I’m sitting up in the dark at 5:30am. Jeff is still snoring away. I envy him. I am wide awake. Not sure why.
Outside I can see and hear Pilgrims walking by. Not really see them, just their head lamps. They are up early to already be just an hour out from Melide. It means they’ve been walking at least 2 hours already. And now I know why.
Due to the explosion of Covid again, capacity in Albergues is lowered to just 30%. So finding a bed has become something of a Hunger Games exercise. Early Birds get the worms, and all that. Watching the numbers of 800-1000 Pilgrims arriving in Santiago a day, and with towns like Portomarin or Palas de Rei with a capacity of 1300-1400 beds, yet only allowed to offer 30% of those to Pilgrims, the math simply doesn’t add up. A large majority will never find a bed.
Pilgrims are now sleeping in the parks or on the street. Even the town halls are struggling as they can’t offer emergency shelter at anything more than 30% capacity. People are starting to walk all night so they can find a bed first thing when the Albergue opens the following day. Not ideal. One couple walked all day from Sarria to Portomarin only to discover there was nowhere to lay their heads. They continued on another 25k to Palas through the night. Misery.
And if any one tests positive, there are limited spaces to put infected Pilgrims for quarantine, without taking more beds out of the very limited supply.
There is a call for the community to step up. I’ll ask Jeff when he wakes up. We have space to offer up. But it’s scary if the Peregrino isn’t vaccinated, sleeping in the guest room. We will have to see how they are managing it.
In the past week, when our gate has been open, many Pilgrims have been coming inside, looking around. We’ve been sort of surprised by their boldness. But now I know why. They need shelter. If, for no other reason than the flat lawn to pitch a tent. Perhaps we should offer that up.
It may be a bit of nothing, but we could do our part in some small way to help out. Before Jeff wakes up I’ll make a sign and head out to the barn to look for our tents. It’s going to start raining tomorrow, and something will be better than nothing for tired Pilgrims who have been walking all night, with no guarantee of a bed in Melide or even Arzua. When sleeping rough in a wet sleeping bag on the trail is the only alternative. And if I know Jeff, he’ll head to Decathlon and cover our front yard with even more tents.
On the Camino, there is always a debate on what makes a true Pilgrim. Is suffering necessary to get the full experience? If the answer is Yes, this Xacabeo year with Covid will produce a bumper crop of true Pilgrims. And perhaps our role this year is to try to find a way to ease that suffering, just a little bit.