Camino Highlight: Provision at San Bol

 
From the small amount of food came a huge meal, the likes of which I had not eaten for days.

From the small amount of food came a huge meal, the likes of which I had not eaten for days.

There are some days on the Camino that just don’t go right. The weather, the food, the terrain, and the choices you make all add up together to make for a miserable time. In the midst of one such 24-hour span came the little albergue at San Bol. Let me set the scene.

The day before I came to San Bol, which lies in the middle of the Meseta, the hot and (usually) dry stretch of flat land between Burgos and León. Experienced pilgrims have told me that the Meseta is a test of one’s mind and heart more than one’s body.

On my first time walking across the Meseta, I was attempting to go at a fast pace due to limited time. I like to think I’m wiser now than I was ten years ago, for there were several times on that pilgrimage that I should have turned around or stopped while I was ahead, but instead chose to press forward to the detriment of my body. When I came to the town in which I had planned to stay for the night, I found that both places in the guidebook were closed for the season.

So I had a choice. I could heed the advice of the lady I met in the street of this small town, and go back a kilometer to the last town I had passed, or I could push on to the next town, which was eight kilometers forward. Despite the fact that it started raining while I was deciding, that I was very hungry and had little food with me, and I had already walked a long distance that day, I decided not to backtrack and instead pushed on.

By the time I reached the next town it was nearly time for dinner. I could feel the water and mud weighing down my boots, my legs were stiff, and I was faint with hunger and cold. The hospitalero at the only albergue in town was more cheerful than I could take. All the beds in the main building were full, but he gave me a mattress (something like a thick gym mat) in their overflow space, a gymnasium.

After a hot shower I felt hungrier – and more tired – than ever, and I stumbled through the rain to the one restaurant in town. It was standing room only, and from what I could discern with my hazy brain, it would be at least an hour before I could get any food, and I was in no mood to wait in the midst of a noisy crowd. I decided sleep was more important, so I hurried back to my mattress, ate a piece of chocolate with peanuts in it – the only food I had left – and fell asleep immediately.

It was after checkout time when I awoke to my stomach cramped with hunger. I hurriedly packed up and went to the restaurant, only to find it closed for Sunday. At this point I had to remind myself that plenty of people go without regular meals and exert a lot more energy than I knew I’d have to that day. So I drank more water and followed the Camino out of town.

About a mile outside of town I came to a sign pointing left to a path that, from the guidebook, I knew would take me to a little place called San Bol. The book was rather vague on what San Bol is; all it said was that there was an albergue near a well or spring that is supposed to have some healing properties. It took some deliberation, because it would be a mile out of my way, but I finally decided it was worth it on the off chance they were open and had food I could buy.

Along the path toward the cluster of trees around the albergue was a wall covered with lots of odd, abstract paintings. Some looked kind of creepy, but I pressed on, determined to find some food and refusing to be put off even if the people I was walking toward were a strange.

From the outside the albergue was normal enough, though certainly more rustic than any other I had seen up to that point. It looked like it didn’t have any electricity, and I wondered if the well was the only source of water. I braced myself for the unknown and knocked on the door.

Several voices that sounded German invited me to come in. Inside the building, was one big room, where a few people were still in bed, a smiling old man sitting at a square table eating, and a beautiful young woman cooking eggs and toast on a gas stove. She considered my appearance, and asked cheerfully in English if I’d like some breakfast. She and the man at the table both chuckled at my eager nodding, and while she cooked the man motioned for me to sit with him.

I don’t remember the details of our conversation so much as the friendliness of the man and the cheerful generosity of the young woman as she offered more and more food from what seemed a small supply. It was not long before I was full and ready to start again, and both of my companions in the kitchen waved off my offer to pay for breakfast. They saw me off again, back to the Camino, well fed and more thankful for a solid meal and dear company than I had been in a long time.

What about you? Have you had any experiences on the Camino that drew special attention to something you normally don’t notice? Or did you find exactly what you needed at just the right time? Send me your stories at Hunter@CaminoProvisions.com.

Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter. 

Contact Hunter at hunter@CaminoProvisions.com