Begoña: “We Hospitaleros Look After People's Souls.”

With a warm smile and plenty of compassion, Begoña Valdomar has been helping pilgrims in the Albergue de Fisterra for 25 years, “just like in olden times.”

By Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, hospitalera of the Fisterre hostel (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar is proud to be a hospitalero (the name given to hosts along the Camino). It's more than just a job to her. For Begoña, the Camino is a passion, and hospitality is her raison d'etre.

She has been the hospitalero for the municipality of Finisterre since 1995. Finisterre is the final destination for many pilgrims, who extend their route as far as the Atlantic coast after reaching Santiago de Compostela. There was a time when this place was believed to be the end of the world. It was her knowledge of the Camino—gleaned from her understanding of the region that is her home, as well as her experiences as a pilgrim—that led to her becoming a hospitalero.

Peregrinos en el Camino de Santiago (2021)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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“I remember my mother telling me when I was on my way to school, 'If you go past the hayloft, be quiet because there's a pilgrim in there.' Years later, when I was about 13 or 14, I went to O Cebreiro with a group of friends from my village, and we started walking to Finisterre. That was how it all started, and I haven't stopped since. I live on the Camino and it's my life, that's all there is to it.”

Peregrinos en el Camino de Santiago (2021)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

It is this passion for the Camino that led to Begoña becoming vice-president of the Asociación Galega de Amigos do Camiño de Santiago (Galician Association of Friends of the Camino), where she is in charge of hospitality. "It is an extremely gratifying experience. You work with voluntary hospitaleros, people who have been pilgrims and want to give something back to the Camino. And then there's the day-to-day hospitality of a municipal pilgrim hostel.”

Begoña Valdomar, hospitalera of the Fisterre hostel (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

That day-to-day hospitality has an early start. “You have to have everything ready in the hostel for opening at one in the afternoon. Every time you open the doors, you don't know what you're going to find, so everything has to be ready to welcome in people of all kinds.”

Pilgrim observing the Atlantic Ocean from Cabo Fisterra (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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However, hospitaleros are not just responsible for pilgrims' physical wellbeing: they also have to care for their emotional needs. "One day you might be like a sister to lots of pilgrims; the next you might have to be someone's mother, or their psychiatrist, or a nurse, or a travel agent … but the main thing is to give help with plenty of humility, and without judging anyone."

Peregrina en el albergue de Palas de Rei (2021)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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For Begoña, this is what makes hospitaleros unique. “We look after people's souls. On the Camino, pilgrims bare all, emotionally speaking, and that's what you need to be aware of. You have to be really sensitive, because if you're not, it becomes difficult, but the Camino teaches you to manage it pretty well.”

Port of Fisterra (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

The number of pilgrims visiting the small municipality of Finisterre, which has under 5,000 inhabitants, has grown to such an extent that the feel of the place and the local economy have changed. Tourism and the service industry have replaced fishing as the main economic activities. Begoña is concerned that "this is undermining the most important thing about the Camino, which is pilgrim hospitality."

Pilgrim backpack and staff (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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The Camino is now shared by people who want different things from it. “Pilgrims on the Camino are searching for something; tourists are there for enjoyment and relaxation … the two are very different. Pilgrims aren't looking for five-star accommodation, they just want a roof over their heads, water for a shower, and company to chat to and share their experiences of that day."

Begoña Valdomar, hospitalera of the Fisterre hostel (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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She has experienced that need several times, and has completed the Camino on numerous occasions. And she will again: “I really want to complete the pilgrimage from Rome to Finisterre. My family isn't all that keen, but then again they weren't all that keen when I set off aged 14 on the Camino!" she laughs. “They have to understand, and they do understand.”

Pilgrims on the Road to Fisterra (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

While she dreams about setting off once again on the pilgrimage, she continues to attend to pilgrims reaching Finisterre, in far greater numbers than 25 years ago. This has an effect on how she deals with each individual: "The treatment you can provide is very different, but we try not to lose the essence of it.”

Begoña Valdomar, hospitalera of the Fisterre hostel (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Begoña Valdomar, pilgrim's hostel in Fisterra
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With humility and diligence, hospitaleros work to keep alive the values of the Camino. "We are from different races, different cultures, different languages, different religions … All those things are irrelevant in our work. We're here to serve, to help, and to make their stay in our hostels more rewarding. Just like in olden times.”

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