad would be our main and we were able to make a fruit salad from a large melon donated by Mau, plums donated by the sisters at the convent, apples and bananas, served with Convent cookies.

The pilgrims told us that this was the best meal they'd had on the Camino!  We told them that a meal like this was only possible through the generosity of the pilgrims who had stayed before them.  If they had been given lentil soup and bread, that might have been because the donations received the day before could not buy anything else! 
The great thing was that we had not had to dip into the donations once since I'd been there and all the shopping was paid for by the donation in the 'sello' cup on the table at the entrance, and from tourists' purchases of trinkets and cards. 

The table is laid out with a carafe of fresh water, a few pottery cups, bowl of fruit or biscuits and a 'sello' (stamp) and a pen to write the date in their credenciales.  Every night when I cleared the donations from the cup, there was always enough to buy at least 8 loaves of bread and eggs for the next day's breakfast.

Breakfast on the Camino usually consists of bread and jam and coffee.  When I did the hospitaleros course with Rebekah Scot, she suggested that we included eggs which were easy to buy and cook, cheap and always appreciated by the pilgrims.  Each morning we boiled eggs which they could either eat or take with them on the trail. 


After breakfast Angela and I walked down the path towards the Santa Clara convent.  The convent, which is run by a closed order, the poor sisters of Saint Clara, is the one Marion and I had visited in 2007.  They sell cookies and preserves via a wooden revolving serving hatch.  When Marion and I visited, we put our money on the hatch and it turned, but when the nun behind the hatch tried to turn it again to deliver our order, the hatch became stuck.  We got such a fright when a side door opened and a smiling nun stood there with our cookies in her hands! She explained that she was a community nun and that was why we could see her.



The mass was beautiful - a singing mass with the nuns in a room behind the altar cut off from the main church behind grills and the priest, a young Berundian, on our side of the grill.  After mass we walked to Castrojeriz. 

The sunrise was amazing and the approach to the village gave us a different view to that of the one from the road,



 We walked to the square and visited Angela's friend at the little shop in the square.  She showed us where the Medico was.  The Doctor could be visited from 11am and a nurse from 1pm.  We sat in the waiting room for over an hour waiting for the doctor but he told us I needed a nurse so we had to leave and come back at 1pm. 
Back in the square we bumped into Mau Mariani (who Kevin had introduced to me on my first day at the albergue) and had a coffee with him before Angela showed me his beautiful place, Hospital del Alma (Hospital of the Soul) where he and Nia Peiro had set up home which included a gorgeous photographic exhibition. 

When I had first seen Mau walking into the ruins of San Anton I had immediately recognized an old soul, one of these people who, although you've never met, you know who they are and what they stand for.  Hospital del Alma is a place of refuge, a silent retreat available to anyone for a donation.  One can stay for a day or a month, or longer.  That is why Mau doesn't spend too much time at home!  He says that if he is there people want to engage him in conversation, so he spends little time there, preferring to cultivate his special vegetable garden outside the village.

We visited the hotel Jacobus and then did some shopping.  At 1pm we went back to the Medico and I saw the nurse.  I didn't have the Tetanus injection.  She cleaned the wound and redressed the finger and told me not to get it wet and to come back in two days time.

Angela's friend, a hospitalero from the albergue San Esteban, offered to take us back to the albergue and on the way we stopped at a café-bar for a drink, arriving at the albergue after 2 pm.  The place was full and Angela and I started to prepare dinner while Kristine had some time off to do her training walk.

There were three Spanish pilgrims, including a father and his beautiful daughter, in the albergue tonight, which was unusual; we have only had a handful of Spanish pilgrims staying with us.  After dinner the Spanish girl told us that she couldn't sing very well and would prefer to do a dance for us.  She clapped out a rhythm on the table which we followed, rolled up her top to under her boobs and her skirt down to below her naval and started to belly dance!  She was fantastic and was awarded with the greatest round of applause we have ever had at San Anton!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Angela and Kristine left for the convent of Santa Clara at 7h30 with a few of the pilgrims who also wanted to attend mass.  It is still dark and day breaks around 8am. I blew out all the candles in the bathroom and mopped and scrubbed in there first, barricading the door with broom and mop as I walked out.

Then I stripped the beds.  Angela had suggested that there was no need to wash the sheets every day so today would be the first time we didn't 'stew' them in boiling water. 
I went from bed to bed, taking out the blankets and pillows, shaking the sheets on the beds.  There was a little black speck on one of the sheets that didn't move.
 I got my Waka Waka and shone it on the bed.  Eeeek!  Was it a bed bug?  I picked it off the bed with a white tissue and carried it outside.  Is this what a bedbug looked like?  I wasn't sure so I rolled it up in the tissue and put it in a zip-lock bag.  I'd check with Angela when she got back but just in case, I would stew the sheets after all and spray the beds and walls as usual.  It took ages to boil enough water on the stove as only three burners were working but by boiling water in smaller pots I eventually had sufficient water to cover the sheets and pillowcases in large plastic basing.

I sprayed the walls and all the blankets and put them in the plastic containers in the sun.  Then I swept the dormitory and checked the dustpan.  Two more of the critters in the pan!  I rolled them up in toilet paper and added them to the zip-lock bag.

Usually by mid-day our beds are all taken but by lunch time today we only have 7 pilgrims signed in including a young Spanish woman with Tourette Syndrome, who I adopted as my assistant hospitalero.  She helped sign in a couple of pilgrims, showed pilgrims where to do their washing and held the fort while I walked to the tip to get rid of the trash.  She also helped with the chopping of the vegetables for Angela's lentil stew and was thrilled when we rewarded her with an extra piece of chocolate at dinner time!

At about 1:30 Angela and Kristine arrived back with groceries but no candles.  We were now critically low.  I called them aside away from the pilgrims to show them the bugs I had found.  Bed bugs.  Angela told Kristine to burn them whilst she took the Waka Waka to search the back wall where Kevin had said they liked to hang out.  She found two more.  
Although this didn't represent an outbreak, it was obvious that pilgrims were carrying them here from other albergues and we had to be extra vigilant about searching and destroying them.  Kristine thought we should close the albergue.  Angela didn't agree - this wasn't infestation, just a handful of 'passengers' being transferred by pilgrims.  We would continue to inspect the bedding, walls and floors and spray every day.

One of our pilgrims today was an Indian doctor from Mumbai.  We had a long conversation about South Africa and cricket - Finn would have been proud of me!  After dinner I was trying to push down the rubbish in our bin when I sliced my little finger on a tuna tin lid.  It bled like buggery and I called out, "Is there a doctor in the house!"  Our Indian doctor and our nurse Kristine took charge and cleaned the wound then applied pressure and strapped it up tightly.  Still blood was oozing through the dressings.  "You must sleep with the hand raised tonight," he said, "and see a doctor tomorrow in case you need a Tetanus injection." 

I would accompany Angela to the 8h30 mass and then we would walk to the village to find the doctor. 

Monday, September 21, 2015


With no electricity there are no lights to read by.  With no network , iPads and tablets are kept packed away.  Cell phones come out only to check mileages or information already stored but there are no network jingles or ring tones breaking the silence.  People write in journals, or talk to each other.  At the dinner table, there are lively conversations in different languages including Camino-lingo which involves hand signals, words in other languages or even drawings. We sing songs, share stories and thank the Camino. 
At night there is no light pollution to block out or dim the stars and the Milky Way is dazzling with the constellations easily discernible in the night sky - especially with a Google Sky map!  (Technology has its uses in our modern age!)  For the first three nights there was no moon and one could see satellites moving slowly across the sky and follow the trails of shooting stars.  It was magical!!  Then the moon rose and the walls glowed until I didn't need a torch to go to the bathroom at night.
For the first few days here I was able to get a cell phone signal and WhatsApp messages if I walked outside the walls or under the arch.  Then the money ran out and I had no way of recharging so I was cut off for over a week.  My world became the daily routine contained between the walls of the monastery. 
As I creep through the moonlit courtyard at 6am in the morning, I can imagine what it was like for the Antoine monks who had a daily regime of rising early.  They saw the same moonlight that I now see, opening the large gates into the ruins.  Whilst they had a vaulted ceiling over their heads, I have the stars; whilst they padded inside the monastery on flag-stone floors, my feet crunch on the gravel that covers the courtyard. 

I open the doors to the albergue and light a few candles.  There are lovely comments in the pilgrim comment book.  A rather shy young man has written that he had been searching for the spirit of the Camino and had finally found it here, at San Anton.  I sigh and hold my hand over my heart.
The very setting and history in these ruins instil a sense of welcome, healing and tradition  The soaring walls with their Gothic arches and high windows surround and enclose the space that houses the albergue.  The albergue itself, which is grafted onto the ancient walls, is a memorial, dedicated to a beloved brother and friend. I think that this is as close one can get to the soul of the Camino.

