It’s morning in the albergue.
So you’ve packed your bag. If it’s not a full hour after you got up, congrats! You’re improving. No matter the hour, I fully recommend getting a coffee.
Whether or not I actually do this, however, tends to depend on who was in the room with me while I slept. For the sensitive soul, alburgues — the “refuges” designated especially for pilgrims — can be particularly dreadful. Farting. Throat clearing. Bed rustling. And snoring. Oh, the snoring!
You don’t know snoring until you’ve slept in a room of 24 bunks, the majority men, at least 2 overweight and 2 more with undiagnosed sleep apnea. Lord, have mercy on your pilgrims! Or perhaps this is a part of our penitence, but my oh my what a somewhat hilarious curse on the human population snoring is.
One night, I was trapped in a tiny, 4-bed, cement alburgue in Cernadilla — a town, like so many others, that appeared to consist entirely of the Mayor (who ran the alburgue) and his wife, both aged 85 — with two enthusiastic, vehement and somehwat demonically possesed snorers, and nobody else. I chose to take my cozy, 45-degree Lafuma sleeping bag outside to sleep on the hard, concrete pad under the stars rather than subject myself to another 2 1/2 hours of aural torture.
At some point, my hips rebelled, and I went back into drag the mattress off the bed and outside with me. I saw 4 shooting stars and woke covered in mist, the other 2 pilgrims long gone, having walked over my sleeping self sometime earlier that morning.
So back to your morning, and you’ve finally managed to fall asleep in the wee hours, once the others’ snoring had dulled. But then, the other pilgrims, who seem to have the miraculous ability of falling asleep on command after 9 hours of walking (wait, that’s “normal”? Why can’t I sleep!?) all get up on cue at 5:30am and start in with the dread-inducing rustle of nylon on nylon.
They stuff all their water-resistant items into more and more layers of water-resistance, scrithcing and scratching all the way. This horrific sound is more often than not punctuated with what can only be interpreted as commands — or possibly insults — in German but is probably something more like “I hope it doesn’t rain.”
For someone whose been a night-owl since childhood, whose melatonin production goes haywire with the sun setting at 10:30pm (which translates, vaguely, into “I can’t fall asleep easily when the sun sets so late, so I must sleep late or I will go on a homicidal rampage and kill you all!”), waking up to this pseud0-muffled cacaphony is a unique sort of torture.
On top of that, I can feel the looks of judgement, the glares of annoyance and glances of concern, the downright bewilderment of the others at my unmoving body. I can feel it right through my eye-mask and sleeping bag, pillow and pants and whatever else I’ve managed to throw over my head.
For leaving past 7 or 8 is JUST. NOT. DONE. (Unless you’re me, haha!)
God forbid one not set out until after 9, “they” say, and you risk sunstroke or lobos or jabalis or not getting a bed at the alburgue or old women in blue dresses in the pueblos who will cluck cluck cluck and warn you of these risks. I wonder if what “they” really worry about is the risk of there not being enough time to mingle and bond with the other pilgrims — an activity which is, to be honest, for me, less appealing than spending the evening popping my blisters.
So yes, I hover, seething with rage, under my pillows, having weathered another night of snoring and another morning of rustling judgmental departures, and get up, hopefully, alone.