Examining the human stories behind a centuries-old tradition


Lydia Smith's Walking the Camino: Six 
Ways to Santiago is a sweet little movie 
 about a group of people varying in age and personality who take the 500-mile walk to Santiago de Compostela, with each having a profound experience.

A few years ago, director Emilio Estevez paid tribute to the pilgrimage with The Way, a drama starring his dad, Martin Sheen. I found Smith's film to be a better encapsulation of the experience. Before Estevez made his movie, his dad suggested they make a documentary about the Camino instead. Father knew best, because the Estevez film was rather poor.

Smith, who was inspired to make the movie after her own experiences hiking the trek in 2008, gets a nice international sampling for her subjects. The greatest charm of this film is watching how each of these participants reacts and grows through the centuries-old tradition of crossing Spain on foot.

There's Annie, an American and the most visibly emotional of the bunch, setting her own pace because she has a bout with tendonitis as she makes her way. We see Annie crying a couple of times, but she makes it through her pain and has a spiritually fulfilling experience.

Tatiana, a religiously devout woman from France, has brought her brother Alexis along, as well as her intrepid 3-year-old son. Tatiana takes the experience seriously, while Alexis treats it like a vacation. Of the travelers depicted in the movie, Tatiana seems the most agitated. Her son is a kick, and it's impressive that the little guy had the patience to walk the Camino. Smith shows us no child tantrums, but I have to imagine the boy lost his cool at one point or another. Perhaps a tantrum or two wound up on the cutting-room floor.

The film's most touching moment is from Wayne, a Canadian widower who, along with his priest friend, is doing the pilgrimage in memory of his recently deceased wife. Wayne comes to tears when explaining his reasons for taking the long walk, and seeing him having a good time as the film moves on is genuinely heartwarming.

There's Tómas, who provides the film with some drama as his feet swell with blisters and his ankles go wonky. In a truly kind gesture, one of his walking buddies gives Tómas his shoes when he leaves the Camino, demonstrating how friendships can sprout quickly during the experience.

From Denmark, there's Misa, who has come to the Camino for some solitude and soul searching, but winds up doing the trek with a younger man. The film suggests that the two walkers get close, even though Misa observes that they probably wouldn't be getting together because of the age difference. Again, the power of the Camino!

Finally, there's Sam, a Brazilian woman who takes to the Camino after the end of a relationship and losing her job. Of all the participants, Sam appears to be in the worst place emotionally and spiritually. By film's end, she appears to be making some progress.

All the stories are nicely tied together and balanced well. No doubt, Smith has much appreciation for the Camino trek, and that vibe is apparent for the majority of the film's running time.

Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago left me wanting to take a nice long hike with strangers. That's a sensation I've never really had, and this film does a nice job of showing how enriching, both spiritually and physically, the Camino trek must be.

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