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.

Vagabonding Vagabond Blogger – Our Interview with Rolf Potts

If you’ve done or thought about doing any long term travel in the age of the internet, chances are you’ve heard of Rolf Potts.

Rolf was blogging about travel for Salon at the dawn of the 2000’s, but he is best known for the publication of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term Travel in December of 2002. The book struck a chord with the internet generation and became a runaway hit amongst those who had missed the days of the hippie trail. The book is about taking serious time off from your normal life to discover and experience the world on your own terms. With sections on  financing your travel time,  determining your destination,  adjusting to life on the road and handling travel adversity, the book addresses travel as inner development tool rather than travel as something that you simply do.

In the spirit of Ed Buryn‘s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa, Potts book captured the imagination of a generation that was finding its way on the internet and wandering what the meaning of life truly was.  Coming right after the dot com bust and on the eve of the financial crisis in the US and Europe, the book fit the bill for filling the gap between living to work and working to live and offered the opportunity to turn your life into your work through travel.

Since then Potts has piloted a fishing boat 900 miles down the Laotian Mekong, hitchhiked across Eastern Europe, traversed Israel on foot, bicycled across Burma, drove a Land Rover across South America, and travelled around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind. He has also published a second book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer and continues to travel around the world between rest stops at his farmhouse in Kansas. Rumor has it that Rolf has something new in the works for 2012 but he is keeping mum about it for now. I caught up with the vagabonding vagabond blogger via email and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions for Vagobond readers about life, travel, authenticity and himself.

Vagobond: What were you doing career wise before you started blogging for Salon (before the publication of Vagabonding)?

Rolf Potts: My last job before I transitioned into a full-time writing was teaching English in Korea. It was a key job for me, since in addition to earning me a decent amount of money for travel, it allowed me to live in and get to know an unfamiliar culture for a couple of years. My two years in Busan wasn’t always easy, but it was an essential experience that made me a better traveler down the line.
Before that teaching gig I hadn’t been following a single career path — I worked as a landscaper in Seattle for awhile, and I worked at an outdoor store, selling backpacks and fly-rods, in Kansas. This was all building up to what I really wanted to do — writing — and eventually that happened for me.

Vagobond: My first book was all about living in a van and enjoying time instead of money. I understand your first travels were in a van too. What were some lessons you picked up from living in a van?

Rolf Potts:I think traveling and living out of a van during my first vagabonding trip taught me some essential lessons about minimalism and keeping things simple. Since I was sleeping in the van most nights, I didn’t have a lot of room for extra “stuff”, so all I brought were some clothes and camping gear in a couple of laundry baskets. And even the gear I had in those laundry baskets wasn’t always necessary — I quickly learned that the American road provided me with most everything I needed experientially; my gear played a fairly minor role in my most interesting experiences. This was a lesson I applied while packing for my later backpacking trips across Asia, and even my no-baggage journey around the world in 2010.

Vagobond: In Vagabonding, you wrote about the philosophy of long-term travel – has that changed in the decade since then? How has technology changed your philosophy?

Rolf Potts:I don’t think my philosophy of vagabonding has changed — and in fact I wrote it in such a way that technological and other changes wouldn’t ever alter its core message, which is about keeping things simple and seeking one’s wealth in time and life-xperiences. Those are values that would apply in the 19th century as easily at the 21st. So regardless of what new tools and gadgets arrive to make travel easier, the core principles of vagabonding won’t change much.

One interesting thing about new technology — like social media and smart phones — is that it is making independent travel a lot easier.

More people are doing it now, I think, because it feels a lot safer and easier and more accessible than it used to. The flipside of this is that the conveniences of travel are more and more making travel and extension of home. In many ways we don’t have to psychically leave home” when we travel — we can keep in such close contact with our friends, family, and social networks — and this can diminish the experience of travel to an extent. So much of what is transformative about travel comes from confronting — and working through — being lonely and bored and lost. The less we’re forced to encounter those little challenges as travelers, the more travel tends to become a consumer experience.

Vagobond: Do you see any problems with the massive growth of independent and long-term travel? What about the huge growth of tourism?

Rolf Potts:There will invariably be problems with the growth of any industry, and travel is no exception. There will also be benefits. Indie travelers spend a lot of money in the “mom and pop” economies of faraway places — which is a good thing — but the presence of so many travelers can also strain the local culture and environment. Islands are particularly vulnerable to large influxes of tourists, since scarce resources like water get diverted to tourist needs instead of local ones. I don’t think this means travel should be curtailed to these places — its an important cultural and economic force — but it does mean that destinations should take care in planning tourist

facilities, and travelers should be cognizant of the impacts they bring. In a way I think indie travelers are better equipped than standard vacation tourists to wander in a mindful way, since a vagabonding-style traveler emphasizes going slow and keeping  informed.

Vagobond: I realize I’m supposed to ask you about the best destination, your favorite country or something like that – but instead, what’s your favorite tourist area?

Rolf Potts:Tourist areas tend to disappoint some travelers — at least early on in their vagabonding careers — since the presence of so many tourists at these sites can be depressing and feel less authentic. But over time I’ve come to appreciate the dynamic of these places, each of which are unique to their own culture, even as they host a crush of visitors during high season. New Yorkers may complain about Times Square, but I think it has a great energy, even after having visited it dozens of times. The Champ de Mars area around the Eiffel Tower is always swarming with tourists and trinket vendors, but you’d have to be a pretty cynical soul not to enjoy a bottle of wine and a picnic there on a summer day with friends. Similarly, I found Machu Picchu in Peru to be utterly amazing, despite all the tourists there. So as much as I like getting off the beaten path when I travel, I still like to cultivate appreciation for these tourist areas.

Vagobond: What do you miss when you are on the road?

Rolf Potts:Ever since I got my home in Kansas, one thing I miss most frequently is the view of the prairie from my front deck. I know this might sound like a strange thing to miss, but over the years I’ve found that part of my enjoyment of faraway places extends from my affection for a single place that I know better than any others. When you find a way to attach yourself to a small part of the world, it can energize the way you see and appreciate other parts of the world. I have literally spent years away from my home in Kansas, but having that home gives me perspective and helps me appreciate all the other places I discover and experience in more far-flung parts of the world.

Vagobond: Do you think ‘staged authenticity’ is destroying the authentic travel experience? Is the world being Disneyfied?

Rolf Potts:Interestingly enough, I think there’s something weirdly authentic and satisfying in “staged authenticity,” when local cultures “perform” a more colorful version of their own identity for visiting tourists. Even though it’s this absurd fake charade, it says a lot about how Westerners long for a kind of authenticity they feel they have lost, while at the same time reminding host cultures about certain aspects of their own traditions. Staged authenticity will always exist, to some extent (I’d wager it existed in some form when the ancient Romans visited Egypt), but it transforms in different ways in different places. Some cultures, like the Embera in Panama, have managed to use staged authenticity in the face of tourists not just to empower themselves economically, but to redefine their own sense of identity and pride. It’s a dynamic process, like all aspects of global culture, and no sooner do you mock a thing like “staged authenticity” than you’ll begin to see it in surprising new ways.

Vagobond: Speaking of authentic, how would you recommend that today’s travelers find a more authentic experience in their travels?

Rolf Potts:The world is chock full of authenticity; it is literally everywhere, if one would just slow down and endeavor to experience it. It’s also a phenomenon that has a lot of nuance, and what at first might seem to be inauthentic — an Ethiopian Mursi tribesman wearing Nikes, for example — might end up being a very authentic part of how that culture is living today. So the best advice I can give to travelers is to simply be where you are. Turn off your smart phone, stop chattering with your companions, leave your digital camera in your pack: Stop, look, wait, breathe in; don’t overanalyze. It’s all authentic in its own way.

Vagabond Hiker Scholar – Francis Tapon

If there is a modern day heir to the great traveler/scholar Ibn Batutta – I would say that Francis Tapon is the guy. His latest book is a masterpiece of travel and will surely be quoted and referenced for the next decade- especially as the Eastern Europe that he has spent so much time coming to know, slowly goes away. The Hidden Europe:What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is more than just a travelogue- it is a cultural and historical guidebook which is both intensely personal and incredibly helpful in coming to understand the places he has visited.

This is not a small book – it is a massive tome filled with economic, historical, and political data that somehow manages to come across as entertaining and at times even light reading – don’t expect to read even a single chapter in one session – in fact, I would say that this book is something that you will reference again and again – especially if you have an interest in Eastern Europe or if you are traveling in Eastern Europe.

Francis not only spent three years cris-crossing through Eastern Europe, hiking, making friends and coming to understand the people and the cultures – he has also walked across America four times, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and in 2007, became the first to do a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail. He is the author of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Lessons from Backpacking Across America and The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. I can hearily recommend both – start with this interview and then get his books at WanderLearn with Francis Tapon – just cruise his site for a few minutes and you’ll be hooked.

Vagobond: I was introduced to you when I was doing research on the great vagabonds of the past. A librarian I met in Portland, Oregon told me – “Never mind the dead vagabonds – you should interview Francis Tapon.” Francis, when I looked at your site and started reading your adventures, I was simply blown away. At that time I think you were sleeping in a tent outside of Venice….Can you perhaps tell my readers how you started traveling? Was it always in this (pardon this) completely awesome style you travel in now?

Francis Tapon: I started traveling since I was born. Because I had a Chilean mom and a French father, my family would have to fly 10 hours to see a relative. My first independent trip was right after I graduated from college. It was a standard rite of passage: 75 days in Western Europe with my best high-school friend. Although we went to Prague and Budapest (which was somewhat unusual in 1992), most of the trip was pretty typical for college grads. We stayed in hostels or cheap hotels most of the way. My travel style didn’t change until after I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001. Once I learned to camp in the wilderness for months, getting a bed/shower/roof seemed optional. And once couchsurfing.org took off, it added another dimension that helped me meet locals more easily than ever.

Vagobond: One of the things that always hits me about your writing, both on the web and in your books is the academic nature of it. I always feel like I’m there with you, but at the same time, I feel like I’m attending a lecture at the explorers club because of the history, culture, and texture that you bring to your travels. Do you have an academic background? Also, in terms of reading, what writers/authors influenced you the most?

Francis Tapon:Although I went to Harvard Business School, I don’t have an academic background (I have no PhD). In fact, I dislike how academia writes, which is why my style of writing is extremely casual. Michael Krasny called it “idiosyncratic” and “unorthodox.” While I like to tackle intellectual subjects, I try to do it in an entertaining way. Academic writing is usually boring and long-winded. I prefer a punchy style that still remains informative and profound. Whether I achieve that is for the reader to judge.
Bill Bryson has influenced me the most. I love his books. The biggest difference between us is that I tend to get more dirty than he does and I take bigger risks when I travel. His style of writing is refined than mine too–I can be more crass and controversial than him.

Vagobond: Did you always know you wanted to be an explorer and adventurer? Did you ever get blown off track? How did you find your way back?

Francis Tapon:Until I hiked the Appalachian Trail (age 31), I lived a pretty standard life. That journey transformed me. I did get blown off track twice. First was after the AT, when I consulted for Hitachi for 2.5 years. Then again after my first trip to Eastern Europe (2004), when I consulted for Microsoft for 18 months. Those four years of work weren’t wasted though: I’ve been living off the money I earned in those two jobs ever since. I always knew those would be temporary gigs, but it still takes discipline to leave a job that pays well. Income is addictive.

