Reporting from: Camino de Santiago, Spain
Local Contact: Ann Howley
Tell us about your journey across Spain—on foot—and your involvement since?
In 1999, I was given a New York Times article about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile medieval pilgrimage. I spent the next ten years dreaming of walking from the border of France to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Many of my actions during those years had this walk in mind, including eight 60-mile Breast Cancer Awareness walks and two treks in Nepal. A turning point came at a difficult time in my life when a mentor asked me “What do you want to do?” My immediate answer was to walk across Spain. Finally in May 2009, I was on my way.
I honestly didn’t know why I needed to do a pilgrimage, but for me it was an intense time of self-examination. I primarily walked alone during the day, using my journal as my companion. At night, I stayed in pilgrim hostels, known as alburgues, with pilgrims from around the world. My big discovery on my pilgrimage was that after 21 days the noise in my head finally fell silent. I had a spiritual ah-ha moment about forgiveness in my life. Then . . . silence. It was magical.
Since coming home, I became very involved in the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) which is an organization that fosters the tradition of the Camino de Santiago by supporting its infrastructure, gathering pilgrims together and providing information and encouragement to past and future pilgrims. To be of service where kindness had been given generously to me, I returned to Spain in 2010 to work in an alburgue for 15 days as a hospitalera. With four other people, we hosted 180 pilgrims each night in Ponferrada, a major town along the Camino. I have also committed my time on the Board of Directors of APOC to help others fulfill the dream of their own pilgrimage.
What did you see there that inspired you artistically, creatively or otherwise?
I borrowed a lightweight camera for my Camino, as mine (seven pounds with battery charger) was unsuitable for backpacking. Unfortunately, I damaged the loaned camera early in my walk. I made the difficult decision to not stop to get the camera repaired or buy a new one. I put photography on the backburner. While I would love to have incredible images from those days in Spain, I am glad that I could evaluate what was important at that moment.
While the camera experience brought my relationship with creativity into examination, the Camino has caused a full life (and life style) review. Upon returning home, I have evaluated the hours I keep, my use of time, my relationship with finances and possessions. I have craved silence and alone time.
I can’t concretely correlate what I saw in Spain to my post-Camino life. I am still trying to find my artistic path. Along those lines, I am broadening my reach beyond photography and I am pursuing a Design Communication Arts certificate at UCLA. My schooling resulted in completion of a product I have been wanting to do for years: a perpetual calendar based on my nature photography.
What can our readers do to support and/or be a part of this experience?
If your readers are interested in the Camino de Santiago, I would recommend American Pilgrims on the Camino for information. A great way to learn more about this pilgrimage is to attend a regional or national gathering to meet other pilgrims.
Mostly, I’d just urge your readers to follow their own dreams. I have been extremely inspired by some beautiful friends who have unfortunately passed away before all their dreams could be fulfilled. Because of them, I try to do the things that call to me while I can. So far, that inspiration has taken me to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, to follow mountain gorillas in Uganda, to Mount Everest base camp, to Antarctica and, most recently, across Spain. I believe we can do what we are inspired to do—but we need to do it NOW.
Ann Howley is a travel, nature and wildlife photographer. She’s traveled to all seven continents on adventures with and without her camera. She is currently expanding her artistic vision through the study of graphic design.
Follow her adventures at www.annhowley.com.
Christine Mason Miller is a writer and mixed-media artist who loves to travel, wander and explore, whether on her own or vicariously through others. Her latest book, Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World, is now available at bookstores everywhere. Visit her at www.christinemasonmiller.com.
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