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?”