Thursday, March 20 to Friday, March 21, 2014: Dany and I arrived back in Santiago around mid-day. Our first order of business was to get our accommodations sorted out, so from the bus terminal we walked back to the old quarter so we could check into our lodgings.
Prior to my departure from Toronto, I had made arrangements to stay at the Parador in Santiago on the eve of my 30th birthday. My best friend, Lauren, even sent me money to help make it possible (it’s kinda pricey). The entire walk back to town, all I could think was “Tonight, I’m going to sleep in the oldest hotel in the world.” I practically skipped my way there.
During my time in Spain, I couldn’t access my bank account. I have an account with a Canadian bank that only has an online presence, so I’m assuming this is why my bank card was constantly being rejected by the ATMs. I had a whole paycheck in my account that I couldn’t touch. Not wanting to have to deal with a bank teller and the red tape involved with international bank transactions, I relied on my credit card for cash advances.
Due to the exchange rate, withdrawal fees, and a low credit limit (put there on purpose to keep my balance low — not so helpful in this situation), that little piece of silver plastic was maxed the eff out by this point. I was relying on whatever cash I had left in my wallet. Imagine my anger when I found out my credit card hadn’t been charged at the time I booked my room at the Parador, and now I couldn’t stay there because my card was basically only useful as a coaster.
I was livid. I nearly lost my shit at the woman, right there in the lobby of the oldest hotel in the world.
It’s been a while since I stayed in a proper hotel room. I’ve become so accustomed to sleeping in hostels and paying cash upon check-in, that it didn’t even occur to me that I hadn’t yet been charged for my room at the Parador. This was something I had been looking forward to for weeks, and now I was up shit creek without money to buy a paddle.
Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I grabbed my pack and walked out. I felt pitiful. Dany was staying at the Hospedería San Martín Pinario right next door to the Parador. She had mentioned that they had a pilgrim’s rate of 20€ per night, which I could afford with my cash, so I made my way there and checked in. I ended up getting a room down the hall from Dany, so imagine her surprise when I knocked on her door and she found me standing there with all my things.
I believe that things happen for a reason. Looking back, I don’t think I was meant to stay at the Parador this time around. Hell yeah I was bummed out, but this is why I feel I was supposed to be at the Hospedería San Martín Pinario instead: as I was in my own room unpacking my bag, someone started to frantically pound on my door. Then I heard a voice that makes me smile whenever it speaks — Richie with his Austrian accent saying “Ashley! Ashley it’s Richard!”. Had I been at the Parador, I probably would have missed him entirely.
Although he went to Finisterre on his own, once he arrived he found some of his hiking companions from earlier on in his trip (this is how the Camino works — you meet people, you lose them, then days down the road you find them again). His friends, Miriam and Annika from Germany, had joined him to return to Santiago and they had chosen that particular hotel to stay in. Richie ran into Dany in the common area on our floor, and thus he was able to find me. The cloud that was hanging over me because of my Parador experience had lifted as soon as I opened that door and saw Richie’s goofy face. And guess what? We were all staying on the same floor, just rooms apart, almost like we were back in a pilgrim’s hostel with bunk beds.
We all made arrangements to grab some dinner after we freshened up. I ended up taking the group to the same Italian restaurant that Christine, Johana, Adriana, Consuelo and I had eaten at the day we first arrived in Santiago (they have a pilgrim’s menu for 10€, can’t beat that). After we stuffed ourselves with pasta, we wandered around and eventually found ourselves at a bar full of locals. Rule of thumb: if locals go there, it’s a good place to be.
We wanted to get a few drinks to celebrate my approaching birthday, but we ended up staying for hours. We stayed there so long that eventually it was 11:59pm and I found myself counting down to midnight as if it were New Year’s Eve. There in Santiago, with my fellow pilgrims, I said goodbye to my twenties and rung in midnight with three rounds of “Happy Birthday” — once in English, once in German, and once the locals clued in to what was happening, once in Spanish. It was the perfect way to start a new decade of my life.