“Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” ~ Janis Joplin
If you own a car, even if it’s a rusty junker, you’re among the top 9 percent most affluent people on the planet. In 2008 the average American family owned 2.28 cars, and that’s enough to get you in the top 1%.
- More than 800 million people don’t have access to clean water.
- Well more than half the world population has no indoor plumbing.
- 1.3 billion have no access to electricity.
- Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
From the moment I roll out of bed, in the first five minutes of any given day, if I’ve flipped the light switch, flushed the toilet and brushed my teeth, I’ve accessed amenities that billions of people don’t have. And I hardly think a thing about it.
There are so many things so much more difficult than trekking the Camino de Santiago. You may get a little wet, or hot, or cold, or tired, or sustain an injury or two. It may (in fact it will) test you mentally, and physically, and spiritually. But at the end of each day you’re going to satisfy your hunger and thirst, and the odds are high you’ll have a bed at night. A bedbug or two may nibble on an appendage, but you’ll sleep on a mattress or a mat, and have flushable toilets.
Every necessity for life is present, but at so many stages along the Way most of us who reside in the first world experience an epiphany about just how good we have it.
The previous Saturday night in Nájera had been a real blessing. I was in good spirits, but blisters were in full eruption, and I was tired. It was nearing two weeks that I’d been gone from home and the weather was perfect, just like I imagined it was back home. Fall in Arkansas is exquisite.
While I was walking across Spain, most of my friends back home were at tailgate parties, slow-cooking smoked barbecue, drinking cold beer chilled on ice, and having a good time as kickoff approached. Saturday Down South, as it’s known, is what happens the day before Sunday In Church.
The thought of it all made me, not terribly, but a little homesick, so I decided to make an early day of it, and was the first arrival at Puerta de Nájera Albergue. It looked like a nice place to just chill on a Saturday afternoon, and that’s exactly what I wanted. It was another of the places where the hospitalera, who was actually the owner in this case, extended gracious loving-kindness. She was an angel to every single person who walked through the door.
I took advantage of my early arrival to get a hot shower and clean shave, and walked back downstairs in fresh clothes to relax. I think I mostly wanted to enjoy more of the owner’s pleasant aura because her servant’s heart reminded me of my wife. I missed Dana most days, but especially on Saturdays.
It was a great Saturday afternoon atmosphere. I found an amazingly comfortable couch and joined a young German man who’d also checked in early because of his raw, blistered feet. He was out of commission for at least the next two days. It was that bad.
As we were both taking journal notes, the kind owner brought us two glasses and a bottle of white wine. I’m not even really a wine guy, but it tasted so good. I savored the flavors and wondered if I’d passed by the vineyards from where it originated.
All afternoon and evening pilgrims made their way in – some in larger groups, others solo. It was a great day to be off my feet, clean and watch fellow peregrinos walk across the threshold – Germans, Australians, Belgians, French, but none of my fellow countrymen. I was seeing a surprisingly low number of North Americans on the Way.
I made it an early night and climbed into the lower bunk around 8, but just couldn’t sleep, and missed the cozy, homey atmosphere downstairs. So I walked back down and found that comfortable couch available again. I think Dana and I had some FaceTime on the phone.
By 11 most everyone had made their way upstairs and into bed, but the couch was honestly the most comfortable furniture I’d been on in weeks. As the owner was dimming the lights and shutting down for the night, she walked over with a pillow and an extra blanket. She asked if that’s where I’d like to stay for the night.
“Es vale?” I asked, making sure it would be okay.
“Es su casa, mi hermano,” she replied. Her home was mine. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more gracious moment. It was kind of like being tucked in. I slept like a rock that night.
At different times in my life, I’ve often been frustrated by the inability to see ahead – to know the “next thing.” It’s the tendency we all have in our lives to control every circumstance. Basically, it’s playing God.
It’s for good reason that we can’t. Wouldn’t life be monotonously boring if we knew exactly what new experience was around every bend?
There are certain stretches along the Camino where you can seemingly see forever. A few stages are so clear, straight and flat, that you can see your end-of-day destination 10 miles away. It’s not until you’ve walked toward something for six hours that you realize how very frustrating it can be. It’s almost as if you’ll never arrive. It’s drudgery.
The next Sunday morning walk toward Santo Domingo was exactly that kind of experience, and gave me time to consider how thankful I was God had granted me the patience and understanding to know how much better it was to trust Him, and let go of the hopeless cause to manipulate my future. I’m not God. And besides that, the older I grow, the more I truly enjoy and appreciate the character building and life lessons that come with the unknown. It’s just more fun not knowing.
After what seemed an eternity of walking toward Santo Domingo, I arrived late Sunday afternoon.
Though I’d experienced light rain and considerable heavy, dreary dampness through much of the first week and a half, there hadn’t been anything I’d call an outright, miserable, pouring rain. But the forecast called for exactly that in the next 24 hours.
I didn’t have an unlimited budget, and wanted to do everything I could to have an authentic experience on the Way. Early on, my attitude about hotels (however rare they are on the Camino) was a negative. I’d pre-determined I might treat myself to something nicer at the end, but really wanted to stick to a humble-amenity game plan for most of the walk. As the Camino does, it changed my mind about that.
I found that every 10 days to two weeks I was a better pilgrim after I’d had a little privacy, a hot bath, and slept between clean, bedbug-free sheets. More about this in Chapter 16.
My foremost concern walking into Santo Domingo were the heavy rain warnings forecast for the next morning. After 10 days on the trail, I was entering the first psychological stage of a weary mind, and the infamous 10-day trek across Meseta was just ahead. Blistered feet and a weary mind, with a need to further mentally prepare for the Meseta told me it might not be a good idea to walk in an all-day downpour.
The thing about the simple, modestly priced albergues, is that they run on a strict schedule. Many typically hosts dozens of pilgrims each night, so it’s a tight ship in terms of check in, check out, clean up and preparing for a new day. Most albergues require pilgrims to leave no later than 8 in the morning. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s pouring rain or blowing snow. Check out time? Vaya con Dios, pilgrims. You’re outta here.
Walking further into town I noticed one of the most popular albergues with a five-euro sign out front. I peaked in the window and saw Jeannick sitting at a table visiting with on older crotchety, French pilgrim I’d also encountered days ago. I just didn’t feel like having conversation, and knew I’d be kicked out of there bright and early the next morning, rain or shine.
A few meters further, a plaza opened up, and there it was. The Parador. It’s a name synonymous with luxury on the Camino. If the Parador took American Express, I was about to enjoy some first-world pleasure.
Not only would it give me privacy, a hot tub and clean towels – check out time was daily at noon. If the heavy rains did come, the extra cost was an investment in extra time that might allow the rain to pass. I was thrilled with my own strategic thinking about the possibilities.
The hotel receptionist said they gladly accepted American Express, but had experienced some trouble with their card reading machine earlier that day. I’m sure it’s a similar problem many pilgrims experienced in medieval times. As he ran the card, I literally held my breath. My heart was now set on a night in a hotel.
A faint beep, and the ticket rolled out. Music to my ears. He handed me a key to Room 209, and I walked into a place that might as well have been Heaven.