In the albergue at San Salvadore the hospitalera (the woman in charge of hospitality in that hostel) gave us both a gift: a small badge in the shape of a yellow arrow. She had made them herself and gave away maybe a dozen of them a day to pilgrims. We pinned them to our hats and have worn them since, for they are fraught with symbolic value.
The various routes of the Camino Santiago are marked with a few easily recognised symbols. Sometimes there are scallop shells set into the ground or painted on buildings or perhaps incorporated into railings. Sometimes these are realistic
but are more often stylised into a symbol recognised from one side of Europe to the other. There is a small trap for young players in that on most of the camino the tip of the shell points the way, but in Asturias the base points the way. It does cause a few problems when borders are crossed, but none that aren't easily rectified.
But the most ubiquitous sign is la flecha amarilla
, the yellow arrow. These are sometimes professionally painted onto walls and signs. More often than not they are roughly done, placed on the backs of stop signs or on rocks or on the curbs of streets.
It is possible to walk 800 km from one side of Spain to the other without maps or guidebooks or smartphones simply by looking out for yellow arrows. And just as the camino itself is a metaphor of and sacrament of life, so the yellow arrows develop a deep symbolic significance: of the guidance that is always there if only we will take the time to stop and be aware of it. To follow of course you have to know what you are looking for, and the places where one is likely to be found. And to see them you have to stop. Be still. Observe. Trust that it will be found. They never fail.