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Camino de Santiago No 9: How To Make 70 Cups of Coffee With 6 Cups

So, in the morning I awoke freezing to death in the Arroyo San Bol refuge. It was so cold in the place that in spite of wearing almost all of the clothes I had brought with me and walking around using my sleeping bag as a cape, I was still cold.

The other guests were all out in the diningroom, eating a somewhat piecemeal breakfast of some sort of cereal and some pasta from the night before. I perched on a wobbly chair and drank a hot steaming cup of coffee and thought about how to approach the day.

Francisco and Jose had left very early in the day, so it was just to the remaining guests to organize things for the coming pilgrims.

Simon decided to chop wood with a somewhat dangerous looking, broken axe. I decided to make the beds and start sweeping and mopping the floors. The other guests seemed reluctant to leave, and decided to weed the yard.

By eight oclock in the morning, the place was clean and sparkly.

Then the pilgrims started coming.

Soon, the place was transformed from a tranquil refuge to a a busy, slightly chaotic, cafe.

Francisco had told me the night before that it would be my job to make the coffee and tea for all the pilgrims who stopped by the place on the way to the next refuge. Simon´s job was to check for pilgrim passports and stamp them(this took quite a long time as the stamp he had to use was ancient).

So, back to making coffee and tea…

The ¨kitchen¨was basically a double hotplate to the side of the kitchen table. I had one kettle to boil the water, and..only 6 cups.

There was no running water inside. I had to go outside, walk down thru the garden, around the corner, to the natural spring, and collect the water in a plastic 1/2 gallon jug labeled, ¨Blessed Water From Lourdes¨, that a picture of the Virgin Mary on it.

The spring itself is surrounded with cut is an underground spring that has been used by pilgrims thru the ages to wash their feet so that they can continue along the Camino. Apparently, if you washed your feet with the water from this spring, you would not have any more blisters and so on…

I have no idea how the drinking of coffee or tea with the water from this spring would affect a pilgrim, but surely it  would have only positive benefit!

Anyway, after trudging down the hill to get the water, I had to heat it up in the tiny kettle on the hotplate. It only heated up enough water for about 5 cups at a time.

Problem was, the pilgrims were showing up in groups of 6 to 8 people at a time. And-I only had 6 cups.

So, I would serve 6 cups of coffee or tea(I had to ask them which they wanted when they sat down, and then remember it all) and then quickly take the 6 cups down the hill to the spring to wash them in the spring. Then, start all over again.

Things went on like this for hours. I felt like I was in some strange Buddhist nightmare-like I was being told to move one pile of rocks to one spot and then back again.

But, I strangely enjoyed it. It was kind of fun, actually, to come out and greet the pilgrims, tell them to take off their muddy boots, and give them a hot cup of coffee and some time to relax.

Strangely, many pilgrims were quite demanding, asking for breakfast of all things! We (Simon and I) kept telling them we only had coffee, but some pilgrims whined quite alot until I finally gave in and brought out my own personal food stash-some granola bars and prunes. Stranger still, the pilgrims who ate  my food did not even say thankyou.

Arroyo San Bol is a donativo refuge-in other words, it relies on donations to exist, to buy food, to make repairs…and few of the pilgrims stopping by for coffee donated anything. One very nice couple from Denmark noticed this and offered 15 euros for the donation box.

In situations like this, it is amazing how the kindness and awareness of just a few people can change the awareness of everyone.

After the Danish couple donated their euros, every person who came thru the place placed a coin or two in the donation box. I was really happy with this change in things, because I think people sometimes don´t appreciate how much work the donativo refuges are and how the system works-they really rely exclusively on donations.

By 1 o´clock, I was exhausted. I had served over 70 cups of coffee-maybe as much as 100. I had given up most of my first aid kit to people who had need of bandages and antibiotic cream and so on. I had put needles thru blisters. I had massaged sore shoulders and swollen feet. I had smiled, greeted, listened, encouraged. It was so nice to truly be of service to other people.

Simon was outside cleaning up the patio, and several of the guests lingered from the night before in the bedroom. They seemed to be hoping to be able to stay on. They were in their sleeping bags in the icy cold bedroom discussing the ashram and the cosmic airport idea.

I decided to make lunch for everyone, as the pilgrim traffic had slowed down somewhat. Someone had some instant soup mix, and I found some garlic and onions, and somehow ended up making quite a decent soup. Simon had some cheese and bread in his backpack, and with this we all had quite a pleasant lunch.

Simon and I began to talk about who would show up that night for refuge-we both thought that whoever showed up  was supposed to be there that night. There was..kind of a sense of excitement about the mystery pilgrims that we would be sharing the evening with…

At this point the other guests finally seemed- however reluctantly- to leave. They wanted to stay on, and so I said to them, ¨Well, we manifest whatever happens to us, as you said.¨

This was not taken well. Apparently this supposition only applies to everyone else.

