The Most Extraordinary Vagabonds

world mapThe world has always been filled with extraordinary travelers, explorers,  wanderers, and vagabonds. In 2012, we introduced you to a new Extraordinary Vagabond every Saturday. We thought you might like to see them all listed in one place.

Navigators and Conquerors
Hanno the Navigator
Nearchus
Eudoxus of Cyzicus
Pytheas the Navigator
Cosmas
Erik the Red
Genghis Khan
Hernando Cortez
Ponce de Leon

Writers
William S. Burroughs
John Steinbeck
Louis L’amour
Rimbaud
Jack Kerouac
Jack London
Robert Louis Stevenson
Mark Twain
Ernest Hemingway

Explorers
Richard Francis Burton

Wanderers
Ibn Batuta
Herodotus
Harry Franck
Marco Polo
Ed Buryn
Isabele Eberhart
Che Guevara
King Kalakaua
Tarzan of Manisa
Woody Guthrie
Granny Gatewood
Emma Goldman
The Dalai Lama

Modern Day Vagabonds
Earth Day – Interview with Mother Earth
Steve Jarmanok
Henry Rollins
Anil Polat
Dave Stamboulis
Barbara Weibel
Johann Beukes
Rolf Potts 
Vago Damitio
Tom Brosnahan
Melissa Ruttanai
Linda Kissam
Francis Tapon

Vagabond in a Donut – Barbara Weibel

Barbara Weibel is one of my favorite travel bloggers. Barbara puts the focus on writing incredible posts with sometimes startling insights into the world of travel and culture. On top of that, she is one of the most positive people out there. Read on to see why this is one of my favorites and Barbara will soon be one of your favorites as well.

Barbara Weibel - Hole in the DonutVagobond: Barbara – I love your blog. Everything from the symbolism of the name (full on the outside, empty in the middle in reference to your former careers – “solid on the outside, empty on the inside”) to your amazing photography and insights into the people and places you travel. All of this made me wonder – did you have a background in anthropology?

Barbara Weibel: Interesting that you should ask that. The short answer is no, however I’ve always thought that if I could do life over and choose another career, I’d go into a science field. I’ve been a rockhound ever since I was old enough to pick up stones and still comb through mine tailings whenever possible, so I consider myself an amateur geologist. I’m also fascinated by culture and could easily have been an anthropologist or archeologist. Frankly, I’ve got enough knowledge to be dangerous but I also have an insatiable curiosity; it’s a great combination for a writer.

Vagobond:  You travel to a lot of off the beaten path places as a solo female traveler. What kind of challenges do you face in that regard?

Barbara Weibel: To date, I really haven’t faced any major challenges that specifically have to do with being female. I suspect that my age may be a factor in that regard, as these days I seem to garner more respect than I did as a young female traveler (when I was younger I had to fend off unwanted attention from men, but that’s not much of a problem any more). Of course, I haven’t traveled to any of the countries where women are severely oppressed, such as not being allowed to drive or go out in public alone. It’s probably a good thing I haven’t; I have little patience for that kind of thing and I’d probably push the boundaries and end up in trouble. I also think that being an experienced traveler makes a big difference. With years of perpetual travel under my belt, I have certain routines that serve me well and I’ve learned to never ignore my gut. If I feel like I’m in danger or need to leave a place, I do so; if I feel a certain person is not trustworthy, I extract myself from the situation immediately, even if it means being rude. But having said that, I also don’t travel in fear. Most people are good and will bend over backwards to help, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts.

Vagobond:  You stay a minimum of a month in your chosen destinations. Can you explain why?

Barbara Weibel: When I originally fled corporate life to pursue my passions for travel, writing, and photography, I’d just recovered from a serious illness. I thought I might die without getting to do all the things I’d always dreamed about. I promised myself that, if I recovered, I’d walk away from corporate life and backpack around the world. I did eventually recover and set out on a six-month round-the-world trip, determined to see as many places on my travel wish list as possible; as a result, I crammed 16 countries into six months. Gradually, I realized that I was fascinated by culture and by the fact that, despite differences in dress, traditions, food and religion, people all over the world are all more similar than we are different. As my writing delved more deeply into cultural issues, I found myself staying longer in each place in order to immerse in the local scene. At the same time, I discovered that I enjoyed my travels much more when I formed a local connection.

Vagobond:  I remember when you wrote about holding the Dalai Lama’s hand – are you a Buddhist? How did you become Buddist?

Barbara Weibel: I’ve been a “seeker” all my life and have read fairly extensively about most religious and spiritual traditions, but my first real contact with Buddhism came during a trip to Thailand in 2002. That trip confirmed that Buddhism was the spiritual philosophy that resonated most strongly with me. However, it took me a number of years and much more study to choose a particular Buddhist tradition. Theravadan Buddhism, which is practiced in Thailand and most other Southeast Asian countries, is considerably different from Chinese Buddhism, Zen Buddhism practiced in Japan, and Tibetan Buddhism. During my first trip to Nepal, about two years ago, I finally had the opportunity to study Tibetan Buddhism with the Tibetan refugee community and quickly realized it was what I’d been looking for all along. The day last summer when the Dalai Lama held my hand and looked directly into my eyes was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had and I will treasure it always.

Vagobond:  Your travels are intimately connected with the people in the places you go – can you share how you go about making these connections?

Hole in the Donut - Barbara WeibelBarbara Weibel: I don’t really know how they happen, they just do. Sometimes, it’s like an invisible force is making my travel plans. I cannot count the number of times I have arrived someplace on a whim, with no reservations and no idea what is happening, only to find that a major celebration of some sort is underway. Of course, my innate curiosity is partially responsible, as I will talk to absolutely anyone and am constantly asking questions. But I can’t explain, for instance, why the city fathers of Alausi, Ecuador, climbed out of the bed of a pickup truck that happened to stop in front of me and subsequently invited me to be their honored guest at an Independence Day celebration of the indigenous Quichua community. Things like that happen to me repeatedly, in every corner of the world. I really think the key is being open and following my instincts.

Vagobond:  How do you feel that technology and the internet in particular have changed travel? Do you have any predictions for the future of travel?

Barbara Weibel: I believe that technology and the Internet have had the most significant effect on travel since the days of the early explorers. We can literally learn about any corner of the earth sitting in our living rooms. The drawback is that there are very few, if any, undiscovered places left on the face of the earth, which is one of the reasons I believe cultural travel is gaining in popularity. With no new places to discover, modern day explorers are turning to the peoples of the earth for new experiences. Frankly, I believe that only good can come from this. I am passionately committed to the idea that travel has a huge potential for effecting world peace. I have always believed that the better we know one another, the less likely we’ll want to kill one another.

Vagobond:  Nepal has been on my list of future destinations for a long time. I sometimes worry that by the time I get there, it will have been eaten up by modernity…you’ve spent a lot of time there – is Nepal changing? Is that a good or bad thing?

Barbara Weibel: Nepal is changing, but very, very slowly. Unfortunately, the caste system is still a very real part of the social structure. Add to this the political instability that the country has experienced in recent years and the rampant corruption, and you begin to see why the wheels of change grind so slowly. My fervent hope is that Nepal can move toward modernity without abandoning their rich cultural heritage and strong family values, as these are two of the things that I most treasure about the country that I consider my adopted second home.

Vagobond:  Can you share three travel tips that Vagobond readers may not have heard?

Barbara Weibel: 1) Forget about Travelers Checques; they are virtually useless as they are extremely hard to cash in many places. Instead, use your ATM card once you arrive in a country. Not only will you avoid having to carry large amounts of cash but you will also avoid currency exchange fees, and your bank will give you a better exchange fee than any money changer.

2) If you travel to a country where you don’t speak the language, be sure to pick up a few business cards from the hotel when you check in. Then, when you’ve been out sightseeing all day, you need only hand a card to a taxi driver, rather than try to find someone who speaks English. And in that same vein, use only legal taxis in foreign countries. The front desk clerk at your hotel should be able to tell you how to identify legal taxis and can call one for you; when returning to your hotel, if you are in doubt, use a taxi waiting in front of any large hotel, as they will undoubtedly be legal operators.

3) If you are on a budget, consider hostels as an option for accommodations. Most now offer private rooms in addition to dorms, and hostels are a wonderful way to connect with other travelers who are only too happy to share tips about the best local places.

Vagobond:  We were both part of Lonely Planet’s ‘Around the World with 40 Bloggers’ – are there other books in your future? What about other places where readers can find more of your writing? Any compilations?

Barbara Weibel: I have been working on a memoir off and on for the past 5 years, but haven’t been able to complete it because I’ve been consumed with perpetual travel and building my blog. However, one of my goals this year is to finish the book and, hopefully, get a publishing contract. I’m headed back to Nepal in early April for two months, and I’ve carved out that time to focus on the memoir. I also have plans to publish an anthology in ebook form about my favorite travel experiences, but don’t have a time frame for that just yet.

Vagobond:  Do you earn your living from Hole in the Donut? What has been the most challenging part of becoming a successful travel writer/blogger?