Vagobond: In reading The Hidden Europe, I was particularly blown away by the sections on Serbia and Russia. Russia, I kind of expected to be incredible, but with Serbia, I learned more about the country from reading your book than from traveling there myself! I had terrible experiences in Serbia, but reading The Hidden Europe made me want to go back and re-experience it. Can you perhaps explain why the Serbs are so completely misunderstood by the world? I ask because after reading your book, I certainly feel like I misunderstood many things.

Francis Tapon:Whenever we fight a war, we nearly always demonize the people we are fighting. It makes it easier to justify attacking a nation when you tell yourself that rotten things are going on there. The Western media demonized Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars instead of trying to understand them or to explain their point of view. This doesn’t mean Serbia was flawless, but I sought to understand the Serbs.

At the same time, as travelers we have to be careful about drawing broad conclusions based on a few encounters (or many encounters in a small region of the country). Perhaps I was lucky and met a bunch of wonderful Serbs while you met a bunch of jerks. I lived 18 months in the ex-Yugoslav countries so I feel that my assessment is pretty accurate, but I could have been lucky.

Vagobond: As a writer and traveler, there are a few destinations I keep to myself. I don’t want the world to know about them. Sometimes, though, I let people know about a hidden gem here or there. In all your travels in Eastern Europe, did you come across any of these gems you might be able to tell us about?

Francis Tapon:I loved Kotor, Montenegro. It’s a magical place for me.

Vagobond: Narrow escapes. Anyone who has traveled a bit has had more than a few of these, or else, they probably wouldn’t be travelling any longer. What about you? In your travels, can you tell us about one narrow escape?

Francis Tapon:I went for a 16-mile day hike in Olympic National Park, but ended up getting lost for 3 days. I had no sleeping bag, no shelter, no light, no food. It snowed. I saved my partner’s life twice. We both got frostbite and infections.

Vagobond: The subtitle of The Hidden Europe is ‘What Eastern Europeans can teach us.” – First of all- when you say ‘us’ who are you talking about? Secondly – while I found the entire book to be thought provoking, can you perhaps point to three of the most important lessons of it?

Francis Tapon:“Us” is mainly “us Americans,” but Western Europeans don’t know much about Eastern Europe either. Even Eastern Europeans don’t know much about Eastern Europe! So ultimately “us” is “everyone.”

Three lessons:
1. Communism doesn’t work. For over 40 years, many countries throughout the world experimented with various flavors of a tightly controlled state – none of them worked. Let’s not forget that when people declare that we need a revolution that delivers us a paternalistic government.
2. A simplified tax policy. Most Eastern Europeans have flat taxes. I never met an Estonian who took more than 10 minutes to do their taxes. This helped fuel their growth in the last 20 years.
3. Celebrate depopulation. Eastern Europe is depopulating faster than any other region on Earth. Although many countries are fighting it (by giving incentives to reproduce), a few are accepting it and seeing the benefits: more resources per capita.

Vagobond: I love that you created a section about ‘Eastern Germany’ – today it’s very easy to forget that it was just twenty years ago that Germany was two different countries. There were a few moments in this section where I actually guffawed (Evil Santa and the smell chair in the disco era) – can you tell me your funniest moment in the former East Germany?

Francis Tapon:When I asked a East German if I could interview him, he agreed to give me 5 minutes and was not pleasant at first. However, in the end, he talked with me an hour, toured me around his city, took me into a church, and dropped me off at a train station in Poland! It’s funny how much he changed.

Vagobond: Turkey – I love it. It probably comes from going to the police and being offered a cup of tea and baklava even though I was in the wrong office – but anyway, I’m curious about your thoughts on the idea that Turkey is forming a sort of ‘New Ottoman Empire’ and the perception that the Turks are becoming more Islamicized? Also, what’s your favorite Turkish destination?

Francis Tapon:Turkey is just doing what most countries have been doing after WWII: extending its influence through economics and diplomacy rather than brute military and political expansion. If someone wants to call such policies the “New Ottoman Empire,” that’s fine, but don’t expect Turkey to militarily invade other countries–certainly not Europe. However, just like Latinos have been “invading” the USA, Turks will continue to “invade” Europe through immigration. European xenophobes will continue to resist the Turks, most of whom are not Islam fundamentalists. Most Turks are continuing down the path of secularism–a journey that started nearly 100 years ago. I’ve only seen western Turkey, but my favorite destination is Istanbul–it’s the third biggest city in the world.

Vagobond: I had an incredible experience in Pernik, Bulgaria where I got to get drunk with a retired communist coal miner who regaled me with stories of the glory of the communist days. You’ve traveled much more in Bulgaria than I have, do you think there is a danger of nostalgia moving Bulgaria backwards? Also, just curious – what, in your opinion is the best thing in Bulgaria?

Francis Tapon:Yes, there’s a danger that Bulgaria (and Eastern Europe) will move backwards. However, I don’t think that will happen. Change must happen to Bulgaria, but few Bulgarians think the solution is to go back to communism or heavy government control. The best thing about Bulgaria is how they shake their head from side-to-side to say “yes” and nod to mean “no.”

Vagobond: What about family? How can you travel for three years? Vagobond readers want to know things like where do you get the funds? Do you suffer from travel fatigue? Do you get lonely?

Francis Tapon: I worked for four years at Microsoft and Hitachi, lived like a monk, and saved up enough money to travel for years. I describe my travel secrets more in my article about how to travel for years. I don’t get fatigued because I take breaks whenever I get tired of traveling. For example, I parked it for 4 months in Tallinn, Estonia and several months in Slovenia and Croatia.

Vagobond: Finally….how about three solid travel tips that people may not have heard before.

Francis Tapon:

1. Always carry a tarp and a sleeping bag/pad. It weighs just 2 kg (4.4 pounds), and it liberates you from the pressure and worry of finding a hostel/hotel. It allows you to be spontaneous when you travel.

2. Consider discreet urban camping. Camp in a city park or in the city’s outskirts right at sunset and leave no trace by sunrise.

