I just knocked over a fresh glass of wine. It spilled all over the table and chair next to mine.
I was too embarrassed to go inside and ask for another, so I decided it was a sign from the Camino Gods. No wine for me today.
But as I was cleaning the mess with tiny napkins, the guy working at the cafe came out with the bottle and poured me another glass.
I’m pretty happy right now.
We are in Santillana Del Mar, a beautiful town with cobblestone streets, ancient brick buildings, souvenir shops and a torture museum.
This is the first time I’ve been out in a city we’ve walked to. Usually it’s a shower, bread and butter for dinner, then sleep. But today, despite somehow walking three miles more than we should have, we arrived early enough to switch up the MO.
It’s like the rain made everything better, easier. Two days ago, we walked through incessant rain and ate lunch in silence on the cold concrete outside a church. My feet were numb when we started walking again and I wondered why I was doing this. Walking and walking and walking. Why?
But that evening, the sun came out and made everything the rain had touched glisten. The grass, the trees, the horses coats.
We arrived at a hostel in Guemes that our guidebook called a can’t-miss.
“Excellent facilities, and communal dinner that often leads to storytelling and song.”
Our expectations were high.
We were greeted by a puppy that bit my legs repeatedly. I prayed it hadn’t made any more holes in my pants. It didn’t.
So far, so good.
We went inside and waited to be checked in. Someone greeted us, led us to a long table and gave us water and chocolate cookies. There was a fireplace where we could dry our soaked shoes.
When it was our turn we wrote our information and got our pilgrim credentials stamped.
Then the tour. There was a washing machine, a prayer room for all religions, a library, a donkey. It was a beautiful place with a giant, backyard full of glistening green grass and trees.
Outside our room, I found Jovany–cloth shoes, loose pants and long hair– wandering around on the grass with a journal in his hand.
“This is so dope,”he said.
We sat by the donkey and caught up. He was from Texas. His two friends from Madrid joined us and tested my Spanish, which, turns out, is still pretty bad.
That evening, Ernesto was lucky enough not to be the oldest person in the room as he usually was. John was tall and Hungarian and 82-years-old. “El Toro,” as he was called by the two women from Ensenada, suggested a 20-year-old might be waiting for him in Santiago. “But don’t tell my girlfriend.”
Ernesto went onto say that we all needed to recognize our social responsibility, that the hostel was run by volunteers and that if things didn’t work out, the money from the hostel would be donated to a third world country.
It was long and redundant and I couldn’t help but regret missing the last rays of sun shining cold through the window behind me.
The German girl next to me whispered that her parents told her this hostel was like a–
“What’s the word for a group of some religion…? You drink poison in the end.”
“Yes! A cult.”
But if it was what I had to endure for a free dinner, so be it.
We all sat at long tables and were served as much soup and bread as we could eat. When one bowl of soup was finished, someone brought another. Same with the bread. Same with the wine.
After dinner I talked more to Jovany, the Spaniards, the German, and Maria, from Valencia, who knew very little English but spoke so emphatically that it was entirely unnecessary to understand her words to understand what she said.
Breakfast in the morning was bread and butter, coffee, tea and more chocolate cookies.
It was a very nice place; certainly the best hostel we’ve been to on this trip, but the German’s parents were right: it does feel a little like a cult. But a good cult…without the cyanide.
After breakfast, we walked along the coast and paused at a beach at the drop of a long cliffside. Seagulls took off in flocks from the sand and made patterns in the sky; swallows dove from holes in the cliffs and dashed from place to place. Lines of white waves crashed and crept onto the sand; the sound they made was massive and distant.
“Es como mi iglesia,” she said after some time.
We walked with Maria, and laughed and took our shoes off and climbed on rocks on the beach. Twelve miles felt like nothing.
We left Maria in the big city, Santander, hoping the next town would be quieter. The Camino could be an opportunity to explore some of these cities we stop in, like Santander and Bilbao, but I never feel like being in them.
I feel like I haven’t connected enough with the trail to enjoy the distraction a city provides.
The next hostel was like a hotel room: a private room with towels and soap.
In the morning a nice woman served us toast and cafe con leche.