After mastering our first course on Moorish Spain, Honors DOC was ready for our second course and the change of scenery from the South to the Camino de Santiago in the North of the country. After a two-hour train ride and a four-hour bus ride, we arrived in Cacabelos, Leon, our starting point on the Camino (220 kilometers from Santiago). Although our travels included catching up on a few hours of much needed sleep, the scenic ride provided an opportunity for all of us to contemplate the journey we were about to embark on. My mind was racing thinking about all the interesting people we would meet, the picturesque nature we would encounter, and even the blisters that would inevitably afflict our tired feet.
However, there was one thought that persisted above the rest: What exactly defined a true pilgrim on the Camino? What was her motive? Method of travel? Items that she carried? This turned out to be the theme of our class discussion upon arrival in Cacabelos. We explored common “types” of pilgrims – those travelling by bike, on foot, by car, and even those on horseback (ideas for the Honors DOC 2015?) who made the journey to Santiago de Compostela as traditional Christians have been doing for centuries. There are a few staples of the pilgrim: The scallop shell displayed, clearly distinguishing an individual as a pilgrim along The Way, became a visible icon after the story of St. James saving a drowning horseman who emerged from the water covered in these shells. The credentials, pamphlets that pilgrims have periodically stamped by villagers along the way, serve as tangible proof of the journey made and places visited. And finally, a walking stick – although some carve symbolic icons of their journey into it, others enjoy the more practical uses of the stick, such as leg support or even fighting off wild dogs (don’t worry Mom, this is extremely rare today!).
The discussion was a perfect prelude to our first encounter with Manuel, our personal Camino guide who will be accompanying us on our journey for the remainder of the trip. Traveling the Camino an estimated 70 times and guiding groups in six different languages, it was clear that Manuel knew his stuff. At our first family dinner, Manuel enchanted us with his tales of experience, describing the Camino as being “like a dream.” Much to our surprise, Manuel presented us with our very own scallop shells and credentials at the culmination of the meal as gifts before we would embark the next morning. As I held my shell in bed later that evening, I couldn’t help but think of myself as an authentic pilgrim. We are all ready for the Camino, and equipped with our rucksacks, credentials, and scallop shells, we are definitely feeling like pretty legit pilgrims. Villafranca, here we come!
Julia Parascandola – Psychology