A Cycling Pilgrim’s Journey along the Camino de Santiago in Spain: Part 2

| October 30, 2013 | 4 Comments
Credit: Gigi Ragland

Credit: Gigi Ragland

By Gigi Ragland

As a child, whenever I heard the word “pilgrim” it was usually followed by a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving. My young interpretation of the word didn’t take on much meaning beyondthe fact that pilgrims were the people that landed at Plymouth Rock. Now, the word pilgrim takes on a whole new meaning to me.  Along the Camino aka “The Way” walking pilgrims are called peregrinos and biking pilgrims are called bicigrinos. As it was explained to us during our overview before our first dinner, wave after wave of pilgrims during a span of 1000 years walked the route we would begin in the morning. All three guides, Juan Carlos, Joan and Jago enlightened the group with tales and historical information about the Camino. They explained, like the pilgrims before us, it was necessary to document our journey to prove that we physically made the journey. Stamps with dates collected along Camino waypoints are required each day of each leg of the 500+ mile route. Nowadays, an official Pilgrim’s passport booklet is issued to each peregino, or in my case bicigrina.

A Spanish writer said long ago, “You approach Compostela the way you would a miracle.” As I stood in line at the monastery in Roncevalles on the first day of the 2-week bike tour waiting to get my passport, I wondered when I would feel like a true pilgrim, I wasn’t seeking salvation or miracles; I just wanted to ride the historic route. Near the end of the line I questioned the volunteer distributing passports, “When do you stop feeling like a tourist and more like a pilgrim?” He smiled and simply said, “you’ll know.” I’m not sure what kind of answer I expected but that wasn’t it, there was no theological or philosophical explanation or description.  At that point I realized that anything could happen along the Camino. You just need to be open to the possibilities. The point is, every pilgrim needs explores the path of discovery in their own way. The Camino is the tool to get you from point to point.
A pilgrim's scallop shell. Credit: Gigi Ragland

A pilgrim’s scallop shell. Credit: Gigi Ragland

In medieval times, pilgrims returning to their homelands brought back scallop shells as further proof that they completed the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. The shells are an official symbol of the Camino Route and can now be seen on signs indicating the route, embedded in the cobblestone paths of the ancient villages, and of course on every type of souvenir you can think of including a tee-shirt of a “Hello Kitty” peregrino. Most importantly though, the scallop shells are worn by official pilgrims as a sign to others indicating they are a pilgrim. Our guides surprised each of us with a beautiful white scallop shell displaying a red crusader cross. We were instructed to strap the shell on the bike bag, like a bumper sticker on the back of a car identifying us as pilgrims.

As further initiation into pilgrimhood, I learned to say Buen Camino, which essentially means “good journey along the path.”  All locals meeting or greeting a pilgrim in Spain always say Buen Camino. It made me feel as if I was part of something larger than myself, part of a group on a special mission. Finally, I was starting to feel like a pilgrim.


Look for the the third installment of Gigi’s journey next week. Read part 1 here.

Category: International, Travel

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Comments (4)

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  1. Walker, there is no path,
    the path is made when walking…’

    (original: Caminante, no hay camino: se hace camino al andar
    Antonio Machado published 1912)

  2. I was led the wrong way near Foncebadon by a group of overzealous Italian mountain bikers. If it hadn’t been a km downhill in the wrong direction I would have found it funny. 🙂 That being said, I met some really cool bicyclists on the Camino, many who had ridden from their homes in Belgium or the Netherlands. They usually did as many kms in one day that took me three or four days to walk!

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