Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Brandon Wilson is an adventurer and travel writer. From the Himalayas, to Mount Kilimanjaro, to the Camino de Santiago, to his most recent 2,620-mile trek from France to Jerusalem, Wilson has been in over a hundred countries and faithfully recorded his experiences in his books. He's the author of the award-winning titles Yak Butter Blues, Dead Men Don't Leave Tips, and Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace. In this fascinating interview, Wilson talks about his books, travels, writing habits, and his most rewarding and scariest moments as a travel writer.

Thanks for being here today, Brandon. Tell us a bit about yourself. When did your passion for traveling begin?

It’s always been there. I had my first taste of life on the road at six and haven't stopped. It all began in an old red and white Chevy with a burlap-covered water bag strapped to the front grill. With my father behind the wheel, we sailed wide-eyed across the wide expanse of an uncluttered America. I was hooked on travel, my sweet addiction.

What compelled you to put your travels into words—your love for writing or your desire to share your experiences with others?

Although I’ve always enjoyed sharing my travel experiences with others, this need became a necessity in 1992. An adventurous 1,000 km. trek across Tibet transformed into a journey with greater meaning.

Before attempting a trek the Chinese authorities called “impossible,” my wife and I learned that Tibetan people today are forbidden to walk to their sacred sites in Nepal. So we vowed to make it in their stead. For forty nights as we crossed the wild Himalayan plains, we stayed with poor Tibetan families, sipping yak butter tea around their fire, listening to their stories, and witnessing their faith and hardships firsthand. Upon returning, I was determined to share their story with the rest of the world. It was a message too important to be ignored. That story, their “message in a bottle,” became my first award-winning book, Yak Butter Blues. It’s the true tale of a culture pushed to the edge of extinction and the human link connecting us all.

Quite by accident, crossing Tibet also changed my outlook on travel and on life. Although I’d explored nearly 100 countries while checking must-sees off a checklist, trekking across Tibet was a transcendent experience. I was hooked on slow and “deliberate” travel, which nourished a connectedness with nature, and a Zen-like link to the spiritual.

How long does it take you to write each book? Do you write as you travel or after the trip has ended?

All my books are initially constructed from daily journals. I've always found it best to write each night while the events (and aching muscles) are fresh. In that way, I capture the passing thoughts and fleeting nuances along the way, events that otherwise melt together if you attempt to reconstruct it all months later. I write an hour or so each day, no matter how late, creating a running narrative that becomes a very first rough draft. Returning, I pour myself into the project, beating it into shape over the next year or so.

Tell us a bit about your books.

My books bridge the typical travel genre by infusing a destination with adventure, history, culture, the mystical, and a bit of social consciousness. I avoid using broad brush strokes to describe a place. Readers are tired of hearing about another beautiful sunset. And I can’t blame them. They expect to truly “experience” a place.

Traveling slowly, often on a small budget, I share the good, bad and gritty of each destination. That often brings out the good and bad in people—as well as myself. At the risk of sounding like a terrible person, I strive to expose it all—the ups and downs, as well as the small triumphs and laughs that make each day unique.

Some reviewers have called my three books a trilogy. Soon after Yak Butter Blues was published, Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips followed. This book provides an intimate look at Africa—the trials and tribulations of crossing an ever-changing landscape filled with quirky characters, raw challenges, and edge of your seat adventures. It’s not a guidebook, but a real uncensored, darkly humorous look at what it takes to cross some of the wildest places imaginable.

Unlike Tibet, we initially set off with a loosely organized safari guided by “experts” (who’d never been to Africa). That was our first mistake. Then again, Mark Twain once said, “You never really know whether you love or hate someone until you travel with ’em.”

As our seven-month overland dream safari quickly turned into a nightmare, we left the ship of fools and set off across Africa alone. And that made all the difference. Once outside the cocoon of group travel, our immersion in the controlled chaos of African life led from one wild adventure to another—from the heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the depths of war-torn Mozambique and beyond.

Hey, where else can you climb a volcano one day, photo stalk mountain gorillas the next, and dance with stoned pygmies soon after?

After Africa, I followed my passion for long-distance trekking down some of the world’s most renowned pilgrimage trails, including Spain’s Camino de Santiago, the Via Francigena from England to Rome, and St. Olav’s Way across Norway. Each year brought another path, another challenge. Each time, I relished slowing life down, reducing it to its bare essentials. Trekking became my Walden Pond. Long-distance hiking is a trampoline for the mind, as you process a lifetime of thoughts, emotions, memories, and sensations. Your senses become heightened. I delight in the minutiae of smells and sounds: the scent of an approaching cloudburst or hearing the scamper of a lizard in the brush. I've also found an inner peace through these treks. I've lightened up my pack—and metaphorically my life. It's something that remains with you, a sanctuary when life becomes too crazy once again.

