Wayfinding on the Camino de Santiago is easy. The only time I back-tracked from taking the wrong path was on the first day as I found my way to the trail in the dark of autumn’s pre-dawn hour. After that, I neither lacked light nor trail markings. While I didn’t always know where I was, I always knew where I was headed. I found that a very comforting feeling.
Trail markers manifest in a variety of forms: large government produced signs, old cement pillars, scallop shells imbedded in the sidewalk, and most commonly yellow arrows spray-painted onto a rock or sign or just about any solid object. After that first morning every step I took was forward in the direction of my destination.
As an independent traveler, and at times solo traveler, maps, GPS, guidebooks, and helpful locals are usually a critical component of my travel kit. I love maps. I’m a geographer and cartography and GIS are required competencies. My mother also instilled a very strong sense of direction in me. I swear I learned north, south, east, and west, before I learned left from right. Still, long-distance travel free from uncertainty about the correct path to take is wonderful.
At times, I wish that life was as well-marked at the Camino. In its most confusing moments I see neither my destination nor a path forward. At other times, I take small steps forward trusting I’m on the right path. My feet find their next step as if reading Braille. I have no maps, no trail markers, and no compass. I can see I’ve come the right way, only by looking back: only in retrospect. Then there in moments of clarity, I know where I’m going and how to get there and am grateful.
Fortunately, like the Camino, life’s path is constantly changing. Smooth sidewalks give way to cobblestones which give way to dirt tracks which give way to pavement . At times the footing is tedious and oh-so-tiring, at other times so pleasant that it becomes hard to stop. And, like the Camino, I have fellow travelers that can help me on my journey. They too are finding their way, suffering the blisters and aching joints, but also celebrating at the summits and at the sanctuaries along the way. We are all walking, finding our way, seeking knowledge, love, acceptance, and meaning. We are all pilgrims finding the way forward.