As you are walking the Camino Francés, right before you reach the town of Astorga, you might come across a very peculiar place. La Casa de los Dioses – or House of the Gods – is a small Donativo stand run by David and his girlfriend Suzie. Behind the stand lies a big courtyard and a small house of stone where they live – without any technology, electricity or running water. The little colorful stand is filled with organic food and drinks (most of it vegan!), and bears a painted message “La llave de la esencia es la presencia” (The key to essence is presence). A hammock and sofas lay all around the stand for weary pilgrims to take a rest.
“Make yourself at home! It’s all free for pilgrims” they say to us, welcoming us into their little nook. This was certainly one of the most unique and magical places of the Camino, and a big highlight of my journey.
David was born in Barcelona. After a series of failures and disenchantments, both personal and professional, his life took an entirely different turn. After being incarcerated during a dark period of heavy alcohol and drug use, he decided to choose a different path. A different “camino” as he says.
David walked throughout Spain, meeting shamans and people who understood “who they are and what they are here to do”, as he says. He discovered that the key to happiness was in simplicity. The simpler things are, the more we can enjoy everything, he says.
Because he had survived thanks to the generosity of the people around him, David wanted to give back by serving food and drinks to pilgrims along the Camino. What he offers to pilgrims is purely generated by their generosity and donations.
David has been living on the Camino for 7 years, in the utmost simplicity. At the beginning, he used to run to Astorga every morning to eat chocolate with churros, but he hasn’t been there in 2 years.
As much as David’s story moved me, Suzie’s affected me on an even deeper level. She remains one of the most inspiring people I’ve met throughout my Camino experience. Suzie is a young Australian woman who was walking the Camino a year ago. She stopped at David’s stand along the way. They fell in love, she stayed, and never made it to Santiago.
Suzie told us about her life in Australia, her personal struggles before the Camino and what brought her here, to an entirely different life. She came from a comfortable life, and had a typical western upbringing, where she was expected to follow a certain “life path” and career. As most of us, she lived her life seeking validation from others – family, friends, society – and wanting to live up to their expectations, which caused her suffering and confusion. When she started the Camino, she was in a state of total surrender to life. She didn’t want to have to take any decisions anymore, and let the universe guide her to her true path. When she arrived to David’s stand, she said she was surprised the universe had led her here, and even asked it “Really? Are you sure? Here? With him?”
This total life-change was undoubtedly difficult for her family to accept at first. She still goes to Astorga once a week to call them, check her e-mail and have a café con leche.
I was in complete awe of Suzie’s courage. Leaving her comfortable life, job, family and friends, and coming to this unfamiliar place, not knowing the language, not having all the basic “necessities” that she is – and we are – used to, not knowing exactly what would happen and not having a “plan”. But knowing in her heart this was the right thing to do, because she followed her intuition and trusted the universe.
The place was crowded with pilgrims who wanted to soak up its loving energy. Many were texting their other pilgrim friends who were still behind, telling them they absolutely must stop here. David and Suzie’s generosity and kindness made us stay here for hours to chat with them and listen to their incredible life stories and spiritual journeys. They have such compassion for their fellow humans. Such a beautiful, loving, authentic outlook on life. And I have rarely seen such happy people. It truly makes you wonder what – and how much – we actually “need” to be happy.
As each pilgrim left to continue their journey, David and Suzie would hug them tightly, wishing them a “Buen Camino” and a happy life.
La Casa de los Dioses has its own seal, which pilgrims can stamp their credencial (pilgrim’s passport) with. It seems fitting that the seal is a heart-shaped one. As David says, “When you do things with your heart, you benefit the whole world”.