Vagabond Teacher – Melissa Ruttanai

The world is filled with extraordinary vagabonds. While this feature has covered a lot of the great vagabonds of the past, this year – it will be our pleasure to introduce you to some of the extraordinary vagabonds of the present as well.

Melissa RuttanaiTo start, it seems fitting to introduce you to one of our own featured travel writers. Melissa Ruttanai. Melissa’s great adventures and fun writing are not strangers to Vagobond readers, but we thought it might be fun for you to get to know her a little bit better.

Vagobond: What’s your personal travel philosophy?

MR: After 32 years of following the prescribed norm of accelerated high school courses, dual majors in university, and all the hoops required to earn a post-baccalaureate degree in Education, I was simply tired of doing what “I was supposed to do”. Get a house? Have some kids? Carry a mortgage for 30 years?

None of that interested me. So when I quit my job and sold off everything I owned, I made a promise to follow what I believed to be right, what felt good for my own spirit.

As a traveling nomad, I believe that travel is about going beyond the limits in which you were born: learn a new language, make friends across the planet, and especially to help others see the innate value of travel. Travel is a state of mind, a noun, and a verb. It’s what my husband and I have built our lives around. And when we have the house, kids, and mortgage; travel will still be in our lives.

Vagobond: How many countries have you visited?

MR: US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, Aruba, Ecuador, Peru, England, Greece, Austria, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Japan, S. Korea, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam (23)

Vagobond:What made you start to travel?

Melissa Ruttanai GreeceMR:My parents had a touch of the travel bug. When I was a kid, they’d pack our station wagon full of sleeping bags, coolers, and suitcases for crazy east coast and cross-country road trips. We went to Hershey Park, Disney, Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls—all on a budget. Then every 2-3 years, we’d have our big summer trips to Thailand where we’d spend a month visiting my grandparents and relatives in the old country.

My extensive backpacking trips began after university. Neil and I taught English in Japan which was a fantastic experience that introduced us to expatriate living. With our earnings in Japanese yen, we were able to travel for 4 months afterwards.

Vagobond:What’s your scariest travel moment?

MR: Before my final semester at Rutgers University where I was studying for my master degree in education, Neil and I went to Mexico. While on the Yucatan Peninsula we decided to snorkel in underwater cenotes or caves. The flooded tunnels are unlit with pointed stalactites and stalagmites jabbing into the murky waters. I’m not a good snorkeler and also suffer from a touch of claustrophobia. The walls seemed to squeeze in and then the strap of my camera caught on a rock skewer. Panicking, I slammed my head into the rock ceiling. My mask flooded and water streamed into my mouthpiece. As I yanked the strap harder and harder, our guide continued further and further into the tunnel. And his small torch began to recede in the darkness. Finally, I jerked my arm so hard that the tether snapped and my camera sank 15 feet below me.

I never swam so fast in my life to catch up.

Vagobond:What’s your funniest travel moment?

Melissa RuttanaiMR: 5am, Seoul, South Korea. Neil and I were waiting for a train to take us to the airport. The station was busy with commuters headed to work, backpackers looking for trains, and all-night partiers shuffling home with walking hangovers.

Standing at the entrance to a narrow hallway that led to the bathroom, we saw two young men stumble out, both obviously had been drinking all night. When they bumped into each other, they immediately started fighting with lazy, drunken fists. They slammed each other against the wall and blocked anyone who wanted to get down the hall.

Then, an older gentleman emerged from the bathroom. His silk tie lay flat against his pressed shirt and suit. When he spotted the two brawling drunks, the hallway turned into a crazed scene from a Kung-Fu movie. The businessman grabbed both youngsters by the back of their heads and bashed them together. Both slumped to the ground. Picking up one by the scruff of his neck, he started pounding his fists into the kid’s face, finishing him off with a slap that sent him back to the ground. At that second the other drunk managed to scramble to his feet. Turning with the smoothness of a Shaolin priest, the man backhanded him and followed with a fist to the gut. The drunk spluttered against the wall and the businessman chastised both with one wrinkled finger for making a scene in front of tourists.

Both youths on the floor and fight over, the champion calmly smoothed his suit, straightened his tie, and continued on his way to the trains with his suitcase held tight. It was the funniest fight ever.

Vagobond: What’s your greatest adventure?

MR:I was lucky enough to see the Galapagos Islands on the M/V Evolution’s 8-day cruise that zigzagged the equator. The wildlife is amazing there. I swam with hammerhead sharks, penguins, sea turtles, and sea lions. Once more I tried cave snorkeling but this time my guide held my hand and helped me.

Vagobond: What’s your dream destination/vacation/trip?

Melissa RuttanaiMR:The snarky, Sci-Fi kid inside me, says: The Moon.

But in all seriousness, I’d love to receive a writer’s grant to Alaska or California in the summertime where I can live in a cozy cottage with Neil, a rack of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and my Mac Book.

