When I waved goodbye to Denis and Fred in Itero de la Vega, I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t see the pair of them again. Camino is like that: people come and go all the time and you never know if you’ll ever meet them again. The day would prove that in more ways than one.
I arrived in Boadilla del Camino at five in the evening, covered in sweat but energised from a day of fabulous walking. My guidebook informed me that there were 76 beds on offer between the various hostels. At that late hour in the day, would there be a bed for me? If not, I would have to walk another 6km to Frómista, knowing that to arrive after 6 in the evening would really limit my prospects.
On the door of the first hostel I saw the sign: they were full. Sitting out front, reading a book, I recognised Lucy* (not her real name) whom I’d walked with days earlier. She leapt excitedly from her chair to come greet me. With her arms waving and her hair flying, we were suddenly in a hug with squeals of surprise. She was clearly delighted.
But is it awful to admit that I wasn’t delighted…not even a little?
We had spent 2-3 days in close orbit further back on the trail but I had been happy to part ways when we did. I hadn’t expected to see her again so soon. Or at all. I especially didn’t expect to hear that she had taken a bus to bridge the 100km distance that would otherwise be between us.
Oh, and she had found the time to go to a hairdressers along the way to get some sort of permanent blow dry in her hair. Apparently she was having trouble managing the frizz.
<Insert my withering (and yes, judgemental) smile here>
Considering I had abandoned my fashion sense *entirely* on camino, this news of hairdressers was stunning to me..literally. I was speechless, even though I admit her hair looked great.
Without haste, she informed me that every bed in the village had been taken hours earlier. While she sat reading a novel, I had walked a sweaty, speedy 6km per hour and totalled nearly 35km that day. The difference between us stung a little. She advised that I would need to get a taxi to Frómista, or maybe even the next village after that. There was simply nothing on offer here.
Still, I pottered up to the doors of En El Camino to see whether they could help and was happily surprised to bump into Barb and Dave, who welcomed me with warm smiles.
“It’s all booked up’, they confirmed, ‘but go inside anyway and ask”.
Within, I got chatting to Hugo who initially looked helpless when I asked for a bed. He stared down at the ledger in front of him and confirmed what everyone else had told me: they were all full up. Not only was every bed taken, but all their floor space in the sleeping areas was taken too. The armchairs were taken. The couches were taken. There was nowhere he could put me. He was very sorry.
But a little bit of magic caught us both by surprise:
I found myself saying, “Do you have anything at all? I’m only little and I’ll be very quiet!”
His eyes twinkled.
There was a moment of playful sparkle in the air…and he said to me:
“We will serve dinner in the dining room this evening but when it is over I can put a mat down on the floor for you. That’s the best I can do.”
I thanked him profusely 🙂
I’m not usually a person who blags my way into VIP areas or asks for discounts on my bill. I’m generally uncomfortable with asking for special treatment but somehow it was easy that day. I was filled with contentment. I found fun in the asking.
I had walked my furthest and fastest. I had also walked with a heart full of gratitude and joy. Getting a mat on the floor meant I could rest for the evening. I had somewhere I could take a shower, wash my clothes, get some dinner. Even better, this was a hostel that had a grassy lawn out front where pilgrims sat in the sun, chatted, played guitar, and dipped their feet in the water fountain. It was like an advert for a holiday resort.
As dinner progressed, Hugo kept me updated on their ever-changing lodging details. He had found a floor space in one of the dorms so he would put a mat there instead of on the dining room floor.
Awesome! I wouldn’t have to wait for everyone to finish their post-dinner drinking before I could go to sleep.
Later again, he came to find me and share that a bed had become available. The pilgrim that had booked it never showed up. It was after 9pm and they were unlikely to show at that late hour.
“It’s on the top [of a bunk]”, he half apologised. “Is that okay?”
I was thrilled!
Every day on the trail, people around me talked nervously, excitedly, and authoritatively about the availability of beds. Everyone understood that hostels filled up by lunchtime or even earlier. It was nearly pointless to try finding a bed later in the day.
Yet, that’s exactly what I did. I had rocked into the village after 5pm and gone from having nowhere to sleep,
to a mat on the floor,
then a mat on a quieter, nicer floor,
to having an actual bed.
All this without reserving anything in advance, without perpetuating the fear that others felt, and without pushing my body to walk any less or more than it wanted to walk that day.
The goodness had fallen sweetly, gently into my lap.
When I fell into bed that night, I felt fit to burst. It wasn’t just from eating a feast of lentils and hake, it was from the joy of living a full and generous day.
They say, “The camino provides”. Indeed it does 🙂