Follow by Email

Monday, November 13, 2017


Andree Lombard, Colleen and Cheryl are offering two courses in Cape Town:

18 – 19 November 2017  and 10 – 11 February 2018

We are limiting the first session in November to 10 persons.
Please indicate which session you would like to attend.
The schedule will be from 10:30 on Saturday to after supper that evening and from 8:30 on Sunday until about 3:30pm
There will be a charge to cover notes and meals.
The course will be held at Andree's home in Milnerton.
An agenda with  costs  will be sent to those interested in the November course once you have indicated a firm response.   
The February course delegates will be informed of costs later on.

Contact Andree at   

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gaucelmo Service: Friday 16th June 2017 to Friday 30th June 2017

 Why Gaucelmo?

On our ‘epic’ Camino in 2015, we came across the Gaucelmo Refugio. Mainly by accident, but we were just exhausted and it looked a really nice place to stay. They weren’t yet open so we left our packs at the front door and went exploring, beginning with the chapel opposite.
What a great village!  Anyway, when we returned the doors were open and in we went.

The lady on duty was the “boss mkulu” for organising the annual hospitalero rosters and greeted us warmly in English and then proceeded to show us to the dormitory. As we began to go up the stairs and elderly Italian couple arrived and we went into shock. This was the self-same couple who had re-invented the term snoring and had kept us awake at Leon 2 nights earlier.
So we very subtlety asked if there were any private rooms or even a lean-to outside on account of the “forthcoming” snore attack. She couldn’t help there, but not to worry.

Well, half an hour later and no Italians. So, we enquired as to what happened and she said that they had arrived without their packs and the policy at Gaucelmo was quite simple. No pack no stay, as they only catered for peregrinos who had carried their packs.  Well, we then studied their policy and the conditions to stay were quite explicit. It was a Christian establishment, absolutely no smoking on the premises, tea was served at 1630 in the afternoons and the lights went out at 2200 sharp.
Gaucelmo is operated by the British Confraternity of St. James with offices in Blackfriars, London.
We decided there and then, that if we ever served at an albergue, this was the place for us.

The Course.
On our return to South Africa, Sylvia advised that the next Hospitalero course would be in February 2016 and we immediately put our names down. We hosted a couple from Pretoria and fun was had by all.  The course itself was very practical and covered all eventualities that we might face as a Hospitalero/a.  Of the 13 students I think that over half ended up serving at an albergue – so, a very high success rate.
We applied to the British Confraternity in March 2016 and the first slot available was in June 2017, which meant a bit of a wait! Interestingly, the British Confraternity was very interested in our training program and when the name Sylvia, was mentioned, we were more than welcome!
(In fact, during our stay there, we hosted the Chairman and founder of Gaucelmo, and he was taken aback by our name tags and study guide and so we left them with him. He was most impressed!)

The Service.

Well the day arrived!
And we were early, checking into Pilar’s on the Wednesday. By sheer luck, we walked into our British Hospitalera who had also arrived early.  That afternoon we all visited Gaucelmo and introduced ourselves to an Australian, Italian and a Briton. We had tea and then stood duty for the Team as they all went off for dinner together – a rare treat!
On Thursday we got to explore the village better, met the main locals – shops, hotels and chapel next door and thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the place. We also moved into the 4 bed dormitory ready for our baptism of fire the next morning!
Wow!   This was hectic……

