Remembering the Camino, Part 3: Sleeping Along the Way

Will and I realized that sound and restful sleep might be in short supply on our very first night at an albergue (think: hostel) along the camino.  At the top of this post is a picture of a "typical" albergue that walkers stayed in.

We initially had a pleasant afternoon conversing with the other English-speakers, and I even tried my bit of French with an older gentleman whose English vocabulary was even less plentiful than my French.  Despite the fact that it was painfully clear that I was reverting to "The pencil of my uncle is yellow"-type of first-semester grammar book sentence constructions, it turned out that I was the one in the albergue who most closely approximated a conversation partner for this poor man who had been logging outrageous number of miles each day in solitude and desperate for some human speech.  We sat for a long time, each patiently struggling to understand what the other was attempting to communicate, and all in all it was a promising beginning to our first foray into communal lounging.

When night-time came, we all piled into our assigned dormitories.  Will and I had a bunk-bed set, and our room probably held about 15 people altogether; there was one other woman (an older Canadian we became friendly with in subsequent days) in our room, and the rest were men of various ages and nationalities.  And boy did everybody stink!  It wasn't until we were all zipped up and lights turned off that I realized that my French speaking partner (way too nearby) carried with him the odor of those 25-30 miles of walking per day.  Multiply that by about 15 of us, and the room was malodorous to say the least.

Somehow I finally lulled myself to sleep in between snoring bouts of those around me when our door suddenly burst open and a drunk Italian man (as we learned the next morning) started waving around a flashlight, pointing it in each startled pilgrim's face.  I thought I heard wrong, but indeed others confirmed in the morning what I remembered:

"Who stole my blue pantaloons?  [Wave flashlight indiscriminately around the room.]  Who?  Did you steal my blue pantaloons?  [Shine light on one face.]  Was it you?  [Move flashlight onto another drowsy sleeper.]...?"

Mercifully, someone got him out of the room and talked him down.  Needless to say, that was not the experience we wanted to have on our inaugural night of communal sleeping on the camino.

Thereafter, we found ourselves calling ahead and reserving a private room a couple of nights in advance.  We were not always able to find private quarters, but whenever possible, we went out of our way to stay in towns or albergues that did have them, even if it meant that one day we walked fewer than 10 miles and another time over 20 miles, just to coordinate our sleeping with places that offered privacy--and tranquility.

Many places along the camino path have their unique charms.  One albergue had almost all private rooms, and it also served an amazing 3-course (truly) vegetarian dinner for pittance.  It was an intimate experience, sitting with a room full of walkers and talking with people from all over the world.  You can see (above) how their dining room was set up for closeness, comfort, and conversation.  Absolutely one of our best experiences.

On the whole, the lodging jackpot was the Leon Parador (pictured right above).  Anyone who has seen Martin Sheen in The Way--most Americans' first introduction to the camino--knows the famously opulent building that screams luxury and ostentation.  BUT, would you believe that there was an internet special (open secret on the camino for those who care) for 100 euros for a double room, including a breakfast buffet with 90+ different types of deliciousness?  I've stayed at tired, tattered, and high-school-kids overrun motels in rural Illinois for more than that!

The grounds were gorgeous, and our room came with a balcony overlooking a decorative maze.  But it was the bathroom that I could have wept over--maybe I did, but I cannot remember because I was so overcome with the beauty of top-tier toiletries, a bathtub, a toilet, and two sinks ALL TO OURSELVES!  (Clearly, I need to devote a post to bathrooms on the camino.)

And the beds!  Many albergue beds we came across were lumpy, smelled moldy, and were very likely bedbug-infested.  Which is why sometimes beds were covered with nylon/plastic wrappers (as in the picture above) that we received paper sheets to drape over.  Seriously.

In case you're wondering: It's not terribly reassuring to go to sleep with the squeak of the nylon competing with the crunch of the paper sheet keeping up a cacophony as you toss and turn...


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