Vagobond:Are you a traveler or a tourist? What’s the difference if there is one.

MR:Traveler, no doubt.

For me, travel is about learning and experience. I want to really get to know a city, have coffee in local cafes, dine with locals, converse in the indigenous language (or try to), visit little-known museums, and eat authentic meals made by someone’s nana. Traveling is about taking it slow and enjoying what’s around you, not rushing from one sight to the next as you work through a checklist of must-see things.

Travel is both simple and profound. It’s about micro-moments like when I looked up at fireworks over the Plaza de Armas at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and I thought: Dang, I’m in Cusco!

Vagobond:What’s a great travel tip most people don’t know?

MR:Neil and I have not paid for any international flights in over 3 years, in which time we have visited Japan, Thailand, Italy, Ecuador, and Peru. As of this week, we’ve already booked our next flights, a roundtrip ticket from Lima, Peru to New York with a lovely stopover in San Jose, California. We’ve saved over US$4000 each because we travel via Star Alliance and have credit cards that feed directly (one mile per dollar spent) into our United Mileage Plus Accounts.

The Tip: Always call the airline company and make your reservations directly even if there is a fee. Most people don’t know that airline tickets are structured for inclusive stopovers. So if you want to go from New York to Shanghai, you can weave in a nice 2 weeks in Hawaii along the way.

The Trick: Buy necessities with the cards and pay the balance in full at the end of each month. Even after our tickets to New York, we still have a combined 60,000 miles that are dog-earred for a trip to Europe in late July or August 2012.

Vagobond: What are your travel plans for 2012?

MR:More travel, more writing.

We met a great Brit in Lima who invited us to join him at the circus. At first, I thought he was using some sort of new slang. Then I realized that he was seriously inviting us to stay in a wagon and travel with the show across Great Britain. That would be a highlight of 2012!

Check out some of Melissa’s travel writing here at Vagobond. You can also follow the adventures of her and her husband Neil at World Winder and here are her Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts.

Come back each Saturday for a new Extraordinary Vagabonds or check out our archive by clicking the link.

Jack Kerouac

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

On the road or on the seas, a vagabond must travel. It doesn’t matter if you have money or not, you simply have to see the world. Jack Kerouac and his friends were extraordinary vagabonds.

Jack Kerouac was an American novelist and poet born in Massachusetts in 1922. He is a literary iconoclast and a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac was very much influenced by Neal Cassidy, they met in New York and soon became friends. Some people even say that they even fell in love with each other.

Jack Kerouac VagabondVery soon they both began the series of cross-county adventures which was mentioned on Jack Kerouac’s book “On The Road”. They roamed all over USA like vagabonds. Jack Kerouac started writing about their travel experiences as and when they were taking place, but somehow he was not able to find a style suitable to the content, and he put the project away in that frustration. After a series of letters from Cassidy to Kerouac , he began the project again and the letters gave him an idea to write a book “On The Road” and it was a success. The book became a sensation by catching the voice of Cassidy. On The Road inspired the generation to travel across America in search of freedom and adventure.

More about the beats and Jack Kerouac:
Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957-1960: On the Road / The Dharma Bums / The Subterraneans / Tristessa / Lonesome Traveler / Journal Selections
On the Road: The Original Scroll
The Dharma Bums
Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diana DiPrima
Beatniks: A Guide to an American Subculture

Personally, The Dharma Bums is my favorite of his books, though On the Road is much more famous.

Vagabond KerouacCassidy married many women and he became the father for many children, his life has been explained in On the Road by Kerouac. In his final years he settled down with Carolyn Cassidy in San Jose. Whereas Kerouac married Joan Haverty, but she left him while she was pregnant. Next several years Jack Kerouac spent his life traveling and writing. He took long trips all over US and Mexico and he fell into drug and alcohol use due to depression. He died at the age of 47 due to internal hemorrhage because of heavy drinking. Kerouac’s life was a good inspiration for world travelers and a good lesson for heavy drinkers!!

Erik the Red

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

Eric the Red was a vagabond explorer and in Greenland he was the first European. In 982 he traveled through the water from Iceland and he was the leader of the first group of colonists to settle in Greenland.

Eric the Red was called by different names such as Erik Thorvaldson or Erik Raude. He was born in Norway. When his father was expelled for murder, his family settled in Western Iceland. Later Eric murdered two men and he was also expelled from Iceland because of that for three years. Eric the Red is known as one of the most famous early world travelers since he traveled across the world that was known in his time.

During his exile Eric made up his mind to sail to some islands when he heard about the discovery of some islands by Gunnbjorn Olfsson. He traveled from Snaefellsnes Peninsula along with a crew. He found the islands of Gunnbjorn and landed on eastern Greenland. He called the place Midjokull, the meaning of which is “middle glacier”.