Barbara Weibel: Though I earn a bit from the occasional freelance article or photograph sold for publication, Hole In The Donut is my primary source of income. I earn enough from advertising to keep me on the road full time, although not in luxury digs by any means. Without a doubt, the most challenging part of becoming a successful travel blogger is the time versus money issue. In order to sell advertising, I have to be highly ranked by Google, which brings traffic to the site. Good Google ranking comes from producing high quality, original narrative writing, but also demands a concerted social media campaign, good search engine optimization techniques, and staying in touch with my peers in the travel blogging community, all of which takes time. And that doesn’t even begin to address the more than 100 emails I receive and answer each day and the hours it takes to download, categorize, label, and review the 200+ photos I take each day. By the time I dig through the business end of blogging, I sometimes find it difficult to flip into right-brain mode and write creatively.

Vagobond:  Barbara – what is a question that I should have asked you? And more importantly – what is the answer?

Barbara Weibel: Having given up almost all material comforts in your life, after five and a half years of travel, do you have any regrets?

I absolutely love what I do and don’t have a single regret. Despite the constant need to be frugal, I still wake up every morning and can’t wait to talk to the next person, ferret out the next story, and snap the next incredible photo. I spent 35 years in corporate life, earning tons of money and hating every day of my life. Now I have very little in the way of material possessions but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m living proof that it’s never too late to pursue your true passions.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing Vagabond

Tim FerrissIn 2007 while  hiking in Hawaii, my friend Leo was asking me questions about my book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond. When I told him it was about how to live without being a wage-slave, he said “So you’re like Tim Ferriss, the guy who wrote the the 4-Hour Work-Week.”

“The what?” I asked. Yeah. I was apparently the last one to hear about Tim. While I wish I could have said “Yeah, I’m just like Tim Ferriss” – it isn’t even close to the truth.  Check out his mini-bio from The Huffington Post:

Serial entrepreneur and ultra-vagabond Timothy Ferriss has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Maxim, and other media. He is a guest lecturer at Princeton University in High-tech Entrepreneurship and The 4-Hour Workweek (Crown/Random House) is his debut book on ideal lifestyle design. He speaks five languages, runs a multinational firm from wireless locations worldwide, and has been a world-record holder in tango, a national champion in Chinese kickboxing, and an actor on a hit television series in Hong Kong. He is 32 years old.

Let’s see – world records, all those magazines, best sellers, five languages, owner of a multi-national firm, actor, kickboxing champ? Yeah…none of that is me. I wish. By the way, the Huffpo bio is out of date because Tim has now written two more best sellers – The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef  (You can read my review of The 4-Hour Chef here). Also, his page at wikipedia  says he speaks six languages now.

Holy shit! Yeah, I admit it. I wish I had the success record of Tim Ferriss.  If you’ve never heard of Tim, a good place to start is by following him on Twitter. (@tferriss).

The truth is, so much has been written about Ferriss that it would be very difficult for me to add anything new.  I’m going to provide another quote, this time from the New Yorker.

Every generation gets the self-help guru that it deserves. In 1937, at the height of the Depression, Napoleon Hill wrote “Think and Grow Rich,” which claimed to distill the principles that had made Andrew Carnegie so wealthy. “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale, which was published in 1952, advised readers that techniques such as “a mind-emptying at least twice a day” would lead to success. By the seventies, Werner Erhard and est promised material wealth through spiritual enlightenment. The eighties and nineties saw management-consultancy maxims married with New Age thinking, with books such as Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” In the past decade or so, there has been a rise in books such as “Who Moved My Cheese?,” by Spencer Johnson, which promise to help readers maximize their professional potential in an era of unpredictable workplaces.  

Ferriss’s books appeal to those for whom cheese, per se, has ceased to have any allure. “This book is not about finding your ‘dream job,’ ” Ferriss writes in “The 4-Hour Workweek.” “I will take it as a given that, for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time.” But Ferriss doesn’t recommend idleness. Rather, he prescribes a kind of hyperkinetic entrepreneurialism of the body and soul, with every man his own life coach, angel investor, Web master, personal trainer, and pharmaceutical test subject. One’s body can become one’s own laboratory: with “a few tweaks,” Ferriss suggests, its performance can be maximally enhanced—just as in the movie “Limitless,” but without the nasty withdrawal symptoms.

Where in the world did this guy come from?

Ferriss comes from the Hampton’s, that part of New York where the richest of the rich spend their leisure time. He wasn’t however, the son of a billionaire. His father sold real estate and his mother worked as a physical therapist – certainly he wasn’t a poor kid, but according to him, he wasn’t a rich one either. He attended the prestigious St. Paul’s boarding school and had a year of studying abroad in Japan. After that, he went on to study at Princeton before moving to Silicon Valley and starting his own vitamin supplement company.

Along the way, he hacked his way into winning kick boxing championships, world records in Tango, and learning all those languages. The secret? He looks for the loopholes. According to Ferriss, he has been doing that his whole life. It probably helped that he found a great mentor: Jack Canfield author of the Chicken Soup for …. books.

He’s not without controversy. Read his reviews on Amazon and you will come across the words huckster, liar, and con-man. He’s been compared to PT Barnum and is often referred to as the world’s #1 self promoter. There’s not doubt about the last one and as for the rest, there are always haters when a person finds incredible success as he has done. (Unless you are Chris Guillebeau). No one can argue that Ferris has been unsuccessful.

This last is from the bio page on his blog, which, I recommend you read:

Tim has amassed a diverse (and certainly odd) roster of experiences:

  • Princeton University guest lecturer in High-Tech Entrepreneurship and Electrical Engineering
  • Finance and Entrepreneurship advisor at Singularity University at NASA Ames, co-founded by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil.
  • First American in history to hold a Guinness World Record in tango
  • Speaker of 5 languages 
  • National Chinese kickboxing champion
  • Horseback archer (yabusame) in Nikko, Japan
  • 2009 Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute
  • Political asylum researcher
  • MTV breakdancer in Taiwan
  • Hurling competitor in Ireland
  • Wired Magazine’s “Greatest Self-Promoter of 2008?

Tim received his BA from Princeton University in 2000, where he studied in the Neuroscience and East Asian Studies departments. He developed his nonfiction writing with Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee and formed his life philosophies under Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe.

I think back to Leo asking if I was like Tim Ferriss. Nope. Not at all. Tim Ferriss is like nobody else in this world, and that, is exactly what we do have in common.

 

Amazing Vagabond – Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet FounderIf you haven’t heard of Lonely Planet, you’ve never taken a trip. Tony and Maureen Wheeler were the founders of this global travel empire which is now owned by the BBC. The story of Lonely Planet is the story a story which has inspired travel writers for a generation.

Tony Wheeler is an Amazing Vagabond.

Born in Britain but raised in Karachi, Pakistan, the West Indies (Bahamas) , and the United States. He studied to be a car designer but was sidetracked by  a trip to India with his wife Maureen in the early 1972. The two of them were entranced by the ‘hippie trail’ and the next year founded Lonely Planet in Australia where they had traveled overland from Britain.

They drove from London to Afghanistan in a beat up minivan and eventually arrived in Sydney, Australia, with 27 cents between them.

The two wrote a book Across Asia on the Cheap. The book was an immediate success and even though there was no internet, they established themselves as the first budget travel bloggers (even with no blogs in the world).  The next year, the couple wrote Southeast Asia on  a Shoestring and they were off…The book is still in print and has sold more than a million copies. Enough to found an empire.

 

For many, that would have been enough, but the couple went on to publish the Lonely Planet India Guide in 1981. That book opened the door to even more.

Tony and Maureen sold Lonely Planet to the BBC several years ago but they are both still traveling and active. You can follow Tony’s blog at here

Lonely Planet sells six million books each year, 90 per cent overseas. Lonely Planet has printed more than 54 million copies of its 600 guides in 17 languages and has $85 million annual turnover.

Guide Book Vagabond – Tom Brosnahan

I was excited to get a chance to interview Tom Brosnahan. I was introduced to Tom’s work through his book Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea  (if you haven’t read it, I recommend it – fun, informative and a great travel read) – his book led me to find his incredible website Turkey Travel Planner (which, by the way is the most important resource you will find if you plan on taking a trip to Turkey).

Tom is an old school travel writer, guide book author – the kind that went to the destination, walked all the streets, drew the map if there wasn’t one, learned the language, and checked all the prices – and what is incredibly cool, is that he is also a pioneer of the new school of travel writing and online guides.

Here are some excerpts from his bio at the site :

Tom Brosnahan is a veteran guidebook author, travel writer and photographer, and consultant on travel information to companies and government agencies. He has written over 40 guidebooks for Berlitz, Frommer’s and Lonely Planet covering Belize, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Guatemala, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, New England, Tunisia and Turkey, with nearly four million copies in print worldwide in more than 10 languages. He’s also written a memoir about Turkey, travel, and travel writing: Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.

He has been a Contributing Editor to Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine, and has had many articles and photographs published in leading periodicals including Travel and Leisure, The New York Times, theDaily Telegraph (London), Chicago Tribune, New YorkDaily News, BBC World, Journeys, Odyssey, Travel Life, and TWA Ambassador.

He is the founder of the Travel Info Exchange andTurkey Travel Planner websites, and many more travel resource sites. Tom has appeared on Good Morning America, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Anthem, The Connection, and on the Travel Channel and has lectured at the Smithsonian Institution, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, the American Turkish Council, and other organizations.

He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and a co-founder and faculty member emeritus of the SATW Institute for Travel Writing and Photography. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with his wife Jane A Fisher.

Vagobond: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in travel, in your opinion, what are some of the major pitfalls that lurk waiting for a travel writer?