There are many prayer requests in the box.  I read a few but there is work to be done.  "Ora et labora" - 'Pray and Work' - the Benedictine motto.  Later, when the pilgrims have all left, whilst mopping the shower and toilet, I think about another of Benedict's rules and of Robert's warning to Kevin and me after we allowed a French couple and their dog to stay for dinner on my second night.  They told us that they had walked from Le Puy en Velay and had now run out of money.  They didn't want to sleep in the albergue (they had a tent), but they were hungry and they would appreciate any food we could give them and their dog.  They would help with any work we needed done.  Of course we let them have dinner and gave the leftovers to the dog; they in turn helped with clearing the table and washing up. 
The next morning Robert warned us that the Camino was becoming over-run by freeloaders who used the donativo albergues to their own advantage.  The albergues could not support all the vagabonds on the Camino and if we continued to accept people like these French 'pilgrims', we would be adding to the demise of the Camino. 

He has a point.  Many donativo albergues have had to close or start charging just to survive.  But .....  I think about the man and the woman, and their dog, and once again I think about the rule of Benedict.
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
"I came as a guest, and you received Me"
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.

In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims
the greatest care and solicitude should be shown,
because it is especially in them that Christ is received;
We had started setting an extra place for 'San Anton' (who at first we called the 'Visitor') and we couldn't find it in our hearts to turn away the late comer, the vagabond - or Christian, a young Spaniard who arrived almost at 7pm a few days later. 
Christian  (imagine me turning away someone with that name?) told me that he was walking to Santiago but as it was the weekend, he had not been able to withdraw money from the bank, so he did not have money for a bed but he would work for food.  I told him that he couldn't sleep in the walls of the ruins, did he have a tent?  No - he didn't have a tent but he was prepared to sleep outside because he couldn't give a donation for a bed.  I told him that many people were not as honest as he was. People who could afford a donation often didn't give one.  I told him to accept our offer of a bed in the spirit in which it was given and in exchange, he could help prepare dinner, take out the trash and wash the dishes.  I thought of Christian often in the following days and wondered how he was getting on. 
Kristine is training for her walk on the Salvador and Primtivo in a week's time so after lunch she went on her usual walk.  A car pulled up outside the big gates and Angela arrived.  For 9 years she had served at San Esteban in Castrojeriz but when they started charging 4 years ago she changed to serving at San Anton.  She checked the 'pantry' cupboard and started making a list for tomorrow's shopping.  When I told her that we were out of candles she phoned all the shops in Castrojeriz to find that there weren't any to be had. It was a relief to have someone who could talk on the phone!  I could tell right away that we would get on.  She smiled a lot, asked questions about the albergue, how we were doing, admiring the new fridge and other small changes since her last time here. 
With three of us to prepare dinner, I had a chance to collect bramble berries for our dessert.  Armed with garden gloves and cutters, two pilgrims and I walked down the path and into two fields, collecting the plump, black berries from the hedges.  We crushed some and mixed them with yoghurt and decorated the top with whole berries.
After dinner, Angela asked if one of us would like to go with her to the morning mass at the convent of Santa Clara which was close to Castrojeriz.  Afterwards she would do some shopping in Castrojeriz and visit the hotel.  I suggested that Kristine go this time and I would go the next day. From then on we could take it in turns. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015


In May 2001 Ovidio Campo signed a contract with local farmer Don Eliecer Ten Temino, owner of the land and the ruins, to rent the space in the monastery.  In July 2002 they opened a donativo pilgrim shelter, created in the spirit of austerity with 6 double bunks donated by the army. 
In 2007 the Department of Development of Castile y Leon invested €300 000 to restore the ruins to the standard you see them today.  The new albergue was dedicated to Ovidio's brother Julian and his friend Jose who were killed in a train accident along with 4 other pilgrims in August 2006.  Every year, on the anniversary of their death, a memorial mass is held in the ruins.

Pilgrims approach the ruins from the road that runs between Hontanas and Castrojeriz

The tall double gate into the ruins
The sight that greets you as you enter - the small lean-to shelter in the lee of the walls which is where the main entrance was to the monastery.

The rose window comprises TAU cross decorations
 The walls enclose the courtyard - the albergue is on the left
Views from the outside



 The 16th century arch spans the road

 The ornate portico was the main entrance to the monastery.  
The albergue dorm and living area lies directly behind the double arches which have been closed.

The two niches in the arch where pilgrims leave messages

Medieval monks left wine and bread for pilgrims who arrived too late to enter the monastery.  Each day I put fresh water, wine, biscuits and sometimes fruit in the niche

 Seen approaching from the Castrojeriz side