Sunday, 22 February 2015
The Month of the Pilgrim continues. It is extraordinary. It is exhausting.
Every night this month but one we've had at least two people, sometimes the full-capacity six or even seven, but almost always somebody. They walk 31 kilometers to get here. It's another nine kilometers to the next stopping-place. We cannot in good conscience leave people to sleep outdoors.
We chose to live here because there's a relatively steady stream of pilgrims flowing past. We like the pilgrims, we've been pilgrims ourselves -- they keep life interesting in a town that would otherwise be stiflingly isolated and insular.
We've been at this for nine years. We have never, in all that time, had such a steady flow of pilgrims stay with us, day after day after day.
They are nice people, sometimes funny, always cooperative. I've had only one ask for a hair dryer, and I've only had to tell one person "This is my home, it is not a hotel."
They clean up after themselves (mostly), they often phone ahead to tell us they're coming. Some of them are really interesting characters -- we've had a Dane who runs a Ribero del Duero winery, and a Swiss woman who rehabilitates injured wild animals up in the Alps, and the editor of the Korean Airlines in-flight magazine.
A Korean man left a message on our shopping-list blackboard: "I love here," it says.
On Ash Wednesday there was no Mass in Moratinos, so we had a rite of our own. We anointed one another, told one another "from ashes you come, and to ashes you shall return." Even the unbeliever, the "rationalist." He's the one who put the cross on my forehead. He's the one who, the following morning, on his way out the door, assured me that yes, he will pray for me out there on the road. "Yes, I can do that," he said.
It's moments like that that keep me going.
Because keeping going is getting tough now, three weeks into this extraordinary February onslaught.
I like the pilgrims, but I very much miss the quiet, the long evenings of no one but us. Simple dinners, or no dinners at all -- a sandwich, some fruit. A good book, or a writing or editing project. Able to go out for the evening, able to make evening plans. Long stretches of my own company.
I am spoiled rotten this way, or I was, up til Bruno left.
Two weeks is the standard limit for volunteer hospitaleros. After that, they go all squirrelly. Two weeks is more than enough for a lot of volunteers. Most don't come back again.
I think of Bruno and Lourdes and Jato and Tomas the Last Templar and Edu in Boadilla, people who do this all the time, every day, for years. People who have to do this to earn enough money to pay their bills. People who do this because they just love pilgrims. And I see why Bruno takes two months off every year, and why Lourdes only opens her doors in wintertime, and why Jato and Tomas and Edu have gangs of people helping them out. And I remember some of the "sensei" hospitaleros of years past -- Anna of Ages, who helped us get settled in here. The couple who ran the albergue in Eunate for years, and Cirauqui before that. The couple who opened the albergue in Villares del Orbigo, or the Brazilian guy who ran the place in Vega de Valcarce...
They are gone now. Sold-up, moved on, retired. There's a lifespan for full-time hospitaleros, and it does not seem to be a long one. There's now enough pilgrim albergues on the market to support at least one specialist estate agent.
Paddy is unhappy. He still turns out beautiful omelettes and couscous and stodge every day, and I heard him laughing out loud this afternoon with three semi-hysterical Korean ladies... but he glowers at me from behind his computer, even as the merry pilgrims chatter and laugh all around him.
There's hope. February is almost over. And last year, the albergue in Terradillos opened up again in March.
Please, God. I am happy to be a hospitalera now and then, but I am a hermit in my heart. I am not cut out for full-on sainthood. Not even for the shortest month of the year.
In other news, I do not have breast cancer.
I got the test results. They did not get a clean biopsy sample, even after sinking the needle three times. But none of the tissue they did get showed any sign of malignancy. Something is still in there, but so far it's okay. I am okay. I just have to keep going back every six months to be sure.
Glory be. And thanks to everyone who supported me in this little adventure, with good thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement.
I love you guys.
Please pray for us, whether or not you believe anyone is listening.