Camino for Good Co-founder Bill Austin shares his cherished albergue memories while walking the Camino de Santiago
Of all the memories I have from my Camino walks most of them seem to include an albergue. Albergues are hostels for pilgrims, amazing refuges, along the way that have committed themselves to caring for Camino hikers for centuries.
When I started my first Camino, I had no idea how important and special these places would turn out to be for me. Since then, they have been a huge reason for me returning to the Camino three more times.
It’s not just the creature comforts they provide after a long day of walking. Hot shower, hot meal and a bed. On top of that, they provide immense hospitality and an opportunity to connect with the other pilgrims also staying that night. These two things foster an incredible sense of spirit that fortifies the soul and is needed every bit as much as that hot shower. (Which at the time is so amazing!!).
It’s hard to pick from all of the memories I have. Some are funny, some spiritual, some rewarding, but all of them good.
Bill’s first albergue memory
I remember my very first albergue in Roncesvalles, Camino de Frances, on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. I checked in, I had my pilgrim credential stamped for the first time, and I was given a bed in an enormous building with hundreds of other pilgrims. I hit the shower and then after enjoying a lovely meal, I immediately hit the bed. I wondered how on Earth I was going to continue walking the next morning, much less all the way to Santiago. But I did, and that first night’s rest along with the many more to come in albergues along the way were a big reason why I was able to make it
So many times I walked into an albergue wet, dirty and smelly and was always met with a smile, sometimes a hug and most times something cool or warm to drink, right away. At the end of a long hard day, I was always so thankful for and refreshed by this greeting.
One of the most cherished traditions of all on the Camino are the pilgrim meals. These take place in the albergues. You sit and break bread, a time honored tradition, with people of all backgrounds from all over the world. Everyone at the table is heading to the same place but for so many different reasons.
Most everyone working in an albergue is volunteering. The owners know they will never get rich doing this and still they break their backs every day to support the pilgrims. Many times the cost for lodging and a meal is what ever you can pay, donativo. The rest of the times it is usually less than $15 for a room, dinner and simple breakfast. It’s not just a little dinner either!
Bill’s top 5 memories
- Walking in wet, filthy, smelly and bone tired and before even being able to take my pack off was given one of the biggest hugs I have ever had. Even though I made sure they saw what a mess I was, still the hug came. I will never forget that.
- Waking up to amazingly soft yet powerful music that gradually got louder. It was so beautiful. I made a promise to myself right then and there to wake up to music like that for the rest of my life whenever I can.
- The most delicious meal after walking a very cold and rainy Dragonte route (optional route on the Frances but highly recommended). The entire meal was vegetarian. Delicious, hardy and shared with a couple from New Zealand who told me of their amazingly uplifting life story on how they got to New Zealand after being forced from their farm in South Africa that had been in their family for generations.
- Everyone having to sing a song from their country before dinner would be served. The owner singing last and by far the most beautiful, albergue opera! I joined with a fellow American and sang the Star-Spangled Banner.
- David, a fellow pilgrim, passing out ear plugs to all of us because he snored so loud and then sleeping outside anyways so that we could all get a good rest.
I could go on and on, as any pilgrim could, about my wonderful experiences with albergues. They are such an integral part of the Camino magic. When things open back up and pilgrims start walking again, I am going to pick an albergue and volunteer for a couple weeks. You can do the same, contact us and we will let you know how. Its another wonderful way to experience the Camino.