There are good signs everywhere along the Camino. Photo Credit: Kayleigh Levitt
Before coming to India, I was traveling for a month in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the cathedral of Santiago, where the apostle Saint James is said to be buried. Nowadays, people walk the Camino for a range of reasons including the traditional Catholic. Everyone I met was walking for a different, personal reason, but many fell into similar and overlapping categories of health, spirituality, personal journey, and cultural experience.
Many of us on the Camino were far from home, but the shared intention of being there was this thread that bound us all together, beyond language barriers and cultural differences. The Camino has its own culture and so we shared that. There were lots of people who were alone, but we were together.
The most popular part of the pilgrimage to walk is the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Traditionally, people walked from their house. Although that is less common now, people do still start from their own doorway. There are many places people start the Camino besides St. Jean Pied de Port (as well as many places to end it- there is a walk to Finisterre, the coast of Spain and through Portugual, the Camino Portugués as well). I have been told there are fewer way markers- which are yellow arrows and scallop shells- before the Camino Frances.
Part of the fun of the Camino is hearing about the different ways people have done their journey. I heard of a woman walking alone, starting in Switzerland, with only a compass to guide her (there are fewer albergues too when you start from that far). I met several people who walked 1000 kilometers by the time they reached St. Jean Pied de Port, where I was starting.
At the first albergue I stayed in, which are essentially hostels for pilgrims, our French hospitalera described it something like this: The Camino is not about walking. Walking helps you do the camino, but the camino is an inner camino, when you walk inside yourself.