Many popular travel writers and photographers entice us to foreign destinations and sources of wonder with tales of strange encounters or evocative imagery. Writers offer their descriptions and insights into cultures and lands that are foreign to us. Photographers bring us their vision and insight, but not their thoughts. Few, however, speak, in more than passing, of the nature of the travel experience and its effect on the traveler. Most often, places become a substitute for the act. At other times, it is as if the story is detached from its primary character - the author upon which the account is based.
To the readers of this genre who have not traveled alone or at all, depictions are of small consolation. For many, the primary question is not "What did you do?" or "What did you see?" but, " What was it like?" "What did you come away with?" It is on this personal realm that we recognize travel as having its greatest significance. It can change forever how we see ourselves and our world.
When we travel alone and unsupported for months and years at a time, we are set adrift, without anchor to our past and the familiar, to encounter the unknown in the everyday and to distill life's metaphors. Open and unencumbered exploration, acceptance of the world on its own terms, perseverance in the face of it, and belief in oneself and the future become not only the stock and trade of the traveler, but, more importantly, tools for the art of living.
A Vagabond World, a book of short essays and vignettes, conveys the poignance, import, and changing dynamics of travel by recounting a two-year solo journey around the globe. It explores the nature of the long term travel experience, the dimension and variety of our earth, and the personal evolution of a young man raised in America and maturing to that of global citizen. The pearls lie in travel's particulars - the negotiating of fares and places to sleep, the sharing of life with those in the seat beside us, the contemplation of the countryside, and the peering in from the outside.
Framed within the context of a fire that destroys the setting of my youth - a metaphor for the power of the travel experience - A Vagabond World takes the reader from an introduction to travel in Fiji, through the carefree nature of an Australian hitchhiking experience, and into Indonesia where the realities of the Third World are introduced. In India I consider the inner journey. Encounters in Thailand explore the travel scene through the experience of others. My essays on China examine our role as participant in the world around us. Europe and America bring a collision between my traveler's eyes and the West's familiarity. To see differently is to be challenged with a second chance, one that hinges on keeping a fresh vision.
For us, the global travelers, just as the context of our reality remains in flux, country after country, region upon region, so does our perception of our lives and priorities. In time, borders blur and distinctions fade. For all the people on earth, they all could be us. In seeing the world our vision evolves and we cannot help but see ourselves. A Vagabond World is a rite of passage that turns the outward experience inward to examine ourselves and our place in the world. Travel becomes the guidepost that sets a course for the inner destinations that many of us share. Once we buy the ticket, our life is forever transformed.
A Vagabond World is a collection, in both words and pictures, of short stories and vignettes. The text and images examine the travel experience by depicting the character of particular foreign countries, highlighting aspects of their cultures, portraying the journey itself, and encapsulating observations and realizations. The stories are grouped into seven parts, each part addressing a single country and travel theme. The inward and outward journey portrayed in A Vagabond World gives the reader an understanding of what it is like to travel, to travel beyond borders and beyond one's expectations and imagination - to travel around the world.
As envisioned, the book will be of modest size. Each of the seventy chapters, ranging in length from 600 to 4,000 words each, will open with a single photograph taken in the vicinity of that portion of the narrative. The text will follow uninterrupted. The intent is to give equal import to both text and photographs and to allow each of these elements to best compliment the other. Individually the text and images each tell a story of their own. When joined together they convey a picture that singularly is unattainable. In total there are approximately 100,000 words of text. For reference, both the inside front and rear covers will contain a map of the world marked with the route taken. In addition to the enclosed photography, a complete portfolio can be found on the internet at http://www.thomasbachand.com/photography.
(Click on titles to view Table of Contents)
The book opens with a fire that destroys both the home and neighborhood of my youth. This dualistic act of cataclysm and cleansing which tears me from the setting of my childhood is a metaphor for the right of passage these travels represent. This journey is a road of discovery and fate. The past remains another life; the future lay undiscovered.
It is on the buses and ferries and in the rain forest villages of Fiji that I am educated in the fundamentals of travel and tourism. This opening section of A Vagabond World explores the motivations for undertaking the journey, the chaos of last minute preparation, and the hesitancy of venturing into the unknown. In New Zealand I embark on a road trip with two Western travelers. Three young men explore a wonderland of wilds and farms while carefully guarding their secrets.
It is in Australia, with no more than a road map of the vast Australian continent, that the reader and I set out on a carefree and unencumbered adventure hitchhiking across the country. When schedule and expectation become replaced with perseverance and optimism, the road takes us where it leads, often to the delight of random encounters. Going my way are retirees, missionaries, students, the police, and a flying farmer in search of a stud bull. Eventually I find myself in the Outback on a ninety thousand acre sheep station.
The great irony of travel, a highly independent endeavor, is that one must conform to succeed. Just as one must be an imposition, one must be imposed upon. Just as one is curious, one is also a curiosity. In Indonesia, I must adjust to the Third World and struggle to understand a culture distracted by my culture. Whether fending off students of English in war-torn Timor, searching for Komodo Dragons, or enduring tortuous bus rides, the world must be taken with patience and tenacity.
India's tumultuous social environment, with its poverty, touts, and separatist politics, is the backdrop for the isolation felt by the traveler. Culture and economics conspire against the foreigner to keep him on the perimeter. At the same time, exposure to so much of the world alienates one from home. After a brief and chance meeting with the Dalai Lama, I realize that it is only the outsider that can belong to all places. Similarly, from a sadhu in India's oldest city I learn that peace is not found in one thing but everything.
A quest for the ideal beach in Thailand turns up an odd cast of characters soul-searching in paradise. Among them are an American with a striking resemblance to John Wayne, a philosophical drug smuggler, a heroin addict, and an Englishman stricken with multiple sclerosis who recalls his days as a cowboy. The title to this section is taken from the tiny crabs that tirelessly build patterns on the Thai beaches. Like them, in our quest for self-understanding we begin each day anew.
In China's cauldron of ideology and state mandates, the foreigner finds himself in a land of dispossessed peoples. Whether considering the local peasant or the traveler, it is the individual who is the true measure of a nation's character. From Hong Kong, the journey moves away from the urban population centers and into the minority regions where the gulf between insider and peasant is most apparent. In the foothills of the Himalaya, dissidents trace their education to the American soldiers of WW II. North of Beijing college students test their own borders.
With the fresh perspective of a traveler, I return to the West via the Trans-Siberian Express to confront the myths of home. In Germany I visit a group of hedonistic youth before listening to the reminiscences of an American Cold Warrior. Numbed by the rigors of the road, I venture back to America and marvel at an ambitious and wealthy society satiated by technology. At the Grand Canyon an American frontiersman offers a glimpse into the country's soul. In the end, seeing home with a traveler's eye, I find wisdom in my confusion and purpose in the struggle.
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Sample of photography from this project: