Walking the Camino - Six Ways to Santiago Review

Documentary Will Make You Start Packing Your Backpack

Walking the Camino - Six Ways to Santiago
Walking the Camino - Six Ways to Santiago. Courtesy of Amazon.com

The ancient pilgrim route of the Camino de Santiago draws walkers from around the world. The documentary "Walking the Camino - Six Ways to Santiago" follows six pilgrims who each have a different purpose for their month-long walk from France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This independent non-profit film was filmed the same year as Emilio Estevez's and Martin Sheen's The Way, and they are fans.

The film is gorgeous, filled with beautiful landscapes. The stories of the pilgrims are engaging and leave you with a yearn to pick up your pack and join them.

Follow the Camino de Santiago

Director/Producer Lydia B. Smith walked the Camino de Santiago in the spring of 2008. With a long history in the film industry, she felt called to make the Camino her first feature-length film. Like a true pilgrim, she decided to trust the Camino to do the casting for her. Other than Annie, a friend from Los Angeles, the other five pilgrims the film follows were people she found on the Camino. That luck-of-the-draw adds to the authenticity of the film -- these aren't scripted stereotypes.

We follow the pilgrims as they walk 500 miles in 30 days or more on the Camino Frances route from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. They are each on a separate journey rather than walking together.

All of the walkers are trekking in the traditional way, carrying all of their gear in a backpack and staying at the albergue pilgrim hostels along the way.

This is not a "how to" guide to the Camino, nor a travelogue. While we see some of the mechanics of daily life on the Camino, and breathtaking views of the scenery, it is much more about the people and their personal experiences.

Who are these Six Pilgrim Walkers?

Annie is an American who is walking the Camino for spiritual reasons. But she ends up in a world of pain from tendonitis by letting her competitive nature drive her to walk faster than she should. She despairs that she seems to be the slowest walker from the first day.

Tomás from Portugal chose the Camino instead of a month of kiteboarding during a work break. He has a great time with new-found friends but also endures a lot of ankle pain from his boots and blisters. I'll be shallow and thank the producer for including this very attractive guy, who also has a great personality.

Jack and Wayne are two retired Canadians, one an Episcopal priest and the other a recent widower, whose grief is still raw.

Misa from Denmark is on the Camino to get in touch with herself, but instead she ends up with William, and the two enjoy the Camino together.

Sam from Brazil is trying to put her life back together. She hopes the Camino will help her overcome clinical depression and clarify where she should be going in life.

Tatiana is one of the rare pilgrims trekking with a child, her 3-year old son. Her brother accompanies them but their interior Caminos are very different.

She is on the Camino for religious purposes, while he is there to party.

I enjoyed the balance between "the interior Camino" challenges of the walk and the physical and social challenges. We have fun with the snoring at the albergues, stepping in manure when attempting a urination stop behind the bushes, and the developing romance between Misa and William. We see lots of foot blisters and suffering through pain and rain.

The history and religious meaning of the Camino are explained, in just about the right depth. We don't have to sit through a scholarly dissertation on it, but you are left with at least a sense of why the Camino has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years.

There is just enough soul-searching, tears, fears and regrets to show us why these people were walking. But not too much for it to drag down the movie.

Some of the most touching moments are when the walkers are moved to tears in recounting how other walkers helped them along the way. Carrying Annie's pack when she was in pain. Exchanging Tomás's boots for shoes that worked better. That spirit of giving to each other and supporting every person along the way is a deep tradition on the Camino, and one I would wish could be spread to our daily lives.

Bottom Line on Walking the Camino

I enjoyed the film from start to finish, and the pacing was excellent. I was intrigued throughout with every aspect. Two of my friends were so inspired by this movie that they walked the Camino in 2014, and I followed them and walked final 100 kilometers in 2015. The cinematography was excellent, I think it is superior to that in The Way. The glimpses of daily life on the Camino give you a good sense of what to expect, both the good and the bad. I found many take-home messages, but my favorite is "A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul."

I highly recommend the DVD or video download, it is a must-buy for anyone interested in the Camino, and would make a great gift.

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