Tom Brosnahan: The biggest is not judging a project accurately. Too many travel writers end up losing money and subsidizing publishers because they aren’t careful estimating the time and work in a project, and determining if it will be profitable.

Vagobond: In Bright Sun, Strong Tea, I remember laughing out loud when the neighbor giril in Izmir tried to corner you for a smooch – what other dangers have you narrowly avoided in your travels?

Tom Brosnahan: I play it safe—I’m not a war correspondent! But I’ve been chased by suspected terrorists in eastern Turkey, had rocks thrown at my car in Palestine, heard bombs go off in Jerusalem, been shaken down by guerillas in Chiapas, been in traffic accidents in Istanbul and Bangkok. But really, most travel is safe. Scary headlines rarely portray the situation each traveler will encounter, so I go in slow, and decide how far I can go safely.

Vagobond: There’s no arguing that travel has changed dramatically since the dawn of the information age – what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed, both for the positive and for the negative?

Tom Brosnahan: Guidebooks have been used—and useful—since Roman times, but it can take up to a year to publish and distribute a paper guidebook, and with the Internet I can publish my work immediately, to the entire world, for next to nothing, forever! It’s apotheosis for a travel writer. Travelers now have far more, and better information than ever before, and that’s good for everyone. If there’s a negative, it’s that there’s simply too much information. Finding what you want can be tedious.

Vagobond: You and I share a love of Turkey – at the moment there are some pretty big changes going on in Turkish society – where do you think those changes will lead?

Tom Brosnahan:Turkey’s modern history is amazing: a torpid medieval empire remade into a vibrant modern free-enterprise democracy in less than a century. Turkey is now the economic powerhouse of the eastern Mediterranean, and a living example of democracy for other countries in the region. Especially in the past 20 years the change has been bewildering for many Turks. A young woman whose grandmother may have been in a harem can now pilot a jetliner. Hardscrabble life on the farm has yielded to glitzy ultramodern shopping malls. Such rapid change is difficult for people to absorb, but greater education, information and prosperity are forces for peace.

Vagobond: Like you, Istanbul feels like my second home, but you’ve spent a lot more time there than I have – can you toss some hidden destinations/experiences my way that I may have missed?

Tom Brosnahan: Visit the imperial ‘kasr’s, tiny palaces built for the sultan’s excursions. Get yourself invited to the “sema” (religious observance) of a dervish order (and not just the Mevlevi, or whirling, dervishes). Seek out the Roman aqueducts in the forests west and north of Istanbul. Witness the opening of the Galata Bridge in the middle of the night. Climb to the top of a minaret for the view.

Vagobond: Some of my Turkish friends in Istanbul have this particular form of national profiling – when they look at an American – they tend to just see the carpet they expect them to buy. What are some other ‘profiles’ you’ve encountered of both Americans on one side and Turks on the other?

Tom Brosnahan:Some years ago, Turkish tourist guides were asked by a major newspaper to describe each national type. It was hilarious:

Americans: friendly, interested, big tippers
Arab: three good meals daily and nothing else matters
British: scorpions in their pockets—you’ll never get a tip
German: so well informed, they’ll have to show you they know more than you do. And if there’s no beer there, don’t even stop the bus.
Israeli: always drama, dispute, tempest in a teacup

Vagobond: You’ve traveled to a lot of other places than Turkey – could you share some highlights with our readers?

Tom Brosnahan: I wrote for decades on Mexico & Central America. I’d drive from Boston and put 11,000 miles on the car. Mexico alone has the topographic, ethnic and linguistic diversity of all of Europe. Egypt: I hadn’t planned to go there, then I was asked by Berlitz to write a guide, now I believe every traveler must see Egypt. Norway: beautiful, friendly, peaceful. Expensive but worth it. If the world ever needs a capital city, it had better be Paris. As for France, it’s actually a whole bunch of little countries sharing a common border. Finally, I love New England. Did you know we have dozens of wineries here?

Vagobond: What are three pieces of advice for travelers that are often overlooked?

Tom Brosnahan:1. Cheap or expensive? Whether it’s a hotel, a meal, a guided tour, or a souvenir, the devil is in the details. Be sure you’re comparing the same things. A $100 hotel room in Istanbul includes all taxes and service charges, and a big buffet breakfast. A $100 hotel room in New York includes none of these, and taxes can add 17% to your bill. A $35 meal in Boston will be subject to 5.5% tax and 15% to 20& tip. A $35 meal in Paris costs exactly that.

  1. Safe or deangerous? Look more closely, and judge accordingly. The most horrendous terrorist attacks in recent times took place not in Kabul or Beirut or Cairo, but in New York City, London and Madrid.
  2. Concentrate on transportation: it may not be what you’re used to. It may be better to take a bus than a flight or rental car. It may be much farther than you think. Transport could be one of your greatest costs, overall.

Vagobond: It seems that you’ve adopted the web as your primary ‘publisher’ – as a geek who primarily does the same – I just love that. What were some of the factors that led to this? Was it a positive move? Do you think there is a future in writing for print?

Tom Brosnahan: I did well with guidebooks for 35 years, but then the pay went down while the work and responsibility went up. It was clear those trends would continue. It was also clear the Web was the information medium of the future: immediate publication, worldwide, virtually for free.

It has worked far better than I imagined. Instead of 75,000 readers in dozen countries per year I have nearly 7 million readers in 235 countries. And I’m earning far more than I ever did with print.
The paper codex (“book”) has been a useful medium since Gutenberg and will continue to be useful in a smaller way. But writing for print has little future. The publishers think they need to keep all the money.

Vagobond: What’s the best way for a travel writer to figure out what their audience is looking for?

Tom Brosnahan: Be in contact with them. Ask for comments. Set up an online forum. Talk to them on the road. Explore the statistics from your Web presence. There will be surprisess.

Find more of Tom’s work and guides at Travel Info Exchange and Turkey Travel Planner

Extraordinary Vagobond – Tarzan of Manisa

One of the things I never expected to find out was that Tarzan was real…and that he was an Iraqi who lived in the Turkish town of Manisa.

One of the things that made me decide this was a great place to live was that when I got here, I looked around and everywhere I saw Tarzan.

I grew up reading the Edgar Rice Burroughs books of my grandfather and most of them were Tarzan (though a few were about John Carter on Mars). As such, I have a lifelong connection with the fictional Lord of the Apes.

Seriously, the last thing I expected to find in Turkey were statues, restaurants, stores, and memorials to Tarzan! But to my surprise, they are here in plenty.

The Manisa Football Club celebrates their goals with the Tarzan cry. Seriously, the Johnny Weismuller jungle scream can be heard from my apartment when they make a goal.

So, what the fuck is Tarzan doing in Manisa? I did a little bit of research to find out why there are so many Tarzan businesses and why the statues of Tarzan all look like some bearded hippie.


Tarzan of Manisa was actually named Ahmeddin Carlak. He was born in Samarra, Iraq in 1899 and he fought in the Turkish War of Independence and then moved to Manisa during the Republic period.

He was a different kind of guy and saw planting and growing plants as something holy. He became the assistant gardener for Manisa and spent his life keeping the city green.

Whether from shell shock or holy devotion, he never wore anything but rubber slippers and black shorts just like some Hawaiian surfer.In fact, the old pictures of Tarzan remind of Duke Kahanamoku.

I’m told that winters in Manisa are damn cold but that he never wore more than shorts and rubbah slippahs. Every day at noon he would fire the Manisa municipal cannon.

He took it as his duty to offer flowers to any young woman visiting Manisa and it is said that he wandered the beautiful Sypil Mountain and lived in a tent there. He would spend his salary on candy to give to children and then give the rest to the poor of Manisa. He was treated as a prince of the city and would attend cinema for free since he never had any money as a result of giving all his salary to the poor.

He was the first environmentalist in Turkey and was a key figure in the reforestation of Sypil and the Manisa National Forest. Some people say that Manisa National Forest was made the first national park because of the efforts of Tarzan.

He died May 31, 1963 and since then the city has erected numerous monuments, statues, and kebap shops in his honor.

Sadly, the statue in Fatih park, seems to have had it’s arm broken off by vandals. I hope that it will be repaired soon.

William S. Burroughs – Junkie Vagabond

William S. Burroughs – no other name rings so loudly in the annals of extraordinary literary vagabonds of the 20th century. While his friend, Jack Kerouac may have found greater acclaim among stoned poets and hitch-hikers, it is Burroughs who was the true vagabond, though one with a trust fund to help him fund his movement and addictions.

Born February 5, 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri, Burroughs lived to the age of 83 and died August 2nd, 1997 in Lawrence, Kansas. He was a founder of the ‘Beat’ movement and a giant in 20th century American popular culture. Even if you’ve never heard of Burroughs – you’ve seen him or been exposed to his work. If you don’t believe me – ask yourself if you’ve ever seen the cover of the Beatles album – Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – Burroughs is on it.

Burroughs and the BeatlesBurroughs influence affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. His 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays had nothing less than a profound effect on pop culture.. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

He was born to a wealthy family and left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University where he studied English and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. It was being turned down by the US Navy during World War II that led him to begin experimenting with the drugs that became such a key part of his life. He dropped out and became an addict and later befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The three of them were the basis of the counter-cultural movement of the Beat Generation which in turn led to the age of the Hippies.

Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a work fraught with controversy that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws.

Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift,” because of his “lifelong subversion” of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War,” while Norman Mailer declared him “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.”

