Sleeping in an Albergue is a lot like taking a long airplane ride. You’re on a shared journey in a confined space. Everyone arrives, gets settled, and has to arrange their stuff just so in the equivalent of the overhead bins: the limited floor space next to your bunk.
I always make kind of mess, emptying my entire backpack on the bed so I can sort through it. Other people seem to have more organized systems, but I do have a bag for dirty clothes, and one for clean stuff, then my zip locks with my jumble of toiletries.
In the Albergue, I always make sure I have my iPhone, glasses, and water bottle within reach from my bunk so I can find them in the middle of the night. I seek out bunks next to plugs so I can charge my iPhone while I sleep. The newer Albergues come with lots of plugs. Medieval buildings do not.
There’s usually a shelf for your boots, and a big container for your hiking poles. Some places are very explicit about food, blister repair, and boots in the dormitory, and that’s usually a good thing.
In the afternoon, lots of people partially unpack and take a nap after the many kilometers on the Camino. In bad weather, everyone’s stuff is spread out to dry.
Then there’s a surge out to eat or drink. Some albergues have fully stocked kitchens, and many Europeans buy groceries and cook. The kitchen is a good place to hang out, share some wine and talk.
Later, around 9:00, pilgrims start returning and by 10:00 everyone is settling in. The “big light” usually goes out at 10:30.
There are always a few snorers. I’ve learned to listen to music, and sometimes I take a Benadryl. For some reason, in October there aren’t as many snorers as when I was walking in June. There have been fewer symphonies and arias.
The morning begins early. Before daybreak, the early risers start packing up, their headlamps flashing. There’s an easy etiquette that we won’t stare when it’s time to change clothes.
Our shared sleeping experience is over, and it’s time to pack all our precious carry on items back up into our backpacks and make sure we know where our passport, iPhone, and wallet are. It’s time for desayuno and to walk.
I’m thankful for these nights of shared sleeping. They have refreshed my trust in others, and I wish that more Americans could experience the easy sense of shared privacy I’ve learned to enjoy.
Some nights I’ve had conversations with the person in the adjoining bunk—sometimes they’re men—but I feel very safe. This trip has allowed me to let go of defenses I didn’t realize I had constructed.