After that Eric traveled south and rounded the tip of south Greenland. Then he landed again on the southwestern coast of Greenland. It was there he spent his winter on the island now called, Erik’s Island. He spent his two winters at the southern tip of Greenland and explored the surrounding area.

Resources about Eric the Red
Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky
The Saga of Icelanders

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga
Historical Atlas of the Vikings
The Norse Discovery of America

Eric’s exile was over in 985, so he came back to Breidafjord, Iceland. When Erik returned to Iceland after his exile had expired, he is said to have brought with him stories of “Greenland”. Erik deliberately gave the land a more appealing name than “Iceland” in order to lure potential settlers. He explained, “people would be attracted to go there if it had a favorable name”. In addition to being the first colonist in North American Greenland, he was the first American marketer apparently. He was in conflict with many people on Iceland and he wanted to start a new settlement. Around 500 settlers and Eric arrived to settle Greenland in 14 ships and they settled in Brattahlid which is now called Julianehab.

The settlements suffered abnormal cold weather in the place and due to this some of the settlers returned to Iceland and the rest of them disappeared. It is thought that they were attacked and killed by Inuits or they died from disease and starvation.

Eric’s son Leif (Leif Ericson) is credited with the first European to step on the mainland continent of North America.

Got a favorite vagabond you want to write about? Go ahead! Write a guest post about vagabonds who have inspired you and submit it to us today.

Extraordinary Vagabonds: Harry Franck, Pioneer of the Vagabonds

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

In terms of extraordinary vagabonds, it’s hard to imagine someone who fits the bill more than Harry Franck. This literary vagabond traveled the world and wrote more than thirty books about his adventures during the early 1900’s.

Among Franck’s books are:

A Vagabond Journey Around the World (1910, The Century Company)
Four Months Afoot in Spain (1911, Century Company)
Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras (1916, The Century Company)
Trailing Cortez Through Mexico
Vagabonding Down the Andes (1917, The Century Company)
Vagabonding Through Changing Germany (1920, Harper)
Roaming Through the West Indies (1920, The Century Company)
Working North from Patagonia (1921, The Century Company)
Wandering in Northern China (1923, The Century Company)
Marco Polo Junior(1929, The Century Company)
Zone Policeman 88 (Panama Canal)
South America:
Prince of the Vagabonds: Harry Franck
Glimpses of Japan and Formosa (1924, The Century Company)
Roving Through Southern China (1925, The Century Company)
All About Going Abroad (1927, Brentano’s Inc.)
East of Siam (1926, The Century Company)
The Fringe of the Moslem World (1928, The Century Company)
I Discover Greece (1929, The Century Company)
A Scandinavian Summer (1930, The Century Company)
Foot-Loose in the British Isles (1932, The Century Company)
Trailing Cortez Through Mexico (1935,Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
A Vagabond in Sovietland (1935, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
Roaming in Hawaii(1937, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
Sky Roaming Above Two Continents (1938, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing)
The Lure of Alaska (1939, Frederick A. Stokes Publishing, later printings by JB Lippincott Co.)
Rediscovering South America (1943, JB Lippincott Co.)

As you can see by his titles, this guy got around and was most certainly a pioneer of the modern vagabond spirit. What makes him special is that he was at that point when mass travel was just becoming an option for getting from place to place. As you can see from the picture above, Franck was a backpacker in an age when there really weren’t any backpackers. Certainly he had to make his own gear and figure out things that would make most modern backpackers quiver with nervousness.
Vagabond Harry Franck Franck’s first journey was after his freshman year of college when he decided to see Europe with just $3.18. Not a lot of money even in the 1900’s. He did it. The next year, on a bet, he managed to work his way not only across the Atlantic but around the world with no money at all to start and then published Vagabond Journey Around the World in 1910.

Harry Franck’s willingness to travel with no money, his keen eye for the details of his journey and the societies he recorded (some of which soon disappeared) make him a welcome addition to our list of Extraordinary Vagabonds.

Extraordinary Vagabond – Ed Buryn – Vagabond King

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

Today, I’m going to be introducing you to  Ed Byrne. You might ask…who? Well, I would say the Ed Buryn is the godfather of vagabonding in the modern age. There are a lot of guys and gals who came before him, but his books from the 1960’s and 1970’s pretty much defined the modern act of vagabonding and have been well known and circulated in the nomadic underground since they were published.
Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa
When I started vagabonding in the late 1990’s my bibles were Ed’s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa and Vagabonding in America. It’s hard to describe the books without you seeing them, so I recommend you pick them up. They are long out of print but can still be found circulating on Ebay, Amazon, and in used bookstores and thrift shops around North America. At the moment there are two copies of the USA book and one of Europe and North Africa on Amazon, here are the links to them. First come, first serve because I’m not selling my copies!

