John Steinbeck – California Vagabond

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).
Steinbeck pirate

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902. He came from a poor family and worked his way through college at Stanford University but never graduated.  As a young man he worked on farms near where his family lived in central California and this most definitely influenced all of his later work. In 1925 he vagabonded his way to New York, where he tried for a few years to establish himself as a free-lance writer or novelist, but, like many freelancers and novelists, he failed and returned to California where he worked as a tour guide and ranger in a fish hatchery. He was a west coast kid and while he was away, he never stopped dreaming of the Pacific and California. Steinbeck was fortunate in that after he was married in 1930, his parents decided to provide him not only with a home for he and his wife to live in, but also even bought the paper and typewriter for him so that he could focus on his writing instead of burning his inspiration at dead end jobs.  One has to wonder how many great writers could have been born with similar treatment and how many were simply lost in the day to day struggle to survive.

Steinbeck had some minor success with a few short stories but became widely known with Tortilla Flat in 1935 – the book was a series of humorous stories about Monterey paisanos. The book was successful enough that not only was Steinbeck able to repay his parents, but he also bought a house for he and his wife in Los Gatos and was able to further devote himself to his writing. Not only that, he began to explore the world further – starting with a sailing voyage around the Gulf of California.

All of  Steinbeck’s novels deal with the economic problems of rural labor, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach. After the rough and earthy humour of Tortilla Flat, he moved on to more serious fiction, often aggressive in its social criticism.

In Dubious Battle (1936), he deals with the strikes of the migratory fruit pickers on California plantations and Steinbeck  followed this with Of Mice and Men  in 1937. The story of the imbecile giant Lennie captured the imagination of a nation struggling with the Great Depression and the second world war. This was followed by a series of admirable short stories collected in the volume The Long Valley (1938). In 1939 he published what is considered by many to be his best work, The Grapes of Wrath, the story of Oklahoma tenant farmers who, unable to earn a living from the land, moved to California where they became migratory workers.

After 11 years, his first marriage failed and a month after the divorce he was married for the second time (hmmmmm…a month). With his second wife, he fathered his only kids – two boys John and Tom. He served as a war correspondent during World War II and was wounded in North Africa. He was one of the first Western writers allowed into the Soviet Union and took many trips there. His writing about the new nation in A Russian Journal, brought him induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Among his later works should be mentioned East of Eden (1952), The Winter of Our Discontent(1961), and Travels with Charley (1962), a travelogue in which Steinbeck wrote about his impressions during a three-month tour in a truck (fun fact: the camper was called the Rocinante after Cervantes classic Don Quixote’s horse) that led him through forty American states with his dog, a poodle named Charley, the book is subtitled In Search of America, the book offers both criticism and praise for America and according to Steinbeck’s son Thom, Steinbeck went on the trip because he knew he was dying and wanted to see the country one last time.

Steinbeck’s last novel, The Winter of Our Discontent , examined the  moral decline in America. The protagonist Ethan grows discontented with his own moral decline and that of those around him. The book is very different in tone from Steinbeck’s amoral and ecological stance in earlier works like Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. It was not a critical success. Many reviewers recognized the importance of the novel but were disappointed that it was not another Grapes of Wrath. In the Nobel Prize presentation speech next year, however, the Swedish Academy cited it most favorably: “Here he attained the same standard which he set in The Grapes of Wrath. Again he holds his position as an independent expounder of the truth with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American, be it good or bad.”

It was the last fiction Steinbeck published, one could imagine because it was unappreciated and largely caused outrage. Why should he waste his time on anything else for people like that?

In 1967 he went to Vietnam and wrote about what he saw of the war there. The American public decried him for a hawk for describing the actions of the American soldiers there as heroic. Both of his sons served in Vietnam. He died in New York City in 1968.

John Steinbeck VagabondSteinbeck wrote of pirates, hobos, Mexican revolutionaries, drunkards, knights, kings, farmers and other unsavory types that have been described by the world as vagabonds. He was accused of being a communist by the right and a ‘hawk’ by the left – one thing for certain – He was a genius and a vagabond himself.

