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El acebo, La Rosa del Agua

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My name is Mike de Ayala, an American who’s been living in Spain since 2010. I came to Spain as an English teacher and opened up a language academy in Mallorca. During the intervening years I had the opportunity to travel throughout Spain and in 2014 I discovered the Camino de Santiago or The Way of Saint James (“the Camino”). The Camino is a network of pilgrims' ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of one of the 12 original apostle, St. James, kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the Saint are buried. My first Camino was in 2014 and I walked approximately 800 kilometers over 5 weeks over the historically best preserved and significant pilgrimage route in Europe, the French Camino. That experience of walking each day in the same steps of Christian pilgrims dating back to the 9th century had a profound impact on me. The rhythm and philosophy of the Camino lent itself to an unexpected blend of contemplative or inward experiences with equal measure of opportunity for solidary or communal experiences (i.e., one part spiritual and one part social).


Between 2014 and 2018 I walked 5 Caminos through Spain, Portugal and France. With each experience I became more convinced that I wanted to serve pilgrims on their journey towards Santiago. In 2018 while walking through Castilla y Leon in the El Bierzo mountain region, I discovered a 200 year old refurbished building, in the medieval village of El Acebo de San Miguel. It’s the first home on the left as you enter from the east into town located directly on the French Camino. In 2019 I entered into a multi-year lease to operate a casa rural (i.e., bed and breakfast), café and mini market. The Inn, Café and mini market is called La Rosa del Agua . In my 1st year 2019, without any previous hospitality experience I served over 20,000 pilgrims and even a few non pilgrims alike from over 65 different countries. Our mission at La Rosa de Agua was to serve pilgrims with friendly hospitality always doing our best to as make them feel at home. Our philosophy in managing the business is simple we´re just “Pilgrims serving Pilgrims”. My 4 bedroom casa rural finished the year with 9.4/ 10 Excellence Rating in and the hotel/ bar received a 4.5/5 star rating on Trip Advisor. The secret to our relative success was simply working hard and making sure that each pilgrim guest feels at home and is well served.


I have invested nearly everything into this passion venture, from re-decorating and painting the interior, new beds, furniture, kitchen to signage and digital media. Last year working at La Rosa del Agua was hard and had many challenges (most unexpected) and tested me in many ways. In retrospect it was worth it all when I consider all the funny, unique, interesting and inspiring people I met as they stopped in for a coffee, sandwich or night´s rest or just needed to use the bathroom and fill up their water bottle. With my first year experience behind me and the excellent social media scores to support my effort, I was expecting 2020 to be an even bigger success. The idea was to invest in the capacity to provide each pilgrim coming down the mountain with quality friendly service. No different than when I was pilgrim carrying a walking stick, backpack and a few blisters to boot.


We opened our doors for the 2020 Camino season on 27 February. February/ March are a relatively light in terms of Pilgrim volume but there was a steady stream passing through especially from countries beyond Europe. However, there was a lot of news since January really surrounding this Corona virus or COVID-19. What started as a quick-spreading flu from Asia became a health care nightmare in Europe and Spain within a few weeks. The Spanish government issued a “State of Alarm” on 14 March and we helped our VERY LAST guest book a flight and make arrangements to the airport in order get back home. She stayed with us three days until 17 March waiting be able to travel. Since then we’ve been officially and indefinitely closed adhering to the Spanish Government´s State of Alarm that continues in place and as I write this request has been extended to 16 May. All the Caminos and pilgrim routes in turn are closed down. We’ve seen images in disbelief of empty famed grand central plazas, avenues and public spaces across the great cities of Europe and beyond. And the French Camino route dating back to the 9th century that passes in front of my home where I live above my Café and mini market is no different. In these days of COVID-19 for exercise and meditation, I walk the Camino up the mountain in reverse or in other words in an easterly direction from La Rosa del Agua and immediately you find yourself out of town. I can sadly testify that our world heritage ancient Camino de Santiago is devoid of its ancient steady westerly flow of pilgrims. There are no walking sticks, backpacks nor blisters.


The internet chatter of the most followed Camino de Santiago social media pages are writing off the 2020 Camino season. We, the small businesses that serve the Camino, optimistically hope to open in some limited capacity by July and in full capacity by September. Pilgrim volume is expected to be significantly reduced and nearly entirely comprised of local travelers (i.e., Spanish) with a few Europeans outside of Spain sprinkled in (e.g., French, German etc..). It is our fervent hope that by this summer the COVID-19 virus is contained and remains contained forever and that a vaccine or cure is eventually discovered.

On the bright side, the year 2021 has been designated a jubilee or Jacobeo year on the Camino and in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and by extension the city of Galicia that bears its name. A Jubilee Year is celebrated in Santiago de Compostela whenever July 25, the feast day of Santiago, falls on a Sunday. This happens with a time sequence of six, five, six and eleven years. And this occurs in 2021 the last time being 2010 or 11 years ago. The creation of the Holy Year in Santiago goes back to the XV century. It is believed that the first one in history could have been the Jubilee Year of 1428. The 12th century Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela has been cleaned and refurbished both inside and out getting ready for this yearlong celebration. There is talk the Church will decide to expand the jubilee year to include 2022 as well to make up for the sacrifices and hardship humanity has faced and continues to face in 2020.


The end of our history and our story brings me to this point. Because of the COVID-19 Crises and the State of Alarm issued by the Spanish Government La Rosa del Agua and by extension the Camino remains closed. Our cash reserves are nearly depleted as we struggle to pay fixed expenses. The help from the Government is modest and limited. In spite of our fixed operating budget being cut to the bare minimum we are not able to meet all our expenses. That is why we are asking for your help in a modest 5,000€ capital request to which will serve as financing bridge to get La Rosa del Agua ready to open fully in 2021. Any individual contribution of 150€ or more will be gifted a Complimentary nights stay with full breakfast. Thank you very much for any help you can provide to keep us ready soon to open our doors to serve pilgrims and the Camino de Santiago.

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