Surrendering to the Unexpected

A word or two about beds:

Before walking the Camino, I read a few online forums and discovered people were concerned about the shortage of beds along the way. Many of the hostels (albergues) run on a first-come, first-serve basis and cannot be booked in advance. Traditionally, this is how things worked on Camino: millions of pilgrims made the journey across Spain relying on the kindness of the locals, availing of food and shelter where, and when, they could. I can imagine the warm beds and hot dinners were inconsistent, so going on pilgrimage was a leap of faith – not just spiritually, but physically too. Relying on the locals, and trusting that there would be food and shelter was a real practice in letting go, trusting humankind, and trusting God.

The state-run and church-run hostels continue to operate on a “first-come, first-serve” basis to this day. During the winter months, the supply outweighs the demand. During the summer months, the opposite is true. I planned to walk in autumn and didn’t know what to expect, but it seemed that lots of others felt the very same. The forums were full of anxiety and fear, and much discussion about the limited number of beds.

Many people were afraid of becoming stranded and needed reassurance.

Others took control of their fate by booking private accommodation in advance.

Personally, I didn’t want to walk the Camino in a state of constant fear. Equally, I didn’t want to control my experience or put myself under pressure to keep to a set distance each day. I figured that three things were true:

  1. After several hundred years of hosting millions of pilgrims, the locals would have far better knowledge about sleeping facilities than I ever would. Even if all the hostels in a town burned down, I knew the locals would know where to find a spare couch, a living room floor, or a barn that might be free. I decided to defer – completely – to their expertise. I wasn’t asking for luxury accomodation and I knew I wouldn’t be left to go hungry or without a safe place to sleep.
  2. Walking alone meant I only ever needed to find space for one person and I can fit on an armchair if I have to. I figured my chances of getting something were pretty good.
  3. All going well, I expected to walk for 6 weeks and realised that I could control only certain aspects of my journey. I could control how much sunblock to put on my face, or how closely I tended my feet: these things were within my remit, but the availability of beds was not. There was no way I could organise and pre-book a new bed every night for 6 weeks so I didn’t even want to try.

When it came to sleeping arrangements, I surrendered the whole thing to God/Divine/Guardian Angels/Universe and thought, “This one is waaay beyond me; this one is up to you”. I consciously decided, “I am not going to worry about beds.” I didn’t have the energy for it, I didn’t have enough Spanish for it, and I couldn’t control it anyway, so I purposefully decided that I wouldn’t give it any headspace. Ring fencing my mind in this way was a liberation. Somehow, it would all be fine.

Still, I felt absolutely gutted to learn that there were no free beds, couches, or floor spaces in Zubiri. I was so disheartened I could have wept. I was so physically exhausted I could have slept on the street.

Honestly, I was too disheartened to worry about my state. I needed to wash, to eat, and to find somewhere to sleep, but I really didn’t care where I slept that night. The woman running the albergue made some phone calls – to taxi companies, to other nearby albergues, and private accomodation, trying to find space for the growing number of stranded pilgrims. For nearly an hour, we sat on the dusty footpath, waiting for more people to arrive so we’d have a critical mass and hopefully, some influence. It was a wearisome experience. Suddenly, a taxi van appeared and three women jumped to their feet.

“Do you want to join us?” they asked.

“Where are you going?”

“To another hostel, they’ve organised somewhere for us to stay”.

If you can believe it, I actually hesitated in responding.

I’d just been offered transportation and a bed, without having to organise either of them myself, and I felt reluctant about accepting. Why? My aspiration (and intention) was to walk all 800km on my own feet, carrying my bag all the way. I didn’t want to “cheat” on the experience in any way, and taking a taxi to another albergue felt like a cheat. Never mind that I was physically spent, that there were no beds in Zubiri, and that I didn’t have the strength to walk another step: I still wanted a purist Camino experience. Yep, this is why Handsome Husband calls me “willful”!

I hesitated just long enough to realize this:

When I started, I knew there was a risk of being without a bed at some point and I’d already decided that if such a thing happened, I would defer to the locals for a solution. They were offering it, right there, right then, and I was genuinely in need of their help. If I didn’t allow myself to accept their help, I would surely have a terrible Camino. (Plus, Ego was happy that I was without a bed because of the local fiesta, and not because of my lack of training or my snail’s pace.)

So, quick as a flash, I came to my senses and jumped into the taxi.

Hurrah!

Silently, I felt relief to know that I’d get a shower, some food, and a bed, instead of sleeping on the riverbank that night. As the taxi bumped along the road, I chatted with my fellow pilgrims, relieved to have their company while we made our way to the next albergue. After a day of struggle, it was a sweet relief to be carried some of the distance, even though I wondered about getting a taxi back the next morning to pick up where I left off. I was surrendering and planning at the same time! Still, when the taxi pulled up outside a parochial albergue minutes later, I felt a flood of gratitude. The locals had provided the help that I needed and I had arrived at my bed for the night.

Where was I?

Somewhere called Zabaldika.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Surrendering to the Unexpected

  1. I love this exploration of the many issues that plague future pilgrims – scare beds and defining the “true” pilgrim. I love how you explain your process, Ger. I feel like I’m back there again!

    P.S. The albergue in Zubiri was cold and drafty. You got a way better deal than I! 🙂

    Like

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