Flora and Antonio knew about San Antón. Maybe they had read about it in their guidebook. Ruins of a 14 century church. No electricity. No hot water. 12 beds. Dinner and breakfast included. Cost: by donation. Maybe friends who have done the Camino told them about it. Maybe they stayed at a place earlier in their Camino where the owner told them about it. I don’t know how they knew of it, but they walked through our gates at 11 AM and asked if there were still beds available. “You are our first pilgrims of the day,” I told them. They raised their eyebrows. “Really? We heard we had to get here early because it often filled up.”
“Yes, sometimes it does,” I said. “But we have been here for four days and have not had a full night yet.”
They looked around, mouths agape. It isn’t often that one gets to spend the night in a church that has been abandoned for 300 years. Stone walls towered above them. Birds flew in and out of windows that no longer held glass. They walked further into the structure, the stones crunching beneath their feet.
I invited them into the kitchen, where I gave them water flavored with lemon and mint (from our herb garden). I learned Antonio only spoke Spanish. Flora, who didn’t know Spanish, spoke to him and her native Italian and they got along just fine. Thankfully, she also spoke English.
After writing their names, passport numbers, and countries of origin in our registry book, I told them dinner is served at seven. “We begin cooking at six and you are welcome to help if you would like, but it is not required.”
I showed them the dorm room: six sets of bunkbeds. Then I walked them over to the bathroom, explaining that we have limited water, so please don’t waste it. (Though since we have no hot water, pilgrims don’t usually spend too long in the shower.)
Just then, my co-hospitalero, Stefano, walked through the gates. He had just returned from a morning spent in the next town, 3 km (2 miles) away. (Every day one of us walks into town in the morning to purchase food for that evening’s meal. We have a butane powered refrigerator the size of a large microwave, so can’t store too much.)
I took our first guests down to the picnic table by the gates to meet Stefano. After exchanging pleasantries, Antonio asked if there was a place nearby to purchase food. Stefano explained that the only place to do so was in Castrojeriz, 3 km away. Antonio declared that he wanted to cook Spanish tortilla for us tonight. “We have eggs and potatoes,” Stefano said, knowing the ingredients of the popular dish.
“How many eggs?” Antonio asked. We all walked up to the kitchen. “Six,” we told him after checking our supply. (Thankfully, we don’t have to carry eggs back from town. The bread truck comes to us every day except Sundays. And it also has eggs and milk.)
Antonio thought for a minute and then asked about our potato supply. I slid back the curtain in front of our shelves and showed him the four potatoes sitting on the bottom shelf in a plastic crate. “And you have an onion,” he said, seeing it behind the potatoes. “That will be good. But I may need more eggs.” (Especially since, on any given night, we have no idea if we will have two pilgrims or twelve, or anywhere in between.) Despite the 90° temperature, Antonio shrugged his shoulders when Stefano reminded him it was 3 km further down the road. Antonio pulled a small day pack out of his larger backpack, and promptly took off.
Two hours later he returned, pulling his purchases out of his pack. A red pepper, green pepper, tomato, and then a half-carton of eggs dripping with the insides of the one that didn’t make it. We all laughed. And then Stefano and I asked him how much it cost so that we could pay for the ingredients. Antonio went on a long rant about how cheap things were in this part of Spain. And that this was his gift to us. Though Stefano and I had only been hospitaleros for two nights, and therefore had to cook only two dinners so far, we were still delighted to have someone else take over the cooking duties.
(To be continued. . .)