Today is my last day in the Albergue Final Del Camino, the hostel where I have been a volunteer warden or ‘hospitalera’, for the last two weeks. For the last time, I will greet pilgrims and see the relief on their tired faces when yes, we can offer a bunk bed for the night. 8 euros is good value. The only extra charges are for the washing machine and drier, should they wish to use them. Wifi and use of computers is free and usually produces a big smile.
Some pilgrims arrive limping, plagued by blisters and sprains, some with such rude vigour. Others are too tired to be jubilant and only want to sleep. Those who are jubilant show their well earned Compostella, the certificate congratulating them for having walked anything from 100 to
1000 kilometres, sometimes more if they really really have the walking bug, hug each other or slap each other on the back, almost unable to believe their success.
It is emotional. Not because of the sadness in the town, those are circumstances beyond
understanding, but because the euphoria of walking, the achievment of a goal, a dream even, causes such turmoil for some that they laugh out loud and burst into tears at the same time.
The hostel at end of the Camino has felt like a last outpost at times. It is half an hour’s walk from the old town and the cathedral which is where most pilgrims want to be. For that is where ‘stuff’ happens and where celebrations take place and where they will meet up with those they have walked with. After a month on the road together and apart meeting up for the last time is important.
It has also felt like home. Two weeks in the small neighbourhood , buying bread from the best bakers in the world, having morning coffee at the same bar, has produced bright smiles of recognition and hugs of farewell.
Asking directions to the train station does not seem the best question to ask today, so I leave with time to get lost and I arrive ridiculously early with a ridiculously heavy bag. Somehow, all the advice to travel light has gone by the board. There are few places to sit and those seats that are not taken are puddled by the heavy rain, as if the roof leaks.
A grandpa arrives with two little girls and eight suitcases, lined up neatly in two rows. The girls are so excited by their pending holiday they skitter through the cases, round and round, counting them over and over. Eventually both girls lie side by side, one on each row. In time, the rest of the party join them. Younger children totter round and the rather somber waiting room, strewn with pilgrims and tourists, lights up with smiles.
The official funeral Mass for those lost in the crash takes place in the cathedral tomorrow.