Wild Roses along the Camino

Gabriela and Leslie

Gabriela and Leslie

We’ve got hours of walking ahead of us, and Gabriela is entertaining me with stories from her nearly 40 years in the hotel industry, most of them with the Paris Hilton (the actual hotel near the Eiffel Tower that the reality star is named after). Gabriela retired as Executuve Housekeeper, in charge of a large staff and over 460 rooms. “By the end, it seemed like I spent most of my time in meetings,” she says.

She talks about Sammy Davis Jr. and his wife in a long, white mink coat showing up a day early and throwing a lot of people for a loop. It took her a week to get Pavarotti’s suite prepared to his specifications, including blacking out all the windows and bringing in a grand piano that had to be tuned. When the illustrious tenor arrived, Gabriela stood with the top staff, lined up ready to greet him. The man ducked his head and walked by them all. As far as Gabriela knew, the piano never was used. She found a Boeing president to be one of the most down-to-earth VIPs. While he was checking in, she noticed his Mickey Mouse watch and, against protocol, let out a soft laugh. The man smiled and asked what she thought of the watch.

***

Two Catalans and Irish students

Two Catalans and Irish students

We’ve been walking forever without any little towns or places to take a break when trees and a tiny building come into view. Before long, the tantalizing smell of grilling meat wafts along on the breeze. I’m practically drooling when we reach the shady grove. We see the man behind all this, and Paco says, “Eh, a Catalan.” Clueless, I ask how he knows. “Coating the bread with olive oil and rubbing it with tomato.”

Paco orders and in response, the man says in a gruff voice, “Where are you from?” The two Catalans have a great time at the grill. As we eat, I declare the Catalan sausages some of the best barbecue outside of Texas. “Those aren’t from Cataluña,” Paco corrects, “Navarra.” Whatever. I’m wolfing them down.

***

Four teenagers, the first I’ve seen on the Camino, overtake us and speed on. One girl jumps in the air, clicking her heels together, no small feat even if her backpack looks lighter than most. Soon, two boys are by our side. I ask in Spanish if they’re locals out for the day. Their eyes widen and both say in English that they don’t understand. Turns out they’re 30 Irish students just starting a week on the Camino and, obviously full of pent-up energy. I meet Kevin, one of their teachers, later at the albergue where we’re all staying, and praise his dedication to the vocation.

Seven a.m. the next morning. Over breakfast, our table and Ana’s compare plans for the day. Kevin comes in looking tired and sits alone at the bar. I ask if his group will be stopping in Sahagún like both of ours. “Yes. If you’d like, I can go look up the name of the albergue so you all can go elsewhere and get some peace and quiet,” Kevin says, looking very tired. Some days, I miss teaching. Others, not so much.

***

French poem

French “poem”

We’re into the sun-baked meseta where trees are too few and far between. Taking a break in the shade of one, I notice two tags attached to the tree. The first, in English, has a few poetic lines about love and ends with Philippe’s email address. The second, also in Philippe’s lovely handwriting and also a poem but in French, laments the lack of trees where pilgrims can take a leak, “but during 200 km you learn to make do.” I’m translating for Paco and laughing while he nods in agreement. “Only a guy would write that,” I add, envying all the males I’ve seen along the way who have simply stepped off the trail a few yards and turned their backs to take care of business.

***

On the Camino and in life, it’s good to stop and smell the roses along the way. I’m wishing I could speak German because it’s clear that Petra, who has joined our group for the last days and nights at albergues enjoys flowers. Gabriela is a great translator, but it’s not the same as direct conversation.

Verónica

Verónica

In Caminoland, people from different languages often communicate in a fascinating (to a linguist) pidgin language that includes lots of pointing, gesturing and a mishmash of words borrowed from various languages or invented. Still, pidgin only gets you so far. Of course, talking to everybody I’ve met in their own language would mean speaking well over a dozen languages including Mallorquín, a dialect of Catalan spoken on the island of Mallorca where Julia, another delightful pilgrim, lives.

***

Note: If you ever find yourself in León and in need of a good massage therapist, I highly recommend Verónica at Hotel París.

***

Paco, Ana, Leslie

Paco, Ana, Leslie

Last of all, a huge thank-you to Ana from Madrid. If you’ve followed me on Facebook, you know I’m holed up in a tiny hotel room in León with an overly stressed left foot that started screaming a couple of days ago. I had eaten breakfast yesterday with Gabriela, Petra and Paco and was saying good-bye since I’d be catching a bus to León. When Ana and her group, who we’ve gotten to know, came in and heard what was going on, she insisted on driving me.

This group, with a Camino blog titled “Eight Legs and Almost Three Centuries” (ochopatasycasitressiglos.blogspot.com.es)–references to the collective age of the four, doesn’t let problems hold them back. Ana, who hurt her hip shortly before the trip, became the official driver who arrives ahead and has everything waiting when her husband and brother- and sister-in-law get in. Thanks to Ana, about the time I would have boarded the bus, I was instead walking into my hotel room. Joining the whole gang for lunch here in León this afternoon was a wonderful treat.

The Camino de Santiago is truly a marvelous traveling village that morphs day by day for every pilgrim.

Comments

  1. Barbara Zito says:

    Leslie, your comments and stories mean so much to me; they conjure up such fond memories. Your experience entices me to walk it again. Help I need a cold clothe on my forehead before I do something stupid ;D T and I even talked about the possibility of doing it again next year.

  2. Maria Yoos says:

    So great, Leslie. It seems like you’re enjoying every step of the way. Buen camino. It sounds like Leon might have been good to you. It is a fun place; they have a nice museum and a very good university. Keep on trecking.

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