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—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: Signs and Symbols

Santiago—Saint James. Saint Jacque. Jacobeo. James´ body was discovered in the city Santiago de Compostela, where you end.

Blue and yellow—The colors of the camino. Your brain will be trained to notice the slightest bit of yellow anywhere.

Yellow arrows—Flechas amarillas. They point the way. Painted on the road, on the sidewalk, on rocks, on buildings, sometimes just a splotch of yellow on a tree branch, always guiding you closer to Santiago. You´ll get nervous if you haven´t seen an arrow or shell for a while. "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" will get stuck in your head a lot.

Sea shells—Conches. Scallops.All the peregrinos (pilgrims) carry one on their pack. At the wine fountain you used your shell as a cup. Some of the cities have metal shells in the sidewalks to mark the camino. They´re painted on sign posts. They´re found in city artwork. The shells are found on the shores of Galicia, where you will end your journey. Two myths explain the sea shell. One is that after the death of Saint James, his body was being shipped to Spain when a storm hit and the body was lost to sea. It was washed ashore undamaged and covered in scallops.

Credenciales y sellos—Pilgrim´s passports and stamps. Every pilgrim carries a credencial. Every time you stop at a hostel, sometimes at churches or bars, they stamp your credencial and date it to prove you did this step of the camino. Each stamp is unique, a record of your journey.

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