Chloe Osborne delivers an online exclusive interview with up-and-coming travel author, Peter Baker
Are all the experiences in the book true?
Yes, and they were all recorded live, as they happened. Writing each 500-word email, and making sure each one was interesting, amusing and unique, took a minimum of six hours from draft to polished communiqué. That’s a huge investment of time when you’re travelling.
When did you catch the “travel bug”?
When I was 18. Between my A-levels and university, I spent two months in America where I had family. My uncle Jack persuaded me to buy a $600 Greyhound bus ticket and I used it to travel coast-to-coast across the continent. I caught the bug then and there, and have ruthlessly indulged in it ever since. It’s been a huge part of my life.
Was that a vital part of The Jolly Pilgrim?
Entirely. It was my trip of a lifetime. I’ll never have another chance to go away again for two years, and do so many zany and spontaneous things. That’s fine. That box in my life is ticked. There are plenty of other things I haven’t done. The stuff I’m interested in taking forward from the book are its philosophical aspects: calling on people to be more realistic about our civilisation and what it represents. Hopefully, I have a useful contribution to make to the global conversation.
Was the journey challenging?
Turning up in Quito, without speaking Spanish, and moving into an apartment with an indigenous bloke, away from all Western influences, is something you can only do if you’ve arrived in a lot of exotic, foreign cities before. In London, I had a comfortable life, friends who looked after me, and a great job. I went from that to being a waiter in Sydney, with no status and where nobody knew me. Emotionally, it was very challenging. Part of you doesn’t want to be there, another part is telling you to roll with the experience – you’re young and you’ll never have another chance to work in a drag bar. If I didn’t do it then, when would I? Spending two years stripping off one comfort zone after another was very character-building.
Were you glad to return home?
Totally. I’d become homesick during the final months of the journey, and the pilgrimage had reached its natural conclusion. Being a flighty hippy has its place, and the dream of spending one’s days endlessly playing the wild rover does have a certain romantic elan. But it strikes me as a bit pointless and self-indulgent. After my two-year road trip, the people I most admired were the ones who go to work every day and keep this global show on the road. When I got back, I wanted to do my bit; to contribute socially.
Which were the best places you visited?
In my view, India is the most amazing country in the world. The depth and majesty of Indian culture – and the intensity of experiences it offers – is unequalled. In terms of the trip, in Eastern Europe, Belgrade is where the action is. The Serbian people are intelligent, urbane and cultured. They’ve been through a black period, but at the end of the day they’re well ahead of the curve, and that country is going to go places.
Give a final summary of the message in your book?
Everything is going to be OK. The view that the world is getting worse is narrow and mistaken, and a better, brighter future is ours for the taking. As Carl Sagan put it: humans everywhere share the same goals when the context is large enough. As a species, we just need to keep our heads and bear that bigger picture in mind. Don’t get caught up in the inevitable petty squabbles that come from being a bunch of hormonal monkeys on a planet. We can work this civilisation gig out, and we can go to the stars. All of that is entirely achievable, and it’s in the interests of every human alive that we collectively work towards it.
How did your travel experiences feed into the philosophical arguments in your book?
Take it from me, a two-year global adventure is the perfect backdrop from within which to assess the human world. Understanding global civilisation in a theoretical way is all very well, but the proper study of man is man. Get out there, meet people, ask them about their lives and what they think about their world, and then make your own sense of it. That’s the way to learn. This world is too diverse and resplendent for that diversity and resplendence to simply be imagined. One has to see it for oneself.