I have had the experience of looking after pilgrims in Roncesvalles twice now, and I’ve written about it before. All those fresh pilgrims, from all over the world, starting their Camino often in St Jean Pied de Port, in France, climbing over the Pyrenees on their first day, and tumbling into the ancient monastery of Roncesvalles, to stay at the albergue with the Dutch volunteers. So many stories to listen to, advice to give, yoga to teach, and beds to clean and change; and chuckling at the stuff that new pilgrims realise they can shed after their first day walking with a backpack on their back. It’s the beginning of change on this 800 km journey to Santiago.
And now I’m in Santiago de Compostela, and it is being its usual imperturbable self. It’s raining, the local stone buildings wet and grey, but somehow I love it. When I arrived, very weirdly on a plane, that typical energy met my feet as I stepped into the town. It gives a lightness to my feet, like little wings attached to my ankles, it moves my heart and tells me that I need to walk again soon, and it always brings that silly happy smile on my face. As I walked through the medieval main street (I’m telling you it’s just like Diagon Alley!) and arrived at the plaza where the cathedral looms, my jaw dropped, as it was the first time I saw the facade and towers of this building in all their splendour without the scaffolding! I couldn’t stop this time, and continued through the main gateway to the Hospidario San Martin Pinario, a medieval monastery turned hostel, and if possible, my jaw dropped even further, it was so beautiful, with metre thick stone walls, high vaulted ceilings, a beautiful claustrum, the quadrant where monks can walk and meditate, and I went straight into the bar where my working mate for the next two weeks was waiting for me with a glass of wine. Bliss. I slept like a rose in my ‘cell’, with a view of the bell tower, in a comfy bed.
In the “Living room of the Low Lands”, on the other extreme of the Camino, I am now at the end of the journey for most pilgrims. My job here is to provide people with coffee, tea, biscuits and a listening ear, just that. The difference between the starters and the finishers is striking, and what a wonderful difference!
On my first day, after I have done the rounds, and introduced myself to our neighbours in the French, the German, and the English speaking living rooms, and then to the team of pilgrim office workers, who check and prepare the ‘compostelas’, the certificates that pilgrims earn for having walked the Way, I see our first guest arriving in our living room and within 5 minutes she is in tears. She had all kinds of things to get off her chest and needed to pour out her heart. Later on I do nothing but translate a lovely poem from Dutch into English for two Americans and move them to tears. People keep finding us all day. Belgians, who cycled from Sevilla; two young guys who are so relaxed they didn’t even know you could get a certificate, but they walked happily from Porto to Santiago; a couple who walked all the way from the Netherlands; a girl who started alone in Holland and now brings along her Camino Family of four North American women. The mood is relaxed, everybody is cut loose from daily life and chores, reflective on life, their journey finished now, sharing what they’ve learned, tired but happy, and I hear lots of stories of amazing encounters, and wonderful adventures. I run around with the coffee, tea and - this goes down like a storm - the Dutch ‘pepernoten’ I’ve brought in my rucksack.
By five o’clock my head is on overload, and I’m glad we are closing the door for the day and hopping through the rain and puddles on the black and grey ancient cobbled streets to our apartment which will be home for the next two weeks.
"Completed is the path
Satisfied we are and
happy to now share
the almost unshareable
Sharing is multiplying
Our happiness growing and
growing, inside and out."