The castle behind Villamayor has a long history. The Romans were here over 2000 years ago and it is believed the castle is built on Roman ruins. Then the Moors came, later the kings of Navarre and also Charles the Great (Charlemagne 742-814) spent time here. There is a story that Charles, unwilling for his men to die in battle asked Santiago (Saint James) which of his men were going to die in a forthcoming battle. Red crosses appeared on the shields of 150 men, so he left these men in the camp. He went into battle and lost no men in battle. When he returned to the camp the 150 men were dead, or so the story goes.
It is clear when you get to the top of the mountain why the castle is here. There are magnificent views in every direction. Anyone who held this point would have a magnificent advantage in battle.
Villamayor de Monjardin
Villamayor de Monjardin
Villamayor is a town with very few people. However, in the summer people come back to their family homes so there are more people around at present than usual. It also seems that some people commute from this village to larger towns for work. The village is made up of very old houses, some empty and falling down and then there are others that are ultra modern with swimming pools and all the mod cons. The old houses still show signs of the barn or stable built up against the house. The building we are in has a 400 year old stable.
I went for a stroll to the cemetery a few hundred metres out of town, Ermita del Calvario (Calvary Hermitage) on the Calle el Calvario (Calvary Street). I noted that the earliest gravestones were from the 1970s. This surprised me as the town has been settled for hundreds of years. Upon further inquiry I learned later that old graves are dug up, the bones collected and the graves reused. The cemetery never needs to get any bigger and has continued to function between the walls.
Apart from the two albergues, the only public facilities are a bar, and shop that is open for only a few hours a day, mainly to support pilgrims.
The church that serves the town is cared for a by a non Spanish priest who has quite a few other parishes to support. Young Spanish men are not interested in the priesthood. During services the men sit on one side of the church and women on the other which is an indication of how traditional it is in this village. There were no children present when my wife went to a Sunday service.
Just as you enter the village there is a large winery, Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin, which I gather has a very good reputation so, clearly, a visit is required before I leave.
Villamayor in the early morning
The task of the hospitalero is, as the name suggests, to show hospitality. The history of the word is long. In medieval times monks and nuns showed kindness to travellers and others in need of care and accommodation. These institutions, in time, became hospitals.
When it is our turn to do the task of being a hospitalero, we need to register the person – state laws makes this more onerous than in the past, help them cool off their feet if they desire, help them to their bed/bunk and feed them if that is what they want.
We have already cleaned the rooms and bathrooms before they arrive.
Every night sees a new group of travellers. At this time of year the albergue is about three quarters full, when it cools down the numbers increase and then taper off towards the end of October. The buzz is always great as pilgrims greet and get to know each other. Even in their tiredness there is a joy in sharing stories.
After the evening meal at 8:30 there is a Jesus meditation time led by one of the team to assist people to reflect on their journey and to gently point them to Jesus – as the title indicates.
By 10pm most pilgrims are in the land of nod or close to it. We check necessities like toilet paper and then close the albergue to the outside world. Through the wall in our little room room we can usually hear a symphony, a symphony or snores.
Today was our day off, so here are some photos of our adventures which included 28000 steps according to my Fitbit.
The Puente La Reina – Queens Bridge, built in the 11thC for pilgrims to cross the Arga River
A left handed door knocker In puente La Reina
The Bimbo bread van in Puente La Reina
Santa Marie de Eunate an 8 sided Romanesque church built in the 12thC
Asparagus growing and a church on the hill near Obanos
One of the joys of volunteering at an albergue is meeting people from all walks of life and so many different countries. Tonight’s meal table had people from Belgium, France, Brazil, Spain and Ireland. There were teachers, lab techs, a man who called himself an impresario, a person recovering from a stroke assisted by his wife and daughter, and more. I think we had about 18 pilgrims altogether.
There is one constant, every story is unique. Every person comes with their own unique history and set of experiences. For some the walk is about exercise, for others a search for meaning and others still have no idea why they are doing it but they have found themselves here.
Our aim at the albergue is to show love to these people for the short time they are passing through and if they wish to speak about the deeper issues of life we are here to listen and give guidance. On the whole I have found the pilgrims amazingly open which is in large part due to the nature of the Camino but also because it is clear that the albergue is run by Christians. My main handicap is my limited language ability although most people have a ‘leetle eenglish’ which is usually quite impressive and far outstrips any knowledge I have of their language.
There are two albergues in our small village and ours requires a bit more walking and is not easily seen from the pilgrimage route. But we have a secret weapon – Secundo. Secundo was born in this village and is in his 70s. Moreover, he has taken a liking to the family that runs the albergue I am volunteering in. So he has made it his task to greet pilgrims as they come into Villamayor and direct them to, what he considers to be, the better albergue.
We have heard pilgrims say, as they enter our albergue, that an old man told them to come here. Secundo enjoys talking with the pilgrims, in fact, anyone at the albergue. I am learning the art of ‘Google Translate’ on the run when conversing with Secundo.
The Church Bell
The church bell in Villamayor sounds like small boys throwing rocks at a 44 gallon drum. It still strikes the number of bells for the hour and one every half hour – 24 hours a day. Being hot, the windows are open, so just when you have fallen asleep at night one is unceremoniously awakened by, what seems like, a gang of small boys throwing rocks at a drum. The locals must be used to it but I am still learning to adjust.
After a long walk …
One of the small things that the volunteers do at the Oasis Trails Albergue is to give arriving pilgrims a footbath with Epsom salts. This small act, which only requires us to walk down to the tap(faucet) with a blue bucket, sprinkle in some salt and give pilgrims a towel, is hugely appreciated. If they want us to we will even help them to take their shoes off.
It is a small act of mercy – of simple love, but it makes me think of all the small acts of mercy that I don’t show, which, with open eyes I could have shown.
“You mean, you can do the camino on a bike?”
Nobody would accuse me of having a servant heart. I am more likely to tell people to do something than do it. However, being in an albergue requires me to have a totally different mindset. I am here to serve, to care and to be supportive. No longer can I say, “If you want a friend, get a dog.”
Washing and hanging up sheets, sweeping, mopping, serving meals, being welcoming, ensuring that no one has introduced unwelcome guests (bed bugs – otherwise known as ‘bunnies’, so named so as not to scare anyone. Although being known as bunny killers is not good for the image either) is all in a day’s work.
It has also meant being ordered around by my wife who has been an expert in these duties for a long time. It is very humbling to think that people (primarily my wife) have been doing these things for me for a long time and I have, far too rarely, been appreciative of this.
So currently I am in the process of being humbled. Many who know me too well are probably saying under their breath, “About time!”
Stairs to mop
Festival Patronales in Estella, Spain
Hetty and I went into Estella for our day off. Hetty had noticed a week earlier that men dressed like men on horseback were going around chasing and hitting children with white bags that looked like slightly elongated balloons. While in a craft/leather shop in Estella we noticed that they were for sale. We inquired what they were made of. Was it leather or plastic? The shop keeper nodded ‘no’ quite vigorously and grasped his groin area dramatically. Looking both aghast and puzzled we wondered what he was on about. Then he added the word ‘toro’. The realisation hit us that these white ‘bags’ were made from bull scrotums (what is the plural?). There was some nervous hilarity as we left the shop. The remnants of running with the bulls I suppose.
All this is part of the Patronales festival which involves, bulls, dancing, giants and big heads – go figure.