|jolly winter pilgrims|
There didn´t used to be any pilgrims on the road in December or January or February. Only the hardiest souls venture out onto the Meseta when the wind picks up and the temperature drops.
Hostels and albergues can´t make money out of pilgrims in winter. It costs a fortune to heat up a dormitory for just four or five people… people with a well-earned reputation for not spending money.
At the end of October, most people who run albergues close the doors and head out of town for a well-earned vacation. They return just in time to clear out the drains and slap on a coat of paint before Holy Week brings in the big crowds again.
Very few pilgrim albergues remain open through the winter, and many of those close their doors at random moments. Winter pilgrims were often left, literally, out in the cold with no place to go.
Lourdes Lluch, the original donativo hospitalera of this incarnation of the Camino de Santiago, a couple of years ago had a brain-wave. She started Acogida deInvierno, a website that lists every pilgrim albergue on the Camino Frances that stays open from November through February. It is updated daily, so pilgrims can check their smartphone or computer to see how far they´ll have to go to find a bed and a meal.
Peaceable is on that list. We have three beds on a given day: two singles and a double. We can push that up by three, but that requires people sleep at floor-level, or bunk in a room without heat… so we top out at six. Now that Bodega-Restaurante El Castillo de Moratinos is closed for winter, we get to feed and water them, too.
Pilgrims love the Peaceable. This is a home, not a bunkhouse. The place is relatively warm, there´s a clothesline, cats to pet, wifi, decent food. And we´re donativo. We let them choose what to pay. Which means they can get it all for free if they´re shameless freeloaders… or judging by the latest donations in the box, they get it all for whatever change is rattling in their pockets. Since December began, I´ve made change for two people with 50-Euro bills, and one with a 100-euro bill… but we´re averaging 4 Euro per person in donativos. Which means we are not just supporting these “pilgrims” in their journey, we are subsidizing them.
Paddy is not happy, but he´s bearing up better today than yesterday.
I know I´ve whined in the past about people taking advantage, so I won´t do that again. Truth is, these pilgrims don´t have many options. Our house is the only place they have to stay in Moratinos, one of only two places that are open this winter in the 40-kilometer stretch between Carrion de los Condes and Sahagun. (La Morena, a big private albergue in Ledigos, is taking the weight.)
Today Lourdes told me something even more hair-raising: On Christmas and New Year´s Eves, La Morena is closing, too.
We will be the only place in 40 kilometers for pilgrims to go. So they all, however many wandering souls are out there on a holiday, will end up here.
I contacted Bruno. I have the keys to his albergue, and he´ll disarm the alarm if I want to open his dormitory room and put people in there to sleep. There´s no heat or water, but it´s a place out of the rain. How we´d feed an overflow crowd is another puzzler. We cannot afford to do that, not at 4 euro per person.
This has all the makings of a feel-good, no-room-at-the-inn sitcom. Or maybe a public health crisis. A helluva holiday, for sure!