Vagabonding in America

Here are a couple of alternate titles for the USA book…
Vagabonding in the USA: A Guide for Independent Travelers and Foreign Visitors

Vagabonding in the USA: A Guide for Independent Travel

What makes these books special? The truth is that it is Ed and his way of seeing the world, travel, and life. And just in case you are thinking that Ed is dead and gone, he’s not. In fact, in 2008 he started (but seemed to stop) blogging and you can find his blog at http://edburyn.wordpress.com/

Ed Buryn- Vagabond King
Here is how he describes himself:

An explorer of diversity and philosopher of possibility, Ed Buryn (that’s me!) has worked as a newspaper delivery boy, aircraft radar operator, electronics technical writer, corporate manager, free-lance photographer; written several vagabonding guidebooks; and designed a major Tarot deck.

My personal mottos are: “I’ve you in eye-view” (as a photographer) and “Ed’d edited it” (as a writer). My books and photographs are explorations of the nature of human experience viewed through the lens of my own. My pics and words have been published in hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers; and I am a two-time prizewinner in the Nikon International Photo Contest. Writing and performing poetry is a main interest of mine, and I was co-producer of the Nevada City Poets Playhouse for 8 years. Currently I am a full-time, online bookseller working from my home.

I have three grown daughters by three grown mothers and consider fatherhood to be my most important creative achievement. I live quite happily on the edge of Nevada City CA on a former goldmine.

This blog is an experiment in communication. We’ll see how it goes.

As to why Ed has influenced so many vagabonds, just check out this nugget of wisdom from Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa

 

“It’s up to you, that’s what’s great about being a vagabond. Once you decide that you can be a free agent, then that means you’re really free to go anywhere you like. You’re not dependent on travel agents or anybody else to make arrangements for you. You’re the one who’s going on the trip, so why not do it from the beginning? Plan it yourself; work it out yourself.”

Or this one from Vagabonding in the USA

 

Travel is not just moving over the earth from one place to another in some kind of conveyance. It’s not about where you’re going or how you’re getting there. It’s not about getting away from it all, at all. In fact, more the opposite … a way of getting to it all. Travel is a metaphor for life, a way of experiencing it more intensely and self-consciously. Traveling is not so much an action as an enlightened state of consciousness, opening you to fresh experience, to fresh looks at the world and yourself in it.

the Vagabond King
What’s Ed doing today? Selling used books online from his 3 acres in Nevada City, California and attending the burning man festival every year. He’s a dedicated Tarot lover and as such, I think it proves that this brotherhood of fools (called vagabonds) come from a long lineage.

Here is another bit from Vagabonding in the USA

“Routines and habits are the Known, protecting us from the Unknown. Habits are also called home. Habits tame the raw wilderness of existence into the civilized comforts of everyday life. Unfortunately, as we all know, habits gradually domesticate all the wildness and energy out of life. So much energy gets bound up in routines and habituated patterns, keeping them alive, that your life goes dead instead. Thus, if you want to discover again the wild side of life, you have to leave “home”; you have to break or dissolve your habits in order to release the energy locked up inside them.”

Long Live the Vagabond King!

Silk Road Vagabond – Marco Polo

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

 

Going around the world hasn’t always been as easy as it is today. In fact, the great explorers of the past often suffered great hardships to see distant lands. One such extraordinary vagabond was Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was the famous world traveler who traveled on the Silk Road. He mastered his travels through his writing, influence and his determination. He traveled throughout Asia and the journey lasted for 24 years! Now that is some slow travel! He reached more destinations than any of his European predecessors, he traveled further into Mongolia to China. Though he was not a round the world traveler, he was a vagabond who traveled the whole of China. He returned to tell the story, and it became the greatest boost for travel that had ever been written.
travels of Marco Polo
Marco Polo is well-known for his travels all over Asia. And he was the first European to travel to Mongolia and China. He became famous for his book where he explained the story of his travels to China on Silk Road. He traveled the whole of China like a nomad even though he was the son of a Venice merchant.

Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice, Italy. He traveled to Asia along with his father when he was seventeen years old. On this journey, he became the favorite companion of Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor.

He wandered all over Mongolia and China for 17 years and traveled to more distant places in China than any other European traveler. He became a well-known story teller when he returned to Venice. People came to his home to hear his travel stories about the East.
vagabond Marco Polo
There was a clash between Venice and Genoa in 1298, and Polo was captured and imprisoned by Genoese. Marco Polo read out his stories when he was in jail to a writer and later the writer published. The book was named “The Travels of Marco Polo”.

This book created interest in Europeans to trade with China, and inspired the explorations of Columbus and others who were in search of a quick way to travel to China and India. Marco Polo was truly an extraordinary vagabond.

Jim Bridger – Vagabond Saddle Tramp

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

Jim Bridger (March 1804 – July 17, 1881) was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1840. He was also well known as a teller of tall tales.

