Wednesday, 10 May 2017


Those who walk the Camino know the value of the waymark. All along the way, the route is marked with the symbol of the scallop shell, yellow on blue, the rays of the shell pointing you in the direction you should go. Supplementing the scallop shell are actual shells, painted yellow, attached to trees and fence posts. Some adorned with just a simple name. In addition to the shells are yellow arrows, some neat and formal, painted onto walls and lamp posts and signposts. Or wooden arrows attached to stakes or nailed to trees and walls. Others spray-painted low on walls, on curbstones, on sidewalks and the very road itself. Painted by local residents, volunteers and city employees, the signs keep you on a path that is centuries old, leading you past churches and chapels and drinking fountains, to cafes and albergues and hotels. Installed with love to guide pilgrims on their way and keep them safe.

The walker soon learns to search out these marks, always looking ahead towards the next directional sign on highways and on country lanes, in cities and towns. Sometimes the signs disappear, especially in busy cities where there are distractions or businesses competing for the custom of the pilgrim. Rarely but annoyingly, businesses who have lost foot traffic when the route has been changed vigilantly remove new waymarks, crossing them out with black paint and redirecting the stream of traffic back past their bars and cafes. In a world full of conflicting roads, without the waymarks, peregrinos would soon be lost and confused. They would never find their way to their destination.

From one end of the Camino to the other, signs point the way. And when signs fail, the peregrino is encouraged by people who live along  the path, pointing the way, calling words of encouragement from the path, from farm fields, from the balconies of their homes. Although you do not share a common language, the calls "Santiago! Courage!" and " Buen Camino!" cheeer you as you walk, reminding you that you are never alone.

In the end, you arrive at your destination. Tired, sore, worn out from days of walking, you come to Santiago de Compostela under your own steam, but not all on your own. The waymarks left by hundreds of others have led you here. The path trod by generations of pilgrims has led you here.

And then you are done.

There are no more arrows. No marks to watch for. No signs to tell you which way to go. No one lays out a path or calls out words of encouragement.  The road you take is your own.

Perhaps the strength you gained from the road will guide you. Perhaps knowing that you never walk alone will give you comfort. Perhaps remembering that others have gone before will help you forge your way.

Perhaps the path you walk will serve as a guide for those yet to come.

Buen Camino, amigos. Walk well!