On the left, just inside the main door of the Lund Cathedral is a wooden astronomical clock built around 1424. Tangled within a euphoric stare five years earlier, I’d marveled at the intricate details, inhaled the aged wood, and relished the silence which filled the air. The experience rooted such a vivid impression that I’d vowed to return. But expectations were paused as my two friends and I walked in to find the clock being cleaned; all its guts taken apart. Two enormous posters illustrating the clocks face blocked the space where workers placed a table with paint brushes and other tools.
The night before we all went to Lund, I’d expected to perhaps feel the same bliss again in those sandstone walls. Maybe I’d even find the little used book store diagonally across the way with the half-dozen stuffed owls perched on the top shelves. Neither was the same. The clock was in pieces, and the book store gone. But somehow I didn’t feel disappointed, just pensive. And ended up discovering a small tucked away surface where an open book, pen and flickering candle sat. The sign beside said in English (and Swedish), “Do you want to share your prayers with others? Please feel free to write them down in this Book of Intercessions. The book is placed on the altar of the Baptism Chapel during The Service of the Holy communion every Tuesday morning at 08.00 am.” I’m not distinctly religious, but decided to write a prayer in the book.
My return expectations were very different from the reality of being there the second time. Have you ever felt so moved, even years after, to return to a place? What did you find?
Admittedly – I’m cheating a bit. I’m off the road for 2-3 months, so this was a day trip from Philly. If you stay longer, careful planning (couch-surfing, travel deals) will keep your lodging costs reasonable. As for fun – well, you just need to look around for it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Hundreds of people packed into Washington Square Park, all packing pillows of every variety and shape. Was this a huge outdoor slumber party? No – it’s the International Pillow Fight Day celebration! Tons of people, some dressed in pajamas, waiting for the horn to sound at 3pm, so the epic worldwide battle can begin! Then, boom – everyone starts swinging and goose down fills the air. Think Braveheart, but much, much softer! (more…)
Last week I talked about road trips; but another more eco-friendly way, with a hint of old-fashioned charm, is to travel by train.
In the Swiss Alps, as I write this, they are digging what eventually will be the longest transportation tunnel in the world–the Gotthard Base Tunnel. But don’t go rushing off to Switzerland just yet; it won’t be done till 2016.
Perhaps one of the most well-known epic train trips is the Trans-Siberian across Russia. Have you ever been? I flipped on the TV late one night–not long ago–in my hotel and stumbled upon an action thriller movie called, Transsiberian. I’d not recommend watching it before heading off to experience the longest railway in the world. However, it did illustrate both the danger and beauty of railway travel.
The American novelist, Paul Theroux, undertook his first long distance rail journey across Asia. That travelogue became the modern classic, The Great Railway Bazaar. Many years later he decided to retrace his steps and account how both he, and the places, had changed in, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. Theroux also wrote a third railway adventure book, The Old Patagonian Express, about the Americans.
So now, it might be time I read, The Old Patagonian Express, as I plan my next railway journey in May.
Do you recommend any other train books? Or have train stories to share…
Guyana isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. I worked at Dadanawa Cattle Ranch for two and a half months in exchange for food and board. Most of my money went towards toiletries, insect repellant and beer. Being frugal was easy because the nearest town was 4 hours drive over rough savannah roads away.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
“ GET OUT OF MY GARDEN” yelled Dani. A chicken was destroying the shallots and was being nonchalant about it too. Duane Defreitas, ranch manager and adventurer, shot at it from the balcony with a Ruger 22 handgun. “Oh scunt!” Winged it. Chung, a Chinese anthropologist, chased after the feathered fugitive with a machete. (more…)
A decade ago gas was 98 cents a gallon. I took a three month sabbatical from my job, rolled down the windows, cranked up the song “Life is a Highway” and with my dog riding shot gun, hit the open road. “Do it while your young.” people kept saying me. I skipped stones into the surf of the Pacific, climbed around cliff dwellings in New Mexico and rescued my dog from nearly drowning in a Montana river. Twenty-five states and 30,200 km (18,800 mi) later we arrived back home with a wrinkled road map, a journal full of adventures and a problem; there were many more roads to explore.
America claims to have one of the largest highway systems in the world. But, the first recorded long distance road trip took place in 1888 with Bertha Benz at the wheel. She and her two teenage sons drove 212 km (132mi) round trip in Germany. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of that trip the Bertha-Benz challenge took place along the historic route. It was only open to cars with alternative drive systems, highlighting the auto mobility of the future.
