If you´ve seen the movie "Groundhog Day" you have an idea of the life of a hospitalero in a short-staffed and over-sized pilgrim hostel.
Here in Ponferrada, a pretty mountain market town in western Leon, there are four people (really more like two and a half) to keep up a 200-bed facility. It is non-stop labor from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., what with toilet paper dispensers to fill, credentials to stamp, arguments to settle, beds to straighten-up, floors to sweep and mop, and showers to be sloughed off onto someone else to clean. Oh, and laundry.
And it´s all Spanish. The other guys here are older Spanish men, who are nice guys but full of every presumption you´d imagine older Spanish men to have. So I do the laundry, for everyone. I do a lot of the cooking, too.
But I don´t have to wash down the showers or toilets if I don´t want to. Maybe I am feeding into their sexism, but somehow it works for all of us. Except for the burritos. I introduced them to Mexican food yesterday, to mixed reviews. (we eat in shifts, so I can tell how successful a dish is by how much is hidden in the trash the next day.)
Anyway, the scenery here is knockout, the weather is fine, and I am -- believe it or not -- considered "the one with the languages." English is very useful here, and interchangeable Spanish is indispensible. I am picking up lots of Spànish fluency (without much improvement in my grammar, I fear). And my latent German came out of hiding long enough this afternoon for me to get two old Austrians into a taxi and off to the bus station. There was an audience for all this, of people who speak only rapid-fire Spanish, so even my execrable German made me look like a linguist.
Amazing what full immersion does for you. And short rations. And a daily round that doesn´t vary too much... right down the the very same Top 40 hits on the radio at the same time every morning. I´ve been here two days now, and it could be a week or a month for all my awareness of time. I brought along two books to read when things slowed down, and they´re still in the bottom of my backpack.
I am not being very coherant here, I know. But the Czechs and Germans are asking me what Shakira is singing on the radio. They want to know NOW! In German! Woohoo! Man, am I gonna sleep tonight!