Arriving into town and learning there were no available beds, was disheartening.
At the end of a long, sweaty, dusty day of great physical exertion, it was particularly gutting.
If, like me, you’d plan to spend the night in such a town, then the news is rather problematic.
Finding a bed doesn’t just mean having somewhere to sleep that night. Finding a bed also means:
- You can have a shower, at last!
- There’s somewhere you can wash and dry your laundry
- You may have wi-fi contact or phone coverage – and let your loved ones know that you’re still alive
- You can settle somewhere for your evening meal and a beer
- You can relax into conversation and friendship
- Your day’s effort is done. There is nothing to do but rest.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
In everyday life, it is the equivalent of going home after a long day. Except, I was a long way from home. Life on Camino is transient and temporary, and not having a place of rest was the closest I’ve known to being homeless.
Not so much fun.
Arriving into Los Arcos only to learn that there were no available beds, was terribly disappointing. Priority 1 was to find a bed. Everything else came after that. The shower, the laundry, the dinner and drinks, were all delayed. There would be no resting until I’d secured a place to sleep.
I was just over a week into walking Camino and this was the second evening I’d arrived too late for a bed. In case you missed it, I wrote about my first experience of it here: A Day of Ups and Downs.
Certainly, the volume of people walking Camino in the past few years has sky-rocketed. I read somewhere recently that a few years ago there were 35,000 – 45,000 people walking the route each year.
In 2013, those numbers had risen to over 200,000.
Of course, that kind of increase puts pressure on everything – accommodation, water supply, waste disposal, cafés – you name it. I didn’t take it personally that I was left without a bed. If those numbers are true then it’s likely on a given day that someone gets stuck for a place to sleep – why shouldn’t it be me?
Still, getting stuck for a place to sleep (twice) coincided with pushing my body extra hard, on days that were very hot. I did wonder if there was a correlation there, and maybe something to be learned from it all.
The four of us went from hostel to hostel across Los Arcos and everywhere the message was the same:
No room at the inn.
At the last hostel, the staff confirmed that not only were all the beds taken, but every inch of floor space was full too. There wasn’t enough room to take in a stray cat.
Before I’d even had time to think: “What now?” my fellow-pilgrim from Australia said one word:
There wasn’t even a moment of hesitation. She said it with absolute confidence and conviction. She spoke it clearly and immediately. She had created a plan. She spoke for all of us.
Ordering a taxi was entirely practical:
We had to get a bed
We had to go to another town
There was no way we were able to walk it
I wouldn’t have thought of it, and I was thrilled that she did.
Quick as a flash, the hostel-owner jumped into her mini-van parked outside the front door, and ushered us in. We had no idea where she planned to bring us, but we also didn’t really care. I trusted her local expertise and knowledge, and felt confident that she’d help us figure out a place to stay. Plus, I felt relieved that I could hand over this task to someone more knowledgeable than me.
I was thankful too that we were in a group. Not only did it equate to a cheaper taxi fare for each of us, but it meant that she would take our request seriously. It can be easy to turn away one solitary pilgrim. It’s harder to ignore a group of them.
Just as it is in life, there is strength in numbers.
After a few minutes of driving, she stopped at the first albergue and found it was full.
She stopped at the second and found they had space. Yay.
Until the guy stamped my Pilgrim Passport, I didn’t know where we were. It tells me that I was in Torres del Rio, some 8km outside Los Arcos. Those were 8km I didn’t walk, and would have to decide on the next morning.
Our albergue held a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, with bedding and bathrooms upstairs. They even had a swimming pool! The bar was loud with metal and punk music, with medieval-looking armour and crossbows on the walls. The courtyard in front was full of people drinking beer in the cool evening shade. They didn’t wear quick-drying sports gear or zip-off hiking pants, but instead, were covered in black clothes, with lots of tattoos and chains.
My guess? They weren’t pilgrims 🙂
How great we were getting to “mix with the locals” a bit!
And like an old woman, I found myself thinking: I hope they’re not going to stay out here all night making noise!
That evening, I filled my belly with paella, delighted to take a break from baguette. I felt profoundly grateful for my bed. I shared an open dorm with the 3 women, in a room with low ceilings, exposed wooden beams, and very few bunks. I slept like a rock, and when I woke the next morning, I hadn’t changed position at all. I’d heard snoring and people going to the bathroom but I had been so tired, I hadn’t stirred an inch.
But here’s a thing:
The hostel was privately owned, and they told us that some of the beds in the dorm were reserved. When we arrived at 6pm there was no sign of our roommates but we presumed they’d show up later. By 9pm the beds were still empty. Given that the hostels had a “lights out” rule for 10pm, these pilgrims were cutting it fine.
When we awoke the next morning, we discovered the beds were still empty. They had never been slept in at all.
6 pilgrims had reserved beds in a private hostel and for whatever reason, didn’t show up.
By the time the staff realised this, it was too late in the day to accept replacement pilgrims.
How many people like us, had arrived in Los Arcos to find there were no available beds?
How many of them took a taxi – alone or in groups – to Torres del Rio and were told that there were no beds there either?
And how many of them would ever guess that upstairs there were 6 available beds, with clean sheets, lying empty all night?
How many of them had to travel further, when what they needed was available right in front of our eyes?
Yes, 200,000 people on Camino puts pressure on services. But making private reservations and not keeping them has an impact too. I’m pretty sure there were pilgrims who could have used those beds that night but were never given a look-in.
It was a sort of Camino Capitalism.