3. Always offer cash after you hitchhike. Most drivers won’t accept it, but it shows that you’re not a freeloader and that you appreciate their help. It’s better than a “thank you.” Also, when you’re a guest at someone’s house, shower them with gifts and generous actions. You’ll always be invited back.

Vagobond: Okay, one last question. If you disappear, what country should I come looking for you in so we can go drink a few bottles of wine together?

Francis Tapon:Montenegro. But here’s the catch: I’ve never drunk any alcohol in my life. So let’s get guzzle sparkling water instead. 🙂

Vagobond: Thanks Francis. Absolutely love the book – still have been jumping around with it, but it’s seriously awe-some.  Hope it sells millions of copies.

Francis Tapon:Thank you Vago!

You can purchase Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Lessons from Backpacking Across America and The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us at WanderLearn with Francis Tapon – where you can learn a lot more about this incredible modern Ibn Battuta.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Cross Dressing Vagabond – Isabelle Eberhardt

Traveling the world used to be a game that only the men played, but as in all fields, brave pioneers broke out of the Victorian conception of women as meek and mild and showed that even the hardest travel makes no distinction among the sexes. Isabelle Eberhardt was one of these extraordinary feminist vagabonds.

Isabelle Eberhardt was a Swiss writer and explorer who lived and traveled widely in North Africa. She is considered to have been an extremely independent individual, who refused normal European ethics and characterization of women. Instead she followed her own path which led her to world travel. Isabelle’s first trip was with her mother to North Africa in 1897. They were trying to set up a new life there on this journey, and during that time they both converted to Islam.

feminist vagabondIsabelle’s half brother Vladimir committed suicide and another brother was married to a French woman whom Eberhardt was not in favor of. From then onwards, she spent her life in Africa, she made Northern Algeria and Morocco her home and became a true desert vagabond. Isabelle was in Tunisia for some time as well. She was frequently disguised as a man and there are many who conjecture that she not only lived as a man but loved women as a man does.

The life and writings of Isabelle Eberhardt:
The Nomad
In the Shadow of Islam
Prisoner of Dunes
The Oblivion Seekers
The Vagabond

female vagabondIsabelle married an Algerian soldier, Slimane Ehnni in 1901. She was known to drink and fight in the hardest of ways. She died in a flash flood in Algeria in 1904. She had rented a house there which was constructed of clay. The house collapsed on Isabelle and her husband during the flood, she saved her husband but she didn’t survive the disaster. She wrote about her travels in several books and the newspapers of France.

Her books and articles include “In the Hot Shadow of Islam”, “Algerian Short Stories” and “The Day Laborers”. She also wrote a novel, Vagabond which was translated into English by Annette Kobak. The journals of Isabelle were recovered from the flash flood, they covered the final four years of her life and now these journals are also available in English.

Isabelle Eberhard was a nomad in Africa but more importantly she explored the limits and boundaries of gender as well as the deserts of Africa and continued her writing during that time. Most of her novels, books and journals on her travels can be found in English, Spanish, French, and German.

Papa Vagabond- Ernest Hemingway

When it comes to famous vagabonds, people often forget that respected writers now often had their roots as shiftless vagabonds. Ernest Hemingway is no exception. He was a man of action and an extraordinary vagabond.

Perhaps the most famous vagabond of them all, Vagabond Ernest HemingwayErnest Hemingway , was a well-known American writer, he was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. He began his career as a news writer in a newspaper office in Kansas City. He joined a volunteer ambulance group in Italian army during First World War. He was wounded while serving at the front and spent his ample time in hospitals. After some time he returned to United States and became a reporter for American and Canadian newspapers. He was sent to Europe again to cover events such as the Greek Revolution.

Hemingway became a member of the group of expelled Americans in Paris, he explained about this in his work The Sun Also Rises
. Another important work of Hemingway which was very successful was A Farewell to Arms
, this was a study about the depression of an American ambulance officer in the war and his performance as a deserter. He traveled to many places like a vagabond for his work and like many other authors he was also considered a world traveler. For the background of his most aggressive novel “The Old Man and The Sea”, he used his experiences as a reporter at the time of civil war in Spain. This is the story about a journey of an old fisherman and his struggle with a fish and sea.

Vagabond HemingwayAlong with traveling, writing Hemingway was a great sportsman, he liked to portray hunters, soldiers and bullfighters. He became deeply involved in the culture of all the places he visited and wrote very clearly about what he saw and experienced. Due to this Hemingway’s history became increasingly associated with the places that he traveled. From the beginning of his life Hemingway traveled more than many people during that time. He traveled like a nomad and this gave him an opportunity to show the aggressive image which he had created for himself. He visited Kenya and Tanganyika in 1933 with his second wife Pauline for the first time. He visited Africa again in 1953 with his last and fourth wife Mary, where he enjoyed another safari. Much of this time can be read about in his short story collection The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Hemingway in Paris
Personally, I enjoy all of his work, but it is some of his lesser known works such as To Have and Have Not or On Paris that I find to be the best indication of his vagabondness.

Written for the Toronto Star between 1920 and 1924, in On Paris, Hemingway focuses his gaze on Paris. Writing with characteristic verve, he tackles cultural topics in chapters such as Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris, American Bohemians in Paris, and Parisian Boorishness. “The scum of Greenwich Village, New York, has been skimmed off and deposited in large ladles on that section of Paris adjacent to the Café Rotonde. New scum, of course, has risen to take the place of the old, but the oldest scum, the thickest scum and the scummiest scum,” Hemingway wryly observes, “has come across the ocean, somehow, and with its afternoon and evening levees has made the Rotonde the leading Latin Quarter showplace for tourists in search of atmosphere.”

Hemingway ended his life with a shotgun in a log cabin. Some say it was alcoholism, others that he couldn’t stand a life of being older and debilitated. Personally, I think he simply wanted to know what adventures waited on the other side either that or he saw what global tourism was going to become and decided to get out before it fully manifested itself.