1.       Breakfast preparation at 0615 and having to learn how the coffee machine worked!
2.       Open the doors for the peregrinos at 0630.
3.       My duty was to bid farewell outside and make sure that they had left nothing behind and that their packs looked right before their walk began. (You’d be surprised how badly some of them put their packs together).
4.       Last peregrine out was at 0800.
5.       We then had breakfast and then started the preparation for the next lot.
6.       Each one of us had specific rooms to clean. Marlene got the main and private dormitory upstairs, the passages and the lounge. Hope got the smaller dorm outside and the kitchen and I became the “sanitation engineer”, that is, all the bathrooms!
7.       I also got to handle all the money. We were a donations organisation and there was a strict methodology to follow in banking and paying for the accounts. The paying was for the daily bread delivery, gas refills, cleaning materials, the gardener (huge garden to be cut) and pleasantly, for a daily meal allowance for the Hospitaleros!
8.       At around 1130, we would have a break and every 2nd day, go and have a coffee break at one of the establishments in town. We always went somewhere different so as to support everybody in the village.
9.       1230 was a quick lunch and then we opened our doors at 1300. Before we let them in, Hope would welcome everybody outside and tell them everything they needed to know. Fortunately she spoke some Spanish and French!
1.   1300 the doors opened and usually there was a cavalry charge to our reception office.
11.   This we calmed down by having a table and chairs with a very shady umbrella, iced water (with a dash of mint)  in jugs and glasses as a distraction. We would then get the peregrinos to queue on the benches outside and then start to process them.
12.   Peregrinos were processed 2 at a time by Marlene and/or Hope. My job was to direct them to the respective dormitory, show them were the bathrooms were, reinforce the message that Hope and Marlene had given, and made sure that they fitted a clean pillow slip onto their bed of choice. That way, we could immediately see which beds were free and take note of the spare bottom bunks in case we had an elderly peregrine or one that wouldn’t manage a top bunk.
13.   We also kept an eye out for families, walking wounded for special accommodation. If a walking wounded wasn’t in good shape we’d let them stay an extra night to help them recuperate.
14.   Tea, biscuits and sometimes cake, was served in the garden (huerta) at 1630 and proved to be a smash hit. Everyone went, even our neighbours next door – the Benedictine Monks. We would deliver the tea and goodies to a covered area with lots of chairs and then leave them to get to know each other. They always brought the dirty cups and saucers back for us and often washed up too. Being a marketing man, we did engineer a couple of “improvised” birthdays to get the crowd in a festive mood, although we did actually have a genuine 30th birthday for a Brazilian who was totally stunned with a birthday cake! We took 8 kilograms of goodies from Durban, with lots of Rooibos tea – also a smash hit!
15.   Peregrinos were spoilt with our fully equipped kitchen including 2 kettles! There were 2 restaurants in town plus a “pub” at Pilars.
16.   We did request that everything in the kitchen was put away by 2100, but sometimes…….. we’d do the “hospitality thing” and just clean up anyway.
17.   Lights at 2200 was usually well adhered to, but every now and then a “reminder” was necessary.
18.   And then it started all over again.

Gaucelmo was unique in that we were an English speaking albergue. Over half of our guests were English speaking and at least 25% could speak English as their second language.  We were also unique in offering a bed bug service. As the pilgrims were queuing to come in we‘d keep a watchful eye out for any “possible” bed bug cases. If we found one the process was very quick. We booked them in and then took them to a separate bathroom and got them to use clothing from our clothing bank. Their clothes were then washed and tumble dried at high heat, with their packs being steam cleaned. Following this, we’d put them in our 4 bed dormitory which we nicknamed our sick bay.
They were so grateful!
Marlene was the bed bug queen and treated about 8 cases. If however, they slipped through into the dormitory, we then had to steam clean the mattress as well.
Being a Hospitalero takes a lot of discipline. Its hard work and long hours. On top of that, at least 1 peregrino would unload on us a day, which could sometimes be a bit draining. There were also a small number of inconsiderates. We had about 8 out of 366, which wasn’t too bad.
However, it’s a wonderful feeling to think that you might have helped or enthused just 1 peregrino a day to continue their journey. In short it was a humbling experience and the fact that we’d travelled halfway around the world to do it, wasn’t lost on them.

Would we do it again. Yes, but not next year.

Stephen and Marlene Ayling

Monday, March 20, 2017

5/6 March - Durban Hospitlaeros Training Course

We planned on 12 people and ended up with 13 trainees, 2 trainers, and 3 hospitaleros.
It was a fun weekend and great to have 6 people travel from Cape Town to do the course.

Every course helps us to learn and expand on the different aspects of the course.

For instance - first aid.
Many doctors, nurses, therapist, healers walk the Camino.  They can offer their help to other pilgrims on the Camino if necessary but treating illness and injury are actions the Federation insurer will NOT cover in the albergue policy.  Even if you (the hospitalero) is a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, Reiki master or quantum healer, you are not covered to treat pilgrims in the albergue unless in a case of emergency or dire need. 

