Film producer and director Fergus Grady shares his tips for those wanting to follow Spain's ancient pilgramage routes
The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a network of historical pilgrimage routes in Spain, France and Portugal, now walked by many as a form of religious or spiritual growth. In new Kiwi documentary film Camino Skies, six New Zealanders and Australians aged between 50 and 80, walk the 800km Camino Frances route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, in a bid to overcome grief and personal loss. Producer and director Fergus Grady walked along with them, and here shares his tips for those wanting to follow in their footsteps.
1. Don't treat it like a fashion show
If I have any advice for anyone wanting to attempt the almighty Camino de Santiago, it would be to not treat it as a fashion show runway. I've happily gone on record saying that I wore the same zip-off trousers, three merino thermal shirts, and a trusty pair of shoes that didn't procure a single blister in 30 days. In fact it was only when I escaped production for a week at the Cannes film festival did I develop my first blister wearing runners that got wet on Cannes' Croissette. Pack wisely, and remember, whatever you bring, you'll be carrying.
2. Don't miss the Roncesvalles Monastery
A place that I always revisit in my mind was the abbey monastery cum albergue (Spanish word for hostel) in Roncesvalles on the Spanish border of the Pyrenees. We had spent the entire day trudging up the hill in torrential rain, which not only drowned the entire team but also a microphone, rendering it our first casualty. Upon checking into the monastery albergue we were greeted with a warm shower and a cup of tea and after dumping our sodden backpacks we went looking for some nice aerial drone shots. The rain had subsided and the most beautiful sunset set on the snow-covered Pyrenees which looked spectacular as "Dronetonio" (our aptly-named drone) rose and swept over the 12th-century monastery and took in the forest of trees in the peak of their autumnal season covering the foothills of the Pyrenees. This is a place not to miss.
3. Book v app
When my Australian co-director, Noel Smyth, and I first agreed that Spain would be the perfect place to make a film, we had delusions of grandeur imagining sipping sangria and eating Michelin-starred pintxos (Galician tapas) in San Sebastian after a herculean 25km tramp that day. It was only after we booked our flights, did we realise that the 800km Camino Frances pilgrimage we were embedding ourselves on, didn't go anywhere near San Sebastian. Whether buying the Brierley Camino guide book or downloading the Camino app, each pilgrim has their own way of tackling the famous pilgrimage. Do your research before you go to make sure you're fully informed.
4. Tapas v Pintxos
This is a holiday on which you won't need to spend a lot of money. We had no idea that we had 35 days' worth of peregrino (pilgrim) menus to look forward to. These daily offerings allow a choice of two meat and bread options that would often set us back as little as €8 ($13.50) and included: a bottle of wine, a bunk bed and as much Nutella as one can consume over sweet bread at 5.30am. We may not have broken the bank making our first film, but our appetite was certainly whet for further Spanish sampling later on our pilgrimage.
5. What you'll gain or lose
Over the course of the 37 days walking, we lost toe nails (look away at the 70th minute mark in the film), skin from blisters, and excess luggage which at the time of packing seemed like a good idea. We each gained personal growth (mine in the form of a patchy beard), strong friendships, and a strong smell after living in dorm rooms for more than a month. Our strong bond will forever live on celluloid — or digital these days — and I implore anyone interested in walking the Camino to do it, no matter how old you are.
Fergus Grady is co-producer and co-director of Camino Skies, screening around the country at participating independent cinemas from July 11. caminoskies.com