This is not your average She Roams Solo interview. Recently I read a book that I simply could not put down. A book written so well that it made me want to jump inside it and have a chat with the author so I could pick her brain. Since I cannot jump inside the book, I decided to contact Chandi and ask for an interview. She said yes!
Chandi’s book Return to Glow - A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy, starts out when her world implodes as she goes through a divorce and traumatic illness. Where many people might give up, Chandi is determined to get “her glow” back and decides to walk Italy’s historic pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, for forty days to Rome.
This book is for anyone headed to Italy for the first time, or already in love with Italy; it’s for anyone who is interested in pilgrimages and journeys to find oneself; it will appeal to those who want to figure out healthy ways to heal from traumas, and for those who are determined to start living their best life.
I have split this interview into two parts, as there is a lot of ground to cover. This part is perfect before you read the book and the next part is perfect after you read the book.
Chandi, it’s an honor to be interviewing you. I am excited to chat about your adventurous pilgrimage.
Let’s talk YOU!
Honestly Chandi, I couldn’t put the book down. By the third day I was up to at least 50% on my kindle. I was impressed by your writing talent, you have a fantastic way with words! Talk to us about where you are now in life, with your career, and your new home in Italy.
I have been rather all over the map. After the pilgrimage I moved from Boulder, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then I got a job in Qatar and was there for three years. Then I went to my home town in California for a year and a half and then I moved to Italy. I’ve had a strong desire for Italy ever since my first days in Italy in the 1980s when I was a budget backpacking 19-year-old, and I always missed it when I was living elsewhere.
I hope that this recent move I’ve made to Italy will be a final one. As far as career, I gave it up to move to Italy. I’m hoping to earn money from my writing and I am looking to get in involved with farm to table/zero kilometer tours and retreats, and I will probably start leading small pre-made groups for a few days’ walk on the prettiest parts of the Via Francigena in Tuscany.
Let’s talk Pilgrimage
Some would say the Via Francigena is even harder then the Camino di Santiago. Many do not know about the Via Francigena, in fact, I didn’t. Whilst the best way to learn about it is by reading your book, could you give readers some basics about it?
The route is based on the descriptions of an Archbishop of Canterbury, called Sigeric the Serious, who walked it in 994 AD. Back then, when someone became an archbishop, they had to walk to Rome to receive a pallium (cloak) from the Pope.
Sigeric took detailed notes about the route and in the 1980s Italian researchers used the diary to revive the route. The route started becoming slightly known in the 1990s, but when I walked it in 2009 it was still in its infancy.
The name means: Coming from the Frankish lands. It starts in Canterbury England, and goes to Rome, which is about 2,083 kilometers and takes about 4 months. Many people choose to walk just the part in Italy, as I did.
What advice would you offer to someone wanting to do the Via Francigena?
Here are the preparative things I recommend, and that I did not do!
For shoes, have waterproof day-hikers with thick soles, and be precise about the weight of your pack. Don’t more than a tenth of your body weight (unless you are a Herculean mountain goat.)
Let's talk Female Solo Travel
You undertook the Via Francigena on your own as a female. You had encounters that made you scared as a female walking alone. Talk to us about some of those moments. How you pushed through, what went through your head and how you dealt with it.
In the book I recount that solo travel has been for me a way of overcoming the fear of violence against women that took root in me after stalking incidents when I was a teen. Traveling alone helped me insist to myself that I’m not disabled by this fear and that most people out there are good. But there were times on the pilgrimage as a woman alone when the fear came up and I started to feel disabled by it and I had to dig deep to find courage.
Just like all women, I’ve had to get used to it but I find it deeply disturbing that we’ve all had to get used to it. Women were granted the gift of being born upon this precious earth, with the right to walk upon it, the same as any man. Yet as women go through their walk upon this earth, they’ve had to fear violence against them from the other gender.
How many women over the centuries have limited their movements because of their fear of this kind of violence against them, or because others tell them it’s not safe?
Who is making it not safe them? The other half of humanity.
And yet women have the same god-given right to walk upon this earth as men do. It is not right that we have to force ourselves to become accustomed to the threat of violence against us. I am someone who finds it deeply disturbing, but I notice that the “getting used to it” on the part of both sexes, allows a concept of “that’s just the way it is” and this renders them unable to be deeply disturbed by it.
What advice would you give another female doing a pilgrimage on her own?
When you travel alone, if you consistently pay close “energetic” attention to yourself, to others, and to your surroundings, your intuitive skills will get kicked into high gear. Fine-tuning your intuition and learning to listen to it and trust it is the best thing you can do when you put yourself out there solo, in the world.
I loved reading about your crazy travels in your twenties, give us one memory from that time, which you haven’t mentioned in the book.
When I was 21 I was living in London I decided I wanted to go to India and Nepal. I’d never been to Asia nor had anyone in my family. I was unsure about showing up there on my own, and one day, while walking down Earl’s Court Road, I noticed a business called Encounter Overland, offering trans-continental expeditions in old Bedford army trucks.
I walked in and was told they specialized in London to Kathmandu, overland. Except they couldn’t take Americans. “We can’t get you guys visas for Iran.” I was told. “Oh crap, I was ready to sign up on the spot.” I replied. “Look, get yourself to Bombay and join our expedition there, that goes from Bombay through the deserts of Rajasthan, to Delhi, Agra, and on to Kathmandu.” And that’s what I did.
When the journey ended in Kathmandu, I was so enthralled with Nepal that I extended my visa and stayed there six weeks. I went trekking, with a Dutch girl, for about ten days. The rest of the time I had a room in the home of a Nepali family in Kathmandu, and I got myself a bike, and had a blast biking around the dirt roads in the city center, jostling for place amidst the bicycle rickshaws, and nearly missing the cows.
Back then Kathmandu wasn’t so polluted that you had to wear a mask, and the roads were not yet chocked by cars. I biked out to the Swayambhunath temple, a route which was mostly in the countryside, and which I imagine now the city has swallowed up.
There was only one bar, called Rum Doodles, and there were very few young single western girls, which made me quite popular with the guys. I decided my drink of choice was gin and grapefruit and often when I showed up at Rum Doodles, a gin and grapefruit would appear in front of me and some guy a few tables away would give me a nod.
It was perhaps the best time in my life— it was before I’d known serious heartache or serious illness. It was when I loved the world with an innocence and a curiosity and a glee that was very particular to being so young, on my own, in such a far flung place.
Look out for the next interview where we get the low-down on Italy, more crazy travel stories and more... If you have read the book and have questions for Chandi, email me and we will include them in the next interview.
You can sign up for her newsletter where she provides information on how to move to Italy here.
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