If a medical emergency arises, do what is done on an airplane or ship: call out to see if there is a medical professional in the house – often there is.  If you don’t think you can handle something, don’t start. Medical help for pilgrims is readily available at the Health Centre. Take the pilgrim there or arrange to have someone accompany them for this purpose. EMS help is available by calling 112. 

Perhaps you practise esoteric spirituality such as Tarot Card or psychic readings, or you are a medium and can speak with the dead.  We must remember that Spain is a Catholic country and over 50% of the pilgrims that stay in albergues are Spanish Catholics.  Another 25% Catholics come from neighbouring Portugal, France, Italy and Germany.  90% of Korean pilgrims are Catholics. 

As a psychic you are on a different spiritual path and these talents are fine practised on the Camino, but not readily welcomed in the traditional albergues, most of which are owned by the Catholic Church or Catholic organisations.  

Respect the religion and beliefs of the Country and especially the albergues where you serve.



In 2008 Rebekah Scott and Tom Friesen developed a prototype of an online hospitaleros training course in English.  The intention was to offer it to English speaking pilgrims who live in countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who did not have training programs in their countries.
In 2009 Sylvia Nilsen was asked to test the course by completing the weekly online assignments.  For various reasons (one being that it is better to do face-to-face training with pilgrims than long-distance training) this course was never adopted. 
Sylvia walked to Finisterre in September 2009 and served with Begonia from A.G.A.C.S (Gallego Assoc) for a day at Finisterre before serving for two weeks at San Roque albergue in Corcubion.  When she returned home she applied to Ana Barreda of HOSVOL to run courses in South Africa.  She combined the online course assignments with the Canadian course material provided by Tom Friesen and Mary Virtue into a two-day training schedule. Courses have been held each year in a different city since 2010 and in 2014 Jenny rooks joined her as a Hospitalero trainer.  From 2010 till now, 108 South African pilgrims have been trained at courses held in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Almost half of these have served in Spain, some more than once, and a few have served in Portugal. 
We do not know how many pilgrims from South Africa walk the Camino each year but we think it is probably between 1000 and 1200.  Last year (2015) 808 South African pilgrims received a Compostela.
Learning to speak Spanish is one of the biggest challenges facing volunteers from South Africa.  There are 11 official languages in South Africa and most South Africans can speak more than one language, but very little Spanish is spoken. We are told that a papal decree of 1493 assigned all land in the New World west of 50 degrees W longitude to Spanish explorers and all the land east of that line to Portuguese explorers.  So, there are many Portuguese speakers in South Africa but few Spanish speakers. 
Getting to Spain, and to the albergue, is a long and costly journey for people from South Africa.  It is 11, 765km from Cape Town to Valladolid and can cost over €750 to fly to Spain.  Fortunately there is no time difference between South Africa and Spain. 

Sylvia Nilsen


Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Part of the Hospitaleros Voluntarios (HOSVOL) training course is a session on INTER-HOSPITALERO RELATIONS - getting on with your fellow hospitalero. 
The exercise we do is to make trainees aware of a growing problem of hospitaleros not getting on and sometimes leaving their post because of continued strife.
Trainees are taught to set a few ground rules before their shift even starts.  They can ask their co-worker these questions:
  • Are we going to be flexible on opening times - if yes, how flexible? 
  • Are we going to be flexible on the curfew - ditto? 
  • What time will we admit cyclists? 
  • Are you a morning person or a night bird?  Let’s come to some agreement about who does the morning shift and who locks up at night – or can we alternate?
  • Will we share the cooking?
  • One day you do the bedrooms and bathrooms  -  I’ll do the kitchen and living rooms.  Then we can swap.
  • What things put your back up or push your buttons. 
One lady told me that she doesn't like it when people prepare food using bare hands and would prefer it if they used gloves.  Another said that she doesn't like it when someone tries to be the boss and treats her like a subordinate.  By knowing what can irritate your co-worker, you can try to avoid those issues.
Those sorts of things seem small but they can become a big hassle, especially if you are locked in for 15 days with a grumpy, moaning, bossy, controlling, fault-finding co-hospitalero.  
The most frequent complaints received are about bossy hospitaleros who take over the albergue and rule the roost. 

