Seeking metaphysical insights.
Walking the Camino is, it seems, a good way to have a spiritual awakening while viewing incredible natural splendor and forming important human connections.
And then there are the staggeringly huge blisters.
The Camino is a pilgrimage route that traverses much of the width of northern Spain. For centuries pilgrims have been making the trek, which ends in Santiago, where the remains of the apostle James are said to be held. We meet several modern-day pilgrims in the fascinating, moving documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. And we get a good look at their traumatized feet. The pilgrimage requires weeks and weeks of walking, and along the way are places where pilgrims can sleep and eat -- and get their blisters lanced.
Walking the Camino was directed by Lydia Smith, who captures a range of experiences on the trail. Some pilgrims are devout Christians, like a young French woman who pushes her toddler son in a stroller. Others are looking for a party -- including the woman's brother. Midway through the film, in an exasperated moment, she asks him not to walk with her anymore.
Still others appear to be seeking an experience that is spiritual but not necessarily religious. They embark on the pilgrimage amid big life changes. A Portuguese man has left a job, and a Brazilian woman has ditched an alcoholic lover. An older Canadian man cries a little as he talks about the death of his wife.
They walk, sometimes in solitude, sometimes in crowds of hikers and cyclists that remind me of the Capital City Trail on a pretty Saturday afternoon. They check out quaint little towns and attend church services. They spend the night in crowded hostels. In interviews they tell powerful stories about kind people they met.
And they share metaphysical insights they have gathered from the walking, the injuries, the close quarters. Apparently the intensity of the pilgrimage heightens awareness, so that mundane occurrences are imbued with significance, and reports from the trail take on deeper meanings. "I walk to create some sort of motion," one pilgrim says, solemnly. There are great spiritual lessons to be learned from Walking the Camino, which would make excellent viewing for church groups.
With their high-tech outdoor gear, the pilgrims remind me of hikers I have encountered on American backcountry trails -- including the Appalachian Trail, which I kept thinking of as I watched Walking the Camino. As with the Camino, some people seek out the Appalachian Trail for a spiritual experience, or at least a transcendent one. An important difference: No comparable destination awaits hikers at either end of the Appalachian Trail. An important similarity: The journey itself is, I gather, what matters most.