Canadians on the Camino, Day 26: Gracious in Sarria

Our hosts in Sarria were friendly and gracious
Our hosts in Sarria were friendly and gracious

(September 29)

This morning we leave Sarria for Portomarin 22 kilometres down the road. Many pilgrims begin their journey at Sarria because one must hike this last distance of about 113 kilometres to have your pilgrimage officially recognized. As a consequence, there are noticeably more pilgrims on the trail today. At one point, I count 24 of them strung out along the road just ahead of us.

Patient and gracious 

But I don’t want to talk mainly of pilgrims today but rather about our hosts, the Spaniards who we meet along the way. Most of those we meet are involved in a commercial relationship with us, but based on our experience they have been remarkably patient and gracious.

Yesterday we stayed at a combination bar-cafe-hostel called Meson Camino Frances in a narrow street in the old section of Sarria. It was pouring rain when we rushed into the street level entrance at about 3 p.m. There were a couple of customers at the bar and a rather short and portly gentleman behind it. When I identified myself (I had booked ahead), he came from behind the bar and wanted to carry both of our backpacks up the stairs. I allowed him to carry one and I took the other.

Once on the second floor, he led us through an open but covered area where other pilgrims had already hung clothes out to dry, then past the shared washroom and onto our room, tiny but clean, at the end of the hallway.

He placed the pack on the floor and was about to leave when I asked him if I should pay. I have found that the common practice is to pay when you register, but he hadn’t registered us. He did not seem worried. “Tranquillo,” he said. Roughly translated what he said was, Relax and pay when you will. Then he left and we settled in.

Grundig and Gruending

Later when I went downstairs he was sitting at one of the tables with a half-finished glass of red wine before him. I asked if I could pay now and he went behind the bar and returned with a receipt book. He took my passport and labouriously began to copy my information. “Gruending,” he said. “You make TV’s.”

I have also been asked about this in Canada when people see my name and confuse it with the Grundig company that makes electronic equipment. I told him that I was not related but wished I were. I told him that I could have been just like a son to Mr. Grundig.  My Spanish host thought that was rather funny and said that his first TV was a Grundig but that now he had something from the Japanese.

No hearing aids

That was an ice breaker and we got chatting about other things, too, as he wrote up his receipt. When I asked how much I owed, he did not seem to understand. Eventually, he did but then told me that he didn’t hear well in his right ear but that the left one was okay. He said he has a hearing aid but that he does not like to wear it. That is a story I have heard many times before, and I sympathize.  When we had finished our little bit of business, I ordered a coffee and Martha and I shared a piece of Santiago cake, served by the man’s wife, a rather plump lady who was also very friendly.

Orange juice and coffee

We did not see them again until breakfast early this morning, when pilgrims were crowded into the tiny bar ordering coffee, croissants and freshly squeezed orange juice. The man and his wife were run off of their feet. She was making coffee and he was squeezing the oranges.

Usually this is done automatically by a machine but his technology was quite out of date. He placed each orange in a kind of grinder pulled down in a lever which did most, but not all, of the squeezing. At some point with each orange, he opened the machine and pushed down on the orange, when more grinding occurred.

We feared that he might mangle his fingers while the queue of pilgrim customers grew. It appeared to us that he would be better off to serve the juice in smaller glasses. His were by far the largest we have seen anywhere on this trip. By the way, the fresh orange juice is incomparably delicious. Eventually everyone was served.

We had been waiting our turn to pay and thanked the man and his wife for the comfortable room and the nice breakfast. He shook my hand and both he and the señora wished us a Buen Camino.

100 kilometres to go    

We headed up the street and out of town into the misty green morning. A couple of hours later we passed a stone marker that told us we were 100 kilometres from Santiago de Compostela. We stopped for a photo op as did every other pilgrim in the vicinity.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament