Camino de Santiago Photo of the Week – July 14, 2013
In March of 2011 I left Rognes, France for Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Nine weeks and a thousand miles later I reached the town of Finisterre on the western coast. The pilgrimage was the centerpiece of a sabbatical year I spent with my family in the south of France and documented in Walking Backwards (A journey of a thousand miles on the Camino de Santiago). This week we returned en famille after two years to the home and town where we spent the year. We reunited with friends, walked the streets of the nearby city Aix-en-Provence, took in the Bastille Day fireworks, rode horses in the Camargue and revisited places of particular nostalgia for us.
Last night we ventured up into the rocky hills behind our house where I trained for my camino. Three or four times a week I spent four to eight hours walking with a full pack on these quiet, white rock Provencal trails. I’d come across the occasional fellow hiker, equestrian, or local boar hunter, but mostly it was a quiet and reflective way to prepare for the long journey ahead.
On my very first hike up there – a hike I made with my family in tow – I found a white rock about the size of my fist and set it down by the side of the road. Melanie and the kids found their own rocks and did the same. You couldn’t even call them “piles” because there was just one stone there, but there were four nascent cairns in a row, and every time afterwards we would add one stone to the pile to mark the journey. Dad’s pile obviously grew the most considerably because I was out there so often, but each of us eventually had a respectable little mound of evidence. When I finally left our home for Santiago, I placed one last rock on the pile – a stone considerably larger than my fist – and headed off to Spain.
Last night as we hiked up the hill and retraced that very first leg of my Camino, I wondered whether our piles would still be there after two years away, and I was delighted to see that they were. I can even note that my own pile has grown considerably since I left, a small inspiration, perhaps, to other hikers who passed that way and couldn’t resist adding a token of their own presence. None of the guidebooks will tell you, but the telltale pile of rocks in the picture above is as much a signpost to Santiago as a spray painted yellow arrow on a street in Burgos.
If you are interested in the account of my pilgrimage to Santiago, you can learn more here.
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