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).

Mark Twain – Riverboat Vagabond

mark Twain VagabondMark Twain is one name that almost everyone who has studied English at school knows. There is at least one story by Mark Twain present in every English school curriculum by default, and the most popular choices are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Twain, born Samuel Clemmins first started writing by contributing towards his brother’s newspaper, by giving in other occasional article or two. Twain gained national attention after the publication of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a humorous story that he wrote during his brief stint as a reporter. He then discovered that he had a great talent in writing, and that was what he began to do. Twain was also known as a speaker, putting his wit and satire to good use.

Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
1. Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself.

2. There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he less savage than the other savages.

3. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.

4. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass.

5. Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.

6. Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens, on November 12, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. He was the sixth child in the family, of a total of seven. HIs first traveling occurred at the age of four, when his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, which would later become the setting for Twain’s main characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain in DragTwain’s father died in 1847, when Mark was just eleven, of pneumonia. Twain then became a printer’s apprentice. Then, when he was 18, Twain left Hannibal for New York. After a brief stint there, he moved to Philadelphia, then to St Louis and finally to Cincinnati. He used to educate himself by going to the public libraries at all the places he worked at, during the evenings. He finally returned to Missouri at age 22.

Mark Twain: Further Reading
Autobiography of Mark Twain
The Bible According to Mark Twain
The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s Helpful Hints for Good Living: A Handbook for the Damned Human Race
Roughing It by Mark Twain

Twain began his travels with his elder brother Orion, who was an aspiring politician, in the early 1860s. Judging by the misadventures they had, they could have benefited from travel insurance, but it wasn’t available at that time. Twain and Orion traveled across the Rocky Mountains and The Great Plains, and finally ended at Nevada, where Twain tried his hand at mining. Having fared unsuccessfully at mining, he dropped it and started work for a local newspaper. It was here that he first used his pen name, Mark Twain, which is how he is known by, today. The name was a term used by Riverboats to measure the depth of the rivers. Twain had worked on the riverboats of Missouri when he was a youngster.

Mark Twain Riverboat SteamshipTwain then moved to San Francisco in 1864, where he published his first story in the Saturday Press, a weekly. It brought him national attention, and resulted in his traveling to Europe and the Middle East, funded by a local newspaper. He wrote a collection of travel letters while on these trips.

Twain returned to the US after his trips and then settled down. He continued writing stories and speaking to the public. He died on April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut. Mark Twain has become a tradition, with many of his works being taught at schools worldwide and thus making him perhaps the most famous American writer in history.

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).

Bicycle Vagabond – Dave Stamboulis

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).

Dave Stamboulis was born a traveller. Born in Greece, raised in Berkeley and on the road taking pictures and notes for most of his life since then. He  rode his bicycle around the world and his narrative of that trip Odysseus Last Stand won the Silver Medal from the Society of American Travel Writers. Dave lives in Thailand and is a featured contributor here at Vagobond.com. His books, articles and photos will blow your mind when you check them out at DaveStamboulis.com or at Flickr.com/photos/davestamboulis

