For the fourth year in a row I am preparing to go to Spain the day after Easter. This year there is a bit of a twist. I will be working as a volunteer Hospitalero in an albergue in Nájera for part of my time there. Nájera is, according to my last guidebook the destination of the 8th stage of the Camino Frances. I have stayed there twice but always at a private albergue in town. It is a beautiful little town with a river running through the center and sits at the base of some amazing red cliffs. It is in the La Rioja region of Spain which is know for its red soils and of course amazing and delicious red wines produced primarily from the Tempranillo grape.
I will be volunteering from April 1 to April 15th. As a hospitalero my job will be to primarily assure the comfort of the pilgrims. We are responsible for checking pilgrims into the albergue, answering any questions that they may have or at least being able to help find the answers if possible. We assure that each pilgrim is in fact a pilgrim and has walked, biked or traveled by horse or mule to the albergue. We clean the albergue each day after the pilgrims leave to make sure that the next wave has a clean, sanitary and inviting place to sleep. This specific albergue does not provide a communal meal, although many do. It does have a kitchen so that pilgrims my cook food for themselves if they like. This albergue is what is called a donativo albergue. What that means is that there is no charge to stay. We do not ask for any money but have a donation box available so that if the pilgrims would like they can make a donation. It is important to understand the donativo does not mean free. It means please give what you can. Back in the early days of the Camino there were many that had nothing and depended on the kindness and generosity of others to sustain themselves. Today there are still some individuals that make pilgrimage on the Camino with little of no money.
After my assignment is complete I will walk the next stage from Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. From there I will take a bus to Oviedo which is near the Atlantic coast of Spain. I am meeting my friend Paul there. We will walk from Oviedo to Santiago on the Norther Route.