Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wed. June 1, Bilboao - Camino del Norte

Physically we may have left our Albergue San Miguel in Estella but mentally and emotionally we are still marking time by what we would be doing if we were still there or what we think Maria, our replacement is doing: 8:45am while we are now enjoying cafe and churros, Maria should be finishing up the cleaning and mopping; 3pm. while we are heading back to the hotel for a nap after a comida of crepes and wine, Maria would be signing in the pilgrims; 8:45pm while we are having pintxos and wine in a Basque taberna Maria would be finishing up the dinner chores and setting up for breakfast. And we're happy.

This Wednesday we walked along the river to the Guggenheim Museum. The Guggenheim definitely lives up to its reputation as an architectural marvel. All luminescent, massive and futuristically modern, it upstages the modern art exhibited inside. Dayton and I also definitely lived up to our technological reputation as we didn't figure out the audio headsets until the last exhibit. Typical.

We continued our walking tour to the Bilbao Museum of Fine Art and then got down to the business of savouring the famous Basque pintxos, the little 'toothpick' tapas featured in every taberna. Unfortunately, the pintxos are exclusively non-vegetarian but I enjoyed helping Dayton select the most creative and exotic selections. It is common here to just bar hop tasting the offerings of one bar after the other which suits our style perfectly. Prices are so reasonable; usually less than 2.50€ for a pintxo and less than 2€ for a wine.

After a much needed and much appreciated nap, we went out in search of the Camino del Norte that comes through Bilbao. We headed for the Iglesia Santiago and then followed the arrows through the old town into the new and up 310 steps to the Iglesia of the Virgin of something or other. This is probably as much of the Camino del Norte as we want to handle. We think the terrain and the weather would not be that appealing.

So now we have one more day with nothing to do and all day to do it. I'm sure it will involve some walking and lots of food.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tuesday, May 31 - Albergue San Miguel and Food Bank

Emilio, Dayton & Karen

Karen & Maria

Better busy than bored. No worries living up to this old adage; it's the working mantra for a hospitalero. Our last day as hospitaleros was as full of surprise and furious activity as our first. Motivated to turn over the cleanest and best organized albergue on the Camino, we were cleaning with determined intent.

Our first surprise yesterday, Monday, was being interrupted in our cleaning frenzy by our eager replacement, Maria, who arrived early in the morning after taking an overnight train from Madrid, fresh from completing a weekend hospitalero cursillo. And she arrived alone! Her Spanish hospitalera cohort decided to delay her arrival one week so that she could celebrate her son's birthday. Apparently a little difference in committment there. I'm sure we overwhelmed Maria with our detailed orientation: the laundry basin in the ladies' washroom leaks and needs to be bailed out every afternoon; the washing machine takes 90 minutes a cycle; you have to wash all the bed covers each day; the juice and jam are under the hospitalero's bed; the tuna fish and lentils are under the reception desk; the short fat cans without labels are all corn and the small tall cans without labels are all baby peas; the propane cooker is brought into the kitchen to cook the evening 4 kilos of pasta (maybe 5 kilos); the best bread is at the first shop on the right on the Calle Mayor and these are the tiendas open on Domingo. Oh and there is an overflow room for another dozen pilgrims at the church so you can really serve about 45 a night for dinner - or more. We just went on and on.

Our second wonderful surprise of the morning was the arrival of Emilio Peña, a Spanish friend from our first Camino. Emilio had just completed the Chemin le Puy route and had planned to meet up with us in Bilbao but instead had rushed to finish in time to come to our albergue. With a mischievious gleam in his eye, he was eager to entice Dayton to join him for a comida of pulpo (octopus) and limoncello. After the first 90 minute rush of pilgrims, Maria and I started chopping the zucchini, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms for the evening meal and making the salads while Dayton took his first break since May 14th and went off to the Plaza del Fuertes for pulpo and beer. Emilio is an influence.

Our biggest and most dubious surprise was from Father David. The albergue was spotless and organized, the dinner pre-preparations complete and the albergue completo when Father David pulled up from his Monday shopping expedition in Pamplona. I quickly realized that these trips were not really to the Spanish version of a Costco as we had thought but to some 'waste product' distribution centre. Okay I may be a little harsh here but wait! The surprise he had in store for us was definitely a mixed blessing. Father David started unloading crate after crate and box after box of supplies and produce - almost all past their 'best before date'. Before long every table, bench, square foot of flooring, hall, and patio was stacked high with over-ripe vegetables and fruit: lettuce, strawberries, bananas, pears, oranges and one avocado. We had enough browned mushy bananas to make banana bread for a year - if we had an oven. We even had enough outdated eggs to add to the recipe. There were boxes of questionable yogurt and chocolate puddings, just one day to go prepackaged potato tortillas and the largest box of dried garbanzo beans every seen. My heart sank as our spotless, so welcoming albergue became a Food Bank centre for the local needy. Now that may be a rather selfish and uncharitable thought but the food was not really edible.

For the next two hours, we sorted out the dates on the products, refrigerating what we could and giving away everything else while one helpful Spanish pilgrim couple salvaged as many strawberries as possible. Finally, everything was stored, order restored and dinner was ready as planned right after the evening Mass. Whew! Salads, pasta, breads and bowls of 'have to be eaten right now' strawberries graced the table, late comers were treated to huge potato tortillas, and, I forgot to mention, several bottles of wine which Father David had brought in too. Thank goodness it doesn't have a 'best before' date.Whew. What an introduction for Maria and a send off for us!