Hospitaleros: Welcoming Pilgrims on the Camino
Learning about the customs of the Camino will allow you to enrich your journey. One that is particularly fascinating is that of the hospitaleros, or volunteers of the Camino. Generally speaking, those responsible for albergues look for volunteers who have walked the Camino and who have taken a hospitalero training course. Their most important duty is to serve as host to a steady stream of pilgrims.1 Most speak Spanish and multiple languages and can answer questions about the region or route ahead. Most are trained in first aid or know where to get emergency medical care. The common thread that these hospitaleros share is their gratitude for the Camino experience and their desire to give back by serving as a volunteer.
According to the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) website, “Those who have gone on from walking the Camino to serving as hospitaleros say that this experience is in every sense a Camino of its own…. Many walkers on the Camino carry a strong sense of being part of a stream, a stream of humanity or even a flow of history, moving ever westward. As an hospitalero you become a rock in that stream. The rock stays in place and a drop of water hesitates briefly and then moves on, leaving the rock to interact with the next drop and the next and the next. You provide the resting place where fellow pilgrims can stop and renew themselves in body, mind and spirit.”
The requirements and training info are listed on the APOC Hospitalero page.
During the research for my essay, I was fortunate to be able to attend a Blessing of the Pilgrims Ceremony for Northern Californians who are planning to walk the Camino this year. I didn’t know what to expect because I thought I would be the only newbie there. I also thought it would be overly religious as it was held at a church community space. To my surprise, there were many of us Camino “virgins” there and it was an open and lively atmosphere. The variety of dishes in the potluck brunch was outstanding and everything was delicious. Wine, of course, helped break the ice and there was plenty of it. I got a big dose of hospitalero hospitality that day, and I loved it. Everyone really made me feel welcome. Below are photos from the gathering.
We were welcomed by friendly greeters who gave nametags, blank for newbies and with arrow symbols for those who had already walked the Camino. They encouraged me to ask any questions of these arrow-badged people, so I did. I met a few pilgrims who are passionate about the Camino and decided to serve as hospitaleros. One of them is a woman who arrived in Spain without a map and forgot her pin number on her ATM card so she couldn’t get cash for a few days. She lived off the kindness of strangers, as pilgrims have done through the centuries. This year she attended a hospitalero training and returned to Spain to volunteer at the albergue that provided her with free shelter in her time of need.
Another woman I met is a high school Spanish teacher who embodies the spirit of hospitality in her life. She didn’t pre-arrange her hospitalero experience—she just walked until she found a place that was willing to let her stay and volunteer. Although she is fluent in Spanish, she learned a few phrases in French, German and Italian, such as “Boots go here. Backpacks go there. Here are the showers. Lights out at 10.”
These stories and the many more that I’ve heard since then are inspiring to me. In the spirit of the hospitaleros, I am already thinking of ways that I can give back while I am on my Camino, such as offering evening yoga sessions and morning Sun Salutations to fellow pilgrims. I believe that a good stretch will keep joints and muscles in good shape for all that walking. So yes, the Camino provides, but it takes many dedicated volunteers to do so. Gracias hospitaleros!
Peregrinos, what was your experience with hospitaleros? Digame in the comments below.
PS. Here are two videos that highlight the Hospitalero experience:
El CAMINO DE SANTIAGO “Hospitaleros Welcome” (in Spanish with English Subtitles, 10 min.)
Hospitaleros (in Spanish, 24 min.)
If you know of other hospitalero videos or resources that should be included on The Camino Provides, please email me at email@example.com.
Up next, training and packing for the Camino – Part 6 of this series.
Hospitaleros American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC).