Bunk-beds. Blisters. Stunning landscapes. World-class snorers. Hot searing sun, freezing cold rain. Kindness from strangers. Debilitating injury. Unexpected romance. No toilet paper when you really need it. Profound grief and deep doubt. Hunger. Laughing with new friends. Total exhaustion. Total exhilaration.
Can a single film motivate you to experience all of this and more? Can one documentary inspire you to walk 500 miles?
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is a 90 minute documentary which provides up-close look at the ancient spiritual pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James.
Following the journeys of six modern-day pilgrims as they walk 500 miles and cope with blisters, exhaustion, and loneliness along the way, this documentary successfully captures the universal themes of this physically challenging, spiritually nourishing, and profoundly enlightening journey, and offers a very realistic insight into what a traveler attempting the Camino should expect from the journey.
There are many routes to Santiago, and Walking the Camino focuses on the most well traveled: the Camino Francés, which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port and ends in Santiago de Compostela. This 500 mile long journey leads each pilgrim to Santiago and most importantly, it ultimately leads them to their true selves.
Since the 9th century, millions of people, from spiritual seeking or devoutly religious pilgrims to adventure-driven travelers, have embarked on an epic pilgrimage across northern Spain that is known to be profoundly enlightening, spiritually nourishing, and physically challenging.
Today, several hundred thousand people a year walk the Camino de Santiago, a mostly unpaved path, with little more than a backpack and a pair of boots. Although originally known as a Christian pilgrimage, the Camino now attracts people of all faiths and backgrounds, from atheists to Buddhists, adventurers to mourners, and college students to retired friends.
The Camino is world-renowned; UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site and the Council of Europe declared it the first European Cultural Itinerary. Millions of people from all over the world have traveled this trail for over 1,000 years – in 2010 alone, over 270,000 people attempted the arduous trek – each one a seeker of something.
Walking the Camino is a total immersion experience that captures the trials and tribulations associated with a group of modern pilgrims who decide to walk the Camino de Santiago. The cast of people featured in the film run the gamut of ages (from age 3 to 73), as well as nationalities, religious backgrounds and motivations for coming to the Camino.
Through the stories of these six pilgrims and the priests, hospitaleros, and others featured along the way, Walking the Camino presents universal themes that highlight the communal and individual components of the Camino de Santiago. Solitude and community are inseparably intertwined as pilgrims seek to redefine the way they live their lives, deepen their relationships with themselves, and rediscover their connection with the world in which they live and in doing so, pilgrims become more self-aware.
Out of that self-awareness inevitably emerges open-mindedness and selflessness as pilgrims, both in Walking the Camino and the thousands of others who have walked the journey, help each other through their trials and struggles to reach the finish line.
If you wish to walk the Camino, nothing else will prepare you better for your journey than from watching this film. It truly is a total immersion experience, and the documentary allows you to develop a relationship with each pilgrim, experiencing the Camino with them as they complete their own individual journeys.
The film follows the whole journey from day 1, documenting each pilgrim as they complete the trail, and offering a tour of each beautiful city and township along the way. It records personal feelings and reflections along the way, and holds absolutely nothing back in terms of offering a realistic overview of the difficulty of the trail, capturing the physical and emotional toll it takes on each pilgrim, and unveiling the ugly truth about blisters, and the symphony of snoring in the hostels each night!
“In the bigger hotels, someone is always snoring” says Tomas Moreno from Portugal.
In many ways the journey is an internal Camino. The film is immensely personal, and offers an insight into the soul of each pilgrim as they travel to find their inner peace. It captures the exchanges with one other, the long silences and meditation, and successfully shows transcendent experiences amidst a backdrop of unbelievably spectacular views.
Throughout the film, each pilgrim is shown absolutely vulnerable and broken along the way, though this rare insight into their souls only makes their triumphs even more exhilarating to share in and witness.
Tomas Moreno is a carefree 30-ish Portuguese business professional who hits the Camino on a whim and discovers he’s almost completely unprepared for the physical rigors of the experience. Wayne Emde is a 65-year-old Canadian retiree, undertaking the trek to honor his recently deceased wife. He is accompanied by his friend Jack Greenhalgh, an Episcopal priest. American Annie O’Neill, a middle-aged Los Angeles resident, is attracted to the challenge for religious and personal reasons, only to learn that her own physical limitations throw completion of the Camino into recurring doubt.
Each character is likable and each is very real. Their triumphs are your triumphs, and their trials are yours too.
Walking the Camino is the best way to prepare for this journey. It offers insight into the kind of meals to expect while on the trail, documents the arrival process of each new hotel, and offers rare insight into church services and local congregations along the way.
It will make you rethink what’s in your pack, documents the comradery between strangers on the walk, and the unwritten rule that “when you see someone in need on the Camino you help them”, is apparent throughout. The underlying message from the film is that the Camino is about the people you meet along the way.
“Even though I came alone, it was like I came with two best friends” said Tomas Moreno.
The documentary is expertly produced and incredibly inspiring. In the spring of 2008, Lydia Smith (director) walked the Camino herself, and the effects is had on her were truly life-changing.
The star of the film, the Camino itself, is showcased with elegant cinematography that captures and depicts the gorgeous scenery and breathtaking vistas from the raindrops on leaves to the fields of grass, mist covered mountains, colorful sunsets and truly inviting local people and historic surroundings.
Smith truly does the Camino justice in this phenomenal documentary, and chances are after watching you’ll find yourself reaching for a pair of hiking boots to complete the journey yourself.
**If you live in Australia or New Zealand, the documentary will be playing in movie theaters this upcoming year, so you will be unable to stream or download the documentary from the film’s website.