 

Vagobond Travel Museum

the best travel on the web
If you put a skeleton in a museum, does it become a cemetery instead?

Welcome to the Vagobond Travel Museum.
The web is full of great travel blogs, travel stories, travel photos and travel videos – the hard part is finding them amidst all the garbage. Through the week, I curate the best travel stories I find and then, I bring you the highlights here at the Vagobond Travel Museum.

These are my Travel Museum Inductions for the third week of January 2012.

This photo of the Mahabalipuram Seven Pagodas in Tamil Nadu, India seemed to capture a lot of the reason why I began traveling in the first place. Add Tamil Nadu to my bucket list.

Overland to Katmandu This was without a doubt the best travel writing I came upon this week. Old World Wandering‘s article on the Hippie Trail is long but well worth the read – it not only acts as a great historical piece, but also is a great character study.

Eric Lafforgue’s amazing photography and descriptions capture the imagination and no doubt will inspire travelers to explore the world and her people’s customs for some time to come. This photo of the Karrayyus Oromo people during the Gada Ceremony in Ethiopia is a great example of how travel can broaden your mind.

How Tea Has Conquered the World is the type of travel story I am always surprised to see on mainstream media. Sure, it’s using istock photos, but the story is interesting and worth reading- even if it’s on CNN.

I’d love to know what these guys were watching…this is the kind of photo a great photographer can capture on the fly. You couldn’t pose something like this and get the same feel. Apparently, there is work going on and the older people enjoy watching. Anziano che Guardano i Lavori’s page has plenty more older people watching the work get done.

In terms of video, I found this video about Tivoli Gardens by Virtual Wayfarer, the second oldest amusement park in the world to be interesting, compelling, and filled with odd facts.

manhole coverFor those looking for an interesting blog to follow, I can recommend TravelWriticus – in particular, I liked this picture of a manhole cover in Austria. Not the usual.

travel chicaThe Travel Chica provided some great advice for how to survive a long bus ride. If you’ve done any travel outside of the developed world (or in it for that matter) you know how important this can be.

funny signs from travelLaughter is the cure for all the world’s problems. That’s why this week I’m including this great post by Inspiringtravellers – Funny signs and things they’ve found in their travels.

The Independent’s Travel Section always seems to have some great stories like this fun piece about a week in Vietnam. Vietnam is one of those places that calls to me, I’m not sure why, but articles like this increase that desire to go there.

Rio hang glidingLauren Stephenson looks at travel an odd way in this article on overcoming your fears through travel at Bootsnall. It’s a light piece but has some very fun looking adventures couched in it. I’m not sure travel is the way to get over your fear of clowns, but I like the angle she took on this article to get there.

And while there were plenty of other great travel stories this week – that’s it for now. To let me know about any great travel pieces, contact me using the contact form here at Vagobond.com

6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures – #3 is my favorite!

Exclusive for Vagobond by Melissa Ruttanai Photos by Neil Friedman.

In mainland Southeast Asia, adrenaline junkies and nature lovers will discover full-throttle water sport adventures. Without mandatory deposit fees equivalent to mortgage down payments, visitors trek, snorkel, raft and kayak in pristine waters. For those seeking beaches, grottos, and limestone landscapes, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam have become prime destinations. In Southeast Asia, adventure begins where the tides meet the shore. Here are 6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures.

Kayaking in Southern Thailand’s Angthong National Marine Park

Inland Sea, ThailandFor Hollywood filmmakers, billionaires, and broke college students, the Gulf of Thailand remains a draw for many waterborne adventure seekers. Northwest of famous Koh Samui Island, Angthong National Marine Park is an archipelago of 42 limestone islands carved by tide and wind. While camping is allowed with a permit, many visitors arrange tours out of Koh Samui that include swimming island lagoons, trekking trough the mountain, and eating at a local village. During the day, explore small coves and sandy beaches. Snorkel with tropical fish and survey Koh Wua Talap, the largest island in the chain, or Koh Mae Koh that boasts a green-blue inland sea called, Talay Nai. Glide kayaks across the Koh Mae’s bay and relax to the delicate sound of your paddle dipping into gentle waters while high promontories loom like grey-green sea monsters.