For me that first trip was only the beginning. I’ve meandered through 49 U.S. States and two territories in Canada. In the next few months I’ve got two more road trips planned. Granted, fuel prices are at an all-time high; but, there are ways to save money on gas. Road trips are a wonderful way to experience a country.
Have you ever taken a long distance road trip?
Many moons ago I was flown to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica to evaluate a business plan for horse tours on a 2,024 hectare family owned ranch. It has mangroves, jungle, two river estuaries and 3.5 km of undeveloped shoreline. The family was in the beginning stages of protecting a good chunk of that land as a nature preserve and wildlife refuge. At the time I knew very little about managing large scale horse operations. Back home I was spoiled. We had accessibility to good feed, vet care and certified farriers. Riding horses along the beach is a romantic notion for many and I was no different. Heading for stables where the front gate was set only a few feet from high tide line had my mind souring with excitement. The gap is often vast between what we imagine about a place and what our experience truly is. So after three plane flights followed by a 45 minute taxi ride over molasses covered dirt roads we arrived on the sands of Ario beach beneath a vaulted ceiling of stars. What I saw over the next two weeks changed the current path I was on.
When someone says “paradise” what image comes to your mind?
My mind paints a warm, pristine beach with inviting waters; which is exactly what the Ario Ranch seemed like at first glance. But quickly that dreamy veneer was peeled back as I watched two cowboys shoe a gelding. The animal awkwardly tried to balance on three other hooves. Metal shoes, too small for his feet, got nailed on using the improper size nails. This will cause the head of the nails to protrude and create cleats. Those cleats catch on terrain and make the hole in the hoof wall larger and can lead to infection or lameness. But improper shoeing creates a whole other set of problems too. A horses’ heart alone isn’t large enough to circulate all of its blood throughout its body. A horse must move to keep healthy circulation. Blood is forced back up the limb by the pooling of it in the sponge like coffin bone. But the steel shoes on this gelding weren’t set properly which did restrict blood flow and can lead to bruising. I knew as it was happening that it wasn’t right. Yet at that moment my lack of language skills and ability to do it myself, held me back from saying anything.
As time progressed; I noticed the ranch hands had to rope horses for saddling rather than simply walking up and putting a halter on them. I discovered a horse with a vampire bat wound but no one seemed concerned about treating it. And in regards to the knowledge of horse care in the area the local vet said, “They [the people] just don’t know better.” Altogether these things shorten the animals’ life span substantially.
The whole experience left me feeling helplessly inadequate with horse skills and wanting to learn more. The wheels in my head started turning. I spent the next several years working with large herds of horses, learning how to manage ranches, study and apply natural horsemanship, volunteer to care for injuries, learn to shoe, and studied equine chiropractic and massage.
Now all those skills will be put to the test. Two weeks ago I was asked to help organize a large scale equine event in Mongolia. While I don’t know everything about horses, at least I know much more than I did seven years ago standing at the corral watching that gelding get shoes.
Have you even had a moment while traveling that set you in motion down an unexpected path?
Before you decide to get a tattoo from one of the many long haired, rasta-looking Thai men in the foreigner-inking business during a holiday in Thailand, think twice. There are enormous differences between the design you are going to get, and the rigid ink lines we can sometime spot etching a Thai person’s skin, spurting timidly from under their clothing.
Sak yant, as these traditional Thai tattoos are called, represents a form of magical protection for the bearers: may it be against accidents, evil, crime, or to give women better chances to attract the perfect soul mate, sak yant are not an indelible way to remember a backpacking trip.
They are applied by a master who gives his tattooed disciples a series of rules to follow in order to keep the protective spell alive, usually starting with Buddhism’s five principles. As much as sak yant is despised by upper class Thai society, it is still alive and well, and represents one of the few aspects of Thai culture which have not received massive coverage in the mainstream media. (more…)
Here’s an exciting film for vagabonders: it’s about 7 billion people, 24 hours, and one planet. Check out the trailer:
From the official description:
ONE DAY ON EARTH creates a picture of humanity by recording a 24-hour period throughout every country in the world. We explore a greater diversity of perspectives than ever seen before on screen. We follow characters and events that evolve throughout the day, interspersed with expansive global montages that explore the progression of life from birth, to death, to birth again. In the end, despite unprecedented challenges and tragedies throughout the world, we are reminded that every day we are alive there is hope and a choice to see a better future together.
Documentaries like this are notoriously tough to pull off. Moving that much equipment around, dealing with foreign bureaucracy, etc. The filmmakers hit upon an elegant solution: crowdsourcing. They opened the film to submissions from participants from all over the globe. One upshot of this method is that it adds a local perspective to the production.
