March 2020: And then it became quiet in our albergue.....
Maybe I'm naïve, I didn't want to see it, or just buried 'my head in the sand', but I never expected the Coronavirus to turn the whole Camino upside down.
On Thursday March 12th, 2020 we still have doubts, which way is it going to in Spain? On Friday March 13th, we receive the news that in some bigger towns some albergues are already closed because of the fear for the Coronavirus, and again a day later we hear that all municipal hostels are obliged to close their doors. The pilgrims who are still arriving at our albergue realize that they can no longer reach Santiago and that they have to find a way to leave Spain as soon as possible, before the borders close.
A mother with her 4-year-old daughter leaves for Bilbao early on Saturday morning with two 18-year-old girls to take a bus from there to Germany.
A Canadian couple departs by taxi to Burgos in the middle of the night, to take a train to Porto, from where they can go back to Canada by plane. A German mother and her daughter have family come all way from Germany to Frómista, in order to try to reach France on Sunday before the borders close. Or is it fleeing to France? Because that's what it feels like.
Three other German pilgrims decide on Saturday evening to simply continue the Camino on Sunday, but on Sunday morning they also realize that it is better to leave as soon as possible. The Camino, which so many pilgrims have been looking forward to for many years, for which holidays have been set aside, for which training has been done and money has been saved, ends for many in deep sadness, disappointment, helplessness.
On Sunday March 15th, the police visits us in order to inform who is still in the albergue. And everyone is ordered to return home as soon as possible. Even a Danish boy, who would have liked to stay until the Coronavirus is over, is not allowed to stay. Even though he has no house in Denmark, he has to leave, the albergue has to close. Only pilgrims out, no more pilgrims in, that's what we're ordered.
Less than 5 minutes after this announcement, we see a pilgrim walking in the direction of our albergue. The police walks to him and comes back to us with the pilgrim a couple of minutes later. We are requested to become the shelter of some last 'lost' pilgrims. All other albergues and guesthouses in Frómista are still closed due to the winter break and others closed their doors days ago for fear of the Coronavirus. Of course, we are willing to serve as a shelter. Even in times of crisis and danger, you don't let pilgrims sleep in the cold on the street.
The pilgrim turns out to be Francis, an Englishman, over 70 years old. A little later, another Spaniard comes to the albergue by bike. And finally, a Belgian-French couple. The police had driven towards them with flashing lights along the beautiful Castilla canal. They are forced to spend the night in albergue Luz de Frómista; Reluctantly, they enter our albergue.
When almost all pilgrims have left on Monday, we think that that is the end of the Camino season for the time being and that we will have to wait for the end of the Coronavirus. Everyone should have been warned now, in the albergues before us that there is a restraining order and that pilgrims are not allowed to continue their Camino. The opposite is true. In the afternoon, the bell rings, how is it possible, a pilgrim. A Swiss boy, who started his Camino from Switzerland in January, who has braved snow, cold and rain, has known loneliness, slept mainly outside, and who is told by the police in Frómista that he has to interrupt his Camino, for which he has set aside a year. And finally, two very disappointed Croatic pilgrims ring the bell of our albergue. It takes hours to thaw a little after the freezing message that their Camino has also come to an end. Instead of hospitalera, I become a travel agency worker. I check flights, train times and book tickets for everyone. The mood is a little sad, although everyone is also resigned to the situation. Francis, the Englishman, fortunately makes for a cheerful note. He goes shopping for 10. We prepare the dining tables, and sit down with our family and the remaining pilgrims, to enjoy a delicious prepared pan of spaghetti and a nice glass of wine. Connection in times of crisis.
It's Tuesday, March 17th. At 12 o'clock the last pilgrims left by taxi towards Palencia, to travel from there by train to Madrid. Tomorrow night everyone will be home and from now on...... it is quiet in albergue Luz de Frómista.
Albergue Luz de Frómista