People have asked if I ever felt afraid while walking the Camino, or if I ran into any “unsavory people” on the way. The honest answer is “no”, and then I usually recount the tale of the weirdest night I experienced. I didn’t write about it when it happened, partly because I was really exhausted at the end of those days and also because it really was odd and hard to put into words. But, to put it out there for anyone to see, I shall try.
The first part of the day is recounted in Stage 21 – Escamplero to Cornellana
It ends with me needing to go to the kitchen to make some tuna salad for dinner and optimistically thinking that the day was nearly over. Ha!
I’ll back up a bit, however.
I arrived in Cornellana with Tash and we were excited to see Vittorio and a couple of other people. It was a very nice old monastery with a great courtyard for washing/drying clothes, a good kitchen with utensils and some basic pantry supplies, and a sleeping room with 4 sets of bunk beds and men’s/women’s bathrooms.
Weird situation #1:
There was a well-dressed couple already at the albergue when we arrived. She was napping on a lower bunk while he was messing with the washing machine across the way. It seemed normal from the outset, but the well-dressed part is important, because they were definitely not Camino clothes. And I didn’t see any bikes, which would have made some sense as I had already found myself jealous of one of the bike riders I had seen earlier because she was able to pack real pajamas in her saddle bags as she didn’t have to carry everything on her back in a pack. They didn’t even look like practical post-Camino only-in-the-albergue clothes, either. She had dress slacks and heeled boots. Stiletto heels! Definitely not practical on cobblestones and trails.
Just after siesta was over and we were heading into town to the grocery, this couple got up and packed lots of clothes into the man’s backpack and left. She didn’t have a backpack, but that just led up to think that perhaps they were taking a break from hiking and had ridden a bus to this town, rested for a bit, and then were off to the next town. So Tash took one of the blankets from their bed (there weren’t enough, it seemed for everyone) and then was stopped by one of the Spanish men, who said that the couple would be coming back. Tash said that they had left with a backpack, but then the man opened the locker next to their bed (there were enough of those for everyone to store things) and showed her the plastic tub full of lots of other clothes and things they had stashed in there. Very odd.
The couple came back at around 10:30/11pm, put their backpack down, and went to bed. Then at 6:30 the next morning, when we were getting ready to leave, the lady was quite chatty and started talking to us in the dark. Turned out they were form Bilbao and then she wished us a Buen Camino as we walked out the door.
Tash and I discussed this situation as we started walking; out conclusion was they left during the exact times the hospitalero (person who checks us in) was scheduled to be there, so they just walked to look like they weren’t staying there so they wouldn’t have to pay. We think they were actually doing the Camino (who can hike with a plastic tub), but were perhaps just travelling or even just staying at the albergue for an extended period. Still odd, but perhaps explainable.
Weird situation #2:
Probably wouldn’t have been as weird if Tash, Vittorio, or I spoke more Spanish.
The Spanish man who hadn’t understood me in Oviedo was also staying at Cornellana. He arrived by bike just after we did. I never got his name (we couldn’t even communicate that much), but I do know he had a wife and 2 kids. There was also another Spanish man, Alfredo, who spoke some English, though he often pretended he didn’t (more on that later).
Anyway, after we walked to town to buy dinner/next day supplies, Tash and I were both reading on our bunks. The odd couple was gone, Vittorio was in the kitchen area, Alfredo was on his bunk, and Spanish man #1 was taking a nap (totally snoring, BTW, thank God for ear plugs at night!). This lady then walked in, looking for someone to talk to, it seemed. Earlier, during my exploration of the church grounds and inside the church itself, I had noticed this lady speaking with a couple of others outside the church. I thought she was part of the group supervising the restoration of the church, but that was just my assumption based upon how business-like she seemed.
I didn’t speak enough Spanish for the lady, though I did say “hola.” 🙂 So, she turned to Spanish man #1, woke him up, and began to ask him questions. I was able to catch a couple of words, namely the words for “church” and “pilgrim.” Her demeanor changed from friendly to hostile rather abruptly and the poor man just seemed very confused. She stayed for just a few minutes and then left. That was when I decided it was time for dinner and headed across the courtyard to the kitchen.
Dinner was delicious – tuna, goat cheese, dried cranberries, lettuce, and bread, but while we were eating, we discussed a bit of what had happened and then Tash noticed the police had arrived. Both Spanish men were talking to them and man #1 (the biker) was showing them things from his saddle bags. It looked like they were asking for id or for his pilgrim passport. They looked it over, gave it back, chatted a bit more, then the police left. The two Spanish men stood talking for another few minutes and then #1 packed more things, got on his bike, and left.
Alfredo, the other Spanish man, came over to the kitchen after that and said that the other man was biking on to the next albergue. At this point, it was already growing dark and we knew the next albergue was 10km away. we also found out that the reason he wasn’t further along (2 days should have put him well ahead of me if he were following the bike route) was because he was following the walking route and not taking the bicycle side paths (to avoid rocks, stairs, etc. and keeping more to roads). This made us wonder how he was going to make it to the next albergue, and it turned out he didn’t, because about half an hour later, he came back.
We asked Alfredo what had happened with the police, and this was when his English (or his memory) failed him, because he told us he didn’t know and couldn’t say. Tash and I took turns asking questions, but the answer was always the same – that he didn’t understand what the lady had said and didn’t know why the police were here.
The only other thing we learned was when Tash used her basic Spanish to talk with bicycle man and found out that he was sad (triste) about the whole situation. We never found anything else out, and we didn’t see either of those guys (or the couple from Bilbao) again.
So, you can see, odd, but not scary. I never felt scared on the Camino. Just a little scared before, right after I pushed ‘send’ to buy the plane ticket and it was truly happening 🙂