Last updated on June 25th, 2021
By Amit Janco, Guest Writer
If you count yourself among the growing tide of travellers who have taken to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela – a network of “Pilgrim’s Ways” in Spain – you will have noticed an unusual phenomenon: A bonhomie develops among perfect strangers that quite unexpectedly leads to lasting friendships.
Pilgrims on the Camino are a curious bunch – an ad hoc, in flux community of outdoorsy, organized, single-minded, supportive types. Sprinkled with pain-sufferers too. Comprising a tapestry of nationalities, ethnicities, ages and fitness levels, these adventurous and/or spiritual souls are drawn to pilgrimage for the simplest of reasons: to walk. In nature. To think. To be. To seek joy. To celebrate life. And, sometimes, to come undone.
One of the rituals enacted over the centuries, and still widely observed by current-day pilgrims, is the laying of stones. In medieval times, stones were carried and placed atop one of the many cairns of stones dotting the roadsides; it was believed that by doing so, a wish would be granted or penance could be made. At the base of the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), a mound has formed from the vast number of stones that pilgrims have brought from their native countries. To some, the act signifies an honouring of their journey; while to others, it might reflect a symbolic effort to let go – of hardship, grief, loss, illness.
As I walk the Camino in 2013 – nearly 1,000 kilometres – I spot a scattered collection of beaded bracelets, feathers, pint-sized dolls, framed photographs and unopened packs of gum amidst the piles of stones. These unusual sightings beckon and buoy me. Physically unable to carry a load of stones due to a physical disability resulting from a near-fatal accident four years prior, I find comfort in knowing that adding a ≥÷shell to the jumble is perfectly acceptable.
I nestle three shells into a pile of frosted leaves and petals, struck by the incongruity of embedding them into a cold and wintry landscape, so far from their native tropical climate. Who will break first, the shells or me?”