Ermita de Santa Ágata, Arrés
As you've read by now, I just spent 17 days volunteering as a hospitalera in the pilgrim's albergue in Arrés, a town of 15 inhabitants lying along the Aragonese stretch of the Camino de Santiago.
With Ferran, my charming Tarragonese partner, I welcomed pilgrims stopping for a warm word and a cold glass of homemade lemonade (or gazpacho, on the right days) on their way to the next albergue, and then did my best to create a temporary but memorable home for those pilgrims who chose to spend the night with us.
Our days began at 7, with breakfast service, then moved on to the daily sweeping-scrubbing-mopping workout, invariably accompanied by some fabulous soundtrack or another screaming out of Ferran's boombox. After a shopping trip to Jaca, we shifted to warm of-course-we-have-a-place-for-you-to-sleep welcomes, multilingual conversations, a tour of the town's lovely 16th century church and the nightly gigglefest of shared kitchen duty and community dinner. Barring rain, every day ended with a walk to the mirador high above the casa rural to watch Arres' stunning sunset.
I am proud to announce I now speak Pilgrim's Italian and make one hell of a tasty garbanzo bean, spinach and chorizo potaje for 30.
My biggest challenge, however, was neither language nor gastronomy. Seventeen days surrounded by humans was a significant shock to this wanderer's solitary soul. In Arrés I existed to welcome people, to offer an understanding ear, a hot meal and good company. I shared a small bedroom, for God's sake.
And so just about every one of those seventeen days, I stole a few moments to meander down the narrow lane leading east to the town's ermita, alone, gathering fresh flowers for the table while I soaked in the view, and exhaled.
I'll write more about my experience, but first let me make a shameless plug for Arrés. The town is growing, and now boasts a lovely casa rural, where Mari Luz will cook you up some of tastiest homemade meals you'll enjoy in Spain.
And when it all gets too much, I'm telling you. Just walk east.