Jim Bridger had a strong constitution that allowed him to survive the extreme conditions he encountered walking the Rocky Mountains from what would become southern Colorado to the Canadian border he had also once said. He had conversational knowledge of French, Spanish and several native languages. He would come to know many of the major figures of the early west, including Brigham Young, Kit Carson, John Fremont, Joseph Meek, and John Sutter.

Jim Bridger began his colorful career in 1822 at the age of 17, as a member of General William Ashley’s Upper Missouri Expedition. He was among the first white men to see the geysers and other natural wonders of the Yellowstone region. In the winter of 1824-1825, Bridger gained fame as the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake , which he reached traveling in a bull boat. Due to its salinity, he believed it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.

Supposedly one of Bridger’s favorite yarns to tell to greenhorns was about being pursued by one hundred Cheyenne warriors. After being chased for several miles, Bridger found himself at the end of a box canyon, with the Indians bearing down on him. At this point, Bridger would go silent, prompting his listener to ask, “What happened then, Mr. Bridger?” Bridger would reply, “They kilt me.”

I’m not a spy!

secret base conversations
This is not me talking on the phone inside a secret base somewhere.

Serbia wasn’t the only place I’ve been accused of being a spy. It could be that it just comes along with the name Bond. Vago Bond. In fact, I’ve even had some of my closest friends ask me on the down low if I am in fact a spy. When I ask them what makes them think that is even a possibility they point out that I speak Arabic (but not very well) and I’m always traveling in Islamic countries, I don’t seem to have a visible means of income, and no one can really figure out what the hell I’m doing. That includes me by the way.

elite ninja spy
This is not one of my elite ninja spy colleagues

In fact, being a spy would probably be pretty cool. Especially if I got to wear tuxedos and have an expense account. It would probably be pretty awkward to try to explain why I was going to places and doing the odd things I would have to do as a spy. In fact, it might make my working and family life look positively bizarre.

Another friend sent me the following:

Spies are everywhere around the world. Many people work as undercover spies. Organizations such as the CIA hire specialized spies. Some people are illegal spies. There are many spies that look like normal, everyday people. Do you know how to identify a spy? Here are some steps to help spot and identify a spy.

* 1 – Identify a spy by their age. Most people who are spies will be between the ages of 25 and 40 years old. However, there are also older or younger spies.
* 2 – Review the college credentials of the potential spy. Most spies will be college graduates. Many spies are college graduates who have not been very successful in their careers or have had a difficult time locating satisfying employment.
* 3 – Investigate the military background of the potential spy. Most spies will have some form of military experience. They have very good fighting or defense skills.
* 4 – Ask the potential spy if they like to play chess or other games of intense concentration. Most spies will have very good logic and problem solving skills. They are very intelligent people.
* 5 – Research the driving and criminal record online. Most spies will have a blemished driving or criminal record.
* 6 – Watch for unusual behavior. Does the spy subtly try to be left alone in an office for a few minutes? Do they asked to be trusted with important information? These are all red flags.

secret missile photo
This is not a North Korean Missile aimed at Hawaii

Sure, I know, sometimes it looks funny. I mean what the hell was I doing hitch-hiking to the DMZ and the border of North Korea? Why was I looking at bombed out buildings in Belgrade, Serbia? What the hell am I doing wandering around Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore right now? And by the way, why the hell do I live in the Republic of Turkey and travel to North Africa so often? It’s mighty convenient.

Let’s get serious. If I were a spy, I certainly wouldn’t tell you about it. In fact, even though I love playing chess, was a US Marine, and all the other red flags are there, calling me a spy could blow my cover if I had one. You could get me killed or ruined like Valerie Plame. And I’d love to tell you the truth, but if I was a spy, that would mean I would probably have to kill you. Who the hell would I be a spy for anyway?

spies are better looking than me
If I were a spy, I would be much better looking.

 

 

 

 

If I were a spy, I would be working for the Hawaiian Secret Service which is so secret that most governments in the world don’t even know it was began by King David Kalakaua in the 1870’s and has continued to this day with loyalty only to the spirit of Aloha.

But I’m not a spy. That’s just silly.

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!

Pooping in the Christmas mangerPooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

Pooping in the Christmas mangerThe exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Pooping in the Christmas mangerChristmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

Vagobond Travel Museum – A European Wander

Much to my surprise, what I had thought would be a sort of never ending, round the world holiday, had suddenly become mired down in love – mainly because I’d fallen in love with a Moroccan girl with no passport and in order to bring her into my world – I had to get the right papers, find a job, and prove that I could be a good husband.  Not easy when my plan hadn’t included any of these things, I was thousands of miles from home, and I didn’t even really like being in Morocco. I needed time to think. I needed to step away.

My bride to be had told me that I could marry her or that she would understand if I chose the world instead…frankly, things had moved so quickly, that I needed to see if the world still held the same appeal – so I decided to take a few weeks, explore a bit of Europe, visit some friends along the way and clear my head.

