The Camino de Santiago is a trail that stretches five hundred miles, or eight hundred kilometres if you prefer the metric, across Spain and began as a pilgrimage centuries ago for the religious. Even now, thousands of people every year try their luck and attempt the walk on foot on bicycle, and for many, the spiritual element is pronounced, especially when the trend is to tread the roads and pathways in tribute to somebody you know who has been close to you and has passed away, be that recently or some time ago. The handful of pilgrims we follow in this documentary are mostly there because of a death in their family, though one seventy-year-old is trying to prove her arthritis will not get the better of her. But will they all manage to finish what could be a gruelling journey?
Well, it's not that gruelling from what we see, there are a few inclines to climb but a lot of it appears fairly flat, meaning it is more a test of endurance than a fitness workout. Nevertheless, as the participants we watch are in late middle age or older, they are no spring chickens, not eighty but they're not magnificent physical specimens either. The fact that they do so well - even the oldest of them - indicates this is an achievement that is fully manageable for anyone who has the will power to give it a go, and you imagine that is why it is such a popular endeavour for pilgrims across the globe to show up and start walking. But don't go thinking this film was a religious movie, as first and foremost it emphasised the human angle of the trekkers, with their suffering the most important.
Yes, suffering is a big part of religion, in that it is supposed to be good for you, but whether you believe that is life's way of teaching you humility or simply a load of bullshit designed to make you clutch at straws of succour when things are at their bleakest, it has spurred a lot of people to prevail over the worst of circumstances. And a lot of people do not prevail and succumb, but this was about them too as the weight of those who were not present any longer - one woman has lost her husband and son within a fortnight of each other, and one man lost his stepdaughter to cystic fibrosis at merely seventeen - was deeply felt by all those who were conducting the cross-country event. However, as you can envisage, this did mean a lot of shots of older folks breaking down in tears.
Even the seventy-year old, who is grieving for nothing but her failing health, seems to feel the pressure of those who have passed, so watching Camino Skies looked as if you were supposed to grow ever more reflective as it progressed over its brief eighty minutes or so. However, it was possible to sit through this and regard it as basically somebody's holiday videos edited together, and as most of the walkers were from New Zealand it would likely go down best with the same age group from that part of the world. Yet you could find a universality to their past experiences which brought them to the excursion, and there were no villains as might have been contrived for a shallow reality TV episode, though it did come across as more than a little televisual. As it was more or less the same thing all the way through, it did not make a huge impression once you had the measure of it, but the scenery was nice, it wasn't happy-clappy by any means, and you wished them all the best. Music by Tom McLeod.