Vagobond: What’s your first memory of wanting to travel? What about the first time you realized you wanted to capture the world on your camera?
Dave Stamboulis: I can’t say I really have much of a first memory of wanting to travel, probably because my parents took me traveling from a young age. My mother always had a great story about me that I thought explained it all. When we crossed from Greece to the US a year after I was born, the boat we were on ran into very rough seas. All the passengers were lying inside, all prone and sick as dogs. But I was out on deck crawling around. I guess it was a sign of things to come!
Vagobond: On your website, there is a great quote by Rudyard Kipling “There are basically two types of men in the world. Those who stay at home, and those who don’t.” What’s the hardest part of being one of those who don’t?
Dave Stamboulis: The hardest part of being a constant traveler is missing the time and energy necessary to put into relationships at home. Close to that would be a few other things, such as people, even friends, being jealous of your lifestyle, and subsequently dealing with those feelings, and also the fact that travel, when it becomes a lifestyle and living, is no longer exactly the fantasy and pleasure cruise that it once was.
Vagobond: Riding your bike  around the world is one hell of a way to break into travel writing – what was the most difficult part of that journey?
Dave Stamboulis: The most difficult part of riding a bicycle around the world was actually finishing at the end. I never intended to spend seven years wandering when I set out, it just happened. And in year six, riding across Central Asia as winter set in, with bursitis in my knee and endless days of frigid frozen sleet out on the road, I could find nothing enjoyable about what I was doing. In every way I wanted to stop, but I was pretty dedicated to the finish line at this point, so I put my head down and ground it out.
Vagobond: Did you ever expect that Odysseus Last Stand would get the acclaim and praise that it did? How much of that was part of your vision for it?
Dave Stamboulis: I had absolutely ZERO idea that Odysseus would do as well as it did, and basically launch my career as a travel writer and photographer. I basically wrote the book because when I returned home, I wanted to figure out what had happened to me and to somehow gracefully lay seven years of travel to a peaceful rest. Further on, I just wanted to share my adventures with friends and family. Then, once I had a 130,000 word manuscript that took over two years to write and edit, I figured it wasn’t going to be much of an endeavor if it just sat on a shelf taking in dust. In retrospect, I did put a huge amount of time and energy into it, and I researched and followed all of the proper steps in trying to become a first time publisher, and I guess it paid off. But I never expected it to do as well as it did.
Vagobond: Are you a goal setter? How much planning do you do to get your trips to go the way you want them to?
Dave Stamboulis:  I am a goal setter, but my goals are more like whims or dreams that aren’t necessarily overly concrete. I finished a cross country US bicycle trip that changed me quite significantly, and after that I wondered what could be next. A world trip came to mind, but the only real goals or aims of the trip at the time were to get to Tibet, India, and across the Himalayas, places I’d always wanted to go to. Once I got to Japan and started saving a lot of money working, then the planning got a bit more concrete, but most of that was based around weather patterns, monsoons, hot and cold seasons, and trying to avoid extremes wherever possible.
Vagobond: On a related note, how do you start your day? Do you have morning rituals?
Dave Stamboulis:   I guess I have always had morning rituals. I did yoga for many years, I did Zen meditation for a spell. While traveling, starting the day at a cafe, drinking a good cup of coffee and writing my notes became something to cherish. These days, being based in Bangkok, I usually get up and watch an NBA basketball game online in the early morning while having my coffee! (being a lifelong basketball fan and having the night games come on in the early a.m. here is a great way I find to warm up the day before I start working.
Vagobond: I was in Bangkok back in 2001 – it was obviously on the rise and from what I’ve heard, is now one of the most comfortable cities in southeast Asia in a Western sense…what challenges do you face living there?
Dave Stamboulis: Bangkok, in 2011, is probably 100 times more comfortable to live in than 10 years ago. I live 5 minutes from the Skytrain, so I virtually never deal with the infamous traffic, my nearby mega-supermarkets stock products from around the world, and I can find just about any kind of camera or computer gear that I need for work at reasonable prices. On the other hand, the Thailand that I fell in love with, the Thailand where people never honked their horns, smiled all the time, and just took it real easy, has drastically changed. It has become far more like the west or developed world in terms of stress, crime, greed, and focused on money rather than on anything else, and this is a very sad thing in my opinion. Also, given the decline of the dollar along with inflation, Bangkok is no longer the bargain paradise that it once was.
Vagobond: Back to that Kipling quote – what about family life? How does a man who goes build relationships? Or does he?
Dave Stamboulis: It is very difficult to sustain intimate relationships as a road junkie. I have had my share over the years, and have even cut down on my trips and time away during the times I have had steady companions. But I think it is tough to share the lifestyle, and probably the only way I think it really works is if you end up with someone who is in a similar line of work or way of thinking, perhaps another writer or photographer. I saw a documentary recently about Lemmy, the zany singer of Motorhead, and he was basically saying that as a touring rock star, there was just no way a relationship with anyone other than another musician was going to work out, and I think that is somewhat true. Artists tend to be rather committed to their passions, often at the expense of partners and friends in their lives.
Vagobond: Can you offer three travel tips that Vagobond readers may not have heard before?
Dave Stamboulis: I don’t know that I have any new tips, but
1) as I have gotten older and more “comfortable and convenient” I have resolved to take myself out of my comfort element at least once a year, it usually is rather life changing and reaffirming to go get on a rustbucket bus on a potholed road in the middle of nowhere with few amenities. It is humbling and reminds oneself just what real travel is all about.
2) Try going precisely to the places that don’t interest you. Years ago I didn’t have any strong draw to spending time in Africa, as opposed to Asia or S. America, whereas now, for me, Africa is somewhat the last great place to adventure in.
3) I think it is pretty important to combine some sort of project or focus with just a relaxing escape. I actually no longer really enjoy the “motion” part of travel. Too many hours on bad buses in bad hotels eating bad food without any of the comforts of home. But going on trips with the purpose of taking photos and gathering material for articles, it gives me a focus and gets me through those bad moments.
4) And I am sure this has been said, but I can’t stress the importance of it: TRUST PEOPLE. 99% of the people in the world are good, and if you open yourself up to them, you will be rewarded with amazing kindnesses and great memories.
Vagobond: Your forthcoming piece on the Kazakh Eagle Hunters (here on Vagobond coming Monday!)  was the kind of travel piece that I used to eat up when I was a kid. I would dig through 80 years of my grandmother’s National Geographics to find stories like that – what are some of your other awesome adventures?
Dave Stamboulis:  Probably the best adventures to me involve a bit of physical hardship. In Mongolia, it might have been the extremes of temperatures and landscape, a million miles removed from home in a harsh landscape with no amenities. One of my most outstanding adventures was a crossing of the back side of the polar ice cap in Fitzroy National Park in Argentinian Patagonia. I was with a climbing friend and we had finished several months of trekking and climbing throughout S. America and I was really spent and ready to go to Buenos Aires and go sit in cafes and read books. And my friend basically pressured me to do this final trip, which involved slogging huge amounts of gear across highly crevassed ice completely away from civilization. The trip was very hard, but the scenery, solitude, and sense of adventure was enormous.
Vagobond: I’m not going to ask you how many countries you’ve been to or which one is your favorite – instead, if aliens appeared and told you that you had to spend the rest of your life in just one place (let’s assume it has to be on Planet Earth) – where would you pick?
Dave Stamboulis: Put it this way, for most of my life, I always thought of places in the world to be a bit like stations on a train journey. Some stations merited getting off and staying in, some worth more time than others, but eventually, one would have to get back on the train and enjoy the ride. Well, Thailand changed that for me. This was the first place I ever said to myself, “I will die here,” meaning it as a place I felt based in and very at home. The other place in the world I have a very strong connection to is Nepal. I spent several years living there, teaching there, cycling and climbing there. I loved the people, the culture, the landscape. I went back for the first time in 12 years a few years ago, and actually had as much of an enjoyable time as the first time. The mix of friendly people along with the Himalayan landscape and culture is something I love.
Vagobond: What does the future hold for Dave Stamboulis?
Dave Stamboulis: The future? Given continued decent health, I am sure I will do more of the same, getting out and seeing the world, and trying to keep an open and fresh mind. On the one hand, it is horrible to go back to places that were paradises 20 years ago and see them destroyed by tourism and development greed, yet on the other hand, travel exposes one on a daily basis to lots of wonderful human interest stories, far more hopeful than the garbage we tend to read and be spoon fed on a daily basis on the internet, newspaper, and television.

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.

Revolutionary Vagabond – Che Guevara

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).

