The Road to Santiago.

October 31, 2004

Photo of Albergue view.
Albergue view


It rained most of the morning but I didn’t mind. It was the excuse I needed to do some writing. Santiago was only about a week away by foot and, by my timetable, I had two weeks before November 14, World Diabetes Day. My original plan had been to find a pension for a couple of days. But it turned out that I could stay here at this albergue. Since I was running low on money, it was a good thing.

Yesterday afternoon, I had arrived at the albergue about 3 p.m. I was welcomed by a man named Arturo who showed me to the dormitory, where I chose a bunk. Although there were only the two of us, the equipment of two other pilgrims was evident. They had left for the afternoon to explore Ribadeo. Arturo showed me the flagstone under which the key was hidden, in case I, too, wanted to visit the city. He then suggested that I call to get my credencial stamped.

Photo of Arturo.

The sign on the door said that all pilgrims had to check in with Grumman, and it listed a telephone number. I dialed the number and heard a man answer. When I asked for Señor Grumman, he responded “¿quien?” (who?). I repeated the name, but the silence told me that he didn’t understand me. When I told him that I was a pilgrim and that I was at the albergue, he told to wait a few minutes and someone would come.

It seems that Grumman is the name of a business — not the name of a man. It’s a company of first responders to emergencies — the Spanish version of EMTs. Soon an ambulance pulled up and a crew of two men and a woman got out. They shouted a greeting to Arturo. The woman, who was quite attractive and pleasant, came into the albergue carrying a registration book, stamp, and stamp pad. She stamped my credencial and welcomed me to Ribadeo.

Photo of Tepani.
While the crew was there, Tepani walked in. Apparently he had left in the morning but turned back when the heavy rains came. He asked the woman if he could stay an extra day. She said that it wouldn’t be a problem. I then asked if I could stay an extra day. She said it was okay as long as there were no other pilgrims without a bed.
Photo of Rita.

Later in the day, yesterday, Rita returned from her day trip of exploring the area. She was from Austria and had already been to Santiago. In fact, she was on her way home. She was to leave today by train for Santander where she would fly back to Vienna.

Arturo was another story. He was originally from Chile but spent most of his adult life in Spain. For two years, he had been working in Galicia as part of the clean-up efforts after the disastrous oil spill on the coast two years ago. A couple of months ago, he was in an accident in which the bones in his foot were broken. Although he could walk, it was with great difficulty, so he used a wheelchair. He admitted to me that he wasn’t really a pilgrim. He had been at the albergue for a couple of weeks and planned to stay there for another week until his next doctor’s appointment. He was collecting the equivalent of workman’s compensation and this appointment would determine whether or not he could continue collecting. I don’t know if the Grumman folks knew his actual situation, but they didn’t seem to mind.

Photo of Henry.

After sundown, another pilgrim appeared at the door. His name was Henry and he was originally from Poland. For the past few years, he has been wandering around Europe and working as a volunteer for various Catholic soup kitchens and other community projects. Since this was an Año Jacobeo, he decided to head to Santiago. I asked him where he would go afterwards. He said that he didn’t know. He would go wherever God sent him.

I hadn’t been with so many pilgrims since Santander, three and a half weeks ago. Last night, Arturo made a tortilla española (egg and potato quiche) which he offered to share with us. We all contributed to the meal and had a good time swapping stories about the camino. It reminded me of the camaraderie we pilgrims enjoyed on el camino frances, an experience which I have missed this year.

Today, in spite of the rain, Henry left for Santiago. Tepani accompanied Rita to the train station where they shared coffee while waiting for her departure. He seemed melancholy when he got back. I think that she reminded him of someone in his past.

By 2:30, the rain had stopped. I decided to take a break and go to town to get something to eat. As I walked along the hillside toward the city, I could see how the harbor dominated the area. To the west, across the bay, were the cranes of the shipyards in Figueras; and in the southwest portion was a large fishing fleet. Near the bridge, nestled in the lee of the city, was el harbor desportes (the sports harbor), full of sailboats and luxury yachts.

Photo of Sports Harbor.
Sports Harbor

In town, most of the restaurants were jammed. It was Sunday and the next day was a holiday (All Saints’ Day). It seemed as if todo el mundo (everybody) had gone out for la comida (afternoon meal). I found a place that had a good-looking menu. Coincidentally it was named el Restaurante Santiago.

I ordered the menu-of-the-day, only to be informed that it wasn’t available on Sundays. Not wanting to spend anymore time wandering around the city, I accepted my fate and ordered ala carte. I ordered an ensalada de pulpo (salad with marinated octopus) and a nice, Spanish Rioja wine. The salad was very delicious and of sufficient size to satisfy my hunger. For a postre (dessert), I chose a torta de queso (cheese cake). Sure, it was more expensive than a menu of the day, but it was well worth it. Besides I had saved money by staying at the albergue.

Just before I received la cuenta (the bill), a couple of men, with scallop shells hanging around their necks, sat down at the table next to me. I asked them where they started the camino, and they told me that they were actually from Ribadeo. Last year, they had walked the camino from Santander to Ribadeo via Oviedo. This afternoon, they came to the albergue for the formal initiation of the last leg of their camino de Santiago. I wished them buen provecho (bon appetit), and said that I would see them back at the albergue.

On the way back, I found the Internet salon which I planned to visit mañana (tomorrow).

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