The seeds for my new book grew from those experiences. Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace chronicles my recent 2620-mile trek with a 68-year-old Frenchman from France to Jerusalem. Following in the footsteps of First Crusades and legendary first Knights Templar, we set off to trek across eleven countries and two continents.

Unlike my other books, from the very start, I was determined to make the trek not only as a personal pilgrimage, but also as a walk for peace. I wanted to remind folks along the way about the necessity of solving our problems in a more enlightened manner than resorting to war.

As journeys go, it was far from easy. Following a thousand-year-old map, each day we were uncertain where we would eat or sleep. Temperatures ranged from freezing to nearly 100 degrees (F). There was also an ever-changing landscape and languages, but politics turned out to be the greatest unknown. By the time we arrived in Serbia, Israel had bombed Beirut Airport, southern Lebanon was being evacuated, there was a bombing attempt on the US Embassy in Damascus, and Western travelers were gunned down in Amman, Jordan. Oh, and an Ebola-like virus raged in central Turkey.

Still, without exception, in every country the people we met were curious and kind when they discovered the reason for our journey. Our message found great acceptance. Folks are so tired of endless war and some were moved to tears when they heard of our quest.

True to my initial objectives, I wanted Along the Templar Trail to not only chronicle this historic journey, but also provide a blueprint for others who'd like to walk this path of peace. So this book is my most personal and surprisingly philosophical. It interweaves observations, koans and brief encounters that are metaphorical in nature. Some readers will hear a resonance in these—others will see only the adventure.

The story unfolds at a walker's pace, since a journey such as this forces one to slow down and savor the beauty and tranquility of life. As in all my books, I want to engage the reader, to make them feel like they’re walking beside us and experiencing both the good and bad, small miracles, and moments of discovery along the way. I want to inspire no only those who will follow in our footsteps—but also those who travel in mind and spirit.

Eventually, I hope my story will re-launch this historic trail as an international path of peace that others may walk in brotherhood, regardless of nationality or religion, much as they follow the Camino de Santiago. Thousands will walk this same path each year, sharing blisters, food and conversation. Once they walk together, they’ll discover a connectedness, a personal peace. Then they’ll return to their families, jobs, communities and countries with greater tolerance and belief in our commonality as human beings. They’ll embrace the ideal of cooperation on our increasingly fragile planet.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your traveling adventures?

The more I travel, the more I learn about the world (and the more I learn I don’t know). Wherever I travel I truly enjoy meeting and sharing with local people and learning about their lives: former monks in Tibet, African villagers, or army officers and Palestinians in Israel. I am inspired by their strength, faith, optimism and universal hope for peace. If only we can re-channel that fortitude, we can reshape our society, re-prioritize our budgets, and wage a lasting peace. As many reminded me, only governments stand in the way.

Then again, the more I travel, the more I learn about myself. You never return home the same person as when you left.

Scariest moment?

The Tibetan journey taught me to never give up—even while pushing the limits of survival. We were shot at, trudged through a blizzard, slowly starved, never knew where we would spend the night—or if we’d be taken into police custody. Yet we learned to have faith; trust that the Universe would provide, that we were meant to be there, that there is some greater purpose to it all.

What's in the near future?

Only the wind knows—but my walking stick is calling once again from the corner.

Do you think you'll ever settle down?

What? (Have you been talking to my mother?) I never say “Never,” but this appears to be as settled as I’ll ever be—unless I find something more worthwhile or exciting.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

Ignore the naysayers and conformists. Life is too short for regrets. Have confidence in your dreams. Follow your passions, wherever they lead. Small joys still exist in our world. Discover the moments of magic and serenity in secluded places. See the world for yourself without hesitation or fear. Discover a personal peace, and as Gandhi once said, “Be the change you would like to see in the world.”

Where are your books available?

They may be ordered from any bookstore or Internet bookseller worldwide. Signed copies may only be purchased at www.PilgrimsTales.com.

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Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa
By Brandon Wilson
Pilgrim’s Tales
P.O. Box 791613
Paia, Hawaii 96779
ISBN: 0-9770536-4-4 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-9770536-5-2 (Hardcover)
Copyright 2006
Paperback, 280 pages, $16.95
Travel Narrative/Non-Fiction

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips is the thrilling, captivating true tale of a honeymooned couple who quit their job, sell their home and cars, and leave everything behind to achieve a dream: cross Africa on a seven-month, 10,000-mile journey from Morocco to Cape Town.

Join professional travellers Wilson and Cheryl as they bargain with villagers, struggle with incompetent guides and government officials, pass sleepless nights in deplorable accommodations, cross the Sahara amidst sand storms and blistering heat, meet gorillas and Pygmies face to face, and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, reminding us all along that simple things such as a nice meal, a shower and getting cash can become the ultimate luxuries.

The tale is poignant with ironic humor and human drama. Each chapter begins with a witty, profound African proverb, and in the middle section the author includes interesting B&W photographs to complement his account and give a clearer picture of Africa’s sights and sounds.

