Movie Review: Walking the Camino

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Walking the Camino is a documentary about walking the Camino de Santiago, the millennium-old pilgrimage starting in the French Pyrenees and ending up in Santiago or, optionally, at the Atlantic Ocean. The hike is 780 km (about 500 miles) long. This makes it a bit more than two times the length the John Muir Trail in California. It was popularized a few years ago in America by the film The Way with Martin Sheen in 2011. This documentary follows six groups of hikers along the way and tells their stories, their background, and lets us share their joys and their aches.

Unlike backpacking trips in the United States, like the famous Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail or the John Muir Trail, this hike has people walking from village to village. While a backpacking trip requires packing and carrying every raisin to be consumed, and bringing a tent and a sleeping bag, on the Camino de Santiago hikers check into hostels, or, if they want to be upscale, into bed-and-breakfasts, at the end of every day. Dormitory-style sleeping with dozens of other people snoring along is the norm. Communal dinners and breakfasts are part of the ritual. Visits to churches along the way are common. Hiking the Camino is as much a social experience as it is a hike.

Travelers of all kinds have walked the Camino de Santiago for more than 2,000 years. It was first paved by the Romans to mine the area’s gold and silver. Some of the Roman pavement still remains.  James Michener has hiked it three times and calls it “the finest journey in Spain, and one of two or three in the world.”

Christians have traveled it for nearly 1,300 years as a pilgrimage, and they now claim it to be their Camino. The Christians tell the legend that Santiago de Compostela is the burial-place of the apostle James the Greater, which makes it, along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of the great pilgrim destinations of Christendom.

Anyone even tempted to hike the Camino de Santiago must watch this movie. It tells of blisters and aching knees, total exhaustion, loneliness, soul-searching, despair, of hot sun and driving rain, days on end. But it also tells the story of the human spirit, of accomplishment and pure joy of being one with nature, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and beauty, hiking through villages and cities that seem as old as the earth itself.

Rating: ***

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