Learning the Ropes to Be an Hospitalero

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by Tali Walters | Newton, MA
Hospitalero Training Class of June 2023

Learning the Ropes to be an Hospitalero

Who would have thought a bike ride over the Pyrenees into St. Jean Pied de Port would lead to a passion, now enduring a decade, for the Camino? Seeing peregrino heads coming over the rise in the meadow at Ibañeta just before Roncesvalles sparked my curiosity. A two-month sabbatical to celebrate a successful career and a strong, pre-60-year-old body made my first Camino Francés possible. Since then, I have joined hundreds of thousands of pilgrims on many other routes heading into Santiago de Compostela.

Who makes these Camino quests possible—and perhaps a bit more bearable—for the increasing numbers of pilgrims flocking to St. Jean from around the world, or starting in Le Puy, or walking out their front door in Denmark? In medieval times, Charlemagne and the Roman Catholic Church developed an infrastructure of hostels, bars, and monasteries for pilgrims in need of a meal and a bed.

Hospitalero class of June 2023 Bonfire
Hospitalero trainees enjoy a bonfire following the evening’s communal meal, June 2023. Photo by Cheryl Grasmoen

Not so different now! As you approach the town at the end of your day’s walk and pray there will be a bed, do you wonder who will greet you at the registration desk and give you that much-needed cup of cold water? Who cleans the showers and readies the rooms so you can freshen up and plop onto the bed for rest upon your arrival?

In June 2023, in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania, I joined 13 other peregrinos to learn the ropes to be an albergue volunteer, or hospitalero/a. It isn’t just about registering pilgrims and cleaning toilets and rooms. Being an hospitalero far more than you might imagine. Through the American Pilgrims on the Camino hospitalero training program, we learned about hospitality traditions, culture, and spirit. We learned how to pronounce hospitalero and albergue. (If you’re curious about that, I encourage you to sign up for hospitalero training.) 

We learned about community, service, gratitude, and simplicity—values infused in our interactions with each pilgrim arriving at an albergue at the end of a long day’s walk. We learned about the simple hospitality of a clean, quiet, safe space to rest, reflect, share, and let go. We learned how to enhance the pilgrim experience by providing them comfort in their weariness and celebrating their joys with them. We learned about flexible, respectful, and communicative hospitalero congeniality and teamwork. And we learned about the practicalities of modern peregrino food, poetry, and first aid.

After 48 hours together, our training group headed home with plans and dreams of our next Camino experience, this time as hospitaleros giving back to the Camino that raised our own lives high.

Hospitalero class of June 2023
The American Pilgrims on the Camino Hospitalero Training Class of June 2023. Photo by Cheryl Grasmoen.

If you are interested in becoming an hospitalero, please visit our Hospitalero Training page for more info, an FAQ, and our upcoming training sessions.

This story was featured in our Winter 2024 issue of La Concha. The theme was “The Artist’s Way”, and you can find the full issue in our archive here.

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