By Tommy Slack
As we hike the Camino, I can not help but notice the fine line between traditions of the past and modern-day amenities of the present. The albergues, or hostels for pilgrims, successfully combine the two elements in a way contrary to what one might imagine.
The traditional aspect of the albergues is immediately evident in the overwhelming sense of hospitality and welcoming attitude of the owners towards the pilgrims, most of whom are there for less than twenty-four hours before continuing their journey to the next city or town. Beginning their day well before sunrise and ending their day well after sunset, their dedication to the Camino and the pilgrims who hike it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. For example, in Léon, Carlos works tirelessly as a volunteer to provide warm beds and safe haven for pilgrims, all in the name of the Camino.
Although some albergues are more lavish than others, one would be surprised at the accommodations for the small price of five to fifteen dollars per night. During our stay in the city of Astorga, we were very surprised at the wide range of amenities offered by the Albergue de San Javier. In the back courtyard, there is a small pool of cold water for pilgrims to soak their tired, aching feet after a long day of hiking. If that does not do the job, there is also a machine that gives foot massages for the reasonable price of three dollars. To keep in touch with family and friends, some places offer computers with internet access, and webcams, while others provide Wi-Fi to pilgrims. These luxuries seek to attract modern-day pilgrims to fill up beds.
One final interesting aspect of the albergues is their use of advertising along the Camino and in guidebooks and pamphlets. Especially in big cities, the albergue owners are in competition for an increasing yet limited number of pilgrims. Given the tough economic times in Spain, owners feel they must get the word out and not just rely on reputation.
Photos: Boots are typically relegated to their own space, making for a more pleasant scent in the sleeping quarters. The sink lineup is from Saint Javier, as well as the look at the courtyard through the maze of laundry. The Albergue San Miguel allowed pilgrims to paint about their journey, and used some of the art as wall hangings.