I caught up with them on the way to the next refugio. Let's call them Carlos and Anita. We all paused for a rest by some rocks on the bleak, saturated grassland above the pueblo. Carlos rolled a cigarette. Anita looked tired. She was limping - the result of some knock with a car just north of Seville. She had a persistent cough. Their packs were much too heavy, for they carried a tent, and had sometimes slept in it.
We met up again later in the refugio. We talked in broken Spanish and broken English. They were Spanish pilgrims from Alicante. They'd begun the Camino in Seville on 1st January and were walking slowly, poco a poco, from one albergue to the next. They were two of a growing band of the working-class Spanish unemployed. Why sit around waiting for a job that doesn't exist? So they'd set off on the Camino.
The refugio was small and spartan, with no kitchen. It was cold. Very cold. There were several bunk beds with mattresses, but precious few blankets. There was a shower with hot water, and a radiator, but it gave out little heat.
We shared what meagre food we had. They insisted I took some of the huge bocadillo they'd prepared from tinned fish, lettuce and mayonnaise - the cheapest ingredients. Carlos had flattened and warmed the bread on the radiator. It was delicious. We were ravenously hungry.
They had little money, and stayed only in the free or donation-only albergues, always buying their own food, never able to afford to eat out. Sometimes they ate no hot food for days. They were poor, but they were happy. They loved the whole of the Camino, all its landscapes and all its aspects, despite the hardships - the cold, the damp, the heavy backpacks.
Later they snuggled up together in their clothes under a blanket on a single mattress, and talked and giggled quietly, until their voices became softer and softer, and we all fell asleep in the icy darkness.
They were proud, spontaneous, child-like, happy. For me, that night, they were the very heart and soul of the Camino. I was only playing at the vagabond life. They were living it for real.
They were some of the sweetest, kindest, most generous people I have ever met.
(Posted from Puebla de Sanabria, on the Camino Sanabrés, Spain.)