Europe
burroughs in LondonHe traveled to Europe after Harvard, which proved a window into Austrian and Hungarian Weimar-era homosexuality; he picked up boys in steam baths in Vienna, and moved in a circle of exiles, homosexuals, and runaways. It was there, he met Ilse Klapper, a Jewish woman fleeing the Nazi government.

Burroughs married her, in Croatia, against the wishes of his parents, to allow her to gain a visa to the United States. She made her way to New York City, and eventually divorced Burroughs.

He deliberately severed the last joint of his left little finger, right at the knuckle, to impress a man with whom he was infatuated. This event made its way into his early fiction as the short story “The Finger.” Yes, Burroughs was most definitely a queer.

Paris and the ‘Beat Hotel’
Beat Hotel ParisBurroughs moved into a rundown hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1959 when Naked Lunch was still looking for a publisher since Tangier, Morocco with its easy access to drugs, small groups of homosexuals, growing political unrest and odd collection of criminals became increasingly unhealthy for Burroughs.

In Paris, he met with Ginsberg and talked with Olympia Press. In so doing, he left a brewing legal problem, which eventually transferred itself to Paris. Paul Lund, a former British career criminal and cigarette smuggler whom Burroughs met in Tangier, was arrested on suspicion of importing narcotics into France. Lund gave up Burroughs and some evidence implicated Burroughs in the possible importation into France of narcotics. Once again, the man faced criminal charges, this time in Paris for conspiracy to import opiates, when the Moroccan authorities forwarded their investigation to French officials. Yet it was under this impending threat of criminal sanction that Maurice Girodias published Naked Lunch, and it was helpful in getting Burroughs a suspended sentence, as a literary career, according to Ted Morgan, is a respected profession in France.

The ‘Beat Hotel’ was a typical European-style rooming house hotel, with common toilets on every floor, and a small place for personal cooking in the room. Life there was documented by the photographer Harold Chapman, who lived in the attic room. This shabby, inexpensive hotel was populated by Gregory Corso, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for several months after Naked Lunch first appeared. Burroughs used the $3,000 advance from Grove Press to buy drugs.

The London years
Beat hotel TangierBurroughs left Paris for London in 1966 to take the cure again with Dr. Dent, a well-known English medical doctor who spearheaded a painless heroin withdrawal treatment using an electronic box affixed to the patient’s temple. Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg would take this same cure over a decade later from Dr. Dent’s nurse, Smitty.

Burroughs ended up working out of London for six years, traveling back to the United States on several occasions, including one time escorting his son to Lexington Narcotics Farm and Prison after the younger Burroughs had been convicted of prescription fraud in Florida.
Burroughs took a large advance from Playboy to write an article about his trip back to St. Louis that was eventually published in The Paris Review, after Burroughs refused to alter the style for Playboy’s publishers.

In 1968 Burroughs joined Jean Genet, John Sack, and Terry Southern in covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention for Esquire magazine. Southern and Burroughs, who had first become acquainted in London, would remain lifelong friends and collaborators. In 1972, Burroughs and Southern unsuccessfully attempted to adapt Naked Lunch for the screen in conjunction with legendary insane American game show producer Chuck Barris.

In the 1960s Burroughs joined and left the Church of Scientology. In talking about the experience, he claimed that the techniques and philosophy of Scientology helped him and that he felt that further study into Scientology would produce great results. He was skeptical of the organization itself, and felt that it fostered an environment that did not accept critical discussion.

Mexico and South America
Burroughs fled to Mexico to escape possible detention in Louisiana’s Angola state prison. Vollmer and their children followed him. Burroughs planned to stay in Mexico for at least five years, the length of his charge’s statute of limitations. Burroughs also attended classes at the Mexico City College in 1950 studying Spanish as well as “Mexican picture writing” (codices) and the Mayan language with R. H. Barlow.

In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed Vollmer in a drunken game of “William Tell” at a party above the American-owned Bounty Bar in Mexico City. He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials to release him.

Burroughs began to write what would eventually become the short novel Queer while awaiting his trial.

After leaving Mexico, Burroughs drifted through South America for several months, looking for a drug called yagé, which promised the user telepathy. A book, composed of letters between Burroughs and Ginsberg, The Yage Letters, was published in 1963 by City Lights Books.

In music, film and television
Burroughs not only appears on the cover of The Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but has many more musical connections. Burroughs participated on numerous album releases by Giorno Poetry Systems, including The Nova Convention (featuring Frank Zappa, John Cage, and Philip Glass) and You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (with John Giorno and Laurie Anderson). He is featured in a spoken word piece entitled “Sharkey’s Night” on Laurie Anderson’s album Mister Heartbreak. In addition, Burroughs provided vocal samples for the soundtrack of Anderson’s 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave, and made a cameo appearance in it. He also recites the lyrics of R.E.M.’s “Star Me Kitten” for a special version of the song on the Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files soundtrack.

In 1990, Island Records released Dead City Radio, a collection of readings set to a broad range of musical compositions. It was produced by Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, with musical accompaniment from John Cale, Donald Fagen, Lenny Pickett, Chris Stein, Sonic Youth, and others. The remastered edition of Sonic Youth’s album Goo includes a longer version of “Dr. Benway’s House,” which had appeared, in shorter form, on Dead City Radio.

In 1992 he recorded “Quick Fix” with Ministry, which appeared on their single for “Just One Fix.” The single featured cover art by Burroughs and a remix of the song dubbed the “W.S.B. mix.” Burroughs also made an appearance in the video for “Just One Fix.” The same year he also recorded the EP The “Priest” They Called Him; Burroughs reads the short story of the same name, while Kurt Cobain creates layers of guitar feedback and distortion. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is featured on the cover as the titular “Priest.” In 1992 Burroughs worked with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy on Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales, with the duo providing musical background and accompaniment to Burroughs’s spoken readings from several of his books.

Burroughs appears near the end of U2’s music video “Last Night on Earth”, pushing a shopping cart with a large spotlight positioned inside it. The video ends with a close up of his eyes.

In 2000, Spring Heel Jack released the album Oddities, on which appears the band’s remix of Material’s Road to the Western Lands, featuring Burroughs, which had originally appeared on the remix album Seven Souls.

Numerous bands have found their names in Burroughs’s work. The most widely known of these is Steely Dan, a group named after a dildo in Naked Lunch.Also from Naked Lunch came the names The Mugwumps and The Insect Trust. The novel Nova Express inspired the names of Grant Hart’s post-Hüsker Dü band Nova Mob, as well as Australian 1960s R&B band Nova Express. British band Soft Machine took its moniker from the Burroughs novel of the same name, as did protopunk band Dead Fingers Talk, from Hull, England; their only album was titled Storm the Reality Studios, after a quote from Nova Express. Alt-country band Clem Snide is named for a Burroughs character. Thin White Rope took their name from Burroughs’s euphemism for ejaculation.The American extreme metal band Success Will Write Apocalypse Across the Sky took their name from the 1989 text “Apocalypse”, in which Burroughs describes “art and creative expression taking a literal and physical form.”

Burroughs played Opium Jones in the 1966 Conrad Rooks cult film Chappaqua, which also featured cameo roles by Allen Ginsberg, Moondog, and others. In 1968, an abbreviated—77 minutes as opposed to the original’s 104 minutes—version of Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 film Häxan was released, subtitled Witchcraft Through The Ages. This version, produced by Anthony Balch, featured an eclectic jazz score by Daniel Humair and narration by Burroughs. He also appeared alongside Brion Gysin in a number of short films in the 1960s directed by Balch. Jack Sargeant’s book Naked Lens: Beat Cinema details Burroughs film work at length, covering his collaborations with Balch and Burroughs’ theories of film.

Burroughs narrated part of the 1980 documentary Shamans of the Blind Country by anthropologist and filmmaker Michael Oppitz. He gave a reading on Saturday Night Live on November 7, 1981, in an episode hosted by Lauren Hutton.

Burroughs subsequently made cameo appearances in a number of other films and videos, such as David Blair’s Wax: or the Discovery of Television among the Bees, in which he plays a beekeeper, in an elliptic story about the first Gulf War, and Decoder by Klaus Maeck. He played an aging junkie priest in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He also appears briefly at the beginning of Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (based on the Tom Robbins novel), in which he is seen crossing a city street; as the noise of the city rises around him he pauses in the middle of the intersection and speaks the single word “ominous”. Van Sant’s short film “Thanksgiving Prayer” features Burroughs reading the poem “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986,” from Tornado Alley, intercut with a collage of black and white images.

A documentary titled Burroughs, directed by Howard Brookner, was released in 1984. It included footage of Burroughs and many of his friends and colleagues. Near the end of his life, recordings of Burroughs reading his short stories “A Junky’s Christmas” and “Ah Pook is Here” were used on the soundtracks of two highly acclaimed animated films.

Filmmakers Lars Movin and Steen Moller Rasmussen used footage of Burroughs taken during a 1983 tour of Scandinavia in the documentary Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road. A 2010 documentary, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, was made for Independent Lens on PBS.

As a fictional character
Burroughs was fictionalized in Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel On the Road as “Old Bull Lee.” He also makes an appearance in J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical 1991 novel The Kindness of Women. In the 2004 novel Move Under Ground, Burroughs, Kerouac, and Neal Cassady team up to defeat Cthulhu.

Burroughs appears in the first part of The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson during the 1968 Democratic Convention riots and is described as a person devoid of anger, passion, indignation, hope, or any other recognizable human emotion. He is presented as a polar opposite of Allen Ginsberg, as Ginsberg believed in everything and Burroughs believed in nothing. Wilson would recount in his Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth having interviewed both Burroughs and Ginsberg for Playboy the day the riots began as well as his experiences with Shea during the riots, providing some detail on the creation of the fictional sequence.

Can there be a more iconic vagabond of the 20th century than William Seward Burroughs?

Vagabond Frontier Writer – Louis L’amour.

Louis L’amour was more than just a prolific writer of Western novels. He was a boxer, a hobo, a round the world traveler, a merchant seaman, a soldier and a vagabond.

World Travel Louis Lamour vagabondLouis Dearborn LaMoore, better known as Louis L’amour was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1908. He was the seventh child of Dr. Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. He was of French and Irish ancestry and the son of a large-animal veterinarian, local politician and farm-equipment broker who had arrived in Dakota Territory in 1882.

The area around Jamestown was mostly farm land but cowboys and livestock often traveled through Jamestown on their way to or from ranches in Montana and the markets to the east. Like most future writers, L’amour spent plenty of his boyhood free time at the local library reading, particularly G. A. Henty, a British author of historical boys’ novels during the late nineteenth century. L’Amour once said, “[Henty’s works] enabled me to go into school with a great deal of knowledge that even my teachers didn’t have about wars and politics.” In addition to history and the natural sciences, the young Louis was captivated by the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others … letting them carry him away to the south seas, the gold fields of the Yukon, the Spanish Main, the center of the earth and the dying red planet of Mars.

In 1923 the family fell on hard times and over the next seven or eight years, they skinned cattle in west Texas, baled hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, worked in the mines of Arizona, California and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber camps of the Pacific Northwest. It was in colorful places like these that Louis met a wide variety of people, upon whom he later modeled the characters in his novels, many of them actual Old West personalities who had survived into the nineteen-twenties and -thirties.In Oklahoma he met Bill Tilghman, once the marshal of Dodge City; Chris Madsen who had been a Deputy U.S. Marshall and a Sargent with the 5th cavalry; and Emmett Dalton of the notorious Dalton Gang. In New Mexico he met George Coe and Deluvina Maxwell who had both known Billy the Kid; Tom Pickett who’d had a thumb shot off in the Lincoln County War; Tom Threepersons who had been both a Northwest Mounted Policeman and a Texas Ranger; and Elfagio Baca, a famous New Mexico lawyer who had once engaged over eighty of Tom Slaughter’s cowboys for 33 hours in one of the west’s most famous gunfights. During his years in Arizona Louis met Jeff Milton, a Texas Ranger and Border Patrolman and Jim Roberts, the last survivor of the Tonto Basin War and later Marshall of Jerome. But perhaps most importantly, during the years he was traveling around the country, young Louis met hundreds of men and women who, though unknown historically, were equally important as examples of what the people of the nineteenth century were like.

While still only a teenager, he set out on a journey which took him around the world (you can find out more about it and see plenty of photos at www.louislamourgreatadventure.com/. It was a ten month vagabond adventure that was to shape the rest of his life. He hoped to create a series of stories that would document these times because, even as he experienced them, they were fading. The free, wandering, days of the hobo disappeared with the financial pressure of the depression and, as the world responded to the growing tensions that led to World War Two, customs and immigration officers began cracking down on all travelers. The sense that the world was full of unknown possibilities was vanishing as telegraph and telephone, radio, fast steam ships, and aircraft shrank people’s sense of the world and brought the most remote corners under the supervision of control mad governments. He circled the globe as a merchant seaman, visiting England, Japan, China, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, and Panama with the rough and ready crews of various steamships on which he served.

Ultimately, Louis wrote about a world in transition, not a place where anything was possible but a place where the last things were possible, a world that was becoming the world we know now. Like the old west that he would eventually write about, Louis was around at a time when he could experience the last vestiges of a vanishing age and meet the people who had been a part of that age in its prime.

Back in the USA, he hoboed across the country, hopping freight trains with men who had been riding the rails for half a century. He wrapped newspaper under his clothes to keep warm while sleeping in hobo jungles, grain bins and the gaps in piles of lumber. He spent three months “on the beach,” in San Pedro, California

Many of these stories are now published in the collection “Yondering” and there are more in “Off the Mangrove Coast, “”West from Singapore,” “Night over the Solomons,” “Beyond the Great Snow Mountains”.

He changed his name to Louis L’Amour and settled down to try to make something of himself as a writer in the 1930’s. His stories about boxing got him a bit of notice but most of his other stories were ignored and rejected until finally, L’Amour placed a story, “Death Westbound,” in a magazine that was very much the Playboy of its day.

“10 Story Book” featured quality writing alongside scantily attired, or completely naked young women but aside from that, it was hard going until 1938 when his stories began appearing in pulp magazines fairly regularly.

Surprisingly, given his later career, L’Amour wrote only one story in the western genre prior to World War Two, 1940’s “The Town No Guns Could Tame. During World War II, he served in the United States Army as a transport officer with the 3622 Transport Company. After World War II, L’Amour continued to write stories for magazines; his first after being discharged in 1946 was Law of the Desert Born in Dime Western Magazine (April, 1946). L’Amour’s contact with Leo Margulies led to L’Amour agreeing to write many stories for the Western pulp magazines published by Standard Magazines, a substantial portion of which appeared under the name “Jim Mayo”. The suggestion of L’Amour writing Hopalong Cassidy novels also was made by Margulies who planned on launching Hopalong Cassidy’s Western Magazine at a time when the William Boyd films and new television series were becoming popular with a new generation. L’Amour read the original Hopalong Cassidy novels, written by Clarence E. Mulford, and wrote his novels based on the original character under the name “Tex Burns”. Only two issues of the Hopalong Cassidy Western Magazine were published, and the novels as written by L’Amour were extensively edited to meet Doubleday’s thoughts of how the character should be portrayed in print.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that L’Amour began to sell novels. His first novel, published under his own name, was Westward The Tide, published in 1951. The short story, “The Gift of Cochise” was printed in Colliers (July 5, 1952) and seen by John Wayne and Robert Fellows, who purchased the screen rights from L’Amour for $4,000. James Edward Grant was hired to write a screenplay based on this story changing the main character’s name from Ches Lane to Hondo Lane. L’Amour retained the right to novelize the screenplay and did so, even though the screenplay differed substantially from the original story. This was published as Hondo in 1953 and released on the same day the film opened with a blurb from John Wayne stating that “Hondo was the finest Western Wayne had ever read”. During the remainder of the decade L’Amour produced a great number of novels, both under his own name as well as others (e. g. Jim Mayo).

L’Amour’s career flourished throughout the 1960s and he began work on a series of novels about the fictional Sackett family. Initially he wrote five books about William Tell Sackett and his close relatives, however, in later years the series spread to include other families and four centuries of North American history. It was an ambitious project and several stories intended to close the gaps in the family’s time line were left untold at the time of L’Amour’s death.

novels of Louis L'AmourL’Amour also branched out into historical fiction with The Walking Drum, set in the 11th century, a contemporary thriller, Last of the Breed, and science fiction with The Haunted Mesa.

L’Amour eventually wrote 89 novels, over 250 short stories, and sold more than 320 million copies of his work. By the 1970s his writings were translated into over 20 languages. Every one of his works is still in print.

L’Amour died from lung cancer on June 10, 1988, at his home in Los Angeles, and was buried in Glendale, California. His autobiography, Education of a Wandering Man, was published posthumously in 1989.

Vagabond Explorer – Sir Richard Francis Burton

Explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton was quite possibly the greatest vagabond in history. In his lifetime he lived diverse cultures, broke boundaries, and did most of it without much in the way of resources or travel money.

As I listen to the call to prayer outside my window, I can’t help reflecting on the amazing life of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Quite possibly the greatest explorer and adventurer the world has ever known.

Burton was born on the 19th of March, 1821 in England and died at the age of 69 in Austria-Hungary on October 20, 1890. During his life Burton was a writer, explorer, anthropologist, ethnographer, soldier, spy, linguist, and poet.

He is said to have spoken twenty nine languages and was the first European man to go to many places in Asia, Africa,and even to the United States where he infiltrated and exposed the bizarre beliefs and customs of the Mormons in Salt Lake City.
Richard F. Burton Nomad

Why does the call to prayer remind me of him? For one because he was the first European to make the hajj and disguised as an Arab he entered Mecca. For two because Burton was in fact, a Muslim. Third, Burton was the translator of The Thousand and One Nights which is probably the best known collection of stories concerned with Arab and Muslim cultures ever written.

In addition to these achievements he also translated the Kama Sutra and was the first European to see the source of the Nile River. His writings included studies of human behavior, ethnographies, travel writing, books about sexual practices, and more. He was a cofounder of the Anthropological Society of London before most people had any idea what anthropology was (although most still don’t).

To a certain extent, Burton was hated and persecuted for his honesty, his refusal to bend before the man, and the suspicion that rather than having masqueraded as a Muslim, he might have actually been one.
Muslim Richard Burton
Burton always claimed to be a Muslim, but after his death, in an attempt to save her reputation, his wife Isabel published a biography that most believe to be false in which she claimed he was always a strong believer in Christ- like her. She also burned all of his unpublished writings so that her account was the only one which people could turn to. This went specifically against Burton’s wishes, but he probably didn’t care much since he was already dead.

