The Washer Woman


In the beginning

In the beginning

May 31, 2014

” This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes”

And so begins the story of how Shawna pissed off the French landlady, whose bed we rented from for our first night on the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port.
We arrived along with the masses of other pilgrims to the starting point around 6 pm walking in the rain ( we had yet to buy our ponchos). My first thought was to secure a bed for the night, which was a good thought as ALL the rooms in the village- so to speak- were filled up. Ahhhh…there is no airport to sleep in here. And it is raining. But right next door to the Compostella office was a place, that we were standing by, when the door opened and this nice French lady asked us if we needed a bed. We said yes. We asked the price, she said 13€. She shooed out this other couple and told them that the beds were taken now by us.

That should have ringed bells in our heads for a warning sign, but no, we took it as mercy from the Camino angels shinning down on us.
Well, placed our stuff in the room and headed out across the street to obtain our ponchos from the pilgrim store. Then we went to look for food. Oh my gosh…too expensive. But we did find a hole in the wall place selling box pilgrim lunch style food for 7€, which was fine by us. So we spilt the box sandwich and contents.

Back to our lodgings as the lady told us that she would close up at 10 and showers were to be done by this time too.

Abby ate while I showered outside on the top porch and washed my clothes in the bag- after 3 days of wearing the same clothes, this was our next priority. Trust me, this pack, wear one set, wash one set in order to save on pack weight, can be a smelly pain.

Anyway, Abby came up to shower and I washed her clothes as she was taking care of herself due to the time running out. I had laid the clothes out on the drying rack that had others rain clothes drying on, when in comes landlady who goes ballistic on me. Screaming in French, gesturing away and gives me a tongue lashing that left me crying ( I don’t cry, but I will chalk this up to being sleep deprived and humiliated) which just increased her hysteria even more. Abby came out of the shower looking at me in horror.

This is what I understand from her outbursts, little bit of French I know and her gestures. I was NOT to have washed my clothes and hang them to dry, even though she had confirmed earlier that I could wash them in the shower, but not in the sink.
The water draining from the clothes was dripping onto a table below, which I had not seen from above at the angle I had checked out first. And my clothes should have been draped over the chair pulled to the sides of the stairs and exposed to the rain. She found the water on the floor to be a pain to mop up even though I offered to do it. She chased me away yelling how I had no respect and that I was a fat cow who made too much noise walking in the hallway. I think she said I plodded like a cow in the cobble street and everyone can hear through the whole town when it is coming. Might not be the exact wording, but her gestures certainly left no doubt of the meaning of, fat, cow, plod and rude.

She spent another hour yelling about me to her husband, three floors down. The one man who was sharing the room with us told me not to pay any attention to her and not worry.

Well this morning she came up the stairs yelling and shaking us all awake. Then she saw Abby’s IPhone charging and she ripped it from the wall and threw it on the floor. And this is the way we started at 6 am. Welcome to the Camino.

At breakfast ( hard crusty slice of bread and jam) when I told her no thanks to cafe con leche due to religious restriction. She went off on us about costing her money since she already had prepared this. And then she again made gestures and sounds about how fat I was to walk the mountain and showed all seated that I had a big belly that would get smaller the longer I walked.

We packed up our soggy wet clothes and went next door to the pilgrim office. The contrast within the office and her place was welcoming. The true Camino Angels shinned on us there. The man took me to the dryer where we could dry our clothes. He helped me figure out a plan to spend two additional nights here in SJPP. He helped me with making arrangement to have my backpack taken to the next two stops and even though he was blunt, he was nice. I could have cried with joy.

On a side note, those of you traveling over here need to bring Euros in coin form in order to pay for your train and bus tickets when paying for them at the machine. They will not accept our chip less credit cards.

On ward we go…no more banshee French woman



14 thoughts on “The Washer Woman

  1. Patrick

    Ola, Shawna. I stayed last October 1 with this HORRIBLE &&^%%$! I will admit that I gave as much as I took from the ^^%%$, at one point threatening to trip her and send her sprawling down the stairs. I used some good Chicago curse words on her, and threatened to call the gendarmes on her. That last threat seemed to scare her. A month later, one day out of Santiago, I met a Brazilian young guy who had also been there with me and a guy from London. We both laughed about the horrible lady.

  2. aliciameldrum

    Reblogged this on aliciameldrum and commented:
    For every minute you remain angry, you give
    up sixty seconds of peace of mind.
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson.
    That woman was obviously mirroring her lack of peace of mind. Safe travels to you both; in our prayers. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Stacey Wittig

    Thanks for sharing the Washer Woman story. Yikes! Thanks for putting up the photo of her door… did you get her name? I want to make sure that I don’t stay there or recommend it. Interesting story about her coffee comments.

  4. susanawee

    Shawna and Abby…..go well over the mountain…..keep your sense of humour and don’t let the negatives get to you. Buen Camino and hugs for you both.

  5. Annie

    Oh Shawna! I’m so so sorry your Camino is off to such a start. Please take a photo of this place so we can warn others!! What a mean woman! If after your walk to Orisson you decide the next day is too hard you can either have Carolyn from Express Bouricott take your pack to Roncesvalles or even take you! Several of our pilgrims did this. Especially if the weather is bad. You aren’t breaking any laws by doing do. Also just FYI, things will lighten up financially once you pass Roncesvalles. There is a market in Burguete where you can buy food as you leave Roncesvalles. And the grilled chicken in Zubiri is 6 euros and very good. To find it you walk through Zubiri and instead if turning right to go to the albergue, you turn left. It’s a few doors down. The have a flyer in the window. If you want a private room in Zubiri I recommend Pension Amets. Let me know if you need a number. I hope things get better for you. Good luck crossing the Pyrenees. If the weather is bad please bus. Same for Zubiri. The last 2 k are treacherous in the rain. Annie

    1. SM Monroe

      your recommendations are very positive and helpful. Their beginning has been discouraging and the first night experience humiliating – to say the least.

    2. Debra

      Shawna, I am so shocked at the actions of this ungrateful banshee. Please do post a name and picture of this place so others might be warned. I’m sorry she made you cry. I am not a crier either. I do know that releasing of tears does good in many forms, so perhaps you will be starting your first steps in a good manner. Keep looking forward, peregrina. Praying for you!

  6. Mormon Soprano

    Oh my goodness Shawna. What a nightmare story! Its unbelievable an innkeeper could treat her paying guests like that!!!!
    Well…it makes another great tale for the blog….and you have a great attitude. Its sad your first encounter with a French person was so negative. Shame on her!
    Im so glad you had good people to balance out the banshee. Just look at that beautiful place you are in! Wow! Wow! So excited for you to walk those cobblestones. I hope Abby is feeling better and the rest of your stay in SJPP is much happier. ♥ I’m eagerly following along!

  7. Debbie

    Well, the French have never been known for their kind and gentle manners. L has plenty of stories about her time there as well and the rudeness she encountered. Focus on the good that is surrounding you and know that there are people thinking of you and praying for you. Every experience is a chance to learn and grow. Wishing you a restful night’s sleep and a lovely day!

  8. aloarb53

    Shawna, my heart is breaking AND rejoicing. Breaking because of the inhumane treatment you received from the (infamous) innkeep. (I’ve heard/read numerous other stories about this banshee before.) Rejoicing because you continue to seek and find the silver lining in your clouds and to rise above problems that would bring others to their knees. Blessings pilgrims!!!


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