Boating through Vietnam’s Halong Bay

With a UNESCO World Heritage seal of approval, Halong Bay sits on the northern ridge of a limestone chain that sweeps up from the Gulf of Thailand and Angthong National Marine Park. Here, the karsts cluster into a mystical array of gray stone, verdant brush, and boats with iconic colonial sails and rudders. Meaning “dragon descending”, Halong Bay includes 2000 islands and over 600 square miles of the Tonkin Gulf, offering visitors dozens of beaches, grottos, and caves to explore. With its high salinity, bathers can jump right from the ship into waters so buoyant there’s hardly any exertion necessary. Stretching across the water surface, visitors can drift all day among spiraling crags. Visit floating houses lashed together into small villages. Or tether broadside to local fisherman, selling giant prawns and squirming squid straight from their nets. After a day caving, pull into Cat Ba Island, a favorite retreat for Hanoians escaping the city.

 


Sailing through Daily Life on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Tonle SapSix miles south of famous Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Tonle Sap continues to play a vital role in the life of local Cambodians. Fed by the Mekong River during the wet season, Tonle Sap remains a major waterway for commerce and transportation. Every day, ferries carry commuters and cargo across the lake on their way to and from Battambong. For US$5, travelers can gaze through a window of life on the lake, witnessing how families live in boathouses, cooking, reading, and raising children in narrow canals. Children attend floating schools on large boats with open windows and basketball courts enclosed by high fences. Families visit floating hospitals, teetering gently in the wake. Women buy fresh fish and produce from vendors rowing along peacefully.


White Water Rafting in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang RiverLaos’ religious and cultural capital, Luang Prabang is a town known for Buddhist temples, daily markets, and a laidback pace of life. At sunrise, monks and novices traverse the UNESCO World Heritage streets. At sunset, fishing boats shift back and forth in the wake of speedboats heading to China. On one side of the town, the Mekong River skims along, a wide boulevard of fertile silt and dependable currents. On the other, Nom Khan River sweeps in from the east, offering visitors white water rafting and kayaking for any skill level. From town, tours can be arranged with door to riverside transport included. On their second day in Luang Prabang, travelers could find themselves clad in helmet and life vest, digging hard into rushing currents. Guides lead rafters through crashing white waters and ominous rocks creating whirlpools. In the reeds, Lao children play in the shallows, making the peace sign as they splash each other. Along the river, mountains as diverse as the wildlife press up against the shoreline. Stilted houses perch on slopes growing tea. Birds cut across black rock cliffs. And women plod up and down terraced vegetable patches.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Tubing in LaosIn the 1970’s, backpackers looked around for a convenient stopover during trips between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the capital. From this necessity, Vang Vieng burst onto the scene, offering accommodations, meals, and more recently, tubing. On the riverside, two companies rent out massive inner tubes and drop travelers off upstream for a day of lazing on the river, listening to birds, and losing all thought to mountain peaks. From these humble beginnings, the tubing trend has become the main activity in town. On the river, bars jut out from the tree line, pulsing with Bob Marley tunes and hawking cheap mixed drinks. Bars feature ziplines, mudslides, and tug-of-war pits to keep patrons docked at their shores. On the river, meet other travelers and become inspired by how many consecutive days they’ve tubed the river. Back in town, relax on triangular pillows, enjoy the mountain air, and recharge for another day on the river.

