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 Wyant, author of Return to Glow 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. Also, it is a book for anyone looking to read a good book!
Chandi, it’s an honor to be interviewing you. I am excited to chat about your adventurous pilgrimage.
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.
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.
My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world and I felt that I got in touch with her on the pilgrimage (which was 16 years after she passed away) and I decided that I wanted to dedicate a book to her.
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.
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.)
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 for 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.
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.
Thank you! There may be some talent but it was a lot of dogged determination and a willingness to fail and to keep trying. Writing the book and learning to craft memoir demanded WAY more of me than I expected when I started the project. It took quite a few years of trial and error to learn the craft of memoir: Learning what a narrative arc is; learning what advances the story and what doesn’t; Learning what to cut out.
I had strong skills with academic writing so I thought I could write but I had to unlearn or at least shift away from the academic style in order to learn memoir. There were footnotes in my drafts through the first few years until a beta reader said to me very clearly "Footnotes have no place in a memoir!”
Yes, I have another memoir in process, about my time in Qatar.
I lost my glow when I allowed my head to lead instead of my heart. My head was in the drivers seat when I was heading into my marriage. I was not paying attention to what my spirit really wanted.
This what I would say to my younger self who was heading into that marriage:
“Does your spirit really truly feel nurtured by this?”
I would tell myself firmly that rationalizing with the head is not allowed and that in order to answer the question, the head must not enter into it. I would tell myself to take a few days if necessary, to quiet the head, and to get in touch with my spirit in order to answer truthfully, devoid of rationalization.
On the pilgrimage, I made a decision for myself that it’s OK to let my heart lead, that it’s OK to make decisions from the heart. This helped me to get my glow back and it has helped me steer myself on a path that’s the right one for me, and that’s connected with my glow.
If someone has lost her glow she’s probably making actions in the world (with where she’s living, where she’s working, who she’s in relationship with) that are not in line with what her spirit really wants and needs. Life can be complicated and I realize that one cannot just wave a wand and be able to be living their passion, but if someone has lost her glow, I’d say that getting in touch with what her spirit really wants is the first step. One way to do it this is to follow the exercises in the book The Passion Test.
My views on religion/spirituality are a bit of mishmash. My Grandmother always talked about being a citizen of the world and how to create peace in the world, and that influenced me to have a universal outlook. When I went on my first trips through Europe and Asia, between the ages of 19 and 21, I focused on learning more about the various religions I came across, and finding the aspects of them that were peaceful and tolerant.
What helped me spiritually on the pilgrimage was the way I felt closer to my female ancestors. This turned out to be quite important— not only did it make me feel less alone, but it helped me undo the male voices that since childhood had labelled me in negative ways that suggested that I was flawed and that I made them suffer. I realized that this was a narrative that had gone on about my female ancestors too.
One of the great gifts of the pilgrimage was understanding that I, and my female ancestors, were not these labels that had been put upon us.
I realized that my female ancestors were survivors, and were the ones who held up 90% of the emotional sky. They had a deep capacity to extend themselves to others, and some of them were profoundly deep thinkers and highly creative. I understood that these were the things they’d passed on to me and that I needed to connect to that narrative about them and about where I had come from and who I was.
I was living in Colorado which was not the state where my most long-time friends and family lived. My best friend in Colorado, (called Kari in the book) was interested and supportive, as was my housemate, and as was my sister from a distance.
However, upon returning to the co-housing community where I lived, (see my book for further info on what that is) most people did not ask me about the pilrimage. When I got back one community member, whose house was about 20 feet from mine, said, “Oh have you been away?” That stunned me for a minute. But, just because my pilgrimage and my huge effort to heal, was important in my life, that doesn’t mean it was important for anyone else.
I did however, share about pilgrimage with my immediate neighbors Phil and Lydia. Lydia had Italian parents who were visiting and who loved it that I spoke Italian. At a dinner with the four of them, there was space for me to share some stories from the adventure.
By the time I saw family in California, I shared a bit but they had long ago gotten used to me going to Italy and so it wasn’t a big deal.
Chandi is an encyclopedia on Italy and in fact, she has recently moved to Italy and offers Trip Planning Services on her website: http://paradiseofexiles.com/
With her in-depth knowledge, she plans trips in Italy so I decided to get some advice: (You’re welcome readers, thank me later).
Along the Via Francigena I went to places that are perhaps less familiar to tourists, and that contain historic sites worth discovering.
In the northern Tuscan town of Pontremoli was new to me. (It’s where I arrived after crossing the Apennines.) It’s a world away from the highly touristed Tuscan towns and it has a museum with mysterious cargo: the Stele Statues. The stele are highly unusual male and female stone figures from an unknown civilization.
In the region of Lazio I was charmed by Bolsena, a town next to Lake Bolsena which is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. It felt genuine, un-touristed, and peaceful.
Italy has so many amazing places to discover that my favorite off-the-beaten path places probably change yearly. Two that I have visited in the past year which stood out to me are the Monti Sibillini in Umbria/Le Marche, and the town of Pietrasanta in Tuscany.
To learn more you can read my write-ups about them:
(Girls, I’m going to come clean, this is personal, my favourite wines are Italian)
If you have a basic concept of Italian reds you know that Barolo from Piedmonte and Brunello from Tuscany are super stars. So I’ll mention a few reds that aren’t as well known, that I think are great:
There’s a winery in Sicily I admire called Donnafugata and I recommend their red called Tancredi. Charmingly the producers recommend drinking Tancredi "while reading a book or listening to music.”
Around the town of Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast there are some fabulous reds that use the classic Tuscan sangiovese grape blended with merlot, or cabernet sauvignon, or cabernet franc. This creates a more modern and smooth red as compared to the more traditional Tuscan reds that are 100% sangiovese grapes and can be quite tannic. The winery Ornellaia makes one called Bolgheri Superiore that’s quite special.
For a white wine I recommend a Friulano from the north east region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Try a Collio Friulano by the Toros Winery.
I understand that first-timers to Italy want to see the big three (Florence, Venice, Rome) and in the past 10 years, the Cinque Terre have come close on the heels of the big three, particularly in the minds of North Americans. My thoughts on what’s happened to the Cinque Terre are in my book, but suffice to say that I don’t recommend it to my clients due to the extreme overcrowding. The big three cities can better handle the massive onslaughts of tourists. The tiny towns of the Cinque Terre cannot.
When I have clients who want to see the big three, I always recommend adding in a countryside stay too, so that they are not only in cities that are inundated with tourists and so that they can slow down (I’m a big advocate of slow travel) and savour a slower pace of life (which is one of the attractive things that Italy offers) by staying at an agriturismo in the countryside.
A balance is what I recommend. A balance between the known places and lesser-known ones. In short, don’t just go to all the big name places because everyone else talks about them. Pick maybe two of them and then go somewhere really different. If you have no idea what that might be, that’s where I come in.
I find out what clients like to do. Do they want a mix of art and history with outdoor activities? Do they like to hike, or swim in the sea, or horseback ride? What about foodie festivals, see how olive oil is made, joining a grape harvest, etc.
On my website, I offer a free eBook about the Chianti zone in Tuscany for those who sign up for my newsletter. The intro to it is all about slow travel and my recommendations for it, and how not to fall into the trap of visiting only the touristed places.
My first trip overseas that was not with my family (we had gone about every three years to England as a family because my mother is from there) was with a girlfriend when we were both 19. This was in the ’80s before the online world and we did not even take a guide book. We just showed up with our backpacks and our youth hostel cards and our budget of ten dollars a day. My biggest concern, I remember voicing to my friend was: “How are we going to know what train to get on?”
I had no concept of solo travel at that point. Without the internet, you had to have read a travel memoir by a woman who had done it, or you had to know another woman who had done it, to even have the concept. Now the internet is awash with blog after blog saying, “Rah rah! You can do it!” But my friend and I didn’t have access to anything like that.
We travelled together for four months and then she had to go back for a job. A whole new world had opened up for me and I was not ready to go back, so I found myself suddenly solo traveling. I was in Istanbul when I became solo, and I travelled on my own through Yugoslavia, and then back to Italy where I’d been a few months prior with my friend and where I’d fallen into utter enchantment.
I was in love with travel for so many reasons: for the personal growth, it gave me, for the cultural and historical knowledge and the perspectives on my own country that I gained, and for the way that travel “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” as Mark Twain said.
Hearing about how Chandi did her pilgrimage which changed her life reminded me that we have so many wonderful women in the community just like Chandi, who have done their own Pilgrimage. Remember Rebecca who walked the Camino de Santiago alone?
If you are thinking of doing a pilgrimage, you can find a long list of books to read before doing a pilgrimage here.
If you have questions about doing a pilgrimage, why not join our community and ask one of the super cool women. You can also use our forums to ask any questions from travel gear, routes, staying healthy and more. You can purchase the book here.
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