The Most Extraordinary Vagabonds

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

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

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

Explorers
Richard Francis Burton

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

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

Vagabond 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.

Extraordinary Vagobond – Tarzan of Manisa

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vagabond Folk Singer – Woodie Guthrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Buddhist Vagabond – His Holiness, The Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama VagabondThe Dalai Lama is the name given to the leader of all affairs concerned with the religious Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism. In other words, the Dalai Lama is the religious head of Buddhists in Tibet. However, the Dalai Lama’s patronage extends to Buddhists all over the world, and He is seen as a holy figure, along similar lines as the Vatican Pope. The post of the Dalai Lama is traditionally given to the person who people believe is the reincarnation of God, and this is generally decided at the time of birth. There have been 13 Dalai Lamas so far, with the 14th Dalai Lama currently in position. The first Dalai Lama was born in the year 1391, and the current Dalai Lama was born in 1935.

Dalai LamaThe current and 14th Dalai Lama’s real name is Lhamo Dondrub, and He is religiously called Tenzin Gyatso. The Dalai Lama has many distinctions to His name, perhaps the most prestigious being the Nobel Peace Prize, that He was awarded in 1989. Born n July 6, 1935, to a family of traditional farmers, the Dalai Lama was believed to be a reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama right at birth. As a result, he had a very religious childhood, and was given many of the previous Dalai Lama’s belongings. Dondrub’s reign as the Dalai Lama began on 17 November, 1950, and has been a gratifying journey. The Dalai Lama always fought for the rights of fellow Tibetans, and the people in power did not fancy this behavior much.

The Dalai Lama travelingAs a result, after a long process, the Dalai Lama was sent out of the country, to exile, to India, where Buddhism is quite a big culture. He found many loyal followers among the Indian Buddhist crowd, and felt at home. The Dalai Lama has traveled all across the world, speaking and giving his message of equality and freedom. The Dalai Lama was listed as the second most spiritual person on Earth by the Watkins Review. Many films and novels have been inspired by the Dalai Lama’s life and no wonder: it is a very amazing life indeed.

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).

Extraordinary Carthaginian Vagabond – Hanno the Navigator

The voyage of Hanno the Navigator 500 BCIn the annals of great explorers, there is one name that is often overlooked – that of the Carthanginian Periplus of Hanno – later known to the Greeks as Hanno the Navigator . Neither a Greek nor a Roman, but a free man of Carthage and perhaps one of the great unheralded navigators the world has ever known.

While the exact dates of his explorations are not certain, historians agree that they took place sometime around the year 500 B.C.E. It was around this time that Hanno left the city of Carthage – for those wondering, Carthage was located approximately where Tunis, Tunisia now sits.

Hanno left Carthage with a fleet of sixty rowing ships for the purpose of colonizing the unknown territories of Northern and Western Africa. With him were an ungodly number of people which counted in somewhere around 30,000!!!! Hanno’s job was to take all of these people and get them set up in colonies in the great unknown areas.

Passing through the Pillars of Hercules (between modern day Gibraltar and Tangiers, Morocco) the fleet set out into the Atlantic Ocean and turned south.

They founded a city called Thumiaterion at approximately modern day Safi, Morocco. From there, having left a number of settlers, he continued Southward to the isle of Cerne – a place much disputed and lost to history but given the voyage of Hanno, probably either Tenerife and the Canary Islands or less likely, Cape Verde. Even more fanciful is the idea that Hanno reached Atlantis…but who knows?

From Cerne, Hanno sailed back to the mainland and found a large river. Judging by the descriptions of the animals and landscape, we can assume that he was in modern day Senegal or perhaps The Gambia.  He encountered not only elephants, reed filled lakes, crocodiles, and hippopotomai, but also hostile natives that drove he and his settlers back to Cerne.

From Cerne, again, Hanno went further south to find a land that was wonderful by day but lit by fires at night.  He rounded the cape of Hespera Keras and encountered a people steeped in mysticism and music. His own mystics (an essential party to any Carthaginian voyage advised leaving quickly) and so they went south again.  This time they reached modern day Guinnea-Bissau and the Isle of Orango upon which they mistook gorillas for a race of hairy men.

Hanno the Navigator - Finder of Gorillas

In its inmost recess was an island similar to that formerly described , which contains in like manner a lake with another island, inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further.

This is as far as Hanno reached before returning to Carthage with Atlas lions and stories of wonder. He left seven colonies behind (all in modern day Morocco) and presumably returned with much lighter ships. It is no wonder that Hanno became king of the Carthaginians. History knows him as Hanno II of Carthage.
ship of carthageThe voyage of Hanno is much in dispute, in order to come to a greater understanding of it, I’ve referred to many books and online sources, none of which were more helpful than this article which details the fact, the fiction, and the speculation.   http://phoenicia.org/phoewestafrica.html

I too, am guilty of some speculation but in reading the accounts of Hanno the Navigator, the above description of his voyage feels the most right to me.  One thing that can’t be argued is that the voyage of Hanno was one of the great epic voyages of all time.

Can Hanno the Navigator even be classified as a vagabond? To my mind, the answer is yes – in that a vagabond is anyone who sets out on a voyage of discovery where the unknown is the biggest thing that is known.  But, like everything with Hanno – all is in dispute. We don’t even have an idea what he looked like.

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.

Welcome to 2021 – Aloha to the World!

We made it through what may have been the most difficult year of our lives. Here we are.

This year, I’m going to change my focus on Vagobond a bit. My intent is to publish 1-2 articles per week.

Since I’m not traveling much these days – (and who is?) I’m going to start out 2020 by looking at some  of the great Vagabonds of the past for inspiration on the many reasons we travel. I wrote a book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point”  about the great vagabonds several years ago. It’s still available as an ebook for kindle on Amazon for just $3.99. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of those characters from the past (and present).

Vagabonds

Last year my publication schedule was Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – but this year – let’s switch it up to Tuesday and Thursday.

 

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