To understand just how many books Burton wrote, how much ground he covered, and how incredible the man was you need only read his fascinating biography.

Extraordinary Vagabond Stock Broker – Steve Jermanok

Great travel writers of the worldWhen you visit Steve Jermanok’s website, on the front page, you find this description:

An insatiable curiosity coupled with a passion for people, places, culture, and history has compelled me to visit the far-flung corners of the globe in search of answers. Or kept me planted in my desk chair for weeks delving into the far from obvious insecurities a protagonist must overcome to reach his or her dreams. Seeking clarity in a calamitous world is the job of the writer. Thanks for checking in.

The words are fitting for the man. Understated, interesting and filled with the promise of adventure. Steve was a stock broker until the mid-1990’s when he realized it was a dead end job (literally as he saw a man fall past his high rise window to his death) and then embarked upon a new career as a travel journalist. Since then he has written hundreds of articles, visited more than 60 countries, authored guidebooks, key noted tourism conventions and lectured at universities.  My interview with Steve Jermanok made me feel both humbled and refueled with a lust for new adventures. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Vagobond: I love the story of how you became a travel writer. As another guy who was once a stock broker and gave it up to be a penniless writer in Hawaii – your story of sudden realization about the life sucking nature of the corporate world and then your decision to leave it strike me as nothing short of awesome. Can you tell Vagobond readers about it? Was it the best decision of your life?

Steve Jermanok: The late 80s was a time of excess in New York. I’d often go down to Wall Street for business lunches and we wouldn’t leave the restaurant until 8 or 9 pm in the evening. When my boss started getting into coke, coming back from the bathroom with a white line on his lip, I knew that I had to get out of there or I’d probably be dead before I was 30. I booked a flight on Air New Zealand, stopping at 12 different stops on the way to Sydney and never looked back. I was fortunate to get my midlife crisis over at 25. I think they actually call it a quarter-life crisis these days.

 

Stock broker turned travel journalistVagobond: You’ve written a huge number of travel articles for a wide variety of publications – which articles stand out the clearest in your memory?

Steve Jermanok: Ask me to remember the pearly white sands of a Hawaiian beach, a sunset in Santorini, or a hot-air balloon ride over the Masai Mara and I would have a hard time. It’s the mishaps that you remember vividly. In the late 90s, I was asked by Men’s Journal magazine to hike a portion of the Desert Trail, a trail that snakes from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north, with one of its founders. I chose a five-day trek through the Mojave Desert on the California/Nevada border. I had to backpack in with over 40 pounds of water, food, tent, and sleeping bag. It didn’t help that I borrowed a former WWII army pack from my buddy’s father that was digging into my shoulders. I had blisters on my feet by the end of day two. Day three was sweltering, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I took out my trusty microcassette recorder to dictate some notes and the tape had melted. That was the last time I used a cassette recorder on a trip. By the end of the trip, I was cramping and couldn’t wait to get back to Vegas, soak in a hot tub, and get on my flight back home. Unfortunately, there was a blizzard back in Boston. I was forced to watch Siegfried and Roy types of shows in Vegas the next four nights.

Vagobond: Are there any articles that you wish you would have written, but haven’t yet? Any that you wish you hadn’t of written?

Steve Jermanok: The articles I love most have a central character, like cocktail writer Wayne Curtis leading me around the bars of New Orleans in search of pre-Prohibition era drinks. When I speak to students studying writing at the universities in Boston, I always note that travel writing has far more in common with fiction than other forms of journalism. You need great characters, sharp dialogue, colorful description of the scenery, and hopefully some humor. That said, there are a lot of great characters around the world I’d like to meet.

The one article I wish I didn’t write was a travel story for The Boston Globe on my favorite swimming holes on Cape Cod. These are coveted ponds that locals didn’t appreciate me divulging. Sure, there are over 300 kettle ponds on the Cape and I was only discussing ten of those beauties, but it was disrespectful of the locals on the Cape who call it home.

 

Travel Journalist Steve JermanokVagobond: How has the world of the travel writer changed since you began? Can you suggest a couple of positive and a couple of negative?

Steve Jermanok: When I started in travel writing, I would type up a pitch letter and send it with a self-addressed stamp envelope to a publisher. Then I would head to the mailbox and pick up my stack of rejection letters each day. For some masochistic reason, I still have a thick file of rejection letters and pass them around to journalism students who think they want to give freelance writing a shot. You need to develop a tough hide and not be so sensitive about rejection.

These days, I pitch my editors via email and wait for a response. What I love about travel writing currently is the ability to write about anything I want via a blog or tweet. I find it incredibly liberating, not having to wait for an editor to say yea or nay to write about a subject that interests me. I also just jumped into travel consulting with my wife, an accredited travel agent. That way, if people in this new world of A.D.D. don’t have the time to read my stories, I can still point them in the right direction. This stems from a trip to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. I had just returned from a freighter cruise trip on the Aranui, spending two glorious weeks looking in awe at these verdant and jagged islands that rise precipitously from the ocean waters. So incredibly picturesque are these islands that Herman Melville jumped ship here and wrote his first novel and Paul Gauguin would live out his final days in Eden. Just before I left French Polynesia, I met this honeymoon couple in the citified island of Tahiti who had just spent their past week at an overpriced hotel. I felt like smacking them. Instead, I’m now helping people avoid that mistake.

Vagobond: More than 60 countries since you left that Manhattan office – do you have any favorites? What about least favorite destinations?

Steve Jermanok: Just like my favorite stories revolve around intriguing characters, my favorite places in the world contain locals that are incredibly welcoming (so why, you ask, do I live in Boston where people refer to the local drivers as Massholes). In Fiji, where in the days of yore they dined on my ancestors, I’ve had a Fijian chief cook me a feast at his hut and serve the numbing kava drink. I’ve returned to Kenya often, first wanting to see the animals on safari, now wanting to visit friends I’ve made in Nairobi. New Zealanders not only picked me up when I was hitchhiking, but then took me to their homes for dinner and a night’s sleep. In Israel, I loved having hummus and fool with taxi drivers in the old Jaffa section of Tel Aviv. In Bali, I was fortunate to be invited to a funeral and really understand the powerful spirituality that resonates on this island. In Mae Hong San, I smoked opium with a leper, who mentioned that he wasn’t contagious. Those are the memories I cherish.

Vagobond: Tourists and travellers – are they the same thing with different packaging?

Steve Jermanok: I tell travelers that even with a limited amount of time, you can still have an authentic experience. Just leave the shyness and the cool machismo vibe back home. Jump into each culture with a vengeance, tasting the foods, learning their indigenous culture, and yes, meeting the people. Don’t be afraid to travel alone. You’ll meet people from around the world that will be your friends throughout life. After entering a mud hut to meet the many wives of a Maasai warrior on the Tanzania/Kenya border, he asked if I’m on Facebook. Yeah, I said I’m on Facebook. Now he’s a Facebook friend making comments about my mundane life, and I love it. The world’s a far smaller place than you think.

 

 

Ponce de Leon – Deadly Damn Vagabond

It might be pushing it to call Ponce de Leon a vagabond since he was a career soldier, but in terms of dreams and adventure, certainly he fits the bill as someone who not only traveled broadly, but was foolish enough to chase the fountain of youth.

Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer and was the first European soldier to set foot in Florida. He set up the oldest European settlement in Puerto Rico and he also found the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean . Ponce de Leon, was looking for a fabulous fountain of youth and a way to join the ranks of the truly wealthy people.

vagabond explorerPonce de Leon was born in Santervas, Spain, he fought against the Moors as a solider in southern Spain and he traveled on the second journey of Christopher Columbus in 1493 to Americas. But he did not return with Columbus to Spain, he stayed in Santo Domingo which is called the Dominical Republic today. That’s a pure vagabond move, Ponce.

He was the governor of Dominican province of Higuey. ponce de leonHe heard about gold in the neighboring island of Borinquen (Puerto Rico at present) and he conquered the island and claimed it for Spain. In the process he and his men brutally killed a huge portion of the native population. Later he was appointed governor of island. He was removed from the Governorship because of his intense cruelty to the local population and keep in mind, the Spanish weren’t known to be too nice and they thought he was cruel. .

Later Ponce de Leon was handed the right to find and take Bimini Island which is called the Bahamas today. He traveled from Puerto Rico with three ships, the Santiago, the San Cristobal and the Santa Maria along with 200 men. He stopped at Grand Turk Island and San Salvador, and reached the coasts of Florida in 1513.

He named the place “Pascua de Florida” which means feast of flowers because they first located land in 1513 which was a Palm Sunday. And one can assume that the flowers were blooming. Then Ponce de Leon claimed the land for Spain.

Further Reading
Ponce de Leon and the Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida
Ponce de Leon and the Search for the Fountain of Youth
Eyewitness Travel Guide – Florida

He headed south into the warm currrent Gulf Stream (thus blundering on it and losing the smallest of his ships for two days, again in vagabond fashion). While they searched for the ship,a fight broke out between men of Ponce de Leon and Native Americans. Still, they managed to ‘discover’ the Florda Keys and more…

Ponce de Leon - fountain of youthMany people believe that Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. In his Historia General y Natural de las Indias of 1535, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his aging. Most historians hold that the search for gold and the expansion of the Spanish Empire were far more imperative than the any potential search for the fountain, but they don’t understand the things that drive normal men to leave family and home in search of something remarkable. Personally, I’m certain he was looking for the fountain of youth.

