For Lotta, Florian, Jake, and Rosa. May you continue to Camino all the days of your lives. ❤
My Camino family crew was down to four. My mom, who left before I met my new brothers and sisters, was already back in Oregon seeing her doctor about her inexplicable edema of the foot. Rosa had rolled her ankle on the steep trek down from the iron cross into Molinaseca. She went home in Sarria—a starting line for many pilgrims, but her finish line. Even though we were getting close, watching friends and family forced to leave early made me wonder if I would actually make it to Santiago.
Eventually we found ourselves at our last overnight stop before we would arrive in Santiago de Compostela. We were in O Pedrouzo: not remarkable for much except being the last sleep before Santiago for many pilgrims along The Way.
We’d been talking for a few days about wanting to make a big supper meal together. Many albergues have large communal kitchens that pilgrims use to cook in—often in an effort to save money.
I hadn’t taken it upon myself yet to use an albergue kitchen along the way. I found the albergue-provided pilgrim’s meals to be affordable and required zero effort after a long day of efforting my body to the next town. I was happy to pay eight euros for a plate full of pasta con carne with a huge chunk of fresh, chewy bread and a tiny cup of too-sweet pudding paired with a mug of house vino tinto, all brought to me by a smiling face who wished me Buen Provecho and a Buen Camino. I ate those pilgrim meals alongside people from every inch of the globe, from every sector of society, from every age bracket imaginable.
My friends and I looked forward to cooking together and sharing a large meal, each of us creating something that tasted like home to use. A gorgeous fusion of Spanish and American and Swedish and German cuisine (it really is a shame the Italian had already gone home).
However, when we arrived at our final town we realized two things. First, all the albergues were overfilled—many with large groups of Spanish youth on holiday for a few days, completing the Camino as a field trip of sorts. Their loud music playing and their large crosses held high as they walked The Way in a herd. We had to stay in a hostel instead, a bridge between the huge dormitories of albergues and the luxury of a large, private bed in a quiet hotel room. We checked into the hostel as a group of four and were given a room with four twin beds sardined in a room, not vertically in bunk beds, but lined up in a row like a military hospital. The second thing we realized was, because we were in a hostel and not an albergue, there wasn’t a communal kitchen available to us.
We were faced with a choice. We could:
Partake in a pilgrim meal at another albergue (with the swarm of youth buzzing about)
Eat at a restaurant and pay double for essentially a pilgrim meal
Go to a grocery story and make a picnic feast
Since we had our hearts set on making a last supper together, we opted for the picnic feast. We bought loaves of fresh baguette, apricot jam, cheese, chorizo, tomatoes, ham, and ice creams on a stick for dessert. Most importantly, we wanted to recreate what had brought us all together back in Ponferrada—Sangria de Cava: a mimosa-like take on Sangria with effervescent sparkle and juicy fresh fruit with a sneaky lightness.
Cava is essentially Spanish champagne, and it is deliciously cheap in grocery stores across Spain—even in the tiny towns along the Camino de Santiago. We put a bottle in our shopping cart along with our French-inspired Spanish countryside charcuterie. We found orange juice and lemons and oranges and apples. We bought a bag of ice, because Sangria de Cava must be served chilled.
We paid for our goods and made the walk back to our hostel. It was a hot July evening, so we decided we should eat our dessert first. The walk was longer than we wanted it to be with so many groceries to carry—eating the ice cream would lessen the weight just a little and cool us down in the meantime.
We realized our limitations once we arrived back at the hostel.
We didn’t have a knife to cut our fruit, let alone our cheese, or a pitcher to mix our sangria. The hostel hostess let us borrow a knife from the staff kitchen and Jake ran all the way back to the grocery store to find something to mix our sangria in.
He came back with a five gallon jug of water—completely full. All of which we proceeded to dump out. All was well until we realized our ice chunks were too large to fit in the mouth of the jug. We used the knife we had just used to cut up our picnic food and sangria fruit, and gouged a circular hole in the top of the jug—perfectly shaped for ice and chunks of fruit.
As we poured our concoction in tiny hostel glasses and gave toasts to a Camino well-walked, the skies opened up and soaked our picnic, drenched our walking clothes drying on the clothesline, and washed away all the dust of the day.
It was our last meal on the Camino together. It was imperfect. The Sangria de Cava was watered down and not quite chilled. The ice cream was already gone, eaten in haste and hunger. The food was fine—nothing to write about, but here I am writing about it, because food isn’t always what makes a meal or a memory. Sometimes it is.
But sometimes it is the challenge of making sangria without a pitcher, and sometimes it is fits of laughter with your friends over the ridiculous genius of cutting a lemon-shaped hole in a five gallon jug, and sometimes it is rain on your picnic that makes a memory so sweet. Or maybe it was the unexpected friendship of our motley crew and all of our unwillingness to acknowledge that our time together was quickly coming to a close. All Caminos must end, but we all continue on our Ways separately, but somehow together in our hearts.