This trip was all about deciding whether to continue traveling and leave the girl behind or whether to follow my heart and leave the travel behind – or perhaps to find a way to marry both the girl and the road. In any event, things quickly turned south when all three of my debit cards were shut down because I had yet to learn that banks need to be notified that you will be using ATMs when you are abroad.

This particular trip follows up on leaving Hawaii, taking an Amtrak across the USA, spending my first month in Spain, and then finding love in Morocco. So, there was a lot going on as I tried to figure out what the hell to do next.

Sevilla – The Flower of Spanish Beauty and Culture

The King of Seville and the Barber of Seville

Brussels – Comic Murals, Skate Parks, and Chess Bars

 

 

Vagobond Travel Museum – A Random Hitch-trip on Interstate 5

The following is a true account of a hitch trip I took from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington back in the year 2000. It was included as a fictional trip in the 2009 edition of my novel Slackville Road.

I wasn’t laughing as I struggled to navigate the I-5  on-ramps in Portland. The interstate is surrounded by concrete walls that make it hard for motorists to stop and dangerous for hitchhiking.  Technically, it’s illegal to hitch on the Interstate anyway.

I walked to the last exit before the road crossed the Columbia River. I sat there nearly an hour and finally decided to catch a city bus into downtown Vancouver, WA.

After the bus dropped me off, I walked through a tunnel and over the Columbia River, thereby crossing the imaginary line that separates Washington and Oregon. The Columbia felt more impressive than the state line.

There was  a bum lying on a park bench listening to country music on tinny radio. I said hello and he began complaining about the rain as he smoked a  cigarette he mooched from me. It wasn’t raining as he laid there enjoying the smoke, but he was still complaining because that’s what bums do.

He told me a lot of the tramps had been getting their gear stolen in Vancouver. He told me he was going to Phoenix to “get where it was still warm and didn’t rain all the time.” Every bum has a dream. Bums are dreamers.

Further on through the park, I was hit up for a smoke by another tramp who told me he was called ‘The Duck’ when I introduced myself. He hit me up for change and then when I refused him, he walked with me towards the next on-ramp. He too complained about the rain and told me about the ever growing bum population in Vancouver.

Curiously, he had a huge bag of stuff he complained about too. Far more stuff than most bums carry with them.

When I asked what  he was carrying, he asked me  “Are you drunk?”

It was about 10 AM.  I told him I wasn’t. It was true. I wasn’t drunk at 10 AM.

“I am.” He seemed proud of it. Then by way of explanation he said, “I been trampin a long time. Hey, by the way, you got any cardboard?”

Again, my answer was negative. I had a sign with Seattle written on it. That was all. So I guess I lied. It was cardboard. I just didn’t have any cardboard for him.

“Well I gotta get me some so I can fly some cardboard and get me some spending money. I’m in danger of sobering up”

He was dressed all in camouflage. He was big and sort of scary.

“I gotta piss…You know, I wouldn’t be a very good tramp if I couldn’t piss and walk at the same time. “

That was pretty much the end of our time together since I started walking a bit faster as he slowed down. Suddenly I heard the splash of urine on the sidewalk. The Duck didn’t seem to mind that it was daylight or think that the couple walking behind him would mind a wet sidewalk. I walked as fast as I could to get away from that human disaster and tried not to burst out laughing as he kept cussing about the rain which was now starting to fall while he was pissing all over himself. That was the last I saw of The Duck.

I finally caught a ride from a tattoo artist who told me about his shop getting robbed and how he worked from home now. He dropped me off at a rest area.

I sat with my sign at the ramp. No one stopped for a long time. People are scared of hitchhikers now. Finally, a neatly dressed man in a v-neck sweater walked over to me. I smelt Jesus all over him. Big smile. 

“Hello, Friend. How are you today?”

I thought to myself, I don’t want to be preached to. “Praise the Lord, I’m fine.” I hoped he would leave me alone.

“I was hoping to talk to you about Christ the Redeemer.“

I lied, told him I was Christian, told him I went to Church, told him what I thought he wanted to hear, but he wouldn’t go away until I knelt down and prayed with him. Meanwhile cars were passing us by and ignoring my thumb.

“Dear Lord. Please help this man to find your salvation and forgiveness…” he began. I guess he hadn’t believed me.

“…and a ride to Bellingham,” I added. Then we went on until the Amen at which point he stood up.

“Can you give me a ride?”

“We’re packed full and we never pick up hitchhikers.”  And then he walked away. 

I felt like hitting him. I thought of doing a speaking in tongues and being possessed by God routine but didn’t have enough energy for anything like that.

To my surprise, that prayer worked, because a few minutes later he, his wife, and his five-year-old daughter made room for me to get in their car anyway. All I can think is that his wife made him do it.