Arthur Rimbaud – Vagabond Poet

I used to write a column on Vagobond called “What am I doing here?” – while it’s a logical enough question for a guy living like I was (I generally found myself somewhere new each week) but, in fact – the inspiration for the title came from a rather Extraordinary Vagabond poet named Arthur Rimbaud.

Further Reading on Rimbaud
The LIfe of Rimbaud

A Season in Hell and the Drunken Boat

Rimbaud by Jack Kerouac

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud.  Not the least of reasons why Rimbaud is worthy of knowing about is because he was a libertine poet who only lived to the age of 37 but had a profound influence on world literature and you can say his name as John Rambo.  Cool right?

He was born 20 October 1854 and was described by Victor  Hugo as “an infant Shakespeare”.  This was during his teen years when the young Rimbaud was rebelling in a pure James Dean way through getting drunk, being rude, composing poems about shit (literally), stealing books and allowing his hair to grow long.

He was attempting (according to letters at the time) to develop a method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a “long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet.”

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

Rimbaud, like a lot of great travelers, was a bit queer. He had a short and powerful affair with the poet Verlaine which became notorious as the two raged through Paris and London in a haze of hashish and absinthe. Keep in mind that Rimbaud was still a young teen at this point but gained a reputation as a true terror. Verlaine during the relationship, abandoned his wife and child and the two lived in a hectic squalor before parting ways.  A reunion of the two in Brussels went terribly wrong when  the drunk and angry Verlaine shot the 18 year old Rimbaud in the wrist with a pistol. Verlaine went to prison and Rimbaud began to wander about Europe, Asia, and Africa – mostly on foot.

Wanting to go further afield he joined the Dutch Colonial Army and went to the island of Java where he deserted and continued his explorations. From there he traveled to Cyprus, Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia and more travel amongst Europe.

If you doubt the influence of poets on culture, check out this blurb from wikipedia:

Rimbaud’s poetry, as well as his life, made an indelible impression on 20th century writers, musicians and artists. Pablo Picasso,Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Giannina Braschi, Léo Ferré, Henry Miller, Van Morrison and Jim Morrison have been influenced by his poetry and life. Here is Kerouac’s poem – Rimbaud

Arthur! On t’ appela pas Jean!
Born in 1854 cursing in Charle-
ville thus paving the way for
the abominable murderousnesses
of Ardennes—No wonder your father left!
So you entered school at 8
—Proficient little Latinist you!
In October of 1869
Rimbaud is writing poetry
in Greek French—
Takes a runaway train

to Paris without a ticket,
the miraculous Mexican Brakeman
throws him off the fast
train, to Heaven, which
he no longer travels because
Heaven is everywhere—
Nevertheless the old fags
intervene—
Rimbaud nonplussed Rimbaud
trains in the green National
Guard, proud marching
in the dust with his heroes—
hoping to be buggered,
dreaming of the ultimate Girl.
—Cities are bombarded as
he stares & stares & chews
his degenerate lip & stares
with gray eyes at
Walled France—

Andre Gill was forerunner
to Andre Gide—
Long walks reading poems
in the Genet Haystacks—
The Voyant is born,
the deranged seer makes his
first Manifesto,
gives vowels colors
& consonants carking care,
comes under the influence
of old French Fairies
who accuse him of constipation
of the brain & diarrhea
of the mouth—
Verlaine summons him to Paris
with less aplomb than he
did banish girls to
Abyssinis—

Merde! screams Rimbaud
at Verlaine salons—
Gossip in Paris—Verlaine Wife
is jealous of a boy
with no seats to his trousers
—Love sends money from Brussels
—Mother Rimbaud hates
the importunity of Madame
Verlaine—Degenerate Arthur is suspected
of being a poet by now—
Screaming in the barn
Rimbaud writes Season in Hell,
his mother trembles
Verlaine sends money & bullets
into Rimbaud—
Rimbaud goes to the police
& presents his innocence
like the pale innocence of
his divine feminine Jesus
—Poor Verlaine, 2 years
in the can, but could have
got a knife in the heart

—Illuminations! Stuttgart!
Study of Languages!
On foot Rimbaud walks
& looks thru the Alpine
passes into Italy, looking
for clover bells, rabbits,
Genie Kingdoms & ahead
of his nothing but the old
Canaletto death of sun
on old Venetian buildings
—Rimbaud studies language
—hears of the Alleghanies,
of Brooklyn, of last
American Plages—
His angel sister dies—
Vienne! He looks at pastries
& pets old dogs! I hope!
This mad cat joins
the Dutch Army
& sails for Java
commanding the fleet
at midnight
on the bow, alone,
no one hears his Command
but every fishy shining in
the sea—August is
no time to stay in Java—
Aiming at Egypt, he’s again
hungup in Italy so he goes back
home to deep armchair
but immediately he goes
again, to Cyprus, to
run a gang of quarry workers,—
what did he look like now.this later
Rimbaud?—Rock dust
& black backs & hacks
of coughers, the dream rises
in the Frenchman’s Africa mind,—
Invalids from the tropics are always
loved—The Red Sea
in June, the coast clanks
in Arabia—Havar,
Havar, the magic trading
post—Aden, Aden,
South of Bedouin—
Ogaden, Ogaden, never
known—(Meanwhile
Verlaine sits in Paris
over cognacs wondering
what Arthur looks like now,
& how bleak their eyebrows
because they believed
in earlier eyebrow beauty)—
Who cares? What kinda
Frenchmen are these? Rimbaud, hit me
over the head with that rock!
Serious Rimbaud composes
elegant & learned articles
for National Geographic
Societies, & after wars
commands Harari Girl
(Ha Ha!) back
to Abyssinia, & she
was young, had black
eyes, thick lips, hair
curled, & breasts like
polished brown with
copper teats & ringlets
on her arms &
joined her hands upon her central loin &
had shoulders as broad as
Arthur’s & little ears
—A girl of some
caste, in Bronzeville—

Rimbaud also knew
thinbonehipped Polynesians
with long tumbling hair &
tiny tits & big feet

Finally he starts
trading illegal guns
in Tajoura
riding in caravans, Mad,
with a belt of gold
around his waist—
Screwed by King Menelek!
The Shah of Shoa!
The noises of these names
in that noisy
French mind!

Cairo for the summer,
bitter lemon wind
& kisses in the dusty park
where girls sit
folded at
dusk
thinking nothing—

Havar! Havar!
By litter to Zeyla
he’s carried moaning
his birthday—the boat
returns to chalk castle
Marseilles sadder than
time, than dream,
sadder than water
—Carcinoma, Rimbaud
is eaten by the disease
of overlife—They cut off
his beautiful leg—
He dies in the arms
of Ste Isabelle
his sister
& before rising to Heaven
sends his francs to Djami, Djami the Havari boy
his dody servant
8 years in the African
Frenchman’s Hell,
& it all adds up
to nothing, like
Dostoevsky, Beethoven
or Da Vinci—

So, poets, rest awhile
& shut up:
Nothing ever came
of nothing.

Written in 1958 and published as a City Lights broadside in 1960.

Rimbaud’s life has been portrayed in several films. Italian filmmaker Nelo Risi’s 1970 film Una stagione all’inferno (“A Season in Hell”) starred Terence Stamp as Rimbaud and Jean Claude Brialy as Paul Verlaine. In 1995 Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland directed Total Eclipse, which was based on a play by Christopher Hampton who also wrote the screenplay. The film starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud and David Thewlis as Paul Verlaine.

 

Vagabond Granny – Grandma Gatewood

Every once in a while you come across someone that inspires  the hell out of you. Emma “Grandma” Gatewood is one of those people.

Peace Pilgrim Grandma GatewoodGrandma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Gatewood on October 25, 1887, in Guyan Township, Ohio. and was a very able hiker who mastered the art of hiking and dedicated herself to world peace. Better known as Grandma Gatewood, Emma was the first woman in history to hike the Appalachian Trail solo, from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She completed the 2,168-mile hike in just one season. The best part, she did it at age 67, giving her the nickname Grandma Gatewood. Grandma Gatewood was also a pioneer in ultra light backpacking, a term used to define backpacking that is done with the minimum number of things necessary to make the hike.

Grandma Gatewood’s backpack during her hike on the Appalachian Trail included an army blanket, sneakers, a raincoat and a shower curtain made of plastic. Just a look at this list is enough to show what kind of woman she was. This is the main reason she is called one of the best ultra light backpackers to have ever lived. This particular hike landed her in national attention, with mentions in Sports Illustrated and appearances on the Today Show. Why?

Because she was one kick ass old lady. She  got her inspiration to go on the Appalachian Trail from a issue of National Geographic Magazine in which she saw the pictures of the trail, and assumed it would be a pleasant hike. She was later known to have told the media that it was not that pleasant after all.


Further Reading on Grandma Gatewood

Walking the Appalacian Trail
Grandma Gatewood Walks Across America
Travel to Appalacia

Grandma Gatewood became so fond of this particular trail, she hiked it not once, but three times! The final time was at the age of 75, making her the oldest person to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. Her other hikes include a hike on the Oregon Trail, which began from Independence, Missouri and ended at Portland, Oregon, and lasted 2,000 miles. Grandma Gatewood was a person of immense energy and passion for adventure, as hiking thousands of miles is a feat some people would not even dream of! Never mind as a senior citizen.

