I wandered into Madrid on Thursday to pick up a Pilgrim's Credential at the Puerta del Sol offices of the Madrid Friends of the Camino.
A very warm collection of Camino veterans lined us up in the hallway, brought us in groups of 15 or so into a small room for a 20- minute charla
, and later signed over to each of us the credential that will give us access to pilgrim albergues along the way and at the end of the road, the Compostela attesting to our pilgrimage.
There was detailed talk of blisters (¡Vamos, ampollas, vaís a tener!
) and a heated discussion of tried and true treatments. There was a stern warning against bringing anything even slightly new, a warning that sent the wandering American who's had to buy plenty new into nervous gulps and extra-copious notes on tried and true blister treatments.
The promised lesson on how to find a place to sleep in albergues (Don't worry about where you'll sleep, by the third day, you'll sleep standing up
) developed in a Vegas-worthy stand-up routine about the albergue-obsessed group of pilgrims he referred to simply as los franceses
, who apparently rise at the ungodly hour of 330 in the morning to be sure they arrive at the next town in time to be first in line for a bed in the municipal (and therefore free, with an optional donation) albergue. The albergues open at 330 pm. The lines of early to rise Frenchmen, if the story is to be believed, start at 11 am, particularly on the Camino's (busiest) last 100 miles. I watched the two young French men who'd come in behind me share giggles and rolling eyes.
Our guide assured us he could tell with one look not one of us was going to beat the French to the albergues (¡Vamos, a las tres y media de la mañana!
) and recommended, entonces
, that we "work" the whole
camino, like him (as he patted his well-fed middle). Work the pueblo bars, there to offer us a relaxed and tasty breakfast, and, a sandwich midmorning, and a taste of local pinchos, cheeses, and wine at the day's end. Work the system of private albergues which even in the busiest towns would offer us a bed for 12 euros a night, and the opportunity to call ahead and reserve the bed during the afternoon. No need to rush. Ever.
His final word of advice convinced me this is my kind of pilgrimage:
"Do you all know what to do when you get to Santiago?", he asked, after describing the walking route to the Cathedral and the location of the office where we would claim the Compostela at journey's end.
"If you arrive midmorning, los franceses
will already be in line for the Compostela", he promised, his words meeting more giggles from the young Frenchmen behind me. "Because they got up at 3:30. "
"So you, what do you do when you to get to Santiago?"
"Go into the Cathedral to hug the statue of Saint James", replied two or three eager pilgrims.
"For that you have to stand in line behind the French", came the response, accompanied by that Spanish tongue clicking, head shaking "no" I've come to love.
"When you arrive in Santiago, you do the first thing you should do whenever you arrive in Santiago de Compostela, from anywhere. You walk right by the cathedral, turn the corner, and walk into the first bar you see. You greet the bartender. Then you order mussels, and octupus, and the best Ribeiro in the house. "
"Around 3, when los franceses
have gone to bed, (because they got up at 330!
), you pay the tab, and with your freshly renewed energy and appreciation for life, you stroll right into the now-deserted Cathedral office, tell your stories to the staff, and claim your Compostela.
"And then", with a nod to the eager pilgrims, " you kiss the saint."
Yep. I can do this.
Labels: Camino de Santiago, wanders and travels