Hot damn and thank you Jesus!

He called himself a planter. He had brought his family  from some Baptist church in Texas. They apparently felt that we don’t get enough of a chance to know Jesus in the godless Northwest so they were sending missionaries to save our souls. 

He said that if the Arabs and Jews find peace the world would end in 3 ½ years. That helped me understand why so many Christians stay on the side of Israel. 

They dropped me off just North of Tacoma at another rest area. My next ride was a middle class white guy driving a nice Lincoln Towncar.

He pulled over and I ran up and  got in.

“You mind if I drink while I drive?” He asked me, holding up a can of Bud.

“As long as we don’t crash,” I said, though I was already worried and considering getting out.

“I’m a state senator,” he told me. “ I help make the laws, so I can break ‘em.” He laughed. He told me that he was pretty moderate about his drinking and driving.

“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Maybe I voted for you.”

“Gordon,” he told me. “Call me Gordy.” I was pretty sure I had voted for his opponent. Maybe he was a liar though. 

Gordy dropped me off in downtown Seattle near Westlake Center.

I heard chanting and shouting down the street and walked to see what was up. Pro-Palestine protesters were demanding that the violence stop in the Middle East. Banners reading “Stop killing our Children” and “Stop Israeli Violence” flew high.There were about thirty police officers and maybe fifty protesters present. Lots of bystanders looked on. I briefly considered letting them know that the world would end in 3 ½ years if peace came, but figured they wouldn’t care if it did.

 

Vagobond Travel Museum – Foodie Paradise Around the World Part II – The Americas

Stilllife with fishWhen you travel around the world, you’re bound to find a good meal or two.  Here are some of the best meals that travelers found in North and South America. Here are some fun recommendations from some travelers we’ve come to love. 

North America:

Lorenzo Gonzalez Street food in Mexico always drives me crazy.. It is definitely my foodie paradise. Cliche or not, my favorite is tacos al pastor.

making-coffee by Jim O'DonnelJim O’Donnell of Around the World in 80 Years takes a fascinating and delicious look at Haitian Food Culture. “The kitchen that served the small group of volunteers sat under a blue earthquake tarp someone had brought from Port-au-Prince.  It was marked “People’s Republic of China” in yellow letters.  Earthquake buckets from USAID held the water.  The women worked from two tables. They had a little propane stove, several small pots, one skillet and a confusion of shiny utensils. “

Jen Pollack Bianco from My Life’s a Trip recommends La Merienda at Los Poblancos Inn – a delicious looking Albuquerque, New Mexico Eatery.

The Heirloom gazpacho was bar far the best I’ve ever had, and I’m frequent gazpacho orderer. I regret not having more food porn from this delightful meal to share with you, but I was so focused on eating that not many got taken.”

Here’s a post whereThe Global Goose explores some of the many wonderful New Orleans dishes. 

“There is a famous eatery right in the heart of the French Quarter called Cafe du Monde which seems to only sell two items, coffee and French-style donuts with powdered sugar called Beignets. What it lacks in selection it makes up in quality because these donuts are absolute melt-in-your-mouth sweet heavenly perfection. They are served warm and the powdered sugar gets absolutely everywhere as you try to get them in your mouth and they are totally worth standing in line (and there is almost always a line!).”

Heading south of  the border, Carole  Terwilliger Myers found some amazingly good eats at La Cueva del Chango Playa on the Mexican Riviera.

“Featuring a jungle garden atmosphere, this popular spot is primo for breakfast.  The menu then includes fragrant fresh papaya, fresh-squeezed juices, huevos a la Méxicana (scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, and chiles), a selection of chilaquiles (I especially like the one with pasilla salsa), molletes (like melted cheese sandwiches), and warm tortillas as well as empanadas and cappucinos. “

 

South America:

Melissa Ruttanai  tells us “The first time I had real ceviche was in the Galapagos Islands. It was super fresh and served Ecuadorian-style with popcorn and beer. Great… now I’m hungry.

Another of our friends, Manu-san Van Grieco  says that if you are heading to Argentina than you have to go to The Cordero Patagonico, in Ushuaia! Pure bliss!

And of course, what would a good travel meal be without some Guinea Pig! Our friends at Raising Miro tell us more about this pet turned delicacy.

“In the United States, this is a pet. However it is prized meat in the sacred valley. Guinea Pig is cooked over stones in special mountain herbs.”

Vagobond Travel Museum – The USA Trip

In 2009, when I returned back to the USA, my purpose was three-fold. 1) Get the necessary paperwork to work and get married in Morocco 2) Earn some money so that I could start a life in Morocco and pay for the marriage and bureaucracy in Morocco 3) Make sure that I hadn’t completely lost my mind by giving myself a little time away from the girl I had fallen in love with.

