The importance of travel - An interview with author Carl Hoffman
IMG Via Carl Hoffman
By: ITHP Staff| April 30, 2014
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When most people think of travel, images of poolside service and a well watered 18-hole golf course come to mind. Carl Hoffman is certainly not one of these people. His first major success, The Lunatic Express, details his courageous voyage around the world via the most dangerous modes of transportation. From the most terrifying airlines to packed ferries in Bangladesh where 1,000 souls perish every year, Carl experienced it all.
His most recent book is Savage Harvest. Carl decided to solve one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller. Carl's real-life investigative journey brought him to one of earth's most remote regions and what he discovered is simply amazing.
The International Human Press was able to catch up with Carl for a short interview about the importance of travel and how it has influenced his life perspectives.
What attracts you to the dangerous style of travel engaged in during your novels rather than the more traditional approach most American's are accustomed to when going abroad?
(My books are not novels, but non-fiction.) I’m a journalist, writer; my goal in most of my travels is not tourism, not a vacation, but to understand a place, an event that happened, a culture, and to do that requires diving as deeply as possible into a place. It requires asking questions and there is a specific purpose behind it, a goal. I didn’t travel around the world on its most dangerous conveyances for The Lunatic Express as a lark, but to understand how the world appears for most of its population, the poor, shifting masses of people who can’t afford any other means of travel. I went to Asmat on the remote coast of southwest New Guinea for Savage Harvest to see the place where Michael Rockefeller was traveling when he disappeared and to understand the Asmat people themselves, in order to answer the question: Did the men from one particular village kill him, and if they did, why? It is purpose-driven travel and I’m a person with deep curiosity and many questions and I always want to know why.
How does traveling change ones personality? Has it made you more confident, fearful, happy, forgiving, accepting, prejudice, empathetic etc?
Traveling in and of itself is not a panacea. It does not make you a different person overnight. Travel is like reading a book or a newspaper or any other experience. The more kinds of different experiences you have, the more your mind opens, the more you know, and that’s always a good thing. But travel also always shows you yourself, the real you. If you’re shy and reserved at home you’ll probably be shy and reserved anywhere else. If you’re a bigot at home, well, you’ll probably be a bigot on the road. If you’re not adventurous, not willing to take any risks at home, you probably won’t anywhere else. To me, I want depth of experience, feeling, life, my senses – I want to live as big a life as possible, and that means knowing and experiencing and feeling as much as possible. And I want to know the answers to things, and just because a story lies in what’s perceived as a remote or “dangerous” part of the world doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go there. I’m not interested in what’s easy, but what’s meaningful and difficult. I’m not interested in I can’t or it’s too far or it’s too hard, but in let’s go.
How has your time abroad changed your perspectives on life? Do you see America and the rest of the world in a different light?
It’s helped me understand that I can go anywhere, do anything, and reinforced my desire to know, to question, to see for myself. It has shown me how small-minded Americans can be, how a people once thought of as quite bold can be also be timid and myopic. Many Americans remain obsessed with the idea of American exceptionalism and all it takes is a few weeks in China, Brazil, India, Thailand to understand how smart and determined these cultures are, how even cultures with deeply traditional aspects can be quick and modern and can make America feel like an aging starlet whose relevance isn’t what it once was. America is my home and a fantastic place and its heterogeneity and vigor are still like nowhere else, but it is not alone out there in the world any longer. America has a lot of work to do, still.
Has traveling extensively lessened your natural human lust to accumulate material objects? Are you materialistic?
I don’t know that a lust to acquire material objects is a natural human desire. It certainly is important in certain cultures, but not all. Like anyone else, I like certain things, certain luxuries, but if money was my prime interest I never would have been a freelance writer. I have a 20 year old car, a 100 year old house that needs a lot of work. People spend way too much time trying to buy things, acquire things. Traveling, among many other benefits, shows you that people can be very happy without much stuff.
What has been your greatest and worst experience overseas? What have you taken away from these experiences?
My greatest experiences are always those I’ve just had. So right now I’d say the time I spent living in the remote Asmat village of Pirien/Otsjanep, away from everything familiar, with no power, plumbing, technology, no furniture or privacy. It was a privilege to see and to live with and share, even a little, life with a people so different from me. Travel has shown me that people are amazingly hospitable and welcoming and we share deep affinities, but it has also shown me that there can be huge cultural gaps between people – that we can, for example, live with the Asmat and be friends and talk and laugh and yet never be able to see what they see, think, the world they truly inhabit, which contains a spiritual and sacred realm that is of utmost importance to them, but that we can never see, access, know. And that puts us in completely different worlds and which is why Michael Rockefeller, a son of one of the richest and most powerful men on earth, was killed one morning by some of the least “important” men on earth.