I nearly caused a monumental stuff up. We decided – for no real reason – to stay at a new private albergue in San Roman de Retorta. We were enticed by the cheap dinner menu offered, and the idea of our own room, complete with bathroom, rather than the cramped municipal facility which was basically full.
Lucky we made this decision. As the man was stamping our ‘pilgrim passport’ (credentiale) he noted that we didn’t have a stamp from Lugo, where we had stayed the previous two nights. We didn’t get a stamp because of the following reasons: a) I was too lazy to go to the Cathedral and get one, b) due to my OCD need to have our credentiale stamped neatly, I didn’t want to get stamps because it would mean that we would have to turn over the page and stamp the back (where stamps aren’t meant to go) and c) I didn’t want to get the stamp from the hotel where we stayed because it was a hotel, not a pilgrim hostel, so I thought it wouldn’t be very attractive.
So, the man looked at our stamps, and at the fact that we had walked from Irun (on the border of France, some 700kms up the road), and looked at us, concerned.
“You don’t have a stamp from Lugo… You can’t get your Compostela if you cannot prove that you have walked the last 100km of the Camino!” At this point he looked at our passports and said regretfully, almost to himself “and you’ve come all the way from Australia…”
Lugo is 101km from the end of the Camino, so loads of pilgrims start the Camino there, and still get their Compostela, upon arriving in Santiago de Compostela. The Compostela is a certificate basically. It’s pretty to look at, and has your name printed in Latin for a real archaic effect. To me, it is more than just a piece of paper saying you’ve walked 100km, and over the last 1000 years it has been a very important piece of paper, to all sorts of people. Some people believed it would absolve them of their sins, some were forced to obtain one as punishment for their crimes, and more recently, it is a symbol of overcoming a great challenge, of your perseverance and physical endurance, and mental and emotional strength. And, as with any great award, people have tried for centuries to get one ‘the easy way’. Pseudo-pilgrims have been known to catch buses or taxis from town to town, collecting stamps in their credentiale, and deceitfully receive their Compostela.
So, now the Compostela-giving office in Santiago is strict. It has to be clear that you have walked or ridden from Lugo, and now, it seems that to easily prove this, you should in fact collect two stamps for each day within the last 100km of the Camino.
With no Lugo stamp – CAMINO FAIL. And all my fault.
We were saved by the albergue owner. Now this place was not nice. There were no sheets on the bed (they gave us disposable ones), there were no doors between the bathroom and the bedroom, and no door or curtain on the ‘public’ bathroom, which basically, if you sat on the toilet, anyone walking down the hallway would see you sitting there. The food was brought by car in aluminium containers, and most of the building was still being renovated, so there were parts of the ceiling missing, lots of dirt inside, not to mention spiders, spiders everywhere!
But the lovely lady who ran this place with her son, said “Don’t worry – I will get you a Lugo stamp by tonight.”
Thank the Gods. I was picturing us catching the bus back to Lugo to get the stamp. (I sure as hell was not going to walk over 800km and not get my certificate.)
When our food was brought from town with her son, he brought a stamp from Lugo – possibly from the family business in the city – and I was so happy, and grateful.
After dinner we played cards on the grass and chatted to the son-owner of the hostel. He admitted that at the moment, the albergue was not very good. I asked him how long it had been open as we had not heard that there was a new hostel (which was why we were planning to go on further that day), and he said, “Not even a month. 15 days!” We then all understood why the building was ‘a work-in-progress’.
The son brought us another bottle of wine for our card game, and gave all the pilgrims as many cups of coffee as they liked. In the morning when I asked about pharmacies that we might pass to get some more Ibuprofen for Troy’s foot, he replied that there were no pharmacies for miles and miles, and promptly found me some tablets, giving me a whole sheet for Troy to use over the next few days.
Every time an unexpected opportunity presents itself we tend to pay it close attention, because more often than not, it seems to have fatefully provided us with good luck, a good feed, or at least a good time. When the new hostel owner stopped his car next to us on our way to this small village and handed us his flier for the rooms and dinner, we figured, “why not?” In the end, because we stayed in the new, dodgy, work-in-progress hostel, we saved our Compostela, got a great feed and lots of wine, some more anti-inflammatory tablets for Troy’s foot, and most importantly, a load of love and kindness.
And the spider in my boot? That was a bonus.