Today we have the great pleasure to interview the author Anne Born about her many experiences along the different routes of the Way of Saint James. Let’s read together what this passionate walker thinks about the Camino and what thoughts and impressions she wants to share with us. She will recommend us to not be scary of the “tremendous freedom that we can experience along the Way”, “to be open-minded and walk with an open heart”.
Such a great advice, don’t you think?
If you are interested in all her tips don’t miss her book: “Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim.” (The Backpack Press, December, 2017, now updated for 2020).
Little presentation of Anne Born
Anne Born lives in New York and her passion for writing began when she was just a child. Now she blogs on The Backpack Press and Tumbleweed Pilgrim. As she will explain in the interview below, she volunteered in different cities on the Camino de Santiago and she is a real passionate of this pilgrimage. Her latest book is “Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim” but she is already writing a second book on the Camino, a guide for pilgrims to the Santiago Cathedral entitled “If you stand here”.
Anne’s relationship with the Camino de Santiago
The first time Anne heard about the Camino was in 1971, in an academic course of History of Art at the Michigan University. She didn’t feel like travelling alone at that moment, so she waited until 2009, when she walked her first stage, along the French Way, with her son. Due to the excessive weight she had to carry, to a sunburn and the wrong boots, they had to return home.
But this was just the beginning! The very next year she walked the last 100 km of the French Way, from Sarria to Santiago on her own. Moreover, she would walk the French Way in different sections, the English Way, the Primitive Way and the Portuguese Coastal way, last 100 km, from Baiona to Santiago.
Her love for the Way of Saint James is so strong that it brings her back almost every year to walk another route. While reading her words, we are getting more and more motivated to undertake one of the ways to Santiago. She shares her curiosity and amusement in knowing new people, asking them as much as possible and her enthusiasm is really contagious. Let’s know better this inspiring author who’ll give us some tips on how to live the Santiago Way to the fullest!
Thank you for accepting this interview with Galiwonders and for your time in answering our questions. We know you have a strong connection to the Camino de Santiago and we would love to know more about your involvement in this spiritual walking. How many and which ways have you walked over the years?
I have walked the Camino Inglés, Camino Portugués, and Camino Primitivo. I have covered all but about 40 km of the Camino Francés over many visits to Spain. I like to do that route in sections. Over the past ten years, I have walked different routes, different sections nine times. And I have volunteered in Santiago, in Ribadiso, in Grado, and just outside Pamplona. I am writing my second Camino book now – a guide for pilgrims to the Santiago Cathedral.
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How would you describe the Way of Saint James to those who have never done it?
I ask people to tell me what they do in their life that uses all of their skills. This is a magical route, with many challenges, many surprises, and many opportunities for spiritual growth, but more importantly, it will call on you to do many things you never thought possible. It is a mystical experience as well with a sometimes overwhelming sense of history. We are only following the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked before us.
Would you recommend the way to anyone or do you think it is an experience for a few?
I do try to convince people to go! I have brought my children – all adults – and a friend. Every time I go, I ask to see who wants to come with me. I would say it is for anyone who is fit enough to walk to the grocery store. You do not have to be religious, but there are many religious reasons to walk. You just need to be open-minded, and to walk with an open heart.
What impressions and emotions still accompany you today of the routes you have walked?
There are so many lovely memories. I think about lying in the grass looking up at the trees, or stopping to take photos of flowers or the sheep out in the field, I remember the wild horses on the Primitivo, the expanse of sky on the meseta. And I talk to everyone. I like to wave at women doing laundry or someone working on a farm, the waiters in the cafes. I learn so much that way. My next Camino will probably be another Camino Inglés. I really loved walking that route, but I am open to suggestion!
Do you think you have made any mistakes in the previous paths (for example carrying too many things in your backpack) that you wouldn’t do today?
It is so easy to carry too much or to bring all the wrong clothes. I once left a pen at an albergue to lighten the weight of my backpack. Now, I tend to send it along ahead with a luggage transfer service. I once left my extra pair of shoes at a pension. It meant I had to wear my boots even after I finished walking for the day. Big mistake!