Swimming with Elephants in Pai, Thailand

Elephants in ThailandSitting on the highway route between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the little town of Pai is a major stop along the traveler’s path in northern Thailand. Here, artists absorb nature’s inspiration and Thais retreat from the bustle of metropolitan life. While there’s plenty to do on foot and motorbike, a popular activity in Pai is elephant trekking. Hotel staff can make tour reservations. In the morning, a guide escorts you to the elephant camps. The world grows quiet on the outskirts of Pai. Elephants eat bananas and throw grass into the air. The elephant trainer called a mahout helps trekkers mount the pachyderms and settle onto a thick blanket. No saddles here, riders spend the day bareback in the sun as the elephants walk through the forest. At the river, elephants suck water up their trunks, spray a cold drink into their mouths, and save just enough to splash up at their riders. Once the mahout gives a command, the elephants shake. The riders hold on tight only to be flicked like flees off the elephant’s back. Up into the air and down into the river, the riders splash, getting their cold drink too.

Vietnam Travel Tips – Easy Riders and Sweet Spots in Vietnam

Finding hotels and hostels in Vietnam is the easy part. The hard part is starting your trip around the world. Make sure you include Vietnam on your round the world itinerary and follow these Vietnam travel tips.

There are many travel opportunities in Vietnam. Historical remains are scattered all over the country. Its rich culture and legacy has been attracting travelers from different countries. The Vietnamese are friendly and warm. Touring around the country isn’t difficult because locals are there to assist you.

Easy Riders in Vietnam

Vietnam motor bikeAdventure is absolutely experienced in Vietnam. One tour not to not miss is Dalat’s Easy Rider. Easy Rider provides a special tour by you riding on a motorcycle.

While you might choose to hire a car or a motorcycle, travelers will have a closer view of Vietnam’s attractions like the Central Highland, Mekong Delta, and Ho Chi Minh. This is also the best way to meet the locals and taste authentic Vietnamese cooking along the countryside.

The price is usually $60 to $75 depending on the route taken. Easy Rider has been featured in many guide books. .

 

Top Tourist Sites in Vietnam

Vietnam’s mountains, beaches, cities, and historical sites are major attractions to travelers.

Old Quarter of Hanoi- This is situated in the city of Hanoi. Shopaholics will truly enjoy the streets of Old Quarter. Shops of different goods and services flourish in the area. The tube or tunnel houses of ancient Vietnam still remained in the town’s street. Restaurants, art galleries, and craft stores offer a great way to explore the culture of Vietnam.

Halong BayHalong Bay- This is a World Heritage Site affirmed by UNESCO. It has unique and remarkable grottos and caves. travelers must see the 3000 small islands scattered in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hue- This remarkable site is one of Vietnam’s spectacular cities with deep historical remnants such as the Royal Citadel, Flag Tower, Royal Palace, and Royal Tombs.

Temple of Literature- The disciples of the great philosopher considered this temple as a holy place. Vietnam’s first university was built in the area since 1076.

Being an upcoming tourist destination, the infrastructure, including communications, is getting better day by day.International calling services and internet access are provided in all major hotels and resorts and the postal service is available 24 hours a day.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum- This is the most visited spot annually. This place is popular as the resting place of the country’s most significant leader. The museum displays figures of the communist leaders and military collections.

Top Hotels in Vietnam

Vietnam is a paradise attracting thousands of travelers. Accommodation in Vietnam is pleasant and affordable. It is a perfect holiday vacation spot for families and for solo travelers. Most of the luxurious and major hotels in the country are found in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh such as:

Majestic Hotel- It has been in service since 1925. The hotel has an ambiance of complete elegance. They offer big discounts in travel packages. Accommodation includes free airport pick up, Wi-Fi access, and a smoke free wing. They have a spa, fitness center, and swimming pool for your leisure time.

Hilton Opera Hotel- This hotel is near the Old Quarter. Tourists will surely be pampered in their guest rooms fully furnished with cable TV, internet access, and work areas. Delicious Vietnamese cuisine is served in their fine restaurant.

Continental Hotel- This is situated in the center of Ho Chi Minh convenient to other tourist destinations in the city. The hotel is built with classic architecture and their restaurant serves Western cuisine.

You will never get bored on a Vietnam tour. Hiking, jungle trekking, and water sports are some of the recreational activities you can enjoy while you discover the wonders of Vietnam.

Make sure to include Vietnam on your trip around the world.

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