World travel was important to Che. Sure, you see his image on all kinds of clueless college kids t-shirts and hoodies and maybe later he was responsible for thousands of heartless deaths, but you gotta love that medical student who set out on his friend’s motorcycle to see the world.

Che Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, author, physician, intellect, guerilla leader and was an important figure of Revolution in Cuba. He took admission in Buenos Aires University to study medicine. His interest to explore the world made him a world traveler and it led him to scatter his collegiate interests with two thoughtful journeys which would basically change his view about modern economic conditions in Latin America.
che guevara
In his first journey he covered 4,500 kilometers in 1950, he traveled alone on bicycle through rural provinces of northern Argentina, and he had installed a small motor on his bicycle. Next he traveled for nine months for about 8000 kilometers on motorcycle through South America. He took a break of a year from his studies to travel with his friend Albert Granado, he spent few weeks voluntarily in Peru at San Pablo Leper colony.

Che Guevara was very upset about the working conditions of miners in Chuquicamata copper mine of Anaconda, Chile. He was surprised by his overnight confrontation with a harassed couple. He as struck by the smashing poverty of the rural area on his way to Machu Picchu in the Andes. Peasant farmers worked on small plots of lands which were owned by landlords in this place.

On his journey, Che Guevara was impressed by the friendship of the people living in the Leper Colony. He roamed as a true vagabond throughout South America . Che Guevara used the notes which he had taken while on this trip to write an account named “The Motorcycle Diaries”, and it became a best seller of New York Times and it was later also made into a movie which won several awards. Che Guevara became a world traveler because of his enthusiasm in traveling adventures.

Before returning to his home in Buenos Aires, Che Guevara traveled through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Miami. At the end of his trip Che Guevara visited Latin America.
che vagabond
Later in Mexico City, Che met Raúl and Fidel Castro and after the invasion by yacht rose to prominence second-in-commandof those who deposed deposed the Batista regime.

Guevara helped to institute agrarian reform after the revolution and reviewed the firing squads as well as writing a manual on guerrilla warfare. While trying to foment further revolution, he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and executed.

Vagabond Architect – Johann Beukes C

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).

Johann BEUKES is from South Africa and worked as an architect for 40 years before deciding to do a lateral move into the travel business. He is a keen learner through TRAVEL experiences and is the CEO of TRAVELinform & TRAVELwithus.  I caught up with him by email earlier this week before he was heading to Germany.

Vagobond: You spent forty years as an architect – while some might say you’ve left that profession behind – it seems to me that you are still designing and building with TRAVELinform –

Johann Beukes: A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of an enriched heart. An architect-at-heart has to have a soul, a spirit and a passion for people. Exactly the same principles apply to a traveller-at heart.

TRAVELinform is a unique platform where one can share one’s passion for travel: many wonderful human true to life travel stories as well as travel photography to create the specific mood. And a growing family of equally enthusiastic members, sharing their experiences with one another on the social networking forum.

Vagobond: What made you decide to change gears? Can you tell us a bit of the journey that took you from architecture and into travel?

travel to Machu PicchuJohann Beukes: Since my childhood days I had pen friends in Japan, Germany and Canada; at a young age I started with travel- scrapbooking and became engaged with people in different places. My architecture brought me into contact with international architects around the world; thus making my early dreams a reality.

Various joint-replacement operations of most of my major joints forced me to bid my first love, practicing architecture, farewell. Fortunately I initiated a travel agency some 15 years ago; first as a hobby while travelling as an architect to some 80 Countries, which has now turned into a fulltime profession: the privilege of sharing ones travel joys with other people with a similar passion for exploring the unknown.

Vagobond:I’ve heard it said that travel is a series of near misses – can you share a harrowing tale from your travels?

Johann Beukes: As student, I joined a friend from Namibia on a Namib Desert excursion: our vehicle got stuck in the wilderness between kilometres of dunes. Luckily a helicopter search team discovered us after three days without water and food. No wonder it is also known as the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.

A few years ago I went with only the pilot on a ski-plane scenic flight of Mount Denali in Alaska; as keen photographer I convinced the pilot to land at a high altitude on a solitary glacier. With me in my photographic spell, we slightly overstayed our time. The severe cold quickly fixed the skis to the ice. Normally the passenger would move the ski-base while the pilot is accelerating the propeller. This time however, we had to swop roles, due to my disability to assist with the physical manoeuvre. We managed to escape the ice-trap and I almost deserved my wings!

Vagobond: How is TRAVELinform different from the many other travel sites and networks out there? What is your vision for it in the future?

Alaska Johann BeukesJohann Beukes: I think there is no replacement to first-hand experience; anybody browsing through the multitude of country galleries of stories and photos will soon share my passion.
We have two TRAVEL sites i.e. TRAVELinform as a free Travel Information and Social Networking site, and TRAVELwithus, the unique, dedicated consultant-connected Travel, which will be launched during April this year.

On TRAVELinform we do not sell anything; we believe that through this we will eventually build a platform where people will trust our impartiality with no strings attached. Should they be interested in packages and travel-related products, TRAVELwithus will ensure a trust-worthy reputation.

TRAVELinform has the social networking forum, the unique travel stories and photo galleries, Travel-related links, sanction of many a country’s Tourism Boards. It has been visited by viewers, representing some 100 Countries and the average time spent on the site is 5 minutes at a time; indicating the popular interest.

Vagobond: In terms of vision, can you make a few predictions about where travel is heading in the next 5-10 years?

Johann Beukes: I believe that TRAVEL will become the most important industry world-wide; interaction between customer and professional consultant will move away from traditional consultancy selling air-tickets first, followed by other ancillary sales.

All basic commodities like air, car and bed will be done online by more and more, IT generation customers. If your destination knowledge, input and value as Travel Consultant are not omissible, you will soon become extinct.

