The Camino ignites something in some pilgrims. For Antonio Ramariez, its the wish to give back. Every year he sections off two weeks to help run the Municipal Albergue in Bercianos del Real Camino (Antonio Ramariez is not to be confused with the current pilgrim Antonio from Barcelona). Upon arriving yesterday after my third 34 plus kilometer day, he gently wraps his 65 year old arm around my shoulder and asks “muy cansado?” I don’t lie, “Sie”.
The Albegue in Bercianos del Real Camino has a few traditions, each of which the current volunteer needs to attend to – in this case Antonio. After pulling his chair around the table and across the centuries-old, stone encrusted floor for me to sit on, he points down to a list of house rules:
It is tradition for the pilgrims and the attendants to make dinner together
It is tradition for everyone to watch the sunset together after dinner
It is tradition to have a prayer together after the sunset
Please do not put your Rucksack on the bed…..
It goes on from there to list several more housekeeping rules to abide by. The Refugio can hold 45 pilgrims, but today there is only 8 of us – 4 French, 2 Germans, 1 Italian and 1 US American. I place my bag upstairs, take a shower in the gender non-descript bathroom and write my post for the evening at a bar in town with Wifi. Afterwards, I make my way 450 meters from the bar back to the refugio just in time to watch Pereluigi finish preparing the pasta dish made with a bit of chile for dinner. Antonio hands me a Chorizo and cheese Tapa and then is back to making the Croquetes filled with potatoes and a triple threat of meat – pork, chicken and beef. Not much left for me to do, so I grab a dish to wash.
After dinner, we watch the sunset and then there is a short prayer session, which really is not long at all and mostly consists of each pilgrim telling what brought them to the Camino. At the end, Antonio wraps it up. He says he has had two lifes – one before the camino and one after. He can’t say that he is happier now, but he has changed. His wish is that we will also have two lifes.
I wake up well rested, having only woken up only twice during the night. The only other person in my immediate 10 meter vicinity was Pereluigi and he doesn’t snore at all. After a breakfast of baked bread smeared with a nutella like substance, instant coffee mixed with steamed milk, orange juice and water, I promise to send the pictures of the sunset to Antonio as he gives me his email address and an awkward hug.
The day passes quickly. Pereluigi and I are determined to keep up a 6k an hour speed. We make it first to El Burgo Renero and follow the highway on a dirt path for a flat and drab 12 kilometers to Reliegos. We eat a Menu del Dia with a crew of local workers in neon green uniforms and then make a dash through the next 6.5 kilometers of flatland. The rain that has started reminds us not to daddle.
This time its my turn to give out an awkward hug outside of the Municipal Refugio in Mansilla de Las Mulas. Pereluigi is going on to Leon by Bus. I step inside the refugio and am greeted by Alex, another volunteer.
The sunset reflected off a small collection of water at Bercianos del Real Camino. It has rained on and off for the last two weeks.
Breakfast was simple, but the dinner last night included three courses. The Refugio only asks for a donation – somewhere between 7 and 10 euros.
A group photo – some pilgrims had started their day already at 6:30 am
Albergue Parroquial – so far my favorite Albergue. The facilities are not top notch, but cool wood dormitories and a homey feel.
On the way out of Bercianos the soft light of sunrise made the first hour of the walk pleasant.
A bit further out of Bercianos and the flatness of the Meseta takes hold.
Lunch spot in Reliegos. 9 euros for three courses and the food was very good. Lentil soup, breaded chicken and french fries, pudding desert (not homemade)
A bit of motivation along the way.