What advice would you give to a pilgrim who wants to walk the Way for the first time?
Ask lots of questions. There are such helpful places where you can get the answers, like the Camino Forum or the national pilgrims’ associations. But more than just gathering information, I tell people not to be afraid. It can be scary to walk away from a programmed life into something with such freedom. If you can get a sense of how to do it, you will be much better prepared. You are going from knowing everything that will likely happen in a day to not being able to see around the corner just ahead of you. It can be scary but there is the opportunity for tremendous growth.
Why do you think that the Way of Santiago is considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience? Why do most of the people who have done it once want to walk a new route again?
I always argue that it should not be once in a lifetime. That can put a lot of pressure on you to get something back or expect that your life will be changed in significant ways if you head out, thinking this is the trip of a lifetime. If you expect less each day, you tend to get more out of it. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment to this kind of spiritual walking. You make it to the next town, you solve a problem, or you find the church you wanted to see and it’s something you remember. And you meet such marvelous people that enrich the experience every day. It’s a feeling you want to experience again and again.
Do you have any funny anecdotes that happened to you along the way?
I had just walked the Hospitales Route on the Camino Primitivo. It took me all day, but every bit of it was glorious. I arrived in town to the applause of my friends who were all sitting at a table outside a bar, waiting for me. I showered and changed for dinner but wasn’t very hungry so I ordered eggs. And a glass of wine. It was just what I wanted. No menú, no dessert, no basket of bread, just eggs. I was so tired, I went upstairs to sleep without paying, so when I came down for breakfast, I went to the kitchen first to settle up the bill from dinner. The owner of the pensión said, “No, no, señora, we remember you. You didn’t eat enough last night to pay. It’s on the house!” Then, there was the time I walked into a restaurant on the Camino Francés, after having walked all day in the rain. I sat down to order and the bartender got out a mop to get all the water off the floor.
Is there a particular moment along the way (the departure, the arrival at the end of the stage, meeting new pilgrims…) that you particularly like?
For me, it is a thrill to come into the town where I will be spending the night. I can be completely exhausted but seeing shops and people sitting at cafes is energizing. Then I want to explore, find out when Mass will be said, ask about local landmarks. I was able to visit the Rosalia de Castro Museum in Padrón last year. It was a way to learn more about her and to see more of Padrón at the same time. And the taxi driver who took me to the house shared some of his favorite poems with me on the drive back to town.
Do you think it is an experience to live alone or accompanied?
I have enjoyed doing both. I have walked with friends, my children, and many terrific pilgrims along the way. But I do love to walk by myself. That will always be my favorite. There are ways to do both too, of course. Even if you start out together, you can say, “I just need to spend some time by myself,” and everyone with you will understand.
Would you recommend that groups of young people take the way to Santiago to live a group experience?
Yes, of course. It is a great way to build community within a group. I have worked as an hospitalera at a couple of albergues and I have seen how close young people get when they have to rely on each other every day. It becomes a special event. Pilgrims look after each other.
And finally, what feelings have you had about not being able to walk the Way during 2020 because of the covid-19 pandemic?
Something told me last October (2019) just to buy some plane tickets and go this year, 2020, in January – not wait. So, I had a very lonely, completely wonderful Camino alone, in January. I walked from Sarria to Santiago. I had planned to come to Spain again in April – and I told everyone, “Not to worry! I will be back in April.” But by then, everything was closed. I feel so terrible about pilgrims who planned to walk this year, but because of Covid were not able. The pull of the Camino is real. Once you get it in your head that you are going to do this, it’s hard to change course and stay home, or try to make do with little walks around your house.
Thank you very much for your time and inspiring words. It’s hard to resist to your energy and passion and we already want to start our next camino! We send you a warm hug from Galiwonders and we’ll hopefully meet somewhere on the way soon!
You can follow Anne Born and The Late Orphan Project at The Backpack Press, TumbleweedPilgrim.com and on Twitter, Redbubble, and Instagram @nilesite. The pictures of this article were taken by Anne along her last camino from Sarria to Santiago.