Canadians on the Camino, Day 13: Two women named Pilar

A Spanish woman named Pilar recommended this hostel in the tiny village of Ages
A Spanish woman named Pilar recommended this hostel in the tiny village of Ages

(September 16)

I have on this trip encountered two lovely women named Pilar. The name is a common and traditional one in Spain. There is even a Day of Pilar to celebrate an occasion back in 40 AD when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to the apostle St. James (Santiago) when he was near Zaragoza in what was the Roman province of Spain. Here is my brief story of two contemporary Pilars.

After our second long day on the trail, we checked in at the crowded but friendly parish run albergue in a town called Estella. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the people to welcome us was a handsome and smiling and handsome woman who, when I asked in Spanish, told me her name was Pilar.

A masseuse

She said that she volunteered at the albergue but that she was a masseuse as well. She said that many people develop sore feet by this point on the journey – about four days in if you start on the other side of the Pyrenees in France – and that she liked to provide them with some comfort and care.

I promptly booked a half hour for myself and another half for Martha later in the afternoon. The massage table was to be found under a nylon tarp in the front courtyard of the albergue and it was very hot in there.

Pilar was both a seasoned pro and a gentle angel. I never would have guessed just how comforting a foot and leg massage could be – but it was heaven after a day spent on the trail. Martha, who was waiting in the wings, said that I got 40 of the 60 minutes we had booked jointly, and she was of the opinion that Pilar enjoyed working on me more so than on her.

The second Pilar

My second Pilar encounter was much different. Several days into the Camino I began to develop blisters on each foot and in our albergue at Los Arcos I saw a sign for a service that uses small vans to deliver your backpack to the next place where you will stay.

I placed my first call to them from Los Arcos and asked to have my bag transported between there and Logrono. I used Spanish in that first call but the next time I called (from Logrono) the woman said “Oh yes, I remember you and we can speak in English.”

Sound advice 

I asked for her name as I always do when booking anything. She said it was Pilar. I used the service for the next several days and it was always Pilar who answered my calls. I began to ask her for hints about good and reasonably priced places to stay as we went along. She was sensitive about playing favourites among albergues and hostels but said she would respond to questions that I asked about any places on my list.  Her advice was sound. For example, when I asked about an albergue called the San Rafael in Ages, she said: “The people who run it come from the south of Spain. They are very nice.”

When we checked in I was not so sure. The guy who greeted us was burly and black-bearded and kept our passports because he was too busy to do all of the paperwork. Later when I came back for the passports and he gave me the bill for our stay and it was 200 Euros when it should have read 20. I was just about to protest when he took his pen and placed a decimal point between two of the zeros. He did not smile but there was a twinkle in his eye.

At dinner, I did not eat a couple of the small shrimp served with the paella. Sternly, he pointed to them and said “no postre” (dessert). When he came back with two desserts, he gave both of them to Martha. I told Pilar about this funny episode when next we talked and thanked her for all of the help.

Goodbye to a friend

We spoke on five or six occasions by the time I reached Ages and called to have our backpacks transported to Logrono. We had to say a fond good-bye on that evening because she told me that she deals with customers only as far as Burgos. If I am to use the luggage service again, I will have to deal with a new agent. I felt as though I were leaving a friend.

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Dennis

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