Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hermitage of the Passing Pilgrim®

The Camino is surprisingly free of huckstering, for a path with a hundred thousands potential customers a year. In most towns, you can find a few wooden staffs for sale in a couple of shops, along with sew-on patches and perhaps a few T-shirts. Here and there, one encounters someone operating a “museum” in his or her house, with a small, random collection of faded Camino pictures, stones, etc. An offer of a donation is sternly refused, but if a half-euro is quietly left on a table, it’s not flung at your parting back.
Today, in a park a few miles outside Los Arcos on the way of Najera, I encountered Marcelino Labato Castilla, proprietor of the Ermita del Peregrino Pasante, for which the consensus translation is Hermitage of the Passing Pilgrim. I asked Brother Labato if I could take his picture and he said of course. I coveted his table of small oval stones with painted yellow arrows (the yellow arrow is the universal signal on the Camino that you haven’t missed a turn yet that morning). I asked if I could have one. Of course. I asked if I could make a small donation. Certainly not. I think he even averted his eyes as I palmed a euro onto the table (it was, and is, a nice rock). After an exchange of Buen Caminos, I passed on my way.
Behind his humble wooden shack, there was a gleaming new Citroen SUV parked, with his logos on the side (and a yellow arrow on the front fender). I guess there’s a solid business model in being a humble hermit.
Other than Brother Labato, a quiet, slightly damp walk along the Camino to Najera, which has a world-class monastery and not too much else. Navigation was mildly complicated not only by the usual faux yellow arrows to lure the unwary pilgrim through a town off the Camino but also by a new concrete factory a few miles outside Najera. In pre-empting the Camino route, the factory owners had thoughtfully carved an alternative dirt track the considerable distance needed to circumnavigate their property. They had not, however, provided any of the yellow arrows that can normally be counted upon every few hundred yards or so. However apparent the source of the problem is, and despite the existence of any possible maybe-we-should-have-taken-that-road alternative, two miles without a yellow arrow still provoked a good deal of soul-searching. Pilgrims are an anxious lot, especially at the end of a long day with thunder clouds struggling to form.