I had just finished walking 800 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago across Spain. It was my second Camino, and I wanted something to bring back to Australia. People who have walked the Camino often wear a scallop shell, both to commemorate their journey, and also to identify themselves to fellow pilgrims. A special connection exists among the millions of people from around the world who have walked the Camino over the centuries, and the scallop shell identifies you as a part of that global family.
Shops in Santiago are overflowing with souvenirs featuring Camino symbols of all styles. Simple, elaborate, gaudy — which would be right for me? Although in the end, the souvenir wouldn’t be for me.
I have a granddaughter who has always intuitively understood what the Camino is about. Even more than some of my friends, she “gets” it. As I walked, I thought about how much she would enjoy the experience. And so I decided to ask her to walk a portion of the Camino with me in 2018.
I had identified a particularly lovely section in the middle that features welcoming hostels where you help the hosts prepare a communal meal, and share your stories along with the food. I knew she would love it, and I was excited about the prospect of walking with her. I even left a small glass stone hidden in the garden of one of the hostels in the hope that we would return together to find it.
I rang Zoe from Santiago to tell her my idea. She immediately said yes. The only question was whether her parents would allow their 11-year-old daughter to miss school so she could travel halfway around the world to walk 150 kilometres through rain and heat, sleeping in dormitories full of strangers. Not to mention being away from home and family for weeks.
We kept our plan secret until I returned to Australia and we were able to present our petition together. Her parents said yes, and to celebrate, I gave Zoe the souvenir pin I had bought in Santiago — a yellow scallop symbol on a blue background. It reminds her of our upcoming adventure and that her Camino has already started. She is preparing herself physically and mentally for what will be a big challenge.
I am also preparing; having a child to look after means this will be a very different Camino for me.
I have accumulated a lot of souvenirs over the years, from carpets to clothing to jewellery, from pottery to paintings to theatre programs, and much more. But that little Camino pin I picked up in Santiago for one euro is undoubtedly my favourite. Not only does it commemorate a meaningful completed experience, it is a symbol of a future adventure.
Don’t have time to walk the full Camino de Santiago? Get a taste of The Way in a day. Hike a stretch of coastline, then kick back with a wine in hand.