Pilgrims have been walking the Camino de Santiago route for 1200 years. Men and women from all over the world gather together at the border of Spain, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port, France, to begin the journey. Their goal is to reach the city and the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This 500-mile trek can take four to six weeks depending on the perseverance of the pilgrims, their walking pace, and the exigencies of the weather.
Director/producer Lydia B. Smith walked the Camino de Santiago in 2008 and in her first feature-length film, she focuses on six of the pilgrims and their responses to this enlightening and daunting experience. We follow them as they cross various types of terrain, stopping at night at the hostels along the way for food, camaraderie, and rest punctuated with loud snoring.
Annie is an American whose competitive instincts get her in trouble as she develops tendonitis and is forced to slow down. This turns out to be a profound spiritual message for her.
Tomas from Portugal jumps into the pilgrimage without much planning or thought. He comes across as a very convivial and easy-going young man who suffers from bad blisters early in the journey and knee and other physical problems later. But the friends he meets lift his spirits.
Misa is from Denmark and although she expects to make the most of her solitude on the Camino, she meets a younger man who has the same stride as she does. They decide to walk together and move from friendship to romance.
Jack, a recent widower walking to honor his wife, and Wayne, an Episcopal priest, are retired Canadians who demonstrate the ways this pilgrimage experience lends itself to discovering spiritual lessons. They are both energized by the beauty in nature and relish their time together and the chance to savor silence.
Tatiana has brought her three-year-old son along with her and is determined to harvest the devotional significance of the places and churches she visits. Her brother helps with her son but they part ways due to their different agendas.
Sam is a woman from Brazil who has suffered from clinical depression. She's determined to leave her old life behind and hopes to find a new purpose on the trek.
Here are some of these pilgrims' thoughts about their experiences:
• "A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul."
• "It's like walking in a postcard."
• "The Camino brings you a peace that you can't describe."
• "The mask disappears, and you transform into yourself."
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is a beautifully photographed whether the day is rainy, cloudy, or full of bright sun. It lightly touches on the small spiritual changes in the pilgrims. Catholic clergy present short interludes on the history and the epiphanies that often take place in the lives of people who are forced to travel light, move through unknown territory, and deal with trouble, physical pain, and uncertainty. It is a mark of the film's emotional veracity that we find ourselves rejoicing with all the pilgrims as they arrive in Santiago after their arduous trek across Spain.