The Best of Vagabonding…

On September 28th, 2016

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Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in Rosedale, Mississippi

Last month, while I was driving down the Mississippi River on a magazine assignment, I had a curious experience in Rosedale, Mississippi. As I was eating lunch in a place called Leo’s Market, a waitress mentioned that Rosedale is the place where the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical genius (an event alluded to in — among other places — the Cohen brothers’ movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou). As if to prove it, the waitress handed me a wrinkled, typewritten transcription of a “vision” about Johnson’s fateful moment that had appeared to bluesman Henry Goodman as he was traveling the road from Rosedale to Anguila. For the sake of posterity (and because I have never seen it elsewhere), I am publishing Goodman’s “vision” in full below, as well as a postscript by Rosedale’s Crossroads Blues Society.

Interestingly, there are other contenders in the myth of Robert Johnson’s devil-purchased soul — and the crossroads of US 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale is where most blues tourists pay their respects (the newest Romantics album is called “61/49” for this reason). Of course — as with ancient Roman tourists setting off to find “sites” from Greek myths — the location of Johnson’s crossroads is not exactly something that can be proven. He was born in Hazelhurst, and his supposed grave is in Quito (near Itta Bena) — but Rosedale did figure in the lyrics for one of Johnson’s most famous songs, “Traveling Riverside Blues”.

“Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale,” he wails, “gon’ take my rider by my side.”

“Traveling Riverside Blues” had a huge influence on rock-n-roll, and was remade as “Crossroads” by Eric Clapton — which mentions Rosedale with the same phrase Johnson uses. It was also covered by Led Zeppelin (whose more well-known “Lemon Song” famously steals a lyric from that same Johnson tune: “You can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg”).

None of this proves much about Robert Johnson’s crossroads, of course, but I for one like the notion that it happened in Rosedale. The text of the “vision” follows… Read More

A traveler’s guide to Buddhist meditation retreats in Thailand

Since I’ve traveled to (and at times lived in) Thailand every year since 1998, I’m occasionally asked to recommend a Buddhist meditation retreat for long-term travelers. I can easily recommend some specific starting points for practicing meditation in Thailand (and if you keep reading, you’ll find a few recommendations below), but over time I’ve found that it’s more instructive to just tell people this: Find your own damn Buddhist meditation retreat! Read more…

Review: Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack and how to choose a great backpack

backpack thumbA good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.

But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.

That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe. Read more…

Questioning safety in Guatemala – at the last minute

3885709629_40e90d083f_oJust three weeks before I’d planned to leave for Guatemala, the first country on my itinerary for my first long-term trip, a friend forwarded an email from her Guatemalan friend regarding my upcoming travels:

“My advice is that if she has her heart set on going to Guate, do the volunteering thing and keep travel limited to Lake Atitlan and Antigua … If her heart can be persuaded to go to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, I would highly recommend that … Guatemala is in a sort of state of war where human life is very poorly regarded and that is why if you get mugged it is VERY dangerous …”

She also referenced a New York Times story explaining that the Peace Corps recently decided not to send new volunteers to Guatemala as it is assessing safety.

Ok, I knew Guatemala was a developing country and that there would be dangers, and I’d been armed and ready to explain to my family and friends that I’d be ok. I’d read tons of forums about safety in Guatemala. I’d read numerous blogs about female solo travel. I knew all the places to avoid, all the things to do and things not to do.

But the Peace Corps backing away and a Guatemalan resident recommending against coming? This was enough to give me major pause. Read more…

The worst tourists in the world

14849732_740027f47a_zI read with interest a recent study by the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce, which rated the behavior of tourists from all the world’s industrialized countries. Consistently ranking last in the study — bottoming out in categories ranging from airline etiquette to podiatric hygiene — were travelers from Great Britain. “This settles it,” a TATTC spokesperson was quoted as saying. “The British are the worst tourists in the world.”

Actually, I’m just kidding. There is no such thing as the Trans-Global Association for Travel and Tourism Commerce. I made it up just now, because I know that people like to obsess over international rankings, and I’ve been looking for a chance to poke fun at the British.

Mind you, I don’t really think the British are bad tourists. To the contrary, I’ve usually found travelers from the U.K. to be friendly, well read, and quite prolific in their wanderings. You can find Brits in all corners of the world, from Valparaiso to Vladivostok, and they most always make good travel companions.

The problem I have with the British, however, is that — to a bigger extent than other travelers I’ve met — they seem to be obsessed with stereotypes of national character. Read more…

Getting a Magic Tattoo in Thailand

thai tattoo thumbThe monk sat crossed legged behind me. The quick thrust of his bamboo needle repeatedly poked into my flesh as my tattoo began to take shape. I was being blessed with a Sak Yant, a magic tattoo and an ancient tradition in Thailand.

Moments before the monk and I had been having a deep conversation. We talked as I expressed my fears, problems I am wrestling with, and my dreams. I told him about some of my struggles of traveling long term over the last four years. How I feel the constant call of the road, but how sometimes I have trouble with all the sacrifices it demands.

We talked for a while about what I want out of life, and the person I am striving to become. When the monk felt he had enough information, he started digging in boxes filled with old scrolls and papers. He finally emerged with an ancient tattoo design. My Sak Yant was a rare form of a paed tidt. It a circle with arrows pointing in different directions. What makes my rare is that most paed tidt only have eight arrows, but mine has 16. Read more…

5 tips for self-studying a foreign language

In a previous post here at Vagablogging, I wrote about what tools you can use to self-study a language. While your choice of tools will determine the success of your program, your approach to studying can make the learning process easier and more enriching. Here are some things you should keep in mind while you’re studying on your own:

Learn everyday. You don’t necessarily have to take on a full-blown lesson each day, but by spending just a few minutes learning something new, you’ll spend less time reviewing in the future. If considerable time passes between lessons, you can’t learn as fast and whatever you learn will be easy to forget. Read more…