After the walk from Burgos I am glad to spend New Year´s Day doing nothing in particular. Ever the good breakfast host, Paddy cooked fried eggs and we walked for a short distance along the Camino with the Japanese pilgrim, Hiroki, to see him safely on his way towards Sahagun and Leon. Hiroki had intended to stay at the Jacques de Molay refugio at Terradillos de los Templarios, but while it was open for a beer and a snack, they said they were not accepting any pilgrims overnight. They were listed officially as OPEN in the current week…!
This has been the story all along the Camino: there are no refugios open along great stretches of the Camino between Burgos and here, so pilgrims are having to walk long distances, often into the night, in order to find a bed. The old spirit of the Camino, where volunteers kept municipal albergues open, has now given way to a commercial ethos in which the proliferation of private pilgrim accommodation has led to a deterioration in the Camino. Some of us were predicting this situation two years ago: now it has happened. In this sector of the Camino, the private refuges made their money in the summer months and now they are closed for the winter, as there is no profit in it.
A Canadian pilgrim walked late into the day, arriving at the private albergue “Putzu” in Boadilla del Camino after one of the long stretches of the road which winds across the fields of the meseta. He was tired, hungry and thirsty. A mist accompanied the onset of nightfall. He knocked at the door of the refuge and the owner came to the door to ask what he wanted (!) When he discovered that the pilgrim was alone, he simply said, “I´m not opening the albergue just for one pilgrim. Are there any more on the way behind you?” When the Canadian pilgrim said he was the only person on the road, the owner closed the door on him.
That refuge is listed officially on the current week´s OPEN refuges on the Camino Frances. It is a disgrace. The licence should be withdrawn.
At the same time that this Canadian pilgrim continued in the dark for the next six kilometres to Fromista, I had stopped eight kilometres behind him at Itero de la Vega, where I had found the private albergue “La Mochilla” (the rucsack). A notice on the door told pilgrims to make themselves at home, and “Vengo pronto” (I will be back shortly). The advertising outside indicated that there was an internet connection (1 Euro), a pilgrim menu available (8 Euros), and to stay the night was 6 Euros for a dormitory bed or 8 Euros for a private room. Nobody came. The internet was not available on the old 486 computer which had long since died. The litter bins were full of rubbish: one food wrapper had a sell by date: October 6th 2010 (the last day the hostel had been cleaned?)
After two hours in this freezing cold hostel, where there were cold radiators and not even any hot water for a shower, I noticed a microwave oven, so went out to find a nearby shop where I bought a big carton of chicken soup and some bread. The microwave did not work. I saw that the flex was burnt from an electrical short-circuit and the live wires were exposed! I ate cold chicken soup and bread and began to wonder what happened to the old municipal albergue in Itero that had welcomed me two years before, with its volunteers simply requesting a donativo rather than a fixed sum.
A man turned up at nine o’clock and curtly demanded six Euros, without even so much as a ´Good evening´. I was still sitting there in my coat and hat in the freezing cold hostel. My reply to him was fairly direct: “Six Euros, my arse. You should have your licence withdrawn. This place is a disgrace.”
Both these ¨pilgrim refuges¨will be reported to their local ayuntamientos, unfortunately one can imagine that the owners also run the ayuntamientos and it is a fairly lame protest. Fact is, the Camino is not what it was. Commercialism has spoiled it. One other thing that has spoiled it is the loss of the pilgrim ethos and a new breed of tourist ¨pilgrim¨. The summer of 2010 saw peak days of two thousand pilgrims arriving at Santiago pilgrim office each day to receive their Compostelas. That is a lot of paper to hand out to people who throw their waste paper around so freely. The photo below was taken yesterday at a pilgrim facility between Carrion de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza.
But the spirit of the Camino is not yet entirely dead, as the Japanese pilgrim Hiroki discovered yesterday: for it is not the first time Paddy and Reb have welcomed pilgrims into their home when the private albergue at Terradillos closes without warning – in a stretch of the Camino where pilgrims are tired after a long gruelling section from Carrion de los Condes. And incidentally, Paddy and Reb also do regular litter-picking expeditions along the Camino, cleaning up after the feckless.
Here in Moratinos a new bar/restaurant/albergue is under construction at the entrance to the village. It will be a good thing for the village and I have the sound intuition that this will be a place of warm welcome for pilgrims, rather than a place driven by the profit margins of the pilgrim marketplace.