Oh my goodness,  since midday yesterday I have asked myself, a 1,000 times - what are you doing here?  Ferran does not like his routines or methods challenged - my suggestions, of music in the morning to send pilgrims off, bleach to clean the dishcloths and perhaps new mats to place in front of the kitchen sink and one or two others all for the pilgrims comfort, was squashed or rejected.  Thankfully he left yesterday and the two new hospitaleros are far more amiable.


I arrived at the Albergue just when the last pilgrims left and introduced myself as the new hospitalera from S.A.  "Hola, hola! come estas! Soy Anna Kapp" I said.
Well, that made them think this one could speak Spanish and off they go with Gara-Gara-Gara, (my version of their fast speaking Spanish), I was shocked out of my tiredness. 
"No entiendo"  I said.
"Mama Mia!!" Mariano (old guy) threw up his arms.
All 4 hospitaleros (Mariano, Antonia, Vladimer and Maria) looked disgusted turned around and left me standing there.  From then on they ignored me . No problem, I was there to do a job.
Maria came back, took me to our cubicle with just a double bunk bed, cramped with her stuff all over the place, said I sleep on top and that she keeps the key around her neck till she leaves in 4 days.
It was fine for the first two days but then 'HE' arrived - the anointed one - and immediately took over and started moving things around and changing things.  He is an experienced hospitalero who has served at Bercianos many times and considers it to be HIS domain.  He was extremely rude to me because I wasn't fluent in Spanish (Madeleine's course didn't prepare me sufficiently for the Camino!) even though I told him I could speak French, understand German and Dutch - which he couldn't.  Whenever a non-Spanish speaker arrived he would have to call me to register them.  One of the other hospitaleros asked him why he couldn't speak English but he was just rude back at her. 
If anyone wants to know what its like to be treated like a 2nd class citizen or skivvy, then go and work at the Santo Domingo albergue.  I was bossed around, ran up and down stairs all day, was sent out to do shopping and was supposed to be a tour guide for the cathedral and the town. 
Even experienced hospitaleros like Rebekah Scott can have an unlucky pairing, as she wrote on her blog:   Hell is Other People
A year later, when another hospitalera was having similar problems at the same albergue, she wrote on her blog:
"I was paired with The Queen of Passive Aggression, and spent two weeks in misery and desolation, shivering through damp, gray days with wet firewood, a sinus infection, and a perfect bitch from London.  (Paddy says it´s a syndrome: Person of a Certain Age outlives the spouse, who´s been bossed around for decades (or said spouse finds a more gentle partner). POACA is a righteous churchgoer, does the Camino. And as Hospitalera s/he finds a new niche: Lording it over a pilgrim hostel for two weeks per year, fixing everything that´s wrong with the Camino de Santiago.)"
"I can see both sides of this issue. Even though most volunteer teams get along just fine, the Coordinators (themselves unpaid) are probably full-up with personality conflicts. Volunteers must know there´s a mixed bag of people out there, and some strangers just don´t gel with others. They have to just scrape along somehow, tolerate, smile on through. Unless, of course, someone gets abusive."
How to deal with a bossy co-worker: 
Smile, stick to your guns, say 'No' if you know that you are right and the other person is wrong.  Smile again.  
You could say, “In this case, I don’t agree with you” or “No, I don’t think that’s the best way to do it.”

I have served with 7 hospitaleros and am happy to say that I got on well with all of them, even though one of them was a bossy, controlling woman!   But I guessed she would be on the first day we met.  There is a saying that 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree' and this could be true of your co-worker if she tells you that her mother was a bossy, controlling and domineering woman.  Listen to the alarm bells going off in your head and be prepared to stand your ground!

My bossy co-worker  told us (Robert, Kevin and me) on her first day that she'd been alone for 27 years, had raised her children on her own and was an occupational health nurse so was independent and able to take care of herself.  When Robert and Kevin left, they both looked at me with some pity and said, "Good luck with  this one, Syl.  She is going to be trouble." 

But, I don't like strife.  I have a dogged personality, have been told that I have the patience of Job.  I am able to stoically fend off bossy people, so when she tried to be domineering, I just brushed it aside.  We never had words or disagreements but the potential for them was there in the relentless fault-finding and criticisms:  

"I always do it this way...."   
"That's interesting.  I do it this way."  Smiling. 

"I don't think we should admit cyclists," 
 "Of course we can - all pilgrims are welcome here," smiling.

