When Guemes Island resident Robert Carter walked the Camino de Santiago nine years ago, he came across a shelter in a small town surrounded by mountains. The town shared a name with Carter’s home, and the shelter was owned by 80-year-old Catholic priest Ernesto Bustio Crespo, who promised he would visit Carter someday in America.
Crespo finally traveled to Guemes Island, arriving on April 23 this year. But first, he traveled to the two other Guemeses of the world in Argentina and Mexico, along with some friends.
When they arrived here, Guemes Island resident Ian Woofenden invited them to stay in his home, and a large group of Guemes Island residents were ready to offer some local hospitality.
Their first day on the island, the group had a picnic prepared by Barb Ohms at Young’s Park, which was named after Col. Gerald O. Young for his efforts in the Vietnam War. His wife, a former Anacortes High School Spanish teacher, Yadi Young, was there to tell them about it.
Crespo shared his story at the Guemes Community Center on April 26, where the travelers were received with a potluck by about 50 community members, organized by the Guemes Island Community Center.
The travelers said a blessing in Spanish before dinner.
Loalynda Bird, a Guemes artist who teaches luminary classes at the community center, approached Crespo during the meal.
“You’re connecting us all together,” Bird said. “Thank you.”
Crespo’s fellow traveler Francisco Gonzalez said he was surprised by the warm welcome.
“We are all the time eating,” Gonzalez said. “It is a sign of hospitality.”
Once everyone’s plates were nearly clean, Crespo shared photos of his shelter and his town, which he called “el Güemes pequeño.” The shelter, known as The Albergue de Güemes, is a free hostel open to anyone walking the Camino de Santiago who passes through Crespo’s little town.
Last year, 11,000 people from 80 different countries visited the shelter, said Crespo’s niece and translator, Marina Hervas. One of them was from San Juan Island, she said.
Crespo built the Albergue practically himself, Carter said. Inside, there are paintings all along the walls, which represent the philosophy of the shelter: El Camino de la Vida, which means, “the walk of life.”
He hoped to inspire Guemes Island residents to walk the Camino de Santiago, he said.
“When you come to walk the camino, you will find this: your home,” Crespo said.
The travelers leave for Quebec in May, where they will share their story with thousands of Canadians interested in making the pilgrimage, Hervas said.
When they return home to Spain, Crespo wants to build an art installation with four planks that represent each Guemes: one for the city in Argentina, one for the city in Mexico, one for his hometown and one for Guemes Island.