Live from the Camino: On alberques & being cold

June 3, 2014 in Europe, Spain


Pierre-Paulo likens the experience to a musical symphony.

Attempting to sleep in an alberque that is a medieval stone church, complete with arched ceilings and walls over a foot thick is to attend an orchestral performance of sorts: bed springs squeak, someone coughs, the meter is kept to the snoring of the big german man two beds over in the bottom bunk, gas is passed in tympanic booms (it’s the duck we were fed the second night running for the plata peregrino) the Korean girl sneezes twice for punctuation, the Italian grandmother’s wheeze is like the tuning of the string section. There is the constant drip of water from the line of clothing hanging along the stone wall, a walking stick clatters to the floor, a language is spoken in a sleepy drone that even that native speakers do not understand.

I am cold.

I did not bring a sleeping bag on purpose: it cut fully two pounds off of my pack weight. Instead I have a white silk sleep sack that makes me look like I’m dead in a shroud when I’m cocooned down inside of it. I knew that the alberque at Roncesvalles would not have blankets. I knew that I would be cold. I layered on my yoga pants, an extra t-shirt, the fuzzy socks from a friend and blessed my husband for insisting that I really wanted my grey hooded wrap, not the lightweight long-sleeve shirt of crepe like material I bought in Australia. Ear plugs in, I tried to ignore the wiggling of the Hmong girl, 12 inches away in her bunk, and went to sleep.

When I woke it was dark: crypt like dark, and cold: crypt like cold. I woke curled in the fetal position, every muscle in my body aching. My hip joints felt frozen with white hot ice at their cores. Misery. I lay in the dark, listened to the symphony, peeked over my bunk to check on Jade (who was sleeping for the time being) and then willed myself back to a cryogenic sleep.

Morning broke cold (of course) and wet (naturally)

Nonetheless, we walked, talking to pass the time. Purchasing the morning’s fruit and baguettes in a shop that played Spanish opera at six thirty in the morning, and trading, “Buen dia” with locals and pilgrims alike.

We rounded the corner to climb the hill out of Burguete to find an old man waiting for us. It could be that he’s been standing on that corner every morning for sixty years waiting on someone, possibly us. We traded buen dias and he leaned on his shovel to chat, about his town, our journey, our points of origin and destination. “Besos!” he demanded, waving us toward him with both hands. We laughed and leaned in to kiss both cheeks in the traditional way, and then, he grabbed our faces and planted one right on our (very surprised) lips. He laughed and laughed and ordered us to take pictures of each other with him before he gave his benediction and sent us on our way, warmer for the encounter.

We traded songs, our Canadian national anthem for something we couldn’t quite catch the gist of in Spanish, with some local hikers as we all struggled up hill. We picked our way down on slippery washes of shale and sand, thankful for our walking sticks.

Tonight we are in Zubiri, tucked into a somewhat less death-like alberque, also with no blankets, but with lower ceilings and windows that close. We’re layering up again, doubling the socks, pulling our skirts on over our long pants and tucking our heads into our scarves, hoping to dream of warmer parts of Spain, and sunshine for tomorrow’s walk.