What’s striking about Wilson’s books (he’s also the author of the IPPY Award winner Yak Butter Blues) is that his journeys are not only physical but highly spiritual as well. His are journeys of body and soul in every sense of the word. The author writes with honesty and a sharp eye for detail, making this an invaluable amalgam of information for readers of adventure travel or anybody who is considering “do-it-yourself” safaris or simply visiting Africa. Interlaced with this honesty and detail are Wilson’s beautiful prose, obvious passion for adventure and a deep inquisitiveness about other cultures, making this book a pleasure to read. Having already reviewed Wilson’s previous work, this reviewer is already looking forward to his next.

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The Book:

This is the Book Every Travel Writer Has Waited For! Travel writing may be an art-but putting together a guidebook is a craft! Author Barbara Hudgins offers a minimum of hype and a maximum of help for anyone who has ever dreamed of putting their travel lore into prose.

Crafting the Travel Guidebook shows the reader how to find his category and his audience, how create a format, construct a framework and flow the chapters. It also offers a heaping helping of travel-writing tips and examples.

Aimed at both the author looking for a publisher and those who wish to self-publish, the book covers such topics as basic research, plagiarism and copyright infringement, where to find photographs, creating sidebars, the book proposal, positioning your title and promoting your book. And best of all, there is a 15-page list of publishers, large and small, who welcome travel writers.

Written by best-selling guidebook author, Barbara Hudgins, this book offers a roadmap for both the novice writer and the veteran journalist to find his way to the travel bookshelf. From the title page to the appendix and index–everything is laid out.

The Author:

Barbara Hudgins is best known as the original author and self-publisher of New Jersey Day Trips. This guidebook sold over 110,000 copies in several editions before she sold the rights to Rutgers University Press. She also co-authored the 10th edition put out by that press. She was the subject of a chapter in the book Make Money Self-Publishing by Suzanne Thomas, as an example of a successful regional author.

Barbara’s travel column, which covers both local and foreign trips, has appeared in The Madison Eagle, the Bernardsville News and other newspapers in northern New Jersey. Her day trip articles have also been featured in Garden State Woman and New Jersey, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow. National magazines such as Signature, Woman’s World and Foreword have published her free-lance pieces on a variety of subjects.

The author has lived in New York, New Mexico, Hawaii and Virginia, but has made her home in New Jersey for the past 30 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and has worked at the New York Public Library, Hunter College Library and the University of Hawaii. A former English major in college, she began writing music, movie and theater reviews before gravitating to travel writing. Her two children, Lani and Robert, now grown and with families of their own, helped her to research the many destinations that appear in her books and articles.

It was only after she had worked with a traditional publisher and gone through all the phases of working with an editor and a co-author that the concept for this book formed. Although there are several guides to travel writing on the market, they all concentrate on selling to magazine, newspaper and internet editors. Why not, she thought, create something geared to the book publishing? Barbara’s background and knowledge of self-publishing give her the expertise to successfully market in the publishing world. Her experience as an author for a traditional publisher, as a self-publisher and as a freelance writer, positions her as a unique expert in all of these fields.

Visit the author’s blog.

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51qyfctpbjl__aa240_.jpgAlong the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace is the fascinating journey of two men who set out to travel on foot the legendary road once used by the Knights Templar to reach Jerusalem — a staggering pilgrimage encompassing 2,620 miles. More than the mere adventure of two brave men, it is a grand and noble quest for peace, as well as a spiritual voyage that will leave readers emotionally and intellectually replenished.

The travelers are the author, American Brandon Wilson, and his 68-year-old French companion, Emile. The starting point: France. Destination: Jerusalem. In between these two points are Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. Indeed, it is a daunting challenge, to say the least, and Wilson and Emile suffer all sorts of inconveniences along the way — insufferable heat, painful foot blisters, uncertainty as to where they will spend each night. Not to mention the possible dangers they might face, from thieves to anti-Americanism in the Muslim countries. Simple things like taking a shower, clean clothes, and comfortable sleep become a luxury.

Fortunately, they often encounter what the author refers to as ‘angels’, good souls beyond the boundaries of accepted conventions who are willing to offer the pilgrims food, drink, and a place to spend the night. Who would do that in America, where people are so conscious of danger at all times? But in the context of this journey for peace, it’s as if human beings are transformed and the best of their nature comes through. Also, for Wilson and Emile traveling together becomes difficult at times, as they differ in age and stamina. Will they finally reach their destination?

I immensely enjoyed reading this book. Besides being a skillful traveler, the author is also a skillful writer and this shows in his beautiful flowing prose, keen observations and wit. His writing combines a marvelous sense of Zen with good humor, and his personal style makes you feel as if you were there taking part in it all. This book is about a journey both physical and spiritual in nature, and its essential message is one all peoples of the world should be aware of. Though I had the pleasure of reviewing Wilson’s two previous travel books, both fascinating, engrossing reads, I have to confess Along the Templar Trail is my favorite.

Purchase from Amazon.

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