This issue, we are sharing a post from long-time blogger, travel writer, and author Vera Marie Badertscher. This is an interview she conducted with author Allan Karl about his three year, five continent journey by motorcycle and the book Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection that ultimately resulted. The interview was originally published on Badertscher’s blog A Travelers Library http://atravelerslibrary.com on October 18, 2013. Here it has been edited slightly to fit our venue.
Once writers, musicians, and artists were dependent on wealthy sponsors. Then the commercial world took over publishing and distribution of the arts. But a new wave of creative people are taking advantage of the Internet’s worldwide reach to find like-minded people who are willing to help fund their projects.
When I was approached by Allan Karl about his Kickstarter project* to publish a book based on a motorcycle trip to 35 countries, I was intrigued. This is not your ordinary travel memoir. Allan shares some of the book’s photographs here and, within its covers, he also provides you with recipes from many of the countries he visited. Gotta love it–travel, adventure, photography, and FOOD.
A Travelers Library (ATL): You have combined a book about a motorcycle trip, a photo book and a cookbook in one. Since any one of these would keep an author busy, why did you decide to combine the three?
Allan Karl: I planned to write a traditional travelogue/memoir, but when I returned home after three years of travel, I realized that the best way to truly share this incredible journey and the experiences that so moved me was to provide readers with a similar experience. That is to allow them to see the world through photographs, to feel the world by reading stories of connections and cultures, and to taste the flavors of the world through photos and real local recipes. . . . Forks brings the world to the readers tables and this adventure to life: the kindness of strangers, beauty of humanity, colors of culture, and the powerful gift of human connection.
ATL: How did you choose the countries you visited? I noticed in particular that you visited Syria and it is not a country people are flocking to right now. Were you there before the hostilities broke out? Were there other countries that might have been a bit risky to visit?
AK: I have traveled extensively throughout my life, and I truly believe travel is the best way to learn about our world, history, culture, geography and about ourselves, that is, how to be more patient, compassionate, and tolerant.
I originally planned to travel from Cape Town north along the western coast of Africa and then into Morocco and to Spain. Along the way, someone shared with me great stories of Ethiopia and the baffling rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and I changed my plan and traveled Cape Town north on the western inland side of Africa.
Traveling overland is rigorous and, in Africa especially, often rough. When I set out on this journey I knew I couldn’t simply choose the safe route. To realize possibilities and expand my worldview, I knew I would have to take chances and step outside my comfort zone. Tired of the constant drip of media and government warnings of dangerous places, I wanted to see for myself.
I traveled through Egypt just six or so months before Arab Spring, so I wasn’t in Syria near the time of the conflict. Yet what I discovered in Syria, was a country full of friendly people eager to learn about me, my travels, and my country as much as I wanted to learn about them. In my book I share the initial frustration I experienced during my nearly 24-hour ordeal to secure a visa for entering Syria.
ATL: I noticed on your Kickstarter page that you said if you felt alone, you just looked around, and there was always someone there. But communicating with someone in a different culture and language can be intimidating. Any tips?
AK: I’m amazed at how easy it is to connect with people. Two things that are fail free: First, smile and look into the stranger’s eyes with warmth and openness. Also important, learn at least one sentence in the local tongue. The language part can be tough because if you spurt out a few words, you need to be prepared for the stranger to unleash a barrage of fast talking and in such a dialect you’ll never understand. But the fact you try to communicate proves you’re eager to learn and embrace their culture and their language.
ATL: How many of these countries had you visited previously?
AK: Out of the 35 countries I traveled on this adventure, I’d only been to . . . Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica previously.
ATL: Did you plan an itinerary in detail before you started, or just let chance lead you?
AK: I researched and planned for two years before embarking on this journey. I had an idea of the route I would take and had identified places I wanted to visit. One of my goals was to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I could get to. In the end, I visited more than 40, including the more famous like Macchu Pichu as well as the obscure like León, Viejo, in Nicaragua.
As I learned more about a region’s history and cultural heritage, and taking tips from locals and other travelers, I would change plans in a moment. I never had a hotel reservation. I would make sure to visit major cities on a regular basis so that I could service my motorcycle and have better chance of access to spare parts and other necessities.
ATL: Just yesterday, after watching this video about a musician asking for community funding, I was wondering why more authors had not taken the Kickstarter route. Please talk a little about how you decided to do that.
AK: Often, I’m asked “Why Kickstarter?” The answer is simple—and part of my story. As I mentioned, I had intended to write a traditional travelogue or memoir about my journey. But as I traveled, I learned how important it is to connect with people on a deeper level. Most often this happens while sharing conversations and life stories over good food and drink—with locals.
I knew that recipes and photos of the food and the faces and places I visited would be essential and would enhance my stories. The publishing industry thought differently. . . Traditional agents and publishers liked the idea for my book, but insisted I simplify it—asking me to remove the food and photos. Rather than compromise my vision, I decided to go out on the publishing journey just as I did to travel the world—solo.
Kickstarter is perfect for creative projects that step outside that comfort zone, are risky and don’t fit within the self-induced constraints or limits of commercial enterprises. It’s a great way to validate the marketability of such ideas. My Kickstarter project for this book reached its funding goal in just nine days. As of today, and with 5 days to go, I’ve reach nearly 150% of that goal. I’m humbled and grateful for the support the crowd-funding community as given me and this project. I think it’s great proof that this idea —this book and message—resonates with people all over the world. I have backers from eleven countries who’ve pledged for copies of the book.
ATL: Final question–the one we ask everyone at A Traveler’s Library–are there any books you have read that inspired you to travel?
AK: Perhaps the book that inspired me to travel by motorcycle and opened my mind to the possibilities is a book called Ghost Rider by Neil Peart, a well-regarded drummer for the rock-n’-roll band RUSH. Over a one-year period he lost his only child in a car accident and his wife to cancer. Rather than dip into deep depression, he hopped on his motorcycle and rekindled his broken soul by traveling.
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*Allan Karl’s Kickstarter campaign ended very successfully. In 29 days FORKS gained the support of more than 500 backers who pledged over $40,000 and pre-ordered more than 800 copies of the book! To PREORDER book.
To see more about Alan Karl:
When Vera Badertscher isn’t on the road herself or interviewing other writers and reviewing their books for A Traveler’s Library, she blogs at Ancestors in Aprons http://ancestorsinaprons.com/ and on the site of her fascinating book about American Indian artist Quincy Tahoma http://tahomablog.com/. Check out her other sites—you won’t regret it!