In the world of Camino del Norte pilgrims, the Albergue de Güemes (officially named La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto) has a reputation for hospitality and being one of the best (if not the best) albergue on the Camino del Norte.
Located 15 coastal kilometres from Santander, the Güemes albergue is perched high on a hill in touch with nature and with incredible views of the Cantabrian countryside.
As pilgrims who have stayed here know, Father Ernesto, who runs the albergue, was born in the house that would later become the albergue. After becoming a priest and working on a village on top of a very high and steep Picos de Europa mountain, he went to South America in a green Land Rover to work with the third-world culture there. He still gives mass at two churches every Sunday and officiates the occasional marriage or other liturgical ceremony. For the most part, he’s retired and spends his time giving to the pilgrims on the Camino.
I arrived, not sure what to think as I’ve never stayed in a Camino albergue. I’ve had some nightmarish experiences in youth hostels during my first year in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I was welcomed with a glass of water and a bench to sit on and rest. I filled in my information and was shown my bed. (It was a top bunk, but it was already 17:00!) I met a few other pilgrims, but my social anxious self was tired after working 30 kilometres and losing a mobile phone.
After a quick shower, I felt better. I played with the albergue dog for a while, as I always prefer the company of dogs to people. I was lucky, as there were free massages being offered from a massage school located coincidentally enough in the Capital of the World, Bilbao. Turns out that my right leg is having some problems with the calf muscles, which can be traced back to my 2-month limp after spraining my ankle in 2014. They taped it up taught me how to self-massage it. Eskerrik asko.
Then everyone was gathered to listen to the story of the albergue, and as they had figured out I was fully bilingual…they called on me to be the translator! I was the translator for the entire evening. (I sat at the table full of Spanish speakers so I didn’t have to translate during dinner.)
Despite being a teacher, I have quite the stage fright of speaking in front of strangers or adults. I’m also not used to translating on the spot. I was nervous, but everyone told me I did a great job and thanked me for my translations.
Over dinner (sopa de ajo (garlic soup) and pasta), I listened to some stories from other pilgrims. I met a couple of young Basques from Plentzia who had been camping out since leaving Gran Bilbao a few days prior. I met someone from the greater Toledo, Ohio area who was interested in how someone from the greater Sandusky area immigrated to Spain. I met a pilgrim from Luxembourg, a few Germans and Swiss, and some Irish folks too. The Camino brings people from all over the world.
After dinner, I played translator again as Father Ernesto told the story of the ermita (hermitage/place of worship connected with nature) he had had built near the albergue and the paintings of the Camino of Life. I was very tired and too busy translating the story to properly reproduce the story here. Fellow peregrinos del Norte and future peregrinos del Norte will know it. But the story is the Camino of Life, el Camino de la Vida. We’re all slaves to money, religion, corrupt politicians (not naming countries) and other things that tie us down, and we must look for our freedom. This is the Camino de la Vida, the Camino of life.
Father Ernesto definitely tells it better than me.
It was a fantastic first albergue experience, and it helped me get over my fears of the albergues somewhat. I know that there are few like this one, but it is a night I will always remember.
Buen camino de la vida a todos, a tothom, a tutti, to everyone.