The sooner the high street agency understands the many challenges online travel agencies are offering, the more secure their future will be.

Vagobond: Travel has changed in some massive ways over our lifetimes- what are some of the positives and negatives you can see in these changes?

Johann Beukes: Customers have become absolute knowledgeable on their Travel expectations and needs. Guessing and selling products without first-hand knowledge and expertise cannot succeed. For this reason consultants should act pro-actively and professionally: providing a service that will address all aspects of personalised travel.

The positive side is that a far wider choice of options of destinations exist; however, on the negative side is the fact that the exclusiveness of destinations will disappear: destinations off the beaten track will unfortunately become less and less available.

Vagobond: Has travel become too easy?

Johann Buekes in Plovdiv, BulgariaJohann Beukes: My honest opinion is that travel has become a hugely complex and high-risk service industry.
Only the real Travel PROFESSIONALS will survive. Through globalisation everybody becomes a traveller in some or other way. It has become very easy to travel today.

Vagobond: What makes great travel writing?

Johann Beukes: Experience the heart of a country through the eyes of ordinary people;
original, warm and descriptive words will enhance, almost like a picture taken at a scene; though it should always be factual correct; add passion to the most simple theme and people will experience travel through your eyes.

Vagobond: What makes a great travel writer?

Johann Beukes:  A passionate honest story teller; look for stories off the beaten track, among ordinary people.

Vagobond: In terms of press trips with Tourism Boards – do you think there is a magic formula for landing them?

Johann Beukes: Personally, I do not have a problem with press trips organised by Tourism Boards to promote their country. As long as the travel writers act as true travellers and not tourists: a Traveller will always shows appreciation and respect the diversity of the travelled world and the different cultures of its people, whereas a tourist demands attention to their personal needs only.

Vagobond: How do you prepare for a trip?

Johann Beukes: My time is always limited and good planning of time spent is therefore crucial. Through my LinkedIn network, make first-hand contact with connections within the country, communicate my ideas and proposed itinerary; clearly define my objectives of experiencing the country as a traveller-at-heart and not as an insensitive tourist. Many of my travel stories are rooted in the origins of ordinary people.

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

Johann Beukes: Communicate with the taxi-driver, if local, or the receptionist at the hotel and get first hand local tips of quieter times at tourist traps, eating spots supported by locals etc.
Do a proper research on all to do and see well in advance, in order that you can orientate yourself easily once at the destination; time is always limited.
Rather try and stay in the original old town area and enjoy the real atmosphere once all the tourists have left.

Vagobond: As someone who travels a lot, I realize how hard it is to answer questions about best, favourite etc. Still, having seen more than 75 countries – which 3 would you most like to go back and visit?

Johann Beukes:  Three totally different destinations:

Romania; especially Transylvania, due to the interesting culture and history;
Alaska, because of the unequalled scenic beauty of its landscape, from south to north;
Peru, truly a country with wonderful people; although poverty prevails, they assist each other and where the role of the family is very important.

Vagobond: Do you also have a bucket list of places still to visit?

Johann Beukes: High on my list is an exclusive adventure cruise on board the VIC of the Spitsbergen Arctic zone; for its incredible photographic opportunities.
Then I would still want to travel to Tibet, especially the Shigatse and Nyingtri mountainous areas to stay some time and really meditate within the rural regions; maybe do some new travel writing.

CONTACT DETAILS:
johann@travelinform.co.za
http://www.linkedin.com/in/johannbeukes
and share your travel ideas on www.travelinform.co.za

Nomad Vagabond – Genghis Khan

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).

 

Traveling round the world doesn’t usually involve conquest of foreign lands but for Temujin, also known as Genghis Khan, conquest was probably just a means of travel. Starting with nothing as an exile and prisoner means he was certainly an extraordinary vagabond.

Genghis Khan was a nomad, in other words he was a world traveler of sort. Genghis Khan’s real name in his childhood was Temujin. When his brother poisoned his father Temujin killed his brother and in punishment he was thrown into forest, he was held in prison by his former friends after that. vagobond genghis khanAfter few years, Temujin rose up as a powerful leader and united the tribes of the Mongol people. With this goal accomplished, he and his Mongol hordes targeted many and far lands. From the time of his unification of the Mongol tribes, the Mongols called him Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan first attacked the Tangut tribes to the west of the Mongol homeland. His first important foreign venture was not an easy one, but he brought the tribes of Tangut to their knees by 1209, which was the beginning of his empire. Genghis targeted east and south after that, this was the land ruled by Jin Dynasty of China. Genghis Khan captured Beijing, bringing the pressure to the Jin emperor and managing to restrain the complete northern half of the kingdom.

Kara-Khitan which is called “Xinjiang” today by the Chinese government was the next battleground of Genghis Khan. With just 20,000 soldiers, the Mongols brought the surrender of Kara-Khitan by 1218. Now Genghis Khan’s empire extended from shores of China in the east to Kazakhstan in west.

genghis khan mapThis was not enough and Genghis Khan desired more. He set his eyes on his new neighbor, the Khwarezmid Empire. It stretched from Kazakhstan to the banks of Persian Gulf, surrounding most of Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and half of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. At first Genghis Khan tried to establish a booming trade partnership with Khwarezmids, but the leader of Khwarezmid attacked his 500 man caravan. After this, he foolishly refused to pay compensation for his act. Genghis Khan later sent his group of ambassadors to the Shah of Khwarezmid in a hope to have some kind of political trade relationship. But the Shah refused his proposal, Genghis Khan invaded Khwarezmid and executed the Shah. After this horrible conquest of Khwarezmid Empire, he headed across Afghanistan and northern India.

By the end of his life, Temujin had conquered everything from Asia all the way to Europe’s doorstep. Most of modern Turkey, parts of Greece, and even portions of Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia were his domain.

As a world traveler, he spilled a lot more blood than most, but the fact is he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history and saw more of the world than most people ever will.

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