"I don't think you should have given that pilgrim our water. You must keep the water for our pilgrims.""All the pilgrims are our pilgrims. We give water to any pilgrim who arrives here thirsty," smiling.

"Don't you think you've cut too much bread already?"
"No problem - if there is any left over we can toast it at breakfast tomorrow," smiling.

"Don't boil anymore milk, there was some left over yesterday"
"No problem - I'll use it in my Cola Cao," smiling.

"Its too early to set the table.  The flies will settle on the plates."
"No problem, we can turn the plates over and I'll cover the table with a cloth" smiling.

"You or I could've had that apple, you didn't have to use it in the salad."
"Actually, it is my apple and I wanted to share it with all the pilgrims," smiling.

And so on, and so on ..... incessant bossy quips and suggestions on how she liked to do things that could have lead to full scale confrontation if not handled properly.

My advice: 
Don't retaliate but don't become a doormat by giving in and then sulking about it.   If someone is bossy that is their problem, not yours, so don't make it yours.  Continue doing your work, sing or whistle whilst doing it, and don't give them the satisfaction of buckling or rising to their bait.  Whatever you do don't argue in front of the pilgrims.  This is their Camino (not yours) and they don't want a lasting memory of squabbling hospitaleros.
Concede small things.  If she prefers to say grace at the table, let her.  If she prefers large lettuce leaves in the salad to your broken up leaves, take it in turns to make the salad.  If she doesn't like onions, lentils, chickpeas or beans, or any other products that you think are staples,  find a way around that and serve them separately. 

Hospitalero-ing is hard, physically, mentally and spiritually.  When you are tired from lack of sleep, long hours of physical work, listening to heart-breaking pilgrim's stories and feeling homesick, you can be vulnerable to criticisms and unkindness.  Go for a long walk when your chores are done, meditate, find a quiet place and read inspirational quotes, anything to restore your soul and your body. 
And remember, your co-worker is going through the same thing, so unless she has been a real bitch to you or the pilgrims, or has been intolerable, don't report her to the supervisor beyond a suggestion to warn the next hospitalero who will serve with her that she is inclined to be bossy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Humbling email from my fellow, Spanish hospitalera, Angela:

Dear Silvia,
I'm glad to have met you, thanks so considerate and kind you were with me. I want you to know that I would love to have you as hospitalera partner because you're the hardest-working, dedicated, kind and loving I have met in the 13 years I've been in hospitalera.
Querida Silvia
Me alegro mucho de haberte conocido,gracias por lo considerada y amable que fuiste conmigo.
Quiero que sepas que me encantaría volver a tenerte como compañera hospitalera porque eres la más trabajadora,entregada,amable y amorosa que he conocido en los 13 años que llevo de hospitalera.


On the 8th May 2015, between delayed flights due to the Yemen war, Emirates landed in Madrid 8:25pm.  My night bus ride left for Logrono at 1:15am and arrived at 5:00am in darkness with me being very car sick from the various bends  on the road. At 6:45 I left for Najera.  My walk from the bus terminal to the Albergue de la Asociasion de Amigos del Camino de Najera ( being a donativo albergue), was such a pleasant surprise all along the river and surrounding hills of this beautiful little town.
I arrived at the Albergue just when the last pilgrims left and introduced myself as the new hospitalera from S.A:- "hola, hola! Coma esta! Soy Anna Kapp" I said. Well, that made them think this one could speak Spanish and off they go with Gara-Gara-Gara, (my version of their fast speaking Spanish), I was shocked out of my tiredness. 
"No entiendo Mama Mia!! Mariano (old guy) through up his arms. All 4 hospitalero's (Mariano, Antonia, Vladimer and Maria) looked disgusted turned around and left me standing there.  Maria came back, took me to our cubicle with just a double bunk bed, cramped with her stuff all over the place, said I sleep on top and that she keeps the key around her neck till she leaves in 4 days. No problem, I was there to do a job. 
I volunteered to clean the kitchen which was in a mess.  The pilgrims cook their own meals and have to clean up afterwards, but yes, that obviously was not a priority. We then had the standard breakfast of toast fresh pulped tomato with garlic, olive oil, fresh orange juice and boiled milk coffee.

I just started with my duties straight away and they did their part. Valdimer was in charge of the washing of the bed covers/pillowslips and everything else  to go in and he tidied the beds, swept the dormitory.
I also mopped the dining room floors. The rest was Mariano, Antonia & Maria's job.  By +/- 11:00 am we were finished.  They went on outings, I stayed and did my own thing. It was difficult if they did not speak English. Vladimer was polished and could speak a little English.
They took me sight seeing the first day and lunch was free at one of the restaurants  allocated by the owner, but the men made their own lunch and by that time it was 2:00pm, intake of pilgrims (usually +/- 90), the kitchen was a mess because I had to clean up before we start the admin side. I had to let the pilgrims in, made them feel welcome, try and get order out of the chaos because space was limited.

Mariano, Antonio, Maria did the booking in and Vladimer got to allocate and show pilgrims their beds. Believe me,  not an easy task with so many, and all 45 double bunks in one big dormitory.
Mariano slept in the corner on a bottom bunk in the dormitory and Antonio & Vladimer had the laundry room with a double bunk.
When Maria left, Theo a Mexican who could speak English / Spanish took over from her, he was nice.
Mariano and Antonio left on the 14th May and Robin Pardy (Canadian) arrived , she also spoke English/ Spanish and we clicked straight away. She took over Vladimers duties. Then Nunsie, the elderly Italian lady came. She could not speak English and very little Spanish, only Italian. She smoked and did not want to do it outside.  We had a rough time with her. We could never figure out what she was up to. She and Robin really went at each other.  She also had to share Theo's room, no other way.  Theo did not mind, and it worked out okay.
The weather was up and down, quite cold and some rain too. I had to dig in the pilgrims basket for a man's fleece jacket, because I did not take warm clothes. a pair of walking poles were left behind and I borrowed them as well, because I could not fit mine into my backpack.
The washing was done on a rotating system, where 3 pairs of bedcover/pillow slips per day had to be washed within a 15 day period and then start all over again. Space and washing machines were just not enough, but it worked out okay.
Many pilgrims were Taiwanese and Korean.  One evening we were woken by a drunk Korean guy who had not booked in, but we could not turn him away, so we made a bed on the floor, just in case he fell out of the bunk.
Another night, Robin got up, just to find 2 pilgrims having sex on one of the dining room tables, stark naked.  She was furious and they were upset because she chased them to their beds.
There were 4 gypsy's with their dogs. We allowed them to shower, gave them food and the police took them to the campsite to sleep the night, we could not accommodate the dogs.
Every scenario that was discussed and role played during the hospitalero course, had been thrown at us.  The owner Antonio, his wife and other family members came every night to collect the donations and leave money in the kitty box. They were very supportive/ generous and kind.
On Saturday/Sunday, we had a cleaning lady and we could go and do our own thing until 2:00pm.  One day Robin and I walked to Asofra, +/- 13km and back to have coffee (next town on our Camin trip). I loved to go for long hikes around Najera.  There was a little coffee shop in the Square by the church, where I got free wifi and also sent my Whatsapps. We had great fun in the evenings, with music and singing, the pilgrims loved that.
On the 21st May, Vladimer left and Manual arrived, he played the guitar and there was an American girl who did the singing that night.  It was a great party and at 10:00pm I could finally close the kitchen door, but it was not any easy task, as with the cooking and cleaning, I had the responsibility of letting it flow smoothly.
A Taiwanese mother cooked up a feast, but used the kitchen for 2 hours, I had to ask her to please hurry, as pilgrims were queuing already. Shame she gave me a packet of oranges afterwards.

The next day, the 22nd May, Robin and I were both feeling down and tearful. I hated the idea of leaving my good friend behind for another week in Nunsie's company. I did went back and said hello when our group stayed over in Najera the 24th May on our "Complete your Camino" walk.
I do want to stress that learning to speak Spanish will help a lot with communication. I was thrown into the deep end on my first hospitalero assignment and would definitely try again.
I learned a lot about myself, how to handle difficult situations and to cope with it.
Najera was a great experience and I enjoyed being a small part of it.
The reason for the weekly overlap and change of the hospitalero's was that I started on the 8th of the month and not on the 1st or the 15th, which is the normal way.
Anna Kapp