I knew the Camino Lois and I set out to walk in the Fall of 2015 would be much different from the one I walked in the Spring of 2012. We’d be walking the same 500+ miles along the exact route I’d walked three years earlier, but I was alone that first time. And those of you that have traveled alone and with others know how vast the differences in those two experiences can be.
Lois, 73, requested that we sleep in places that provided sheets and towels whenever possible. Thankfully, though, she was not opposed to sleeping in the albergues (aka hostels) on occasion. “I want to experience it all,” she told me.
“Oh, good,” I said. “Because there’s one place I want to stay that I didn’t stay the first time.”
“Sure,” she said.
“It’s in the ruins of an old church. But it has no electricity. And no hot water. And definitely no sheets or towels. So if you want to stay in a different place the night I stay there, it’s fine with me.”
“Nope. That sounds like quite an experience,” she said. “I’m only doing this once, kid. And like I said, I want to experience it all.”
So on September 25, 2015–our 20th day on the Camino de Santiago–Lois and I left the town of Hontanas at 8:30 AM for the walk to San Antón. The albergue has only 12 beds–given out on a first come, first served basis–and I wanted to get there as early as possible in order to secure two of them.
An hour-and-a-half later we saw the arch stretching over the Camino.
The green wooden door that welcomed me inside the ruins three years earlier was now closed, but the sign pointing out the albergue around the corner was still there. So we veered around the side of the ruins, and the next sign we saw–taped to the the tall black iron gate–nearly broke my heart. “Completo.” Full.
We walked through the gate and the magic I remembered from three years earlier was still there. The 16th century stone walls towered above us, gold against the blue morning sky. Dark blue sheets billowed on a clothesline. Tau crosses were carved into the top of the arched windows, now devoid of glass. We stood in awe.
“I get why you like this place,” Lois said quietly. I could only nod, afraid if I said anything the tears would fall.
“Welcome,” said a woman in accented English. Sylvia, we learned, was from South Africa. She was serving as a hospitalera (volunteer) welcoming pilgrim visitors and those who wanted to spend the night in these ruins. After listening to her give a little history of San Antón and its albergue I asked her, “How early do you have to get here to get a bed?”
“Oh, it depends on the day,” she said. “Right now we don’t have anyone booked for tonight.” I looked at her, my face screwed up in puzzlement.
“But the sign on the door . . .” said Lois. “It says you’re full.”
“Oh!” She rushed away from us calling out, “that was last night. We forgot to take it down this morning!”
I followed her, my heart racing. “You mean we can stay here tonight?”
“Of course! Now you know we have no hot water? And no electricity.”
“Yes. That’s part of the reason I want to stay,” I said.
She took us into the kitchen–a cement slab around which had been built cement walls, supporting a Spanish tile-covered roof. A long table ran down the middle, its center dotted with dark wine bottles holding white candles. A small propane stove filled the back corner, a sink next to it.
Sylvia pulled out the registration book, and with a big smile I handed her my credential. Little did Lois and I know this would not be our last night in San Antón.