Peace Pilgrim Appalacian TrailHer last hike was at the age of 83, and took place at the Appalachian Outfitters, Oakton, Virginia. Grandma Gatewood was survived by eleven children at the time of her death, at the age of 85. The next generation includes 24 grandchildren, the one after that has 30 great-grandchildren, and the fifth generation had one great-great grandchild, at the time of her death.

Vagabond Folk Singer – Woodie Guthrie

While perhaps not a world traveler, Woodie Guthrie’s songs and music have been the soundtrack to more than a few vagabond adventures. Because of that, he is truly extraordinary. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable to have a trip in the USA without singing or humming “This land is your land…this land is my land…from California…to the New York Islands…”

One of the best known folk singers ever, Woody Guthrie was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, on July 14, 1912 in a small town called Okemah in the state of Oklahoma. His parents, Charles Edward Guthrie and Nora Belle Tanner named him after the then governor of New Jersey, and future President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

This machine kills fascistsCharles Guthrie was involved actively in local politics, and that could be one reason the family was so influenced by Woodrow Wilson. Guthrie spent most of his childhood and teenage in Okemah itself, where his father had quite a lot of land, and various other interests as well. Charles, however, was living in Texas because his wife was finding it hard to stay in Oklahoma with a few medical conditions from which she was suffering.

At the age of 19, Woodrow Guthrie was sent for by his father, and he met Mary Jennings, his first wife, whom he married and fathered three children with. Guthrie’s love for music was kindled right in Okemah, where he used to listen to old ballads and folk songs that were sung at festivals and traditional days.

this land was made for you and meGuthrie used to practice by singing an occasional song or two around town, and his flair for music was evident right at that stage. He stayed in Texas till the late 1930s, when he joined thousands of fellow Oklahoman people who were moving to California in search of better jobs and earnings. Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”

It was in California that Guthrie tasted his first hand at fame, by performing traditional folk music that was broadcast over the radio, on the radio station KFVD. While working here, Guthrie began writing and composing his own songs, most of which revolved around the current political situations in the country and region.

Woodie Guthrie Resources
Woodie Guthrie – A Life
Dust Bowl Ballads
This Machine Kills Fascists
The Asch Recordings

almanac singersGuthrie was forced to come out of KFVD in the early 1940s, his politics made him unhireable as he was rumored to be a communist since his guitar said “This machine kills fascists” and he wrote for the communist newspapers. In fact though, he never joined the party but finding no other employment, he returned to Texas along with his wife. But Guthrie was not meant to stay there because as he soon received a call from a former colleague asking him to come to New York to work on his musical career.

So, at this point, Woody moved to New York where he soon started performing. An unlikely place for a cowboy singer, but it was in New York City where his career really took off. His musical life took him to Los Angeles, Washington, Oregon and Coney Island, in all of which places he performed, composed songs and achieved fame. Perhaps the most productive time was with the Bonneville Power Association building the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. IN one month he wrote 26 songs.

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”

His career was at its peak when he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, which led to detoriation of his health. He finally breathed his last on October 3, 1967. Though he is no more, his music has been carried through generations, mainly by the likes of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer and Tom Paxton, all of who have acknowledged Woody as one of the greatest singers of all time.

Ibn Battuta – Moroccan Vagabond

The greatest adventurer of all time for me is the Moroccan vagabond, Ibn Battuta. He not only traveled everywhere in his known world, but he wrote about it in ways that no one before him had. Ibn Battuta’s journey lasted 29 years, so by Moroccan standards, my wife should be understanding of this current journey I’m on.

Ibn Battuta was the only world traveler in Middle Ages and he achieved fame because of he visited every Muslim ruler’s land of his time. He also traveled in China, Sri Lanka, Byzantium (which included huge amounts of Europe, Turkey, and Central Asia) and Russia. He traveled over 75,000 miles in his lifetime. And keep in mind most of this was by foot, camel, or horse. There were no frequent flyer programs then. He traveled like a nomad throughout the world and in the process, he introduced (and is still introducing) the cultures of the world to one another.

Ibn Battuta was a well known traveler who lived according to the slogan ‘never, if possible, cover any road a second time’. He traveled on camel, horse, by boat and on foot. He went as far as he could through every means of land transport. He also traveled to West Africa and visited Timbuktu, Niger, and Mali. He distinctly described the existing political, social and economic conditions, religious matters, and position of women in the nations and regions he visited.

Ibn Battuta Resources
The Adventures of Ibn Battuta
The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia, and Africa
Traveling Man: The Journeys of Ibn Battuta

He was elected Chief judge of Delhi, and he spent his life as Qadi (chief judge) of Morocco in the city of Fes for twenty three years, meanwhile he also wrote of his travels which at the time included almost everything that was known about the world.

At the age of 21, Ibn Battuta started his travels from Morocco. The main reason for his journey was to go on the Hajj, the long journey to Mecca, like all other Muslims who are required to do the same during their lives if possible. travels of ibn battuta

He traveled for 29 years and covered almost 75,000 miles where he visited 44 modern countries. He faced many dangers and adventures on his way. Bandits attacked him and he nearly drowned in a sinking ship during his travels.

ibn battuta on camelIbn Battuta was born in Morocco in a Muslim family in 1304. He studied Muslim law and in 1325 he left the place to make the journey to Mecca. He was very interested in adventure and world travel. Traveling to Mecca through land and by sea was dangerous. He traveled on land with a donkey at first. Later he joined a caravan with other travelers.

Ibn Battuta was asked to dictate the story of his travels to a scholar by the Sultan of Morocco. Today we are able to read that story in English and the story is called “Rihla-My Travels”.

Greedy Vagabond – Conquistador Hernando Cortez

Vagabonds travel the world, not conquer it. Sure, I hear you. The fact is though, vagabonds would conquer the world if they could and Cortez did it. He conquered an entire empire. Sure, it was shitty for Montezuma, but for Cortez? It must have been cool.

Hernando Cortez was a Spanish conqueror, he led a journey which caused the decline of the Aztec Empire. We can also call him world traveler. He brought a major part of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the 16th century. Hernando Cortez was a part of the Spanish colonizers generation which started the first stage of the Americas’ Spanish colonization.

Vagabond in Mexico Hernando Cortez sailed to the Americas with a family companion and a faraway relative, the new governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando. Hispaniola is the present Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Cortez had been injured while escaping in a hurry from the bedroom of a married woman from Medellin. This incident stopped him from continuing the journey. He spent the next year as a nomad in the country, he spent most of his time in southern ports of Spain, Cadiz, Palos and Seville, he became a vagabond. During that time he used to listen to the stories from those who returned from Indies. They told him about the discovery, the gold, and the Indians. Cortez left for Hispaniola soon and he became a colonist there. He suffered from syphilis for some years later, no report if he got it from the married chick, but probably.

More about Hernando Cortez and the Aztecs

Hernando Cortez
Conquistador: Hernan Cortez, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

Lonely Planet Mexico
The People’s Guide to Mexico
Colonial Mexico Guide

Cortez recovered from the disease in 1511 and joined Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, in his journey to conquer Cuba. Cortez was appointed as a clerk to the treasurer at the age of 26, he was given the responsibility of making sure that the Crown received one fifth of the profits from the journey.

When Juan de Grijalva reported his discovery of Mexico in 1518, Velasquez picked Cortez to build a colony there. Velasquez soon suspected Cortez would go beyond his orders and cancelled the expedition. Unfortunately for Velasquez, Cortez had already assembled men and equipment and set sail. He rounded the peninsula at Yucatan and touched Mexico on the coast of what is now the state of Tabasco. During the battle with Indians there, he took many captives including a young Aztec princess. She became his interpreter and advisor.

Cortez continued up the coast. On April 21,1519, he landed near the site of Veracruz. There, to prevent all thought of retreat, he burned his ships. Leaving a small force on the coast, Cortez led the rest of his men into the interior. The Indians outnumbered the Spaniards 300 to 1.

On November 8, 1519, Cortez reached Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) and was graciously received by Montezuma, the Aztec emperor. Soon after Cortez established headquarters in the capital, he learned that the Aztecs had plundered Veracruz. He seized Montezuma and forced him to surrender the attackers. Then he had them executed.

Meanwhile Velasquez had sent 1,400 soldiers to arrest Cortez and bring him back to Cuba. Cortez defeated this army and most of the survivors joined Cortez.

He returned to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. As Cortez and his men reached the heart of the city, they were attacked by thousands of Aztec warriors. Montezuma was brought out to pacify his people, but they stoned him, and later he died of his wounds. Cortez’ army was surrounded and apparently doomed, but he and three others managed to get to the chieftain of the Aztecs and killed him. Confused by this apparent “miracle,” the Aztecs retreated. With fewer than 500 of his men left alive, Cortez, in July of 1520, made his way back to his Indian allies.

Cortez attacked Tenochtitlan again by ship the following May. On August 13, 1521, Guatemoc, the new Aztec emperor, surrendered. This was the end of the great empire of the Aztecs.

Later Cortez spent his life in establishing peace between the Indians of Mexico and developing farmlands and mines. He returned home in 1528 and Charles V received him with a great honor, but he missed the experience of the New World. Cortez came home as a military commander and explored Lower California. He passed away in Seville in 1547.

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