However, I liked the Australian girl quite alot, and when she left I gave her a big hug. She was the only woman I have met who was doing the Camino wearing skirts. Today she sported a black, rhinestoned skirt and she said goodbye to the place by twirling about the yard in it in seeming ecstacy.

A pilgrim from Mexico showed up, named Alejandro. He limped quite badly, and had some sort of problem with his knee. He seemed nervous, and stayed out on the patio, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He talked about moving on to the next refuge, or maybe even the one after that..yet he went nowhere.

When I saw him walk up to the place initially, I went in and told Simon I thought he would be staying there for the night. I just had the sense he was supposed to be one of the guests, I can´t say why. Simon felt the same way.

Alejandro asked me if I thought he should stay for the night. I glanced down at his leg, which he was holding in the air due to pain, and said yes. He asked how far it was to the next refuge, and I told him, ¨But you are supposed to be here tonight.¨

He looked at me sideways, then smiled. ¨You are right.¨

Jose and Francisco showed up sometime in the late afternoon, loaded with bags of provisions. Francisco went outside and smoked cigarette after cigarette with Alejandro, and they were obviously having a deep conversation. At one point, they both had tears in their eyes, and were hugging each other.

Alejandro somehow got the idea to clean out the giant cement and stone bathing pool that was connected to the spring. He seemed to overcome the pain of his injury and had lowered himself into the pool and was busily cleaning it.

Simon and Francisco were cutting wood for the woodstove.

Jose was drawing mandalas and staring off into space with an other worldly expression at the kitchen table.

I was busy making coffee-although Jose had set up a dishwashing station close to the front door upon his return, so the dishwashing part was not so labor intensive.

And the guests began to arrive….

A boy from Belgium, who was having knee problems and seemed somewhat lost..he was trying to figure out what to do with his life, and he only had a year to decide apparently.

¨How terrible¨¨, we all said. ¨How can you decide what to do with your life in one year?¨

¨I  never thought about it that way before. ¨, he said, and went out into the garden, looking alot more relaxed.

A couple from Canada, who were both dreadlocked and injured. They were planning on volunteering in France when they were done with the Camino. The woman was quite interesting-she told me how she had lived in a an army tent for the past year in Canada. The basic conditions of Arroyo san Bol did not seem to bother her, which was nice. (The lack of a bathroom seemed to scare off most of the women who had come thru and considered, however briefly, the idea of staying for a night).

A German man came last-we were all inside, drinking hot tea around the stove when we looked out the wiindow and saw him coming towards the refuge on the path. At the time, Gregorian chant music was playing, and watching him come down the path was quite surreal to watch. I would almost call it a religious experience. It was like a picture of the past-one really had a sense of the past watching him come towards the refuge, in the rain, in the dim evening light.

 We all gathered at the window and said, ¨He´s the last guest.¨ We all had the sense that he was supposed to be there that night.

We had no more beds(there were only six), so Simon decided to give up his bed and sleep on the floor, before the German guy had even walked in the door. I put on a pot of hot water for more tea, and when the German guy opened the door, we were all ready for him. The man literally came in the door beaming, he was so happy to be indoors, where it was warm, with the hot coffee waiting.

Francisco had an interesting perspective about the guests.  He did nothing to encourage them to stay. He  was of the mind that the right people would come  to stay, and that the people who were meant for another refuge would move on.

Some pilgrims would burst in thru the door, disrupting the calm, tranquil atmosphere and insist on eating some food there. We had no food to give them and they would just keep insisting, saying they needed to eat so they could move onwards quickly. Everytime this happened, we would all glance at each other, knowing that they were not meant to stay here-this was not a place for someone wanting to get any place quickly( at least physically, anyway.) This was a place for contemplation(and for work! The place was in such disrepair that everyone who ended up staying had ended up volunteering to do something or other around the place.)

One man who was in a terrible rush, came in thru the door, claiming not to even have time to take off his dirty boots, insistent that he must have food. Francisco was very gentle with him and told him that we did not have food for him. Yet he kept insisting. I finally went and got my last few granola bars from my pack for him-which I meant to offer him a choice, not all of them. He grabbed them all-and quickly consumed them, never even saying thankyou before he got up from the table and went out the door, leaving a muddy trail for us to mop up after him.

¨Buen Camino¨,we all called out after him. He did not even wave or turn around.

At this point, we all gathered around the table. Simon and I agreed we had the perfect group of guests…and we all began to prepare dinner together.

The night would turn out to be a real turning point in my spiritual life-taking me down a path I could never have expected. Francisco would turn out to be a very important person for me tonight, and talking with him and Alejandro would turn out to be one of those shining moments in one´s life where one experiences complete clarity.

Tonight would be the night that my Camino truly started-and my faith in God, goodness, and even angels would be confirmed.



7 responses to “Camino de Santiago No 9: How To Make 70 Cups of Coffee With 6 Cups”

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