Nice new look here, eh? I owe it all to Kim, whose graphic designs and photographs make even drippy gray January look bright and burnished.
Recent days have been packed full of rapid-fire Spanish, and a resulting three-day slog translating and sending on new material that must be added to English-speaking hospitalero-training courses. Sadly, not all changes make people feel all bright and burnished. Bruised and beaten, some might say. The bosses in Spain say we need to take a tougher approach with the pilgs, let them take more responsibility for their own well-being, sanity, and possessions... the Mother Hen has flown the coop.
At least that is what we are to teach. Doesn´t mean everyone´s going to listen, though. Pilgrims will still get their fair share of coddling, especially when they fetch up with Canadian caretakers. Lucky old pilgs.
They are a big topic around here lately, and not always a pleasant one. The Peaceable is faced with many of the issues the Federation wants hospitaleros to contemplate: a real Other Side of the Camino de Santiago. It´s all got to do with helping out. Money.
Two French pilgrims and two Korean pilgrims stayed here on Sunday. All four wore high-tech winter sportswear and good haircuts.We stamped their pilgrim credentials, fed them a nice dinner, poured plenty of wine, advised them on the trail ahead and the weather report, and sent them off to their own individual beds by 11 p.m. They slept very well, they said. In the morning they had coffee and eggs and bread and honey and lots of butter. The Korean guys left first. The French stayed behind so one of them could write down a recipe for Risotto de Frutti de Mar. Paddy and the dogs walked with them to San Nicolas.
This is the usual treatment offered here. We do it because we want to, and because we (so far) can afford to. We follow a pilgrim-hosting tradition hundreds of years old known as "Donativo." We are not a business, so we don´t charge any set price for our services. Pilgrims who are poor and can´t afford to pay don´t have to. Those with more resources put a "donativo," a donation, in the box by the front door. Those who can pay supposedly cover the costs of those who cannot.
Unless they don´t.
The Koreans left 14 Euros in the box, along with an interesting Korean coin.
The French guys left not a sou. Nothing but a recipe.
These people are killing the Camino as we know it. They´re busting the Peaceable, too. We can´t go on like this.
The Camino de Santiago is drowning in its own success, in dozens of ways. And it looks like the donativo idea will soon be another victim of the great avalanche of greed on one hand, and cheapness on the other. Word´s gone out all over the world that this is THE place to go for an adventure-cultural holiday that also offers all kinds of freebies to anybody. And so, mixed in with the ascetics and hermits and true believers and church youth groups on the trail, are a number of people who are on a cheap holiday, taking advantage.
The folks who stayed here Sunday found us because all the privately-owned hostels for the past 20 kilometers were closed for the holidays. The nearest donativo pilgrim albergue is another 9 kilometers on, a two-hour walk in the wet dark. They were eight pilgrims walking together.
They phoned us from the closed-up pilgrim hostel in Terradillos de los Templarios, where a pilgrim pays 10 Euro for his bed, 8 Euro for his dinner, and 3 Euro for breakfast. They´d have all stayed there if the place was open. They toiled on for another half hour to our house, where we greeted them with turron and coffee, and later drove half of them on to the donativo albergue in Sahagún. (we only have room for four just now.) One of them gave me 2 Euros for gas. A cab would have cost them 20.
The four who stayed behind at our house got an even better deal: Bed, dinner, and breakfast (at homemade quality) for whatever they wanted to pay. None of them left anything like the 21 Euro they´d have paid in Terradillos. In this case, even the most generous of them left less than half that.
And so you see our conundrum. If we don´t tell them at the outset how much we expect, they can´t know for sure, can they? Maybe they figure we´d be offended if they offered us money. But we tell them we are donativo. There is a clearly visible donativo box right by the front door. We signed up for this, so maybe we can´t complain about it.
We haven´t the wherewithal nor the patience to open up as a business. We want to be kind to travelers, we want to offer a nice place to people who don´t often see a nice place.
But we´re being punked here, suckered, taken for a ride, robbed, screwed, blewed, tattooed by people who obviously can afford to pay their way, but simply choose not to.
We are not the only ones. The Federation, the group of albergue and hostel-keepers whom I do trainings for, is dedicated to the donativo practice. And the number of donativo albergues -- pilgrim shelters run by municipalities and religious groups as charitable institutions -- is shrinking fast. Too many people who should donate are staying for free... sometimes zipping into town on the bus and grabbing up the donativo beds well before the lame and poor pilgrims ever roll in. They have ready excuses for their actions: This place gets public funds. This place has an endowment. This place is where my friends are staying, and if I get a room at a commercial hostel I might miss out on "the Camino spirit." If this place can afford to subsidize poor people, it can subsidize me, too, seeing as I am spending "real" money in the local bars and restaurants that charge premium prices.
You invited me in. I am a guest. A guest doesn´t have to pay. Thank you so much for your kind hospitality. You are so generous. You are a saint, an angel, they tell us as they walk past the Donativo box.
If I was a saint or an angel, I wouldn´t be writing this. I wouldn´t notice if anyone paid or not. The saint inside me says I ought to just trust that enough money will come in somehow, that we´ve been well provided-for up til now, and we still have plenty to share without complaining, without noticing. I am willing enough to be a saint. It´s the martyrdom part that stops me cold.
We are retirees. We´ve got no endowment, no public funding. We live on a pension, a fixed income. We love the donativo idea, but too many people think "donativo" means "take advantage." We can´t afford it any more, not with a new roof in the offing, and a kid still in university.
So we are taking steps. Kim is making us an elegant new, bigger Donativo box. Paddy´s figuring out a way to tell pilgrims who stay here they ought to put something in there to help us, maybe something like the price they´d have gladly paid for a lot less a few miles back. This is very difficult.
We thought about installing a PayPal donation button on this blog, but we decided against it. The pilgrims don´t read the blog, and the pilgrims are the ones who ought to be helping out.
This is, hopefully, a temporary issue. The Italians will be here soon, and their new albergue will take on the big flow of humanity, at 5 Euro per person per night. Everyone can afford that, right?
The truly poor, and the hardcore skinflint sinners, will seek us out.
The pilgrims, in other words.