It seemed like as soon as I’d started on my way – things began to fall apart. Ultimately, I ended up connecting with old friends, having a huge falling out with my father, strengthening the relationships with my brother and my uncle,  hustling enough to get things going in Morocco, and accomplishing all three of my goals.

I’d left Hawaii, traveled across the USA by Amtrak, explored Spain and Gibraltar, crossed into Morocco, had some European adventures, hitchhiked across Canada, and now I was on my way home…to a place that didn’t feel at all like home anymore.

Here are a few posts from that time:

Bellingham

Big Bear Lake – My Childhood Home

Holcomb Valley in Big Bear Lake

Back to New York

Portland Maine

From there it was back to Morocco – which I suppose should be the content of the next Vagobond Travel Musuem.

Vagobond Travel Museum – Walking Around Oahu

walking 130 miles around OahuOahu is just one of the Hawaiian Islands but it’s the one that I call home. Back in 2008, during my last year at the University of Hawaii, I decided that it would be a good idea to walk around the entire island.  I didn’t know how long it would take or even if it could be done, but I decided that all there was to it, was to do it.  Like taking Amtrak from Coast to Coast in the USA, this was a way for me to learn more about my home. In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. 130 miles of discovery, aloha, and making myself a true kama’aina. I don’t know many people who have done this – but one thing for sure, it will bring you closer to the land and the people if you take the time to do it.

 

I created a slideshow of it: https://vagobond.com/slideshow-saturday-my-2008-walk-around-oahus-coastline-photos-from-the-ground/

and also did a combined post of all the days: https://vagobond.com/flashback-friday-my-2008-walk-around-oahus-perimeter/

 

The Plan and the Gear

Day 1 and Day 2 – Waikiki, Diamond Head, Sandy’s, Koko Crater, Koko Head, Hanauma Bay, Kahala, Aina Haina, Waimanalo

Day 3 and Day 4 – The Windward Side – Kailua to Mokapu, Mokapu and Kaneohe to Chinaman’s Hat

Day 5, Day 6 , Day 7 , Day 8  – The North Shore, The LOST set and inciident, Haleiwa, The West (Leeward Side), Pearl Harbor, Ewa Plains, and back to Honolulu

The Completion of the Circumnavigation of Oahu

 

Syncopated Family Travel – The Arizona Painted Desert and Leaving Your Mark

Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia .

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
painted desert

Where are we at? Where are we going? Soon we will all be dead, returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

The vastness of Arizona stretches out all around me, home to the nameless dead. For me the sad part isn’t dying.  It’s fading away and being forgotten.  There’s something to be said about blowing your brains out in your prime and living forever, instead of rotting away in eternal obscurity. There’s something to be said about leaving your mark.

I contemplate the markings at Newspaper Rock at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Birds. Deer. Wheels. Serpents. We do not know who made the stone markings, but at least their work lives on.

ancient grafitiIn the ancient myth of Enoch, the antediluvian holy man, was instructed to write the sacred secrets of heavens and earth on both stone and clay.  If the world ended with fire, the baked clay would survive.  If the world ended by water, the stone would live on to tell his story. Written into the myth is this deep throbbing need to continue to tell our story despite all costs.

This is why I write.  This is my story.

Petrified Forest National Park is a nuclear explosion. Rock solid bits of wood litter the land landscape.  Fell trees snapped like broken bone. It’s a pretty war zone. Souvenir collecting is tempting, but condemned by more than just the weight of the petrified forest in Arizonanational park service. There is a higher power at work. Stealing bits of petrified wood carries threats of lingering curses. The information center displays letters of people who stole and lived (just barely) to tell the tale.

painted desertLesson learned: buy your petrified wood from any number of the souvenir shops dotting the nearby backroads. Five-dollars is a small price to pay to avoid a curse so bad that a gypsy would be fearful.

We eschew collecting and enjoy the curse-free vistas, bordering up against portions of the beautiful painted desert.  Here the gentle rock formations are banded with brilliant reds, purples, yellow, blues, and whites. It’s hot, vacant, beautiful.
cadillac ranch texasOur drive continues as we press back toward home, cutting through northern Texas.  Just over the border in Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation.  Here mid-century Cadillacs are buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle mirroring the Great Pyramid of Giza. The sculpture is a constant work in progress.  The viewing public is encouraged to add their touch, by adorning the cars with spray-can art.   The cars are a constant evolution of graffiti tags in a crayon box of colors.

grafitti in the desertMy addition is an ancient pictograph adorning rocks and cave walls all across the globe.  This same image inexplicably appears across the American southwest, Armenia, Italy, Spain, the Alps, the Middle-East.  It appears on Newspaper Rock.  A squatting stick man, waste adorned by twin dots.  One of the humanity’s first memes.  It’s meaning lost to the ages. What was it to cause disparate cultures separate by oceans to decide to uniformly draw the same image? What was the story they wanted us to know?

Where are we at?

Where are we going?

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