It was a lovely Saturday for walking. The poplar trees stood reaching for the azure sky, golden and majestic, full of glory, leaves rustling gently in an easy western breeze. The late November weather was cool, but not cold, much as it would’ve been back home, and walking into Nájera my mind transported momentarily 4,000 miles west.
My imagination could practically smell the barbecue grills firing up for Saturday afternoon tailgates and SEC football games. It would be a good day to stop short, I reckoned, and enjoy a Saturday afternoon relaxing in your sweet Spanish town.
As I walked hesitantly inside Puerta de Nájera just a few minutes after noon, the furnishings practically said “welcome home.” You carried a mop and bucket working feverishly just behind the stairs and I noticed one young German pilgrim nursing his heavily bandaged wounds on a couch in a quaint sitting area. A world map showed pins across the globe representing sojourners just like me. I made my mark a world away in Northeast Arkansas.
You practically ran to meet me at the counter.
“Si! Si! Estamos abiertos,” you replied with a comforting smile negating my concern you might not yet be open. “Es su casa. Bienvenidos.”
“Es su casa.” Such sweet words.
After quickly recording my passport number and stamping the credencial you insisted to carry my pack and muddy shoes upstairs. “Tranquillo,” you insisted.
I chose a bunk, enjoyed a long leisurely hot shower and shave and returned downstairs smelling almost normal just to sit and relax a bit. You poured a glass of wine (and actually I think you left the bottle on the table) asking if there was anything else you could do. I remember the white wine’s sweet, succulent taste … and I don’t even like wine. It felt so good to feel at home.
The day passed and you treated every pilgrim who walked in the door just as you’d treated me. Bright smiles. Hugs. One of the most genuine welcoming spirits I’ve seen anywhere.
The couch in the sitting room felt so nice I could hardly move. It was honestly the most comfortable I’d been in two weeks. As you dimmed the lights just before midnight you walked over again with a soft blanket and extra pillow.
“You can sleep here if you like,” you said, “and if it’s more comfortable. Es su casa.”
You had me at “sleep here.”
The seven hours that followed on that couch was among the most wonderful nights I spent on the Way. I’m not sure I felt more welcome, or more at home, anywhere on Camino.
I’ve told so many pilgrims since that one of the nicest, most hospitable people you’ll meet on the Way runs a nice, neat albergue in Nájera. Her name is Maite Sóbron.
Thank you for taking such good care of me, Maite. When I think of the Way, I think of you.
Bendiciones, mia hermana y amiga.
A grateful pilgrim,