On their website http://www.onedayonearth.org, the founders say that one of the founding principles was to use this film as a “time capsule.” If a picture is a worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth?
What do you think? Have you seen similar documentaries that you would recommend watching? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
“Spirit,” wrote the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, “is not in the I but between I and you.” He wrote this in a 1923 essay translated into English as I and Thou. Here’s another line from the essay: “Egos appear by setting themselves apart from other egos. Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons.”
Buber’s way of looking at our existence is, for me, helpful to consider, and it has ramifications for how we approach travel and what we emphasize in it. His essay also touches on the difference between “experience” and “participation,” the former for him being something within an individual and the latter something between individuals. I suspect you can find Buber’s influence on my own terminology in an interview at Travel Blissful a couple years ago. After sharing some particularly meaningful travel memories, I said:
It is the men, women, and children in the places we visit, not inanimate things, that allow us to relate to (and not just experience) the world. I don’t at all want to knock experience — I love it! — but it’s important to be aware that traveling in the name of “having experiences” isn’t the same as traveling to participate in the world. The one is rather self-referential; the other is more interested in being a part of a community, even if only in a very modest way.
This is my final post for vagablogging, and I wanted to leave you with these tidbits from the mind of Buber. I also wanted to leave you with one final photograph. I took it in Cairo, about an hour after Mubarak’s resignation was announced and a mass of Egyptians had taken to the streets in celebration. In the photo a little girl’s parents are holding her hands as they walk away from Tahrir Square, into a suddenly wide-open, unknown, and hazard-filled future. In looking at her face I’m reminded of why I have no interest in travel narratives in which someone is trudging through the world to conquer it or to rack up isolated experiences to cart back home like trophies. I’m drawn instead to stories in which someone is connecting to other people, carrying an interest in their wellbeing and our shared future, and can articulate that. The issues of today — and children like this smiling Egyptian girl — desperately need people, including travelers, who want to be constructive participants in relationships and history.
In the year ahead I’ll continue working on my photography, and maybe even edit some more of a book manuscript I hope to one day publish (here’s an excerpt). Blog-wise, in the near future I plan to resume regular postings at joelcarillet.com/photoblog, and I’d love to have you check in on me there from time to time. I will be in Southeast Asia most of the fall.
All the very best, everyone.
Part of the totality of a place is its politics, and in long-term travel you’ll likely pass through a variety of political landscapes that affect the lives of the people who call a place home. The Egyptian man above, for example, challenged the legitimacy of his President’s 30-year-old rule and on February 2 of this year had a flying rock rip loose part of his lip. (Interestingly, if you were to walk about 60 seconds to either his right or left, you’d find several travel agencies offering deals on Nile cruises, desert excursions, and Sinai beach resorts; they were, however, closed this particularly day, and most travelers were packed into the Cairo airport trying to get out of the country.)
Political situations are worth paying attention to, but not only in order to gauge the stability or safety of a potential travel destination. Understanding the basics of Thai politics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the Colombian civil war will go a long way in helping you understand a country and will help you make the most of a visit there. Sometimes, of course, we go to a place knowing next to nothing but, once there, experience something that alters the course of our lives. A powerful example of this is the life of Sean Carosso, who while traveling in Africa in 2007 wrote the following in his journal:
I yelled at thieving monkeys and saw Nelson Mandela yell from stage. Cried in refugee camps and laughed during moonlight dances. Saw a baby born and parents buried. Went south to scream from the bottom of the world and made my way north to see Ugandan children become visible. Slept in mansions and huts, ate porridge and gazelle, swam with otters, fended off pickpockets and rarely showered, stopped, or stood still.
For two months, there was death and destruction,
failure and fear, adventure.wonder.motion.
But all around was a pervasive hope moving steadily
toward what could only be described as progress
Stories of change everywhere to be found. Until I walked into the chaos of Congo.
The so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, home to one of history’s deadliest wars.
Strange circumstances led me to her doorstop, but there I stood ready to see
what she might show my western eyes.
The following is what they saw.
You can read the rest of his entry and learn about the organization that emerged at www.fallingwhistles.com/story. It’s a powerful site.
The U.S. State Department’s Background Notes is one source for a quick political overview of a country. Idealist.org is a popular site for checking out volunteer opportunities, including ones that might intersect with political issues. For example, Bustan Qaraaqa is listed there; it’s a community permaculture project based just outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem.