or, around the world in 504 days.
Australia was the first stop on what was to be a 25-country, 17-month, 5-continent expedition around the world that began in August of 2003. I flew straight to Tasmania with my Aussie friend Yvette and nearly burned up my motor drive in the land of moss and rainbows. I sat on my lens in Hobart, and made my first significant investment in a lens with a 24-85 Minolta brand shipped express from New York (still cheaper than Oz).
With the Great Ocean road and the Sydney harbor out of the way, I pointed towards New Zealand and a date with Taylor, my old college roommate. We bought a van and traversed the whole damn country with a blown head gasket.
New Zealand was one of the most beautiful and overrated countries I have ever visited. I guess Peter Jackson and Frodo are to blame for the inflated image of the rain drenched bitter lot of English reprobates, but the scenery was spectacular when visible.
Another quick stint in Oz before taking off for the real unknown, the third world. The day after my 24th birthday I boarded a plane for Singapore by myself, and didn’t stop sweating for nye on 12 months.
Asia was an amazing mix of cultures. Packed into this one tiny peninsula are innumerable distinct races, with their own alphabets, customs, food. I guess I was hoodwinked by the homogeny of the US into thinking that culture exists as a gradient, political maps are artifacts of colonialism and don’t present any real cultural valleys. When you cross from Vietnam to Cambodia, everything changes, the skin color, the face shape, the language, the dirt, the food, the signs, everything. They are no more similar to each other than they are to Japan or Columbia.
The pictures I kept in my head were amazing. The juxtaposition of colors and history, of poverty and bustle were stark and awesome, and you could find an image anywhere you looked. Rice fields and temples, saffron clad monks or children with no clothes, smiling. These are the breathless images, the images that change you as a photographer. The infinite successful angles and the one true capture that defines you as an artist or the artist you wish to become.
My immersion in the world was regrettably shallow, the language and racial barriers being real and defined. I was here to spend money, and they were there to accept it, a situation that creates no equals and allows no transient assimilation. My time did not allow me to settle and I moved to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was an unimaginably wonderful place, filled with beautiful people both in and out. I saw ancientness I could not comprehend, and the children were the most beautiful in the world. It is a small island, and I was able to see a great deal of it only months before the Tsunami hit. Images of mountains, beaches, workmen and temples are my record of the diversity of what I saw. From the tea plantations of Haputale to the surf beaches of Arugam Bay the people were magnificent and I took the most quality images here of anywhere I went.
North, to India, a further assault on my conception of life and survival. The battles in India are waged in plain view: bodies floating in the river and people screaming, begging or limping in the streets. The pictures came easily here, a constant flux of fresh detritus, stirred up by my passing, dirt settling into every crevice, and pain visible on every face. Some people would run to me, others would continue on. Cows and brown faces, bicycles and sweat, these are the crux of what I saw. I fell ill, along with my brother who had flown to meet me, and there were no more pictures, only nightmares.
After recovering in Hong Kong, I was onward to Africa. I flew into Johannesburg and stumbled upon what came to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my trip, and it happened entirely unrecorded on film. From connections via my grandmother, I was put in touch with a family in Joberg and I came to stay with them. In what is called the most dangerous city in the world, I stayed for 2 weeks with complete strangers turned dear friends. A magnificent time spent in relaxation and reflection, something I could not grab hold of in the bustle of Asia.
When my time came to leave, I continued to Capetown and northward to Namibia, perhaps the most picturesque country on the continent. It is a barren place, but a variety of barren. It turns from volcanic hills to scrub brush, to sand dunes to barren coastline. I have always thought of good photography as a distillation process, a simplification of a harried four dimensional world compressed onto a 24x36mm two dimensional film strip. If simplicity is a criterion for good photography (and I feel it is) then Namibia is an oasis. Lone trees and stark red dunes create landscapes of the purest form, which leaves only the rule of thirds before the shutter clicks.
Botswana’s Okavango is in stark contrast with its ever flowing, ever branching convolutions. The crystal water reflects the blue skies, and fish eagles wheel overhead. Elephants charge out of the undergrowth and terrify the Europeans at night.
My second stint in South Africa gave me another wonderful taste of culture in that I stayed with a family that refused to talk to me in English, and my Afrikaans is about as good as yours. They were sweet though, and treated me well, and I was given an immersive view of an oft-maligned culture.
Mozambique was my next stop, and one of the most memorable months of the trip. Moz is a mess. There is no infrastructure and the people are poor and pissed off. Bus rides take days longer than expected and I had to learn to speak Portuguese. That being said, it follows that it was, at times, one of the most photogenic places I traveled.
Ilha de Mozambique is perhaps the strangest place I have ever been. Constructed in the 1400s, it served as the Portuguese provincial capital, and was fortified as such, with 6 feet thick walls, and solid footings. The portuguese have since been run out and the buildings have become deserted. The island is still populated though, the populace choosing to live instead in grass huts. The children are absolutely wild, running down the broken concrete and dust streets at 10 o’clock at night. The call of the imam wakes me at 5am and the men try to sell me honest to god treasure, washed up on the shore from the rotten hulls of sunken ships in the channel. The gigantic buildings are worn but do not fall, though the roofs have collapsed long ago. Inside I glimpse children flashing in the shafts of light that filter through the cannonball holes. I need not elaborate on the heaven this was for a photographer and traveler.
From Moz by train to Malawi, where my traveling companion caught malaria and we were forced to set up camp on one of the most beautiful bays I can imagine. Lake Malawi runs nearly the entire length of the country, and even nurtures its own particular species of brightly colored fish. The water is clear and cool, an ocean of fresh water, yet another paradise among men.
North still more to Tanzania and the requisite safaris that are not to be missed, but figure into any travelers Africa plans. Of more photographic importance to me was the island of Zanzibar, with its iconic mosques and ancient seafaring history. The beaches: amazing. The narrow streets of Stonetown house untold beauty and uniqueness, with each corner hiding something expectedly picturesque.
I spent a week in Nairobi with friends, and then on to Europe, what was to be the short leg of my journey. Unfortunately, at this point, I had all but lost my desire to take pictures. It had been over a year since I had seen any of my artistic creations and the 30 pounds of camera equipment were the bearers of resentment. My arrival in Prague changed that, with the entirely new photographic endeavor, of capturing history, upon me. The heavy age of the city was impressive and I rose three consecutive mornings for the nonexistent sunrise on the Karlov Most (Charles Bridge), and spent sixteen hour days roaming the city for pictures and gluvine.
In Rome I was relieved of my photographic burden, when after a late night at the Coliseum, my bag was taken from under the bed on which I was sleeping, bringing an end to the photo journey but a week shy of its intended finale. Needless to say, the remains of my trip, in Rome and Spain, were somewhat sullied but significantly lighter.