Presenting: Brandon Wilson – Author, Photographer and World Traveller Shares Tales of a Pilgrim
10. You also did some extensive travelling through Africa and wrote another book “Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips”. What was this trip all about?
Following our year circling the globe, we returned to the States, easily choosing Hawaii as a more temperate and tolerant location. Still we only lasted another four years before wanderlust struck again. Cheryl and I quit our “career” jobs, sold our house and cars, put everything into storage and set off once again for the unknown.
After backpacking across Eastern Europe on a shoestring for a few months, we landed in Berlin just in time to help chip away at the Wall. Then determined to explore Africa, we joined a do-it-yourself safari out of London bound for Cape Town. We figured crossing seventeen countries over seven months would be enough of a challenge without having to deal with all the bureaucracy and baksheesh along the way. So we’d let the “experts” handle that. What a mistake. In theory that made sense, but our expert driver and his assistant were as new to Africa as we were. We soon decided we’d rather risk dying at our own hands rather than theirs and set off on our own.
All in all, it was a wild experience as we traversed an unpredictable, ever-changing continent. We crossed the Sahara, went whitewater rafting down the Zambezi, climbed “Kili,” hunted dik-dik in a Pygmy village, photo stalked mountain gorillas and hopped the gun-run across Mozambique during its civil war. And that was just the beginning… Besides providing a great series of adventures, quirky characters and comic mishaps, the book allows readers to experience the diversity of Africa while adding a human face to a misunderstood continent.
Quiet moments in fields transport you to simpler times
Image © Brandon Wilson
11. A few years later you embarked on the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Northern Spain. Please tell us more about that experience.
Our Tibetan odyssey really changed the way we looked at travel. It was such an intense experience. Upon returning I found myself seeking something that might begin to compare. By chance, I heard about a medieval route that crossed Spain from the French border to Santiago de Compostela and the burial place of St. James the Apostle. So by the fall of 1999, I gladly set off with a backpack and joined others from around the world on this ancient path.
For the beginner pilgrim, or peregrino, days are certainly more organized than in Tibet. The trails are well marked, the scenery is varied and beautiful, there are inexpensive hostels to stay each night, and plenty of small cafes and good local wine to satisfy your hunger. Yet again, there is that rare chance to disconnect from the din and clutter of the outside world, to travel outside while traveling within.
The way to Santiago is well-marked and well-trodden
Image © Brandon Wilson
12. You also covered the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. Why did you choose this pilgrimage route and what did you experience?
The pilgrim’s cape fit me well. Walking on pilgrimage trails became my passion. I no sooner returned from Santiago than I started thinking about my next walk. Of course, in between I had to earn a living at writing, but my mind was never far from the trail. Before long, I heard about another path that had recently been re-established. It followed the route of Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, from England to Rome. So, over two summers I retraced his journey, walking one year from Switzerland to Rome and another from Lausanne to England. I discovered the same serenity on the trail and the same friendliness and curiosity by locals along the way—and the red wine was a vast improvement over yak butter tea. They tell me that I’m the first American to walk that trail and hopefully my notes and mentoring make it more feasible for others to follow.
San Gimignano preserves its medieval heritage down to the smaller
details. Image © Brandon Wilson
Stay tuned for Part II of this interview where Brandon will tell us about his pilgrimage from France to Jerusalem and many other fascinating experiences.
Brandon Wilson’s books are available from your favorite bookstore or Internet bookseller. For previews and free pdf articles about the trails mentioned, visit: http://www.pilgrimstales.com. Photos from his walk to Jerusalem may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pJaLpWZWbU