A Night on the Camino with Dad

“Let’s go meet more pilgrims,” Dad said on Friday night. He has become adept at identifying pilgrims by their clothing, shoes, shuffles, and limps. Backpacks and shells are also markers.

So as we strolled the streets of Los Arcos around 5pm, I saw them the same time he did. Except I immediately recognized them. Two men over six feet tall and heavily tattooed. You don’t see many like them on the Camino, and so even though I saw 60-90 pilgrims per day in the Pilgrim Office, I remembered these brothers immediately.

Pace and Thor (from California) were with a German friend and in search of a supermarket, which Dad and I had just passed minutes earlier, so after introductions, we not only walked them to the supermarket, but walked around the tiny store with them chatting about our experiences thus far. (Imagine one of our supermarket aisles in the US, but so narrow that two people can barely walk by each other. And then take that and cut it into quarters. Put two quarters side-by-side, decrease the inventory by two-thirds and you have the market.)

Our (new) friends were staying at the municipal albergue (hostel) and I asked if they could take my dad in there to show him how the other half lives on the Camino. They laughed and welcomed him to see the dorm. I stayed outside—I had stayed in this very place seven years earlier so knew about the bunkbeds and communal kitchen (and everything else) thanks to personal experience. “Looks like the homeless shelter that I volunteer at once a month,” Dad said when he came out.

They invited us to join them for beers in the courtyard at the albergue. Their other brother Mitchell joined us, along with a young man from England (also named Louis). For the next couple hours, we fed one euro coins into the vending machine inside producing beers for most, water for me.

Eventually the conversation of backpacks came up. “Tell them what you do!“ Dad said. And so it was that two of them produced their backpacks and I went through them asking questions about the contents and why they needed certain things. Pace’s biggest problem was the weight of his empty pack. This was something I had personal experience with. On my first Camino, my filled 45-liter pack weighed 22 pounds— which I didn’t know until it was weighed when I arrived at JFK airport to leave for the trip. By the time I returned, I had left enough things across Spain that my pack was down to 16 pounds. It was only when I was preparing for another Camino that I weighed my empty pack and found it weighed 5 pounds on its own!

For Louis (the Englishman), his first issue was the fact that he brought an 85 liter pack with him. The heaviest item in it was some sort of charger that must’ve weighed at least 3 pounds.

Eventually we made our way back to the main square for dinner. Some of these folks had two and three entrées! Thor and Louis decided not to tempt the fates, and headed back to the hostel to make the 10 PM curfew. Mitchell and Pace didn’t seem as concerned— they figured they could hop the fence if they had to.

At 10:30, we all parted ways and I called the number for the taxi to bring us back to our hotel, which was 3 miles from town. When the woman answered, I barely made out her voice over the noise from wherever she was. “No puedo,” she said. “. . . Pamplona.” Which I immediately understood to mean “I can’t. I’m in Pamplona.” Pamplona continues to celebrate the San Fermin festival this weekend. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned on this Camino, it’s that the Spaniards have their priorities: family, friends, and enjoyment of life are all much more important making money. Which was great for this taxi driver, but not so great for me and dad.

So I asked our server at the restaurant if she knew of anyone. She looked at the phone number I had and, in Spanish, said simply that that was the only taxi in the town.

Dad had had enough beers and sangria and great conversation that none of this worried him at all. Our hotel offered, as part of their services, to pick up pilgrims in the town to drive them to the hotel when they first arrived. and bring them back in the morning to continue their walk on the Camino. But they did not operate a taxi service back-and-forth. However, the woman who picked us up when we first arrived told us that if we needed anything after she left for the day at 4 PM, the owner didn’t speak English. But we were welcome to call her and she would gladly assist us. So I called her. The background when she picked up was only slightly less noisy than the taxi driver’s. But without hesitation she told me she would be there in five minutes.

Two minutes later she called back saying that the owner of the hotel would be along to pick us up instead, Explaining that she had had a couple of drinks and so was unable to do so.

A couple minutes later a late model Mercedes pulls up. The owner is kind and laughs with us at the fact that the only taxi service in town is not available tonight. We get back to our room and I decide I’m entirely too tired to keep all of you updated on our travels. And so it is that we finally get to sleep.

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