Flechas Amarillas

When walking El Camino, the variety of people one comes across can be just as numerous as the beds they’ve slept in or landscapes traversed.

In our experience, we have come across pilgrims that trek an upwards of sixty kilometers a day in an adrenaline-fueled test of their bodies endurance; or else a race towards a departing flight. And, on the less crazy end of the spectrum, those like Kate and I who are content with walking a fraction of that distance each day, teetering on the fine line of walking just enough to feel accomplished but not so much as to willingly bring chronic bodily ailments upon ourselves.

There are pilgrims who perform minor surgery on their feet day after day in the form of blister care and others who perform minor miracles by having no foot problems whatsoever. There are 87-year-old Italian priests and twenty-something college students. There are bikers, walkers, and apparently, horseback riders, though we haven’t seen any of the latter yet. There are early risers, late departers, eat-iners and going-outers. There are Spaniards, Germans, Dutch, Canadians, Brazilians, Israelis, South Koreans, and Australians. There are the religious and those without any religious affiliation whatsoever, but in search of something outside of themselves all the same. And, while El Camino is traditionally a religious pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James, there is only one thing that unites all the different kinds of people, and it’s not Christianity, rather, the unwavering devotion to the all-knowing yellow arrows, or flechas amarillas.

Painted on rock faces, tree trunks, street curbs, and traffic signs, to name a few, the flechas are an ethereal lifeline of sorts, pointing each pilgrim in the right direction. While on El Camino, when we find ourselves lost along the way or unsure of whether or not we are moving in the right direction, we pray that a flecha reveals itself, giving us a sign that everything is okay. When we are in the dark or at a crossroads and there are no flechas to be found, we curse them for abandoning us. “How could such an omnipresent force of good be absent at such a time?” is a question that has often passed through our minds. Though, no matter how sparse their presence has been or how frustrated their absence has made us, whenever a flecha is spotted, we are thankful for it, for we are assured that we are moving in the right direction. And on El Camino, as in life itself, that’s all you can really ask for.

Since their inception over three decades ago, the flechas have become synonymous with the various routes to Santiago and for good reason. Despite being a pilgrimage route for over a millennia, by the 1970s, the number of pilgrims arriving in Santiago had dwindled to the hundreds. Then, in the 1980s, a priest and El Camino scholar named Elías Valiña mapped out a route starting in the south of France and painted flechas along it every couple of kilometers or so to guide pilgrims towards Santiago. Elías chose to use yellow arrows because he had seen them guiding hikers through the mountains of France and took note not only of their visibility in the dull browns, grays, and greens of nature, but also of their durability to remain seen through variable weather and seasons. And so, the arrows were conceived and brought to life precisely at the time El Camino experienced a rebirth itself. The original route he mapped out, now popularly known as Camino Francés, attracts nearly 200,000 pilgrims every year and on countless other routes, including the one we have been walking on: La Via de la Plata, the arrows serve as a guiding hand, pointing pilgrims towards their destination, whatever or wherever that may be.

5CE126CB-C1D5-447F-9F52-58D52070E319

EE808C87-1D13-4A34-9C74-373415F00475
In the province of Extremadura, large stone blocks not only pointed us in the right direction, but also informed us whether or not we were following a Roman road.

E78A0442-08A7-449F-A41A-CE636FEA710C

94EA6A10-D4AA-4271-A2A0-87508D1D3398
Occasionally we will come across flecha stickers courtesy of a prior German pilgrim.

73087A91-C656-4EC5-93D8-1FB4CF84B166

C3AD8754-0301-48BC-9FA7-A6D52E1D8F38
Can you spot the flecha in the distance?
7FF94159-9A48-4FCC-9343-98BCACB5851E
A flecha pointing us towards Cáceres
9F52BFAC-DB7D-45F2-9C3A-7D965465F151
Sometimes the flechas are almost indiscernible from yellow moss that also populates the tree trunks and stones of the Spanish countryside.
BB35FEAE-BB66-4D53-83A8-5E25C3618BEC
A sign pointing us towards our albergue, which is always a welcome sight at the end of a long day of walking
25E3B039-9C23-4F1A-8E8B-58342A8D8D8C
Sometimes, there is little to no doubt about which way to go

0080EC2E-A422-463F-B009-C7327A8DF33533D9CCC3-D406-4CAD-BEA1-EF42FE24CB78C3A15FC5-0068-4353-85DD-BD8C61C8C4D5

ACB5FB15-D169-49CD-B87B-18CD1B58A5F2
When flechas amarillas can’t be found, flechas in other forms, like this one made of sticks and rocks, will make an appearance
2BA45462-40EE-4A4B-8C10-BB3861B47E68
And here’s one pointing you towards Kate’s poem

 

Flechas Amarillas

On your right—
cows.
On your left—
trees.
Only one way to go—
straight.
It´s a flecha fiesta—
painted boulders,
trunks,
posts.

We come to a fork:
gray stones,
mossy branches,
wired rails.
Where are the flechas?
Fast asleep,
it´s time for siesta.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s