Extraordinary Vagabonds: Harry Franck, Pioneer of the Vagabonds

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

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

Among Franck’s books are:

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

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

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

Peru’s Chavin de Huantar – Epic Archeological Adventure

Guest Post by Greg de Villiers

Ancash lies quietly to the north of Lima, ignored by too many people who hop past to the golden northern beaches, the central jungle, or Cusco and Machu Picchu. But they are all missing one of the great jewels in the Peruvian landscape.

Ancash Peru, Hiking in PeruAncash is bordered by long sandy beaches but then quickly gives way to the mountain ranges which dominate it – the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, which contains the Huascaran National Park and the famous peak of the same name, at around 6000m it is the highest in Peru and 6th on the continent.

The landscape of Ancash is truly breathtaking, with wide open expanses, lorded over by massive, permanently white tipped peaks. Throughout the range there are some 300 glaciers – although all have been affected to some degree by a warming of the climate – and strikingly crystalline blue lakes – quite likely the origin of the provinces name – anqash in Quehcua means blue.

Tucked between all this majesty in a small valley, itself situated at a humble 3177m above sea level, at the confluence of two regionally important rivers, the Huacheksa and Mosna, is an ancient city built by a civilization that thrived nearly 3000 years ago.

The Chavin culture is one of the best known and influential pre-Incan cultures, at its peak from 900 – 200 BC, with its sophisticated art, metallurgy and textile work influencing many later cultures in Peru, and perhaps even as far abroad as the Olmec culture which shares certain artistic tendencies. It is theorized that the Chavin was not a great military power, but rather that the people of the large stretch of land (roughly between modern Piura in the north and Paracas to the south) under their sphere of influence were culturally colonized – i.e. they chose to follow the Chavin philosophy and religion.

The heart of this culture, is Chavin de Huantar, the remarkably well preserved archeological site in the Huascaran National Park. The main temple and surrounding buildings stand between the two rivers, a position carefully chosen for its supposed mystical energy. (Although the convenient positioning on a major riverine trade and transport connection between the coast and the high mountains was likely a key additional factor.)

The whole site should have been inundated and destroyed, but the builders rerouted one of the rivers and created a complex system of underground water channels, some of which are believed to have been used as acoustic tools which, with water flowing through them during the rainy season would, due to vents above ground, roar like a jaguar – likely the principal deity of the Chavin religion / cult.

The most renowned relics of the Chavin culture are the cabesas clavas or Tenon heads, large stone heads placed in the walls thought the temple complex. Some rows of these stone heads represent the transformation of human to feline (jaguar – and thus divine), a process brought to life by the Chavin shamans, most likely through the use of the psychotropic cactus, SanPedro which grows in the region.

The other relic of great importance and beauty is the Lanzon, a 4.5m obelisk depicting the main deity, located in the labyrinthine heart of the main temple. It is there where I found myself face to face with this ancient monolith; I have no clear picture of it, only swirls and patterns incised precisely into granite. These swirls, the taste of that entire moment, seem branded into my memory. Perhaps due to some mythical energy or more simply, highly sharpened senses as my body desperately tried to convince me that it was a bad idea to be standing underground, in a maze, in a 3000 year old building, in stale light and murkier air.

A visit to Chavin to Huantar gives you chance to come in contact with something unthinkably ancient, created by human beings completely different from (or perhaps remarkably similar to – depending on your perspective) anything we know today. And all within one of the most spectacular setting Peru has to offer.

Getting there:

The most common access to Chavin de Huantar is a three hour ride in a public bus from Huaraz, the capital city of the region. The route between Huaraz and Lima is well serviced by a number of companies and takes about eight hours. If at all possible, a rental car (preferably a 4×4, but this is not essential) is the very best option as the roads of Ancash are one of the best driving experiences in the country. If you are short on